• Tips and Tricks: How to Care for Your Reptile

    Hey there, friends! This month’s episode of Symton Learn is dedicated to all you new and aspiring reptile owners out there! The following article contains crowd sourced, Symton-approved information we believe will set you up for success. Whether you’re a newbie or a nerd, Symton is here to help! 

    We’re doing this FAQ style, so feel free to skip to the sections you feel are most relevant to your needs. Remember, whilst we strive to provide you with the most constructive and valuable information possible, we encourage you to use this article as a launching point to support YOUR research. We do not and will never claim to know what is best for your pet- only YOU can make that call.

    Have any questions on topics we didn’t cover, or just want to talk to someone in the industry? You can and should reach out to us anytime, via our website, instagram, or email help@symtonbsf.com.

    [The majority of the information in this article was supplied by members of the reptile industry and Symton employees. Thank you and full credit to all individuals who contributed to this blog post - your expertise is much appreciated!]

    The Tips and The Tricks

    What is animal husbandry?

    Let’s start with the basics, as the term ‘animal husbandry’ will appear frequently within this post and in your research. According to an article published in the National Institute of Health’s Library of Medicine, animal husbandry “refers to animal welfare and management. There are five main areas … in this subject--normal animal behavior, nutritional requirements, restraint, housing and management in disease.” 

    How do I choose what to feed my pet?

    A little research goes a long way! While each pet will have their own unique preferences for the kinds of food they like to eat, it helps to have google lay the groundwork. Keep in mind, every animal and species is different. What works for your leopard gecko won’t necessarily fly with beardy or mr. snake. Finding out what the most popular, available, and affordable options are out there will give you a better idea of where to start. 

    That being said, the fat:protein ratio is an important aspect to keep in mind. Overloading your animal with super fatty insects is not healthy in the long run. Try looking for a more balanced ratio or something with higher protein content. 

    Call a local veterinarian who specializes in the species and see what they recommend!

    Look into the prevalence of parasites found in certain feeder insects and keep an eye out for product sourcing.

    Just like humans, variety is key! Why not try a few different feeders, and let your pet choose? Symton's insect flight is a great way to try out new treats and staples.

    Do all reptiles eat the same thing? 

    Definitely not! Not all palates are created equal when it comes to reptile appetites. While some pets need specific kinds of insects in order to stay healthy, others can eat almost anything! Many reptiles have to make like popeye and incorporate plant protein into every meal (that means fruits and veggies, yall!) 

    In summary, reptiles can be herbivorous, insectivores, carnivorous, or omnivorous - they’re just cool that way! 

    Some of the most common eaters by category:

    Herbivorous (plant-based): Green iguanas, tortoises, spiny-tailed lizards

    Insectivorous (insect only): Geckos, chameleons

    Carnivorous (larger prey than insects): Aquatic turtles, snakes

    Omnivorous (plants and insects): Bearded dragon, many skinks, semi-aquatic turtles

    Source: (Cedar Creek Veterinary Clinic - Veterinarian In Williamston, MI USA, n.d.)

    What is one thing you wish you had known before adopting your first reptile?

    From space requirements to carpets to ailments, below you will find a few key knowledge nuggets from reviews we held with current and previous reptile owners. These individuals have experience with bearded dragons, skinks, turtles, geckos, pythons, boas, corn snakes, chameleons, and even toads! We asked them what they wished they had known BEFORE they adopted their first reptile, and here were some of the most significant takeaways:

    • “Care requirements are always changing with new science and research, and your care can always be improved in some way.”
    • “Fully research setup and diet plan ahead of time”
    • Reptiles won’t always display obvious signs of sickness or disease
    • “They need a lot more space than most people say they do.”
    • “I wish I knew about how bad reptile carpets were, they’re a great surface for bacteria to grow and reptiles to get their nails caught on.”

    What are some signs of common ailments reptiles can suffer from that I should be aware of?

    We all want what’s best for our pets and to feel prepared when things go awry. Just like us, reptiles are susceptible to illnesses that can, of course, be treated, if you know what you’re up against. Therefore, it’s generally a good idea to have at least a basic grasp on the common ailments that can affect your reptile, and how to detect them. 

