Lort Smith

Guide to Reptile Pet Care

Reptiles can make fascinating pets, but their care differs considerably from traditional pets like cats and dogs. Whether you’re a seasoned reptile enthusiast or a curious newcomer, this guide will navigate you through the essentials of reptile pet care.

1. Do Your Research: Know Your Reptile

Before diving into the world of reptile pet ownership, we recommend doing your research to ensure you understand the specific needs and characteristics of the species. Here’s what you should consider:

What size will my pet reptile grow to? Understanding how large your reptile pet can grow once it reaches full maturity is essential before committing. It impacts how much room you need for the appropriate enclosure and indicates the weight and strength the reptile will have, which you will need to be able to comfortably manage throughout its life to transport it to the vet or remove it from its enclosure to clean it out regularly. Here are some common examples:

  • Bearded dragons can grow to about 45-60 cm in length, making them a manageable size for pet owners.
  • Blue-tongue lizards reach around 30-60 cm in size, depending on the specific species.
  • Carpet pythons vary in size but generally can grow to between 2 and 4 meters in length.
  • Spotted pythons and Children’s pythons are smaller, growing to 45-60 cm.
  • Shingleback skinks typically grow to about 40 cm in length.
  • Eastern long-neck and short-neck turtles typically grow to about the size of a dinner plate, with a shell diameter of 20-30cm.

Reptile diets vary widely by species. Ensuring the proper diet and nutrition is vital to their health. It’s generally recommended to supplement all lizard diets with calcium. Often, vitamin D and other multivitamins are recommended too. Snakes usually do not require supplements, but it may be recommended in some circumstances; always speak with your vet.

Here are some general guidelines around diet for common reptile pets:

  • Bearded dragons are omnivores, eating plants and insects like crickets and wood cockroaches (commonly called “woodies”).
  • Blue-tongue lizards and Shingleback skinks have a similar diet. Omnivorous with a tendency towards soft fruits/veg, molluscs (snails and slugs) and slower-moving insects. You can also use eggs to increase protein intake.
  • Pythons required whole prey items such as mice, rats or day-old chicks. The type and size of prey will depend on the species, age and size of the snake.
  • Long-necked and short-necked turtles will eat insects, yabbies, snails, mussels and worms. Short-neck turtles are omnivores and can also eat a range of fruits and vegetables.

Reptile owners need to understand the specific dietary needs of their pets, including the correct balance of nutrients, portion sizes, and feeding frequency, to ensure their health and longevity.

Life Expectancy: The life expectancy of reptiles can vary greatly depending on the species, with some living only a few years while others can thrive for several decades. For instance, bearded dragons typically live between 10 to 15 years, making them a long-term commitment for pet owners. Blue-tongue lizards can have even longer lifespans, often reaching up to 20 years in captivity with proper care. Carpet pythons are known for their longevity, with many living well over 20 years and some surpassing 30 years in a well-maintained environment. Shingleback skinks are also notable for their lengthy lifespans, commonly living for 15 to 20 years. Freshwater turtles can live upwards of 30 years.

2. Set Up for Success: Creating the Ideal Environment

A suitable environment is vital for your reptile’s health and well-being. Here’s what you need to consider for the set-up:

Temperature control

Reptiles rely entirely on their environment, so it is vital to establish the appropriate temperature gradient. Not getting it right is often why reptile pets become sick in captivity. Create a temperature gradient using heating lamps or pads that allow your reptile to thermoregulate by moving between warmer and cooler areas.

People commonly use the term “cold-blooded” when referring to reptiles, which can be misleading, as some reptiles have a higher preferred body temperature than mammals. Still, unlike mammals, which are endothermic (produce their own body heat), reptiles are ectothermic, which means they rely on the environment for heat.

Humidity control

You must also provide your reptile pet with the appropriate humidity in their enclosure. Desert animals must be kept in lower humidity, while rainforest animals require higher humidity.

Adjust humidity levels according to your species’ needs—lower for desert reptiles and higher for tropical ones—using moisture-retaining substrates, regular misting, and a hygrometer to monitor the environment. Always do your research and speak with your vet for advice.

UV lighting 

UV lighting is essential for all reptile pets. They need it to convert vitamin D and absorb calcium. The requirements vary with species and their natural habitat. Always do your research and speak with your vet.

There are several ways to provide UV lighting for your reptile pet. Generally, people use fluorescent light globes. Remember to only use the appropriate globes for your species of reptile. There are desert globes for desert species and tropical ones for temperate species.

Regular access to unfiltered sunlight is always best, as you cannot can’t replace the sun, so consider positioning enclosures near a sunny window or providing them with regular access to a sunny space.

Appropriate enclosure size

It’s a myth that reptiles will only grow to the size of their enclosure. A cramped space can harm their health, so be sure the enclosure is spacious and meets their specific needs while understanding their natural behaviour. For example, if you are keeping a pet snake, make sure the enclosure is big enough for them to uncurl fully. Snakes and lizards that like to climb need taller spaces rather than longer ones, while ground-dwelling ones need the opposite.

Water filtration

Turtles spend most of their time in the water, so it is vital to maintain good water quality for your pet. Appropriate filtration, regular partial water changes, and frequent water testing will help ensure that the water remains in good condition and that your turtle stays healthy.


Regular cleaning and disinfection are crucial to preventing disease in your pet and yourself. Start by removing and replacing the substrate weekly or more frequently if it becomes soiled. Disinfect the enclosure at least once a month by removing all interior items and scrubbing the surfaces with a reptile-safe disinfectant. Rinse thoroughly to remove any chemical residues. Additionally, wash and disinfect any décor, such as rocks and branches, as well as food and water dishes, to eliminate harmful bacteria and maintain a clean habitat for your reptile.

Veterinary Care

When you first get your pet reptile, a vet visit for a full health check is essential. Annual check-ups are recommended to keep them in tip-top shape.

Visit Lort Smith’s Exotic and Unusual Pet Department

For further guidance and professional care, visit the Exotic and Unusual Pet Department at Lort Smith. Our experienced vets specialise in all things reptile and are here to assist your pet reptile’s health and well-being.

At Lort Smith, we understand the unique bond between reptiles and their owners and strive to provide the best care and advice. Our commitment to your reptile’s health starts when they become a part of your family. Book an appointment online here or call our team.