How to Choose a Healthy Exotic Pet

Posted by Diedra Blackmill on Jan 10th 2019

LLizard on branch

There are few aspects of pet ownership more disappointing than bringing home a new pet from a shop only to discover that it’s already in poor health and doesn’t live long after arrival. That’s not exactly an ideal experience, especially for an exotic pet that you spend a good amount of money to acquire and prepare for.

Reputable exotic pet shops will inspect the health of their animals regularly. But they don’t always catch everything, so you also need to perform your own due diligence before bringing a reptile or amphibian home.

Here’s what to look for when choosing a healthy exotic pet.

Look for movement

Young tortoises eating greens

It’s true that many herps are nocturnal and not particularly active during the day. If you can, try to get a look at the animal you want during a time that it might be up and moving. An animal that is slow or motionless during its normal sleeping hours is not an indication that anything is wrong.

But if you get a look during their waking hours, you want to select an individual that seems to be energetic and moving around. Waking time activity is a decent indicator that the animal is healthy. Overall, you’re looking for normal behavior for the species.

That being said, some species just aren’t particularly active. So you should also check out the next indicators.

Check the skin, scales, or shell

Green iguana scales

Before buying any exotic pet, you always want to ask to handle the animal. Do not buy from any pet shop or breeder who won’t let you handle and examine the animal before buying. There are a few easy-to-spot health indicators found externally on many species.

Check the skin of the animal for any wounds or injuries. For snakes, run your hands along the scales to feel for small bumps that may indicate parasites, and check for any missing scales that may indicate previous injuries or health problems.

When selecting a young tortoise, feel the shell to make sure it’s firm. That’s an indication that the animal is getting adequate nutrition and is developing properly.

Check the eyes and nose

Upclose snake eye with tongue out

While you have the herp out of its tank or cage, check its eyes too. When you check the animal’s eyes, what you’re looking for is to see if they are clear of cloudiness or discharge.

If you spot some cloudy coloration to the eyes, it’s not necessarily an indication that anything is wrong. For species that shed, such as snakes, the eyes can become cloudy as the scales over the eyes (called eye caps) loosen and fall off.

You’ll also want to check the nose for runny discharge. This could be a sign of a cold. It’s not a huge health concern, but you probably don’t want to buy from people who are trying to sell sick animals rather than treating them.

If you’d like to see what normal and healthy behavior looks like in a particular species, come check out the reptiles and amphibians at The Tye-Dyed Iguana. Our team is happy to talk to you about expected animal behaviors.

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