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Blog & Pet News

24 Sep 2020

Catering for exotic pets in your product mix: reptiles

Catering for exotic pets in your product mix: reptiles

From dogs and cats to bunnies and guinea pigs, our furry friends make up the majority of the UK’s pets, and indeed, pet retailers’ customer base. But they’re not the only critters that need love and attention. That’s why, we’re dedicating a series of guides to our feathered, scaled and six- and eight-legged friends; from tarantulas to tortoises, and everything in between. Today, find out what you should be stocking for reptilian friends.

There are many different categories within the reptile pet category, but the UK’s most commonly kept reptiles are bearded dragons, corn snakes, royal pythons and leopard geckos, as well as tortoises and terrapins. Naturally, these critters’ needs are slightly more complex than those of a cat or a dog, mostly because the UK, and captivity, are not their natural habitats.


Most reptiles need a very carefully controlled environment and knowing the needs of each animal is key for pet shop owners looking to expand into this market. For example, many exotic animals will require specialised heat and lighting. Heat mats and ceramic heaters are often recommended for snakes and lizards in particular, and specialised thermostats can help owners to regulate their habitat’s temperature according to their animal’s needs.

Many reptiles, such as corn snakes, may need graduated temperatures throughout their enclosure. Heat lamps and mats are best for providing this kind of control. The warm end of the enclosure, or “basking zone” needs to be kept at around 28 to 30 degrees Celsius, whilst the cooler end should be nearer 20 to 24 degrees Celsius. For other reptiles and amphibians, enclosures will need to be monitored with temperatures changing from day to night. The temperatures stated above will usually provide the correct conditions, but owners should always check with the pet vendor or a vet if they’re not sure.

Owners will also need specialist equipment such as a hygrometer to measure humidity and UVB lamps to control light and temperature. On tip of this, these animals should be kept in a specialist vivarium that allows light in and for fresh air to circulate. Enclosures should be cleaned daily and should allow for the animal’s natural behaviours, such as burrowing, climbing and basking. Low branches, rocks and foliage are all key elements to provide enrichment to animals and encourage natural behaviours. It’s important that housing is fully set up and has been stabilised at least a week before the animal is moved in, to ensure that moisture, humidity and temperature are under control.

In terms of sizes, the animal should be given as much space as possible. Snakes should be given space to full extend their bodies. Bear in mind, as the animal grows, the vivarium may need to as well.

Food and water

Water is essential for the health of both reptiles and amphibians. For reptiles, owners should ensure there is a shallow dish of clean water available within the enclosure at all times. For snakes and tortoises, this should be large enough for them to bathe in as well. This should be cleaned and replaced daily. Many lizard species don’t recognise a pool of water as a drinking source, and for these animals, misting and drip systems are essential to ensure they are hydrated.

Food varies from animal to animal, as does the frequency of feeding. Smaller lizards, such as geckos, feed on invertebrates, such as crickets and locusts. The insects should be live (so owners will need to keep these separately) and no bigger than the animal’s head. Geckos also benefit from foods like dandelion or nasturtium flowers.

Snakes such as pythons and kingsnakes will feed on whole animals, such as freeze-dried rodents or smaller birds.  Snake owners should aim to feed their pets prey that is slightly wider than the widest part of their body.

A good tortoise diet is low in fats and protein but rich in minerals, vitamins and fibre. Most tortoises will thrive on a diet of plants, flowers and vegetables, but all should be organic or washed thoroughly to remove residual fertilisers or pesticides. It is important for owners to research the specific foods that are safe for their pet, but as a rule dandelions, chickweed, clover, plantains, white-dead nettle and sow thistle are all good options. Green beans, peas, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and lettuce are not suitable and can be toxic.

Terrapins require a varied diet and can be fed a combination of dried terrapin food should be used alongside thoroughly defrosted freshwater fish. They can also be fed live invertebrates such as river shrimps, blood worms and locusts. They should also be encouraged to eat live plants, such as pond weed.

All reptiles should have their diet supplemented with vitamins and minerals, including calcium. This can be dusted onto food before feeding.

Paw-some tips for reptiles:

  • Most reptiles can be very territorial so it is often best to keep them alone.

  • If fed incorrectly, reptiles can become over or underweight, so it is important for owners to weigh them regularly. 

  • Find an exotic pet vet in your area who can answer any health questions if needed. Symptoms of a sick reptile include: sudden weight changes; lameness; swellings; bubbles from nose or mouth; discharge from eyes, nose or mouth; a change in activity such as sleeping all day, agitation or change in swimming ability; a change in breathing pattern; redness, swelling or difficulty shedding skin; change in appetite;  and a change in posture.

  • Many reptile species will hibernate so will require different forms of care throughout the year.

Discover more about catering for exotic pets right here on the Pawexpo blog.

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