The amount of food that a reptile requires depends on it size and species. Ideally a large python will consume the equivalent of a large rat per week although it may be fed on a fortnightly basis. The idea is not to overfeed as obesity is sometimes a problem in captive snakes. Lizards will need smaller amounts of food more regularly, about 2-3 times every week. Lizards will also need some form of calcium supplement as they often suffer Rickets or Metabolic Bone Disease in captivity due to a lack of ultra-violet light. A balanced calcium supplement, (Calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D3) will allow healthy bone development, even if there is only minimal access to natural sunlight.
Snakes usually don't have this problem, and if you are feeding whole prey items no supplementation is required. If a snake or lizard refuses to feed there are a number of things to check to ensure the long term health of the animal. See Trouble-shooting.
Force feeding is always a last resort. It should only be attempted by an experienced keeper, as the oesophagus is easily damaged by bad technique or undue force. It is also extremely stressful for the animal.
It is better to feed pre-killed prey to a pet snake, as in the wild a snake can move away from a rat or mouse if it does not want to feed. In a captive situation the snake is confined to a relatively small area and may be bitten or even mauled badly by a rodent. A lot of the intestinal parasites that may be carried by rodents are killed by freezing but ensure that the rodent is fully thawed before trying to feed. Thawing in hot water is often the best way as it heats the rodents right through in a short time. Paper towel to dry and for fussy eaters a quick blow-dry with a hair drier may be just the incentive they need.
Monitors will feed readily on tinned pet food, as will Bearded dragons and Bluetongues. The tinned food of the KitEKat brand has the perfect Calcium-phosphorous ratio for most lizards. Dusted crickets will also give them the calcium they require.
To design and build the best home for a new pet it is always essential to research the needs of the species you are going to buy in relation to its environment. This includes preferred temperature ranges, humidity and eventually the size of the reptile when it is fully grown. Arboreal species enjoy having solid climbing branches while semi-aquatic animals need a pool they can become fully immersed in. The perfect cage for one species may be disastrous for another if its needs are not being met.The materials being used in the construction of the cage are also important as the wrong choice will mean problems further down the track. Some good materials are melamine, pine or oak and glass or perspex. The pine, or any open grain wood will need to be sealed. A stain and sealer in one is perfect for the job and make any wood cabinet look excellent. Melamine is already laminated and after the joins are sealed with silicone provide a water-resistant, non-porous surface. This stops any mites from hiding in the wood grains or any bacteria build-up in the joins. Glass or perspex is essential for the cage front. If wire or mesh is used for snakes or dragons they will abrade their nose scales which may result in stomatitis. Any cabinet maker can do a box for reptiles fairly cheaply averaging $300-400 for a cage 2400mm by 600mm by 600mm. You may have to supply the perspex and fittings (hinges and locks).
If large numbers of small snakes are to be kept some plastic cages with clip down lids can be used. These are marketed as 'Desert Dens'. The advantages of these are that they are easy to sterilise and easy to move around. This sort of caging is really only suitable for juvenile snakes as lizards need more room. Snakes such as Orange-naped snakes and Death adders, that are fairly small do well in these tubs.
The other factors that need to be considered are in direct line with what is listed on the Trouble Shooting page. Heat, hiding spaces, water, ventilation and substrate all need to be decided upon with a view to providing a suitable environment for your pet. All our inside snakes are kept on recycled paper sold as Kitty Litter in pellet form or plain newspaper. Although our cages differ in construction we have found this substrate to be easy to clean as well as letting the snakes burrow into it and hide. . We do have outdoor aviaries of Monitors used for breeding for which we use a 300mm layer of coarse sand as a substrate. This allows the bacteria to be hosed out with regular wetting of the cage but is not recommended for inside cages that can't be flooded regularly.
Aquariums are usually the first choice for a starting keeper although many loose their snakes due to not having a secure lid. These tanks are usually heavy and don't really provide an efficient use of space as they are top opening. You may think that is not important but when you get more and more snakes to care for, space becomes an issue very quickly.
Sometimes the first sign of trouble in a reptile, particularly a snake is its refusal to feed. This can be caused by a number of factors, so you will have to eliminate all of the possible causes in order to restore a normal feeding pattern.
1. Insecurity. A snake will become stressed if it can't find a private retreat area in its cage. A hide box or hollow log is perfect for most pythons and leaf litter allows elapids to rest without being on display.
2. Temperature. Keeping a temperature gradient across the floor of a cage is the best way to ensure that your snake can heat or cool itself according to its needs, whereas a lizard or monitor will appreciate a spot ultra-violet globe directed onto a flat rock for basking.
3. Parasites. Reptiles are affected by both internal and external parasites and an infestation of either will cause your reptile to lose condition and stop feeding. A vet can dose your pet with either Ivermectin or Drontal or Panacur for internal parasites but you can treat external parasites such as mites and ticks yourself by soaking the animal in an Orange-Medic, a lice treatment solution available from most chemists. Ticks can simply be pulled off if grasped by the head with fine tweezers.
4. Stomatitis. This is a mouth infection and the first sign of stomatitis will stop a reptile from eating. Injectable antibiotics from a vet are usually required in conjunction with a mouth wash, usually iodine based or dilute chlorhexidine. Again these are stocked at most chemists.
5. Poisoning. Snakes are suseptible to many toxins commonly used to construct cages. Vapours from glue, silicone or varnish will cause a snake to stop feeding and can be life threatening if exposure to them is lengthy. Fly sprays of any type should be avoided anywhere near your reptiles or their enclosures.
6. Sickness. Signs of respiratory infection include bubbles of saliva at the nose or mouth, excess mucous in the mouth and a popping sound at the exhale. Signs of digestive sickness are mainly seen in the excrement, and both should be treated by a vet should it occur in your pet. Antibiotics are required the most commonly, and effectively, used are Baytril or Fortum or both. We have tried others such as Oxytetracycline and found it less effective. Try to find a vet with experience in reptile medicine, this may save a lot of time and money.
7. When you purchase a new animal it should be quarantined for a minimum of 3 months to prevent the spread of disease or infection to your collection, regardless of the source.
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Useful Links to reptile related sites for further research and to broaden your knowledge
We recommend www.thearkvet.com.au as a reptile Vet for the Darwin Area.
We recommend www.herpshop.com.au for your reptile accessories.