Reptile Pets as Gifts

Pets do not make good presents.

Pets especially do not make good holiday gifts. Pets really especially don’t make good holiday gifts for kids! Even adults should not be surprised with a new pet, even if they have shown interest in one. Being immediately saddled with responsibility over a living being can turn a usually wonderful, rewarding experience into a burden. Kids are not well equipped at the best of times to take care of a pet on their own. The holidays are a hectic time of year to add another family member! Folks may be leaving town, have guests in the house or otherwise be too busy to care for a new pet. Kids will get distracted by other holiday gifts and may neglect their new arrival – even if they begged for one in the first place! It’s better for both the people and the animal to wait until a quieter time, so that everyone can get used to the new situation.

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It’s also best if a person picks out their own pet. Some personalities can clash – this goes for reptiles as well as cats and dogs! In particular, reptiles should be thoroughly researched as their needs are unique. Some are looking for particular breeds, ages, sizes, colors or patterns. Some people want a furry friend, while others are more interested in something scaly. Choosing a pet is a very individual decision. You don’t want your holiday gift to wind up in an animal shelter if things don’t work out. Pets such as fish and reptiles are at risk due to their specific needs which are often challenging for a novice to meet.

For children who are old enough (10+ years) and are ready to get started, you can make a trip to an animal shelter or reptile rescue to see what’s available before opting to buy one. Do so after the holidays are over! You might want to have the child write a short essay on how to care for the animal to show you that they are both interested and informed. Make sure you also know your stuff, as parents will be the ultimate caretaker for any pet! Always select a healthy individual if you are new to caring for the species; many reptile rescues have healthy animals that the owners could no longer care for. Another reason to avoid surprising your loved ones with a new pet!

The best gift to give an animal lover who wants a new pet are supplies or a goodie basket. For reptiles, this could mean a starter 20 gallon tank (suitable for most baby reptiles and some adults), some artificial plants, food & water bowls, lighting and heating equipment and safe cleaning supplies. Also consider gift cards or a “good for” certificate they can redeem for a pet of their choice. A responsible breeder may offer competitive holiday discounts, while suggesting that delivery of the animal happen later. Make sure these gifts are refundable, should the receiver change her mind or if living circumstances change to where pets are not possible.

Other alternative gift ideas for the holidays are artwork, jewelry or T-shirts featuring the type of pet in question. As long as you aren’t introducing a living creature, celebrate their love of animals by gifting locally made or handcrafted items. A local reptile show may have some unique and reasonably priced items. Your present can still show you care, without risking the life and well-being of another living creature.

Finding a Reptile Pet Sitter

It’s the holidays and people travel away from home for a weekend or even a few weeks. Even if you only have one reptile to care for, going on vacation can be stressful to both you and your pet. Many keepers with large collections never take the opportunity to travel due to the lack of experienced reptile pet sitters or other resources to care for the animals while they are away. Whether you are only going on a weekend getaway, a week-long trip, or a 2 week vacation this guide will help you find a pet sitter and how to prepare them to care for your reptiles properly while you are away. Extended time away from home may require a friend or fellow enthusiast who can keep them on a semi-permanent basis. Many military servicemen and women have to leave their collection for extended periods of time and should have a buddy who doesn’t mind the time and money involved in their care.

The biggest concerns while you are away are power outages, automatic mister failure, central air breakdowns or heater mishaps. Keep things simple and don’t ask too much from your pet sitter – reptiles can go a long time without food. If your sitter isn’t comfortable with live bug feedings, just have her spray and change out the food every few days.

If you keep snakes, which are very easy to care for, your friends and family may not want to feed them or they may be afraid of them. Lizards and tortoises often need to be fed and watered daily. Some frogs can go for a week between feedings but more delicate and active dart frogs should be fed every other day. Not everyone can deal with feeding out crickets and other bugs to insectivores. Herbivores seem to be easier but have complex diets and supplementation needs. So minimally you need someone to come over every other day even if its not for feeding; they should check up on your pets and visually check for health, any escapees, normal behavior and general safety of the enclosures.

It’s a good idea to leave some cash behind in case you run out of supplies, such as greens for tortoises, Uromastyx and bearded dragons,; insects for frogs, geckos and other bug-eating lizards; supplements and light bulbs which can burn out without warning while you are out of town. The longer you are gone for, the more money you should leave behind. If you will be unreachable, you should leave enough to cover a vet visit just in case.

Choosing a Sitter

Even someone who doesn’t really like reptiles but can follow a detailed set of instructions can make a good sitter for a week or less. If you find a responsible person, it works out really well.

Walk your sitter through the process one week before and then again the night before leaving. For diurnal animals, have them come in and provide fresh food and water as necessary for the species in the early morning. Nocturnal reptiles should be cared for during the early afternoon. This allows the sitter to get into the enclosures and put out the food and water before the critters are awake. Most tanks should be cleaned out weekly, so you will need a sitter comfortable with handling reptiles in case the cages need cleaning.

List out the types of food & supplements and any equipment they will need to use. Show them how to operate the lights, heating elements and misting systems, if you have them.

A good reptile vet may often provide pet sitting services, similar to a kennel for dogs. Local pet stores familiar with reptiles can also be a good resource, and may offer kenneling for less than a vet would charge. A great resource is a local herpetological club! Members there may be more than happy to care for your pets for a small fee, and you’ll know they have some experience with reptiles.

If your collection is small, you may be able to drop your reptiles off at your sitter’s house. If you have a lot of animals, you may consider drawing a diagram of the reptile room with each enclosure labeled if they require different care. You don’t want your Uromastyx to be sprayed every night and you don’t want your crested geckos to be fed a mixed green salad!

Have a backup plan for your pet sitter. You should give them another emergency contact number preferably someone local such as a family member or good friend. Leave the name of your reptile vet and any 24 hour emergency vets who will see reptiles. As morbid as it is, you should consider updating your will and emergency contacts with a person responsible for caring for your animals if you should pass away.

Keep the following on hand in plain sight in the reptile room or centralized location:

  • Pre-made or pre-mixed food (prepped reptile “salad” or crested gecko diet)
  • Frozen pre-killed prey items for snakes and omnivores
  • A few dozen appropriately sized crickets or other insect feeders
  • Supplements (don’t pre-mix dry supplements into food)
  • Water spray bottles or refills for misting systems
  • Paper towels
  • Reptile safe cleaner
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Written instructions on how & when to feed
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Reptile veterinarian locations nearby
  • Local pet stores
  • Extra cash ($10-$20) for emergencies

In particular, Crested Geckos are very easy to leave in the care of a reptile novice. Leave premixed food in a squirt bottle (used for ketchup & mustard at picnics) in the refrigerator, keep a spray bottle (or misting system) full of water next to the enclosures and provide clean food bowls within reach so the sitter can replace at each feeding. It’s pretty simple and should only take less than a minute per gecko every other day. As long as you provide a water bowl, cresties can be sprayed every other night if your house isn’t too dry. Typically cresties can comfortably go a week without food, but ideally should be fed 2-3 times a week. Try to work out a schedule that works for you and your sitter.

Good luck, and happy holidays!