    Metabolic Bone Disease: A very common illness, especially for rookie reptile owners! This disease causes weakening of bone structure due to abnormal amounts of bone “building block” nutrients, such as calcium. Reptiles who have contracted this disease appear to have swollen or bent limbs which can drastically alter their quality of life. Luckily, it is completely avoidable by dusting with calcium powder as directed by your vet or local pet store.

    Upper Respiratory Infections: Keep an eye out when established eaters suddenly refuse food, as well as excessive mucus from the nose, mouth, or eyes, lethargy. Look for wheezing and/or loud breathing in snakes, who are particularly prone to respiratory infections.

    Parasites: Common symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss, but of course the biggest indicator is abnormal stool if it is an intestinal parasite (i.e. worms in the stool).

    Short Tongue Syndrome (Toad-specific): A lack of vitamin A can cause this adverse condition which makes catching live food more difficult.

    Burns from improper heat source: Blackened skin, ulcers, sores.

    Malnutrition: Underfeeding or nutritionally incompetent diets will cause adverse effects to your pet. Lethargy and generalized weakness can be indicative of a variety of disorders, including malnutrition. Lizards will lose fat in the mid-body and base of tail, bearded dragons have a fat pad atop their head that appears to deflate. Obesity can be caused from overly fatty foods and can lead to gout.

    Fungus: Arboreal lizards such as geckos and chameleons need to be sprayed with water regularly in order to ingest water. However, too much humidity in the air can cause fungus growth. Placing a screen atop the enclosure provides an easy remedy.

    ***Many reptiles hide illnesses extremely well, and often do not outwardly display symptoms! Regular check ups can make a huge difference in ensuring the health of your pet as well as your peace of mind.

    How often should I feed my reptile?

    The short answer to this question is: diet is species specific. Feeding frequency varies anywhere from multiple times daily (tortoises) to once every two to three months (adult Burmese pythons)!

    That being said, it is a general rule of thumb that younger reptiles will need food more often than their mature adult counterparts.

    Start with a basic feeding plan that is specific to your pet’s species. Then, take some time to watch for behavioral cues that may indicate the unique patterns and preferences of your pet. Maybe Gilbert the Gecko goes CRAZY for hornworms but won’t touch the crickets, even after 24 hours. Sure, Bathilda Beardie will always eat her cucumber-lettuce salad, but she really thrives with that extra daily dose of BSFL. When Devonte was just a young ball python boy, he enjoyed small mice and even crickets at least once a week, but now that he is a strapping man of 5, he may content himself with a full-sized rat every 30 to 40 days. His twin sister, Delilah, however, will enthusiastically consume her rat every 3-4 weeks, if it’s offered!

    I have, or want to adopt, more than one reptile - Can I put them together in the same tank?

    Cohabitation is possible, albeit rare, and for beginners is not generally not worth the risk outside of known communal species. Skinks, for example, are typically able to be housed together, and can even benefit from the socialization! (Exception: Blue Tongued Skinks do NOT cohabitate). However, you should definitely consult an experienced reptile owner or professional before placing animals together in the same space

    There are a few, very specific situations where animals of different species can be housed together. These include anoles and frogs, certain insects and bioactive reptiles, as well as fish and reptiles. In these instances, please obtain a professional second opinion, at minimum (you can even reach out to us, if you’d like!) It may seem like work now, but the health and survival of your pet are worth it (we promise!).

    Note: Most lizards are solitary animals, and males are known to act aggressively towards each other when sharing the same territory.

    Sure, you will always find arguments such as “well they’ve been together since they were babies” or “they just get along so well!” However, even if those animals don’t actively fight or go near each other, they may still show subtle signs of stress because they share the same space. This can contribute to a general decline in their health over time.

    If you do find yourself in a situation with a known communal species and have been given the green light for housing them together, it is super important to make sure each animal has just as much space to occupy as if they were on their own. Cohabiting animals for the sake of “saving space” is cruel and unfair to your pet. 

    What are some of the most popular reptiles people have as pets? 

