Settling in your new pet reptile
So you’ve done your research, you’ve chosen your new pet. You’ve bought the equipment you’ll need, you’ve set it all up and decorated it to your satisfaction. You’ve run the heating and lighting and you know your temperatures. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be, and so you set off for the reptile shop to collect your new pet.
It’s a tremendously exciting time; one of the most rewarding aspects of our job is seeing the sheer delight on someone’s face when they collect their new pet, whether it’s their first reptile or a species they’ve been hankering after for a while.
Off you go, new pet safe and secure in a box or bag, advice buzzing around your head like so much meaningless noise. You can’t wait to get home and start building that essential bond between pet and owner – STOP
Excitement notwithstanding, there are a few vital points to remember at this stage.
This is a big day for you, but it’s a colossal upheaval for your new pet. Everything he’s become used to is changing; the sounds, the smells, the timing of lights on and off, the food will be different (albeit very similar). Imagine being set down in a strange city, where you can’t speak the language, and have no idea where you are. Even if everybody is very kind to you, it’s going to be pretty scary.
Animals respond to scary situations in one of three ways – fight, flight, or freeze. Even a very confident bearded dragon that sat quite boldly in your hand at the shop may well thrash about and try to run away when handled for the first time in a new home. They have no idea that you’re their friend, and if you’re too insistent in trying to make friends then that’s when the fight reflex kicks in – which is no fun for anyone!
Being stared at is, almost without exception, an unfriendly signal in the animal world. Captive bred animals may well be used to being looked at, but a direct stare for any length of time is going to make them very, very uncomfortable. It’s going to suggest that you’re either about to attack your new pet, or eat it. Neither option is going to make your new friend feel very happy about you!
I know it may seem like we’re being terrible killjoys when we advise you not to touch or stare at your new pet, but to keep any contact light and calm for the first week (and possibly longer, for some species). But truly, we’ve seen more problems caused by an over-enthusiastic welcome than we have from just about any other cause; most animals will very quickly figure out that the best defence is a good offense if they’re forced to. And then there are the truly sad ones where an animal simply shuts down in fear, hiding away and refusing to feed, until it becomes sick or even dies. It’s rare, but it does happen.
So how to avoid causing yourself and your new companion any undue stress on ‘moving day’?
Firstly, we’ll give you as much information as possible about your new pet. We get to know our residents pretty well, and will be able to give you individual advice on how to settle that particular animal in. All animals are individuals, so even if a species is normally very bold remember you may have a shy one!
The bag or box that we will give you to transport your new pet home is sufficient to keep them comfortable and secure for the several hours it will take you to get home and make sure their new house is all ready for them. Taking them out and stuffing them back in again is going to give them a stressful experience they may never get over, so put them somewhere warm and quiet and leave them alone.
When the time comes to put them in their new home, that’s when you can take the time for a little bit of a cuddle. They’re having a stressful day as it is, so a quick five minute handling session isn’t going to do them any harm – but keep it short!
The next bit is definitely the hardest. This is where the mistakes get made and the damage is done, so it’s very very important to try your very hardest to get it right.
The next bit? Patience.
A little bit (or perhaps a lot!) of self control here will pay dividends in the long run. Yes, you want your new pet to respond to you. You want to see it eat, you want to interact with it – and all of these desires are fine. But back off a bit. Give your new pet a chance to observe the new sights and sounds and smells and figure out for themselves that they aren’t threatening, which most will do pretty quickly. If we say three days, we mean it; yes, there are animals that will settle in much more quickly, and will be demanding attention from the first night (bearded dragons are most often like this!), but most will take a little bit of time. We come up with the figures based on our past experience of the species, and our current knowledge of that particular animal – some are shy, some are bold, some are nosy.
Just check they’ve got access to water and food, make sure their temperatures are OK, then leave them alone. If you’re worried you can always call or email us
Follow these few simple guidelines, and you should get your relationship with your new companion off to a flying start. Remember – patience!