Behavior and Socialization

Online Veterinary Education Library

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Behavioral Issues

It is important to know whether your pet is diurnal, crepuscular or nocturnal to be prepared for the time of day when s/he is most active. Careful handling of herptiles is also important. For example, when snakes are familiar with you, you should reach your hand into the terrarium slowly and grab the snake behind its head, supporting the rest of the body with your other hand. But if you are new to a snake, you need to grab it by the head fast.

As pets get accustomed to their new surroundings, they recognize and respond to routine. It’s activities outside the routine that create added stress. Many herptiles are sensitive to light during their nighttime and are frightened by loud sounds. Your pet is likely to be uncomfortable when handled by a new person. It also takes time for reptiles and amphibians to feel safe outside of their homes, whether indoors or outdoors. To help your pet overcome these stresses, provide opportunities to expose the animal to other environments and people from the beginning. Make sure their alternate surroundings are safe. Speak calmly to your pets when you want to help them settle down.

Many herptiles are curious. With claws and sometimes sharp teeth, they’ll continue working at areas of their terrariums to create openings for escape. Once out of their cages, these animals will run and hide. Be sure all doors and windows are securely closed before taking your pet out of his home and be prepared to conduct searches until you learn its favorite hiding places.

Some herptiles, like lizards, may hiss or vocalize when they feel threatened. This is normal behavior. It is also normal for reptiles with claws and teeth to bite and scratch when they feel stressed or challenged. In their native environments, this is completely appropriate. Routine is the best way to counteract these behaviors. In some cases, familiarity can even lead to positive actions; some reptiles have been known to nudge their owners when they want petting.

Male reptiles can become more aggressive during reproductive and mating cycles, while some females may become less active. If you plan on breeding your pet, be sure to learn about the particular mating behaviors, reproduction processes and health issues specific to your species. If you do not plan on breeding your pet and experience problems with sexually-induced behaviors, talk to your veterinarian to determine if anything can be done to change the animal’s hormone levels.

The most important negative behavior to watch for is lethargy. Assuming temperature, lighting and diet are correct, a lack of activity over a few days may indicate a health problem. Be sure to contact your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for your pet if the symptom persists.

Please note: Never leave a baby or young child alone with one of these pets. They may act in ways that stress the reptile or amphibian and cause aggressive or unmanageable behavior.



Socialization

Each species of reptile and amphibian has its own personality characteristics. Some, like snakes, can be left alone for days without causing any stress or discomfort. Others, like iguanas, need some daily socialization. In these cases, give your pet time to adjust to human contact in its new environment. Then begin introducing the animal to different people to acclimate your pet to a stranger’s touch.

Most herptiles can live comfortably with other animals. However, it is important to understand the relationship between the two or more animals in question. As a general rule, only unite two herptiles in a single environment if they naturally live in the same environment. Otherwise, one may eat the other. Other domestic animals, such as dogs, cats or birds, may be able to live in the same home as a reptile or amphibian, but it depends on how they might socialize together. For example, a bird is likely prey for most reptiles. A docile dog may be easily companionable with a lizard, but a hissing cat could push the reptile’s stress level up.

Learn about your chosen herptile’s personality and tendencies before introducing it to another animal.