I proudly own a pet reptile. He’s a Bearded Dragon named Bubba. He also answers to Bubba the Conqueror of House Targaryen, Wonder Dragon, and Your Highness. His species hails from the deserts of Australia. His eats greens, vegetables, live gut-loaded crickets, and occasionally fruit. Crickets aside, his diet is better than mine. His tank is climate controlled to fit his needs and managed easily using heat lamps, an under tank heater, and a power strip with a timer. He also has a UVB bulb to bask under, a hide to go into, and sand to dig in. He gets weekly baths and when the weather permits, I take him outside to get natural sunlight. To quote Dr. Kelleher of Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER, “We can’t live without fresh air and sunshine, so why should we make our pets?”
When I tell people about Bubba, the responses I get range from “Awww,” to “Oh that’s different,” to “You’re a weirdo!” I have a problem with the You’re a weirdos. Since when does having a pet reptile make you some kind of freak? In the US, there’s been a 68% increase in the sale of reptiles as pets from 1994 to 2008 according to the American Pet Products Association. A survey of US pet owners showed that over 5.6 million homes in the US are shared with at least one reptile. Individual reptiles number over 11.5 million in the US alone. 4-H has even begun including reptiles as part of their ongoing efforts to educate and engage young people through interaction with animals. So if reptiles are so popular, why is there such a stigma?
I think the stigma exists because people associate things that are cold-blooded with things that are cold-hearted. There are also a lot of myths out there about reptiles and their care that make people think they don’t make very good pets when nothing could be further from the truth. With Bubba’s help, I’m going to prove that reptiles are great pets.
Myth #1: They’re difficult to care for.
If you do your homework and talk to your local exotic animal vet to get the right advice before you rescue or buy, you should have no problem getting everything you need on your first trip to the pet supply store and dialing in your heating devices to give the proper temperature and humidity that’ll allow your new scaly family member to thrive. A lot of people make the mistake of listening to the guy at the pet store instead of the one who went to four years of college and another 4 years of veterinary college.
Myth #2: They’re expensive to feed and care for.
The most expensive item a reptile needs will be the tank it’s housed in. I actually got Bubba’s tank from a friend who was no longer using it. There are also things like craigslist or message boards for reptile owners where people are routinely giving away tanks their reptiles have outgrown or selling them cheap. However if you choose to go that route rather than buy a tank at a pet supply store, I recommend meeting the individual in a neutral location. Seriously be safe out there. In either case, clean the crap out of it with a 3% bleach solution and give plenty of time to air out. The tank isn’t safe until there is absolutely no bleach smell. Do the same with any tank furnishings you acquire as well. When I got Bubba, despite using heat lamps, UVB bulbs, etc. I didn’t experience an astronomical increase in my electric bill. On average, I spend about $35 a month total on Bubba’s food. His calcium supplement is about $3.00 for a jar of it and lasts quite a while now that he’s an adult and therefore doesn’t need as much. Overall, what I spend on caring for Bubba I more than get back in affection and entertainment value. Seriously, sometimes he’s funnier than me.
Myth #3: They die easily.
Not if you do your homework before you buy or rescue and consult your exotic animal vet about proper husbandry. Before you bring up astronomical vet bills, you should know that in the 5 years I’ve had Bubba he’s been to the vet exactly twice and both times the bill was below $40. Regular well visits aren’t really required with most reptiles due to their heartiness; after all they survive pretty well in nature. Regular vet visits are also not often recommended because the process of getting them there can be stressful to the animal and too much stress can make reptiles sick, not unlike humans. Bubba still gets regular vet care in the form of fecal exams and he doesn’t need to be present for those. I said it before in a previous entry (Link to Why Cecil Matters): if you can’t vet them, don’t get them.
Myth #4: They can’t be tamed and don’t want anything to do with humans.
This is ridiculous. Any reptile can be tamed if they’re handled correctly and properly acclimated to being handled from a young age. Bubba is a huge fan of lap and shoulder time. Even a rescued adult reptile from an abusive background will eventually allow you to handle him/her once he/she learns to trust you. Most reptiles are interested in their humans. Lest we forget, we’re where their food comes from. Bubba isn’t happy unless he can see what we’re doing and even uses his excellent hearing to listen to what the upstairs neighbors are up to.
Reptiles are excellent pets. They’re welcome in apartments and have never been subject to any Breed Specific Legislation (don’t even get me started on THAT nonsense). If you do right by your reptile, you will never be bitten. If you trim their nails, you’ll never be scratched. Allergy sufferers rejoice! They have no hair or dander. They all have unique personalities. Cold blood does not mean a cold heart.