    We’ll start this section off by noting that bearded dragons are actually the third most popular pet in the United States, after dogs and cats. Take that as you will. Nevertheless, there are tons of incredible species to choose from, the most common of which are:

    Leopard geckos

    Crested geckos

    Blue Tongue Skinks

    Green Iguanas (intermediate-advanced care required)

    Corn snakes

    Ball pythons

    Bearded Dragons

    This list is merely the tip of the iceberg! When choosing a pet, we always recommend you select a species who has husbandry equal to your skill level and space requirements that you can adequately provide for. 

    Check out a reptile rescue or animal shelter near you - it’s not just cats and dogs that need homes! Symton donates to a growing list of reptile rescues that can be found here

    If you are looking for a very specific species, reptile conventions are popular within the industry and can be found across the U.S. throughout the year. Choose breeders with care.

    Advice from the pros

    Are you new to the reptile world? Ever wanted to get first-hand advice but no one in your circle is a lizard? Darn. But hey, once upon a time, we were all in the same boat! Luckily for you, we’ve gathered a few tidbits from our now heavily experienced reptile-y friends that are definitely worth the read. Take a look.

    What is one significant learning experience you've had working in the reptile industry and/or as a pet owner?

    “Husbandry is ALWAYS changing and improving. Always be open to updating your setups and methods of care as new and better information becomes available. Just because your animal has been surviving at a certain level of adequate care doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from improvements so they THRIVE.”

    “I did not have any experience with reptiles before working at Symton. Here, I was able to learn how to take care of multiple species like bearded dragons, leopard geckos, and a blue tongue skink and how each one has different needs. Also, working with coworkers who owned other reptiles or had more experience and listening to their advice/ knowledge helped me gain a better understanding when it came to the reptile world.”

    “Take all advice lightly until you can find data on the reasoning and benefit of it. There is lots of scientific research out there that helps advance reptile husbandry. Just because someone is a breeder doesn't mean they are caring for their animals properly, lots of species can breed in stressful and improper conditions. If someone's evidence for a care method is along the lines of "we've always done it this way" or "I've been breeding/keeping for 20 years" it's usually coming from someone with outdated husbandry that hasn't looked into much recent research.”

    “I guess learning about bioactive enclosures. They are so much easier to maintain than just a regular enclosure, imo, and they look so much nicer!”

    “It’s always important to improve your care and keep up to date with new discoveries for reptile care.”

    Miscellaneous pet care hacks - Go!

    “Buy your supplies like light bulbs and fixtures from Home Depot, Lowe’s, or other non-reptile companies. They are exactly the same and so much cheaper.”

    “If you have multiple animals like myself, get a white board or make a spreadsheet with everyone’s feeding/watering/cleaning schedules. And even if you have one animal, “meal prepping” for them where possible is a great time saver and allows for better efficiency. Also if you’re ballin on a budget and can’t/don’t want to do a bioactive setup, goodwill is a gold mine for fake vegetation as a price way more affordable that what they sell at the pet stores. Just make sure you give it a thorough wash beforehand!”

    “Modified indoor grow tents make great cheap, large enclosures for bigger reptiles. Despite what most think, they're extremely thick and sturdy and are made to have a controlled environment inside. They have lots of ventilation that can be opened or closed, and can handle the weight of lights and branches hanging from the ceiling. You can DIY a lot of things to save money and often times the DIY stuff works better. A few examples would be things like waterfalls, backgrounds, or systems to simulate rain.”

    “Put calcium powder in a salt shaker! Get fake plants at craft stores/ the dollar store!”

    “You can use cabinet liners as substrate for your reptile if you are a beginner, they look nicer than paper towels or newspaper.” **non-toxic only**

    “DO YOUR RESEARCH AND ALWAYS CONSULT A VETERINARIAN IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT ANYTHING or to double check that what you have researched is accurate!!”

    “Reptiles are amazing pets and you shouldn’t be nervous to get into them as a passion/hobby if you want to. As long as you’re prioritizing your own education and animal husbandry BEFORE getting an animal you’ll do just fine :)”

    Symton wishes each and every one of you the best of luck on your pet care journey! Let us know which parts of the article were most useful by commenting on the post below, DM-ing us on instagram, or shooting us an email. Did we miss anything? Tell us that too! Thanks for reading and happy Learning!!!

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