So, your son or daughter has asked to keep a reptile for a pet, but you're not sure how to respond. After all, you don't have a lot of experience (if any) keeping reptiles. But you don't want to shut them down completely, without even considering it. So what do you do? Where do you go for insight on this subject?
This is actually a common dilemma for parents, and it's the reason I'm writing this article. I know this is a common concern among parents, because I receive a lot of emails from them. Here are some of the questions I receive on a regular basis: Do reptiles make good pets for children? Are there certain species that are better for children to keep as pets? Which types of reptiles should be avoided altogether? How easy are they to care for? Which ones are dangerous and which ones aren't? What does a parent need to know about keeping reptiles as pets in the home? These are some of the key points I will address with this article.
Do Reptiles Make Good Pets for Children?
This is the kind of question that cannot be answered across the board. In fact, parents should actually take a step back and ask a preliminary question -- Is my son or daughter responsible enough to care for an animal. Forget for a moment that we are talking about reptiles in particular. The real question is: "Is your child mature and responsible enough to care for another living creature?" As a parent, you might find yourself serving as backup "zookeeper" at some point, too. So you should be asking these same questions of yourself.
But let's answer the question I posed at the beginning of this section. Do reptiles make good pets for children?
I would say yes, certain reptiles can be good pets for certain children. You'll notice the disclaimer I used. It's a case-by-case basis, where certain species make good pets and others don't. Likewise, some children are able to provide the proper care for reptiles, while other children are not (due to age, maturity, etc.). Your job, as a parent, is to answer the questions relating to your child. My job, as an educator, is to answer your questions about different types of reptiles.
So again, I would say that certain types of reptiles could be an interesting and manageable pet for your son or daughter. Granted, you can't expect a reptile to give the kind of affection that a dog or cat would give. But they are interesting in their own special way.
So without further ado, let's talk about the types of reptiles you might consider keeping as a pet in your home.
Types of Lizards I Would Recommend
If your son or daughter wants to keep a lizard as a pet, there are two species I would recommend considering. The first one is the bearded dragon. You may have heard about this type of lizard before, because it's very popular within the pet trade. And there's a good reason it's so popular. Bearded dragons are interesting animals with a lot of personality. They can tolerate a certain level of handling by their owners, and they're relatively easy to care for (if their basic needs are met).
As far as their cage requirements go, bearded dragons like it hot and dry. You can keep them in an aquarium-style cage (referred to as a terrarium in the reptile industry) with special lighting to serve their heat and UV requirements. Bearded dragons are omnivores, which means they eat both animal and plant matter. You would have to feed them a variety of insects to meet their nutritional requirements, in addition to a mixture of vegetables. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of having a small "insect farm" in your home, then you might want to consider the next lizard species we are going to discuss.
The uromastyx (pronounced Euro-mass-tix) is another type of lizard I would recommend keeping as a pet, because most children could easily handle their care requirements. These lizards also like it hot and dry -- they come from places such as North Africa and the Middle East. They are interesting animals that will remain a manageable size throughout their entire life. When I say a "manageable" size, I mean you can hold an adult uromastyx in one hand (though children would have to use two hands). These lizards are primarily herbivores, which means they will live a long and healthy life being fed mostly fruits and vegetables. You can feed them the occasional insect as a treat, but their primary diet will consist of fruits and vegetables. As a parent, you can see the benefit of keeping this type of lizard as pet. You wouldn't have to keep a bunch of insects in your house, as you would with other types of lizards.
Lizards That Do Not Make Good Pets for Children
I've just given you two types of lizards to research as a potential pet for your son or daughter. Now I'm going to discuss two that should probably be avoided. I recommend that you steer clear of chameleons and iguana, as far as your children are concerned.
Chameleons are extremely hard to take care of, and for several reasons. These lizards generally live in semi-tropical or tropical environments, with a high annual rainfall. They perch in the canopy of the forest, where they receive full sunlight for much of the day. They eat a wide variety of flying and crawling insects. You can imagine the challenge of trying to duplicate these conditions in your home. If the chameleon does not have the proper humidity level, the proper food diversity, or the proper amount of UV lighting, it will not live long in captivity. Ask any vegetarian who treats reptiles about this subject, and they will probably agree with me. Every reptile vet I've spoken to over the years says the chameleon is the number-one pet brought in by children, and that they suffer from a wide variety of disorders and illnesses (the lizards, not the kids).
