HOUSING
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There are some important points to consider when choosing and maintaining a home for your reptile. They are construction, furnishings, substrate, lighting, and the environment. Requirements vary greatly, so be sure to consult a book or your veterinarian for specific information regarding your species.

Construction:
I can't emphasize enough how important it is that the cage you choose is escape proof! A cage shouldn't have any loose doors, lids, screens, or panels where your reptile could squeeze through. All doors and/or lids should also be secured with a pin or a lock. I prefer a lock because that prevents any small children from opening the cage and risking a bite or worse. Books placed on top of lids are not adequate. Snakes are especially strong and require only a small space to squeeze through. Every animal that escapes gives fuel for the idiots who want to ban the captive keeping of reptiles.

You also need to be sure the cage is water proof. Most reptile shops sell glass vivariums that work well. If you are planning on building or buying a cage made from wood, be sure it is sealed with a non-toxic water proof(not resistant) paint or sealer. Bacteria and fungus can grow and thrive in wet wood, so it is important that it is sealed properly. The wood will also last longer if it is water proof.

The cage also needs adequate ventilation I prefer to have the vents on the side of the cage so the heat doesn't escape through the roof.

Substrate:
Substrate can vary widely depending on the reptile you own. Desert species usually do well with sand. Don't just go to the beach and get some. Sand brought in from outdoors can contain bacteria and parasites. Your reptile shop should have some sand specifically for desert species.

For most other reptiles I recommend potting soil(make sure it is free of pearlite and vermiculite). It is easy to clean up and is non toxic. Whatever feces that can't be picked up will bio-degrade into the soil. Because feces will bio-degrade, the soil doesn't have to be replaced as often as other substrates. Once every six months is fine. It is also an easy way to keep the humidity at a nice level. Just keep the soil damp (not soaked).

Wood shavings is another commonly used option. There are some complications with using wood shavings however. When feeding the wood can become lodged in the mouth causing stress, or if swallowed can impact the digestive system. Soft woods can also be toxic to your reptile. Cedar is the worst. The shavings also have to be replaced often, which can cost a lot of money over time.

Another option is astro-turf (fake grass). It is a good alternative that is cheep and easy to keep clean. You should have two pieces of it so one can be used while one is getting washed. To clean it all you need to do is soak it in a bucket of water and bleach. Fill the bucket with water and add about a cup of bleach. This kills any bacteria and other nasties that may be living in it. Before you put it back in the cage rinse it thoroughly.

If your reptile is ill paper towels are a good choice. They are easy to replace and it is easy to monitor the feces. There is also little chance for bacteria to grow. Consult your vet for the best options.

Furnishings:
There are three important things a reptile should have in it's enclosure; a water bowl, a hiding place, and a place to climb. Anything else is just cosmetic and adds to the amount of maintenance.

For snakes it is important that their water bowl be large enough for them to soak in before a shed. They will also drink from the bowl, so change the water every day. For other reptiles there should also be water for them to drink. Make sure that the water isn't deep enough to drown it.

Most reptiles like a place to retreat when it needs to feel secure. Hollowed out branches are available at most reptile shops and work well. Empty shoe boxes or tupperware containers with a whole cut in it are another option.

A place to climb should also be made available. This helps the reptile feel more at home and gives it a spot to bask on. Branches can be bought from most stores. The branch should be sturdy enough to support the reptile without tipping over.

Lighting:
The use of lighting is a greatly disputed subject among the herpetoculture field. Some reptiles get vital nutrients from their light source. Full spectrum and ultra violet lights are best for this purpose. Other reptiles mat not require special lighting at all. However, most people agree that during breeding a regulated photo-period helps out. Lighting is also a great way to improve the cosmetics of your set-up. Flourescent bulbs can be purchased at most home improvement centers for less than reptile shops. It is important that the bulbs be isolated from the reptile to prevent burns. Again, the best advice I can give is to consult a vet or book for your specific needs.

Environment:
Environment can be the most important factor when dealing with the heath of your reptile. An improper environment can lead to a number of complications that are difficult to remedy. Heat and humidity vary widely with the type of reptile you own. Be sure to consult a book or a veterinarian for specifics.

Cleaning and Maintenance:
It is important that your reptile's home be kept clean. Bacteria and fungus can grow fast and need to be prevented. Remove your reptile from the cage before you clean it. Feces is a place where a problem could occur, so be sure to remove it as soon as it is noticed. All furnishings should be washed in a bleach water solution. Rinse the item off to remove any foreign materials. Then place it in a bucket filled with water and about a cup of bleach. Let is soak for at least an hour. Remove the item and rinse it thoroughly. Let it dry before putting it back in the cage. Doing this kills any bacteria that may have taken up residence.

The interior should also be cleaned with bleach water. Don't use glass cleaner or other household cleaners. Keep a separate bucket and sponge specifically for your reptile cleaning. Rinse and dry the cage when done.

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