Category Archives: Reptiles

Top 4 Easy Reptile Pets

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

Thinking about getting a reptile for yourself or a loved one but worried about the care or possible feeding of bugs and live food? No worries, there is a reptile species for everyone. This is my pick for what I consider to be easy reptile pets. By easy I mean that their needs are minimal compared to more extreme exotics and most don’t require live food. Please remember that all reptiles need special care and attention daily to live healthy long lives. So for my pick I looked at things such as the diet needed, the type of lighting and heating requirements and illness/malnutrition seen in my practice. My husband and I have owned all of these so I can speak from experience about their care and needs.

1. Crested geckos


These are wonderful little lizards that do not require any additional heat and a simple fluorescent light will suffice. They do not get very large (about hand sized) and can become tame. Please note though that they will drop (and not regrow) their tail when stressed. The typical diet is a commercial crestie diet that has the consistency of baby food and many people keep them on only this diet with a small dish of water in the cage. We have found that they grow better  and faster with supplemental bugs (crickets) as a regular part of their diet.  The caging needs are simple with a space of 1ft x 2ft high for adults, some climbing branches and plants (real or fake) for hiding. The bedding should be kept moist and the cage should be misted daily.  The following is a good source for crestie info and supplies – Pangea

gecko cage 2

2. Uromastyx Lizards

Ornate Uro Hatchlings: Deer Fern Farms

Ornate Uro Hatchlings: Deer Fern Farms

Not all lizards need bugs and some don’t even need water! Yes it’s true, consider these small lizards tortoises without the shell as their care is very similar. Uros come in a large variety of colors and as adults they are bright and beautiful animals that will become very hand tame. They do require a high heat and a low moisture environment with full spectrum uvb (10.0 bulb) and a basking spot of 120 F (yes hot- not a typo). Their diet consists of only greens and we feed an assortment of spring greens daily. We keep ours on bird seed (millet) and have found this to be safe and easy to clean. The will eat some of the seeds and weekly we offer ground up lentils (place in coffee grinder). They don’t need, and shouldn’t have a water dish, in their cage as all their water is derived from their greens. At least weekly, they need a multivitamin and calcium supplement added to their greens.  For more information and some beautiful photos of Uros check out Deer Fern Farms 

Uro at Deer Fern Farms

Uro at Deer Fern Farms

3. Tortoises


Tortoises come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors but in general all are herbivores (they eat only greens) and should be feed a diet of leafy greens daily and even grass hay as adults. Favorite treats include small amounts of fruits and I’ve found that my desert tortoises love hibiscus flowers and leaves over all else. Tortoises will become very tame with their owners and live very long lives. In the desert Southwest of AZ many are kept as outdoor yard pets but this should be done with caution as we frequently see them attached by dogs and when young they can be susceptible to birds. Also if kept in an outdoor enclosure care must be ensured that they cannot dig out as many have dug out of their yards and gone for a stroll. If kept indoors they require supplemental heating and full spectrum UVB light 10.0 bulbs or mercury vapor. For specific needs please research your particular species.  Some suggestions for pets include desert tortoises (available for adoption), as well as Russian and Greek tortoises commonly sold in pet stores. These guys don’t get too big and become nice pets. Sulcatas or African Spurred Tortoises are another popular pet but please realize that while they start out smaller then your hand they quickly grow to 90 lbs or more so ensure adequate housing for the adult size as many are re-homed  once they reach this size due to lack of space. See tortoisecare for more info and Wildside pets is worth a visit for AZ locals.


4. Snakes – yes snakes!


Snakes are actually the easiest reptile pet to care for. They do not need and should not be fed live food and only need a frozen thawed mouse about weekly (will vary with age and size of snake). Snakes do not require supplemental light and many will not need extra heating (see requirements for your species).

