vet holding a lizard.

If you’re more of a lizard or frog person than a dog or cat person, you might be wondering how to care for your reptile or amphibian. It takes a whole different set of skills than caring for a furry friend, that’s for sure! But we think it’s pretty fun.

To help you get started, the team at Veterinary Medical Associates shares the basics of amphibian and reptile care. 

How to Care for My Exotic Pet

Even though amphibians and reptiles have similar characteristics and are both cold-blooded, caring for a pet snake is a lot different than caring for a pet axolotl. If you need a quick refresher on the differences between amphibians and reptiles, we don’t blame you. It’s probably been a while since that high school biology class!

So here’s a quick breakdown: 

  • Amphibians: These vertebrates breathe through their thin, moist skin along with their lungs (if they have them). Amphibians live out their life cycles on both water and land, and they require water to mate and reproduce. Salamanders, toads, newts, and axolotls are all amphibians.
  • Reptiles: These vertebrates have dry, scaly skin that keeps external moisture out and ingested water in. They breathe only through their lungs. Most reptiles lay eggs, but some can bear live young or lay eggs. Turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and alligators are all reptiles. But don’t bring those last two reptiles home as pets! 

Now we’ll dive into the basics of amphibian and reptile care. 

Reptile Care 101 

Before you bring your pet reptile home, you’ll need to invest in a handful of must-have supplies. These include: 

  • A terrarium that’s at least twice as long and 75% as tall as your pet’s projected adult size and has a pool area (if you’re bringing a turtle home). Make sure it has a ventilated lid.
  • A full-spectrum light source
  • A heat lamp and/or heat pads, depending on the species
  • A thermometer to help you keep tabs on the enclosure’s temperature
  • A hygrometer to help maintain the right humidity level in tropical terrariums
  • Bedding that matches your reptile’s environment—for example, coconut husk for desert reptiles vs. reptile carpet for tropical reptiles
  • Decorations that mimic your pet’s natural environment and offer hiding spots
  • A clean water source (that you’ll need to replace with fresh water every day)

Next, you’ll need to stock up on your chosen reptile’s favorite type of food. Make sure you research the food type and ensure that you can easily access it wherever you live, or ask your veterinarian for suggestions. Snakes, for example, require whole, frozen animals like baby mice.

Pet turtles, on the other hand, require foods like specialized pellets, drained sardines, and worms. Learn how often your pet needs to eat and set up a feeding schedule accordingly.

Amphibian Care 101

Amphibian enclosures are similar to reptile enclosures with a key difference: amphibians require water. Here’s what you need to bring home before you adopt that cute frog or axolotl from the pet store: 

  • An aquarium or terrarium suited to the pet’s species and the number of pets you’re bringing home—make sure it comes with a ventilated lid
  • Bottled spring water to fill the tank
  • A tank heater and/or heat lamp specific to amphibians 
  • Full-spectrum lighting specific to amphibians
  • A thermometer to maintain the species’ temperature range
  • A hygrometer to maintain the species’ humidity range
  • Plants, artificial branches, and other decor that matches the animal’s natural habitat 

Now it’s time to stock up on your chosen amphibian’s food. Frogs eat freeze-dried mealworms, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. Axolotls eat crustaceans, brine shrimp, and bloodworms. You can find many of these foods at your local pet store.

Find out how often to feed your new amphibian and make a plan accordingly. You should also plan on cleaning the tank and replacing one-third to half of the water every week or two. 

Find an Exotic Vet for Your Exotic Pet

The final step to caring for your amphibian or reptile is to set up a veterinarian visit. Just like dogs and cats, reptiles and amphibians benefit from annual visits to the vet!