So what about iguanas? They also have specialized care requirements, but it's mainly their size that makes me so hesitant to recommend them as a pet for children. Do a Google image search for the phrase "adult iguanas," and you will see how large these lizards can get when they're full grown! Sure, that baby iguana in the pet store is awfully cute, and it's only the size of your hand. But when it grows up, it could easily exceed six feet in length, and they are climbers. So you'll eventually need a large enclosure that could take up the better part of a bedroom. Are you prepared for that?
What About Keeping Snakes As Pets?
Mention the idea of keeping a snake as a pet for children, and most parents will wrinkle their noses in disgust. I disagree with this kind of general dismissal, but I can understand the thought process behind it. Snakes have been vilified by popular culture for hundreds of years. We see movies like Anaconda, where an impossibly large serpent chases people down and eats them, and we become terrified of snakes in general.
First of all, most depictions of snakes that you see in movies are incredibly false. Secondly, there are many types of snakes that will not exceed 4 to 5 feet in length, and are also completely harmless to humans. So let's start on this platform of truth, and move forward from there.
Consider the corn snake for example. This is one of the most popular snake species kept as pets, by children and adults alike. Corn snakes are reluctant to bite, and they can become incredibly tame over time. They come in a variety of attractive colors and patterns (known as "morphs"), and they rarely grow larger than 4 1/2 to 5 feet in length. Like most snakes, their care requirements are pretty straightforward. You would feed them an appropriately sized rodent about once a week, make sure they have fresh drinking water available at all times, and provide a source of heat so they can thermoregulate. That's about it.
The ball python is another popular reptile kept as a pet, but I hesitate to recommend it as a pet for children. I have kept ball pythons in the past, and they are generally easy to care for. But they do have a tendency to refuse meals when their habitat conditions are not perfect. In fact, the most common question I receive from ball python keepers is this: "Help! My ball python won't eat. What should I do?" Do an Internet search for that phrase, and you'll see a lot of discussions on the topic.
Some ball pythons eat quite regularly, rarely refusing a meal. While others can be incredibly finicky and may turn their noses up when offered a rodent. I have kept a total of five ball pythons over the years, and they all had very different "food personalities." Other snake species are more consistent with their eating. Corn snakes for example, rarely refuse meals presented to them -- as long as their habitats are set up properly.
This is an article about keeping reptiles as pets, so let's talk about other types of snakes that might be a good choice for your son or daughter. Generally speaking, you can't go wrong by choosing one of the common North American snakes. These include the corn snakes we just talked about, the kingsnakes, gopher snakes, rat snakes and quite a few other species. Most of these animals have simple care requirements, and they rarely grow beyond six feet in length. Responsible children, within the age bracket of 12 and up, could probably handle the care requirements for any of the snakes mentioned above.
Types of Snakes You Should Avoid
As with lizards, there are certain types of snakes that do not make good pets for children -- or even adults, for that matter. We can sum this up with two words: venomous and gigantic. For obvious reasons, you should avoid letting your children keep venomous snakes as pets, as well as large constrictors such as Burmese pythons.
Keeping Turtles and Tortoises
When considering your options for keeping reptiles as pets, you might want to look into the different kinds of turtles and tortoises. These are interesting animals in their own right, and some of them make fine pet choices as well.
Let's talk about the primary differences between turtles and tortoises. Turtles are generally semi-aquatic in nature, meaning they spend much of their life in or around water. On the other hand, tortoises are generally land-dwelling animals. Given these basic differences, you can probably begin to understand the different care requirements for these animals.
Most turtle species need to be kept in an aquarium-style cage, because they need to be in water. Tortoises can either be kept in a so-called "tortoise table," a large terrarium, or even outdoors in certain climates. Certain types of tortoises, like the Aldabra, can become extremely large -- so these would not be a good choice for children unless you have suitable outdoor space for the animal.
If your son or daughter is adamant about getting a turtle to keep as a pet, you should get a copy of the turtle care guide offered through our website. It includes some information that is specific to certain species, and it also has a wealth of information on turtle care in general.
Reptiles as Pets for Children - Conclusion & Summary
So what have we learned from this lesson? We learned that certain reptiles can be great pets for responsible children, while other species should be avoided entirely. We also learned that the care requirements for different kinds of reptiles differ quite a bit. So you need to do plenty of homework. For example, certain types of lizards are relatively easy to care for, while others can be a huge challenge. As a parent, you need to learn more about the care requirements for different reptiles, so you can make an informed decision for your children and for yourself.
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