Reptile Care Basics: Things You Need to Know

Reptile Care Basics: Things You Need to Know

Among the most amazing pets in the world, reptiles can be some of the more complicated pets to care for. Depending on the species, their care can be expensive and time consuming. Because of this, it’s important to understand that reptiles are often not the best thing in the world to keep if you’re someone that isn’t capable of handling a possibly care intensive pet. However, reptiles are capable of being some of the most rewarding pets to take care of. There are also a number of species who have relatively straightforward care, so don’t be scared off by my first few sentences. I just want to be clear exactly what you are signing up for. If you are still interested in a reptile pet, there are a few care basics that you need to know.


Cage Basics


Sindragosa's Cage

Sindra’s Cage

There are two important things you need to know when picking out a cage for your reptile. These can be summed up in two questions.

What size cage do I need?

Having a properly sized cage for your reptile is essential. You wouldn’t want to keep a 4-foot Savannah Monitor in a 4-foot long cage. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to keep a Ball Python in an 8-foot long cage. This depends entirely on the species you plan on getting. Reptiles do better in captivity if they have enough room to move around and explore. The cage must be big enough to let them do this, normally the rule is “the bigger, the better.” Keep in mind that some reptiles do not feel secure if given a large open space.

What does the cage need to be made out of?

A cage can be made out of many different materials. The common ones are glass, screen mesh, PVC, and wood. The material needed depends on a few different factors. First, how big of a cage do you need? Finding a 6-foot glass cage is much harder than finding a 6-foot PVC cage. Second, what sort of airflow does the species need? Some reptiles need to be kept in glass cages because of how simple it is to keep the humidity up at the right level. However, there are some reptiles with high humidity requirements who also need a large amount of airflow. If you keep a chameleon in a glass cage, it can lead to respiratory infections.



Zoo Med Double Dome Lamp
When it comes to reptile care, this is something you have to keep in mind. Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures. Without the proper heat, reptiles cannot function and will die. Below, I will separate out the different kinds of lighting that are required as well as the different ways you can heat up a reptile’s cage.

UVB Lighting

Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0

Just like us, most reptiles need access to UVB Rays in order to make vitamin D3. Since it’s not always possible to keep your reptile outside, there are UVB lights available made specifically for reptiles. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about these bulbs. First, they have to be replaced around every six months or so. They lose their effectiveness eventually. Second, the range of the UVB rays is not very far. It depends on the type of UVB bulb, whether they are high output or low output. For the UVB fluorescent tubes, you are looking at a range of around 12 to 18 inches. So you need to make sure your reptile has a perch close enough to soak up the rays.

I also want to add that the required output of the UVB lights depends on the reptile. A reptile from the desert needs a different output from a reptile from a tropical region. Having the wrong type of UVB light can damage a reptile’s eyes.


Basking Bulbs

Exo Terra Basking Bulb 75w
These kind of bulbs are heating and lighting in one package. Some reptiles need a spot in their cage that’s hotter than the rest. That’s where these bulbs come in to play. They are available in different watts. If you have a reptile with high basking temperature requirements, you will want a high wattage bulb. Likewise, a lower basking temperature will need a lower wattage bulb. Normally, you will put these bulbs in some kind of dome to hang above your cage. You don’t want it took close to your reptile. If they can get close enough, it will burn them.


Under Tank Heaters (UTHs)

Zoo Med Reptitherm Under Tank Heater
Heating the ground is a requirement for some reptile species. Under Tank Heaters are heating pads that stick to the bottom of a cage. Typically, you only have it on one side of a cage to allow for a temperature gradient. It’s important when using a UTH to monitor the temperature of the hot spot, this can be done with an infrared thermometer. UTHs also require the use of a thermostat in order to control what the temperature of the pad gets to. If you don’t use a thermostat, the pad will get way too hot.


Other Options

There are a number of other items that can be used to heat and/or light a cage. Just to list a few:

  • Ceramic Heat Emitters
  • Heat Tape
  • Heat Rope
  • Fluorescent Lights

If you have the time, do a bit of research on these items as well. Heating rocks are available, but these are not recommended. They are able to easily burn your reptile.




Hornworms are a favorite of some reptiles species.

You need to know exactly what the diet requirements are for your pet. This is an extremely important step in keeping them healthy. Commonly, reptiles are insectivores or omnivores. There are a handful that are herbivores and, of course, snakes are carnivores. Find a list of food items for any reptile species you are interested in getting. It’s also a great idea to estimate the monthly cost of their food. You must know beforehand if you can afford to feed your pet.
When you get an insectivore reptile, you aren’t just committing yourself to caring for it. You have to care for their food as well. Keeping a constant supply of insects in your house is a must. This means you will have to get the proper equipment to keep the insects in, as well as pay for their food. Not everyone considers this when they get their first reptile. In my post, Gut Loading: How and Why?, I go over caring for feeder insects a bit.



Reptiles are found across the globe in a variety of habitats and environments. Some need a cage that mimics a humid jungle while others need a dry desert. The humidity level is something you must keep an eye on. Too much humidity can cause health problems while too little can keep them from shedding properly. You will need to have a couple of humidity gauges for your pet’s cage. If necessary, you may also need to purchase a dehumidifier/humidifier for the room your reptile stays in.



Reptiles are not just another cat or dog who want you to pet and scratch them all the time. Being handled is not something that comes naturally, many reptiles would prefer to only be looked at. There are many species though who tolerate handling and can be tamed down with short handling sessions every day or two. If you are looking specifically for a reptile you can play with and hold, you will need to do some research and consider that you may not be able to handle your pet the way you are picturing. Are you planning on getting a lizard for your kid? Then this especially applies to you, no one would be happy if you purchased a reptile that is mean when handled.

It’s important to consider the reptile’s personality during selection. Not only do you need to worry about handleability, you have to ensure that the reptile is safe for you and your home. Some people find animals like boa constrictors or anacondas very cool, but the concept of actually keeping and living with one is entirely different from watching one on television. Because of this, you have to be very realistic about what you’re looking for and what you can actually keep.


There are many reasons to get a reptile. But if you’re just doing one to be trendy or because it sounds cool, you’re buying a reptile for the wrong reasons. Remember that these are still living, breathing animals. They need care and love, but it must be provided in different ways. Look at some of our care sheets if you think a reptile is still the right pet choice for you. I also suggest reading our article, Fiver of the Best Starter Reptiles. All of the reptiles listed there are great for beginners.

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