Most of the time when a family is looking into acquiring their first pet, it is almost a unanimous decision to get something cute, fluffy, and cuddly. While adopting a dog or cat from your local shelter is an admirable decision, it may not end well if you find that you are in for more than you bargained for. In an effort to teach your children a lesson in responsibility, you may find that you yourself do not have the time and energy to help them care for the pet – because let’s be real, you’ll probably be doing most of the work. To avoid the heartache, chaos, and guilty conscience of adopting (or even worse, buying a puppy) and then having to return the pet, maybe you should look into starting small. Reptiles are a very feasible option for first-time pet owners, which are slightly more cuddly than fish, and here’s why:
- Generally speaking, they are low-maintenance pets: No matter what kind of reptile you decide to acquire, it will definitely require less attention than other mammalian options. While a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig, etc. requires feeding at least once a day (sometimes several times a day), many reptiles only require feeding once in a while. The feeding routine ranges from once every couple days, to once a month depending on which critter you select; some reptiles can even go months without feeding! This is obviously ideal for children, since they are usually pretty absent-minded and forgetful. As long as the animal has water, food, and the occasional tank cleaning, there should be relatively little risk involved.
- Reptiles do not require training: Since your reptile is not going to have free reign of the house (at least I hope it won’t) like dogs and cats usually do, there isn’t any reason why you must train it to be housebroken, litter trained, or any training whatsoever. Not only is that a huge responsibility lifted off of everyone’s shoulders, but it is also saving you money. Training puppies can be very costly, frustrating, and exhausting; in the process, your house could face destruction as well. Confined to the tank, your reptile is not going to be a problem in the house, unless you don’t clean out its environment often enough (which has the potential to be smelly).
- They don’t require socialization: While many domesticated animals require socialization in order to keep them happy and healthy, reptiles do not. You can hold your reptile or cuddle them if you want to, but they do not desire it like most mammalian pets do. If you don’t handle and play with your dog, cat, ferret, etc., then they could become depressed. A reptile will not mind if it is left alone for long periods of time, and actually prefers it in most situations. When you hold your reptile, most of the time it is tolerating human contact – maybe sometimes enjoying it – but doesn’t inherently want your love like other pets do.
- Reptiles don’t need to be groomed: Dogs and some other mammals require grooming, and depending on what species or breed it is, it could be pretty often. This has the potential to be expensive, time-consuming, and perhaps frustrating. Dogs need their hair or fur washed (and possibly cut), nails trimmed, and anal glands squeezed (yikes) at the very least. While reptile have claws of their own, you don’t need to worry about trimming them. Nail trimming and bathing may not sound like a difficult task, but if your dog (or other pet) doesn’t enjoy the process (which many don’t), then it could be stressful and sometimes impossible.
- Not all reptiles eat live creatures: For those (like me) who cannot feed live mice or rats to snakes – either for ethical reasons or because they find it disgusting – there are still many reptiles you could own. Some breeds of snakes don’t eat mice or rats, and just require small insects such as crickets or mealworms to eat. Lots of lizards and frogs (frogs aren’t reptiles obviously but they are often grouped along with them) eat these little insects, but there are also some reptiles that feed on fruits and veggies, such as bearded dragons and tortoises. There are also other commercially ready-made options to explore, so even if you are “grossed out” by feeding a reptile a living creature (or find it sad), then you can still find one to care for.
- Reptiles have great lessons to teach: As stated before, reptiles are a great introductory pet for a child (or adult), so they teach their new owner valuable lessons in responsibility, caregiving, and mindfulness. Let’s face it, it’s difficult enough to take care of ourselves sometimes, so it shouldn’t be a shock that caring for another living thing could prove to be difficult. Especially in the case of a child, who is not only dependent on their parents for their care and health, but is also not mature enough to grasp the concept of caring for another creature. Since a reptile is so low-maintenance, it will be a gradual lesson of caregiving rather than a crash-course that a puppy or kitten would entail. In addition to the feeding and cleaning rituals that will have to be learned, the reptile and its habitat will foster a curiosity and exploration of the natural world! By putting together the terrarium with the proper sand, rocks, gravel, plants, etc. there are so many ways to get in touch with the Earth’s wonder.
- Reptiles are quiet: This could be a huge selling-point to someone who cannot stand the barking of dogs, meowing of cats, squawking of birds, or any other such animal noise. To be honest, the barking of a dog is actually pretty annoying – especially if you have multiple dogs that feed into each other’s frenzy – but we doglovers put up with it. Even some animals like hamsters or guinea pigs, although they don’t audibly make loud sounds, make lots of noise while playing in their cage, running on their wheel, throwing toys, etc. Reptiles pretty much just hang out, sleep a lot, bask in their heat lamp’s light, and eat sometimes. They aren’t running around the tank, banging on the sides, or rattling anything around.
- There are virtually no vet bills: I have seen an iguana at the vet before (on a leash) and there are some instances where your reptile may need medical attention – but it will not require check-ups, vaccinations, spaying/neutering, or general upkeep that a dog or cat needs. You may have to take a reptile to the vet a couple times in its lifetime, so it won’t be a huge strain on your wallet.
Although reptiles are among the easiest pets to keep, that doesn’t mean that they are any less of a commitment than other pets. People have the preconceived notion that if they don’t want their reptiles anymore, they can just set them free into the wild. This is completely wrong and ill-informed; these animals are domesticated to live as pets, and releasing them into the wild would result in their death; either from inability to feed itself, or from being attacked and/or eaten by a predator. The most common mistake that new reptile-owners make is that they “didn’t know” that their baby bearded dragon or boa constrictor was going to get so huge. Realistically, you should expect the worst-case-scenario that your reptile is going to become giant, and plan accordingly. So, before you take the plunge into reptilian territory, educate yourself and ensure that you are willing to make the commitment and accommodations to house your new pet. Remember: it is depending on you for its survival! If you think you are ready, check out supplies and start planning out your terrarium habitat!