Our recommendation for snake pets include:

  • Ball pythons – they do not get very large and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns
  • Boas – Several types are available but the red-tail is the most common. Many color morphs are available in the pet trade. These are typically quiet and gentle snakes but will get big.
  • Kingsnakes – beautiful snakes that are shiny and colorful but can be reclusive
  • Corn and Milk Snakes – smaller snakes that can become very tame and are available in many colors and patterns
rep show and home 346 DSCN0161
IMG_3423 IMG_7626


For more snake info visit kingsnake  and lllreptile for supplies

Reptile Resources

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

I thought I’d take a moment to post some of the reptile resources I’ve used and found helpful in keeping all sorts of reptile critters.  Please feel free to provide further suggestions by replying below.



Web Sites:

  1. Wild Side Pets – A local Mesa, AZ petshop with great reptile knowledge
  2. – Great resource for finding animals and discussing care on forums
  3. LLL Reptile – Loads of supplies shipped to your door
  4. Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care collection – Excellent species care articles from a well-respected author
  5. ARAV  – reptile and amphibian vets
  6. AZ Herpetological Association – local AZ herp group
  7. Poison Dart Frogs at AZDR
  8. Reptiles of AZ 
  9. Fauna Classifides
  10. Field Herp Forum 

Facebook Pages and Groups:

  1. Reptile Chat Group on FB
  2. SnakeBytesTV – great care videos
  3. The Reptile Report 
  4. Uromastyx Lizards
  5. Pro Exotics
  6. Arizona Reptile Center
  7. WildSide Pets

Box Turtles

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM





ENVIRONMENT: Are land animals

Although the do like some humidity especially in their bedding.

LIFESPAN: Up to 100 years

SEXING: Males have a longer tail and the cloaca extends beyond the plastron and flatter shell shape.

HOUSING: A large aquarium can be used with a flooring substrate of a preservative and chemical free soil or mulch. Those with high amounts of coconut bark and sphagnum moss will allow the turtle to burrow and will also help to maintain high humidity levels. Artificial plants can be placed around the enclosure and will provide the same feeling of shelter and security for the turtle.

OUTDOORS? In some areas of the US they can be kept year around in outdoor pens. These pens must be fully enclosed to prevent predators from getting your turtles and should have a deep footer to prevent them from digging out. Peat moss and  mulch work well as a substrate. Shelters can be made out of ceramic pots or stacked brick or flagstone. I’ve found that a paint tray works well for their water allowing easy access and exit and is inexpensive allowing for frequent replacement.

LIGHTING: Sunlight is always the best, but if kept indoors the enclosure should have a full spectrum (UVA and UVB) light within 18in. of the floor and a basking light to allow for additional warmth.

TEMPERATURE: Average indoor temperatures are usually appropriate, but again a basking light should be provided to allow for additional heating up to about 85F

WATER/HUMIDITY: A shallow pool of water should be kept in the enclosure and should be cleaned daily. Turtles will drown in deep water so the pool should only be about 1in deep and should have easy access for entering and exiting. Again, it is very important to keep the pool water clean to avoid bacterial build up and infections.

DIET: Box turtles should be fed a mixture of vegetables and protein. Their diets are often deficient in vitamin A so a vegetable rich source should be fed daily such as squash, sweet potatoes and peppers. A variety of greens should also be fed daily and a limited portion of fruits and berries. All food should be finely diced when served. Cat food should never be fed to your box turtle.

SUPPLEMENTS: Food should be sprinkled with a phosphorus free calcium supplement.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: The most common problems we see in turtles are always related to an inadequate diet and environment. The best way to keep your pet healthy is to practice preventative medicine which is really just providing a good diet and environment.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at:

Melissa Kaplan’s web site at:

Free Downloadable Exotic Pet Care Sheets by Species

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM







EXOTIC FACT SHEET sugar gliders

EXOTIC FACT SHEET water dragons


exotic fact sheet CHAMELEONS

exotic fact sheet box turtle

Exotic Pet Garden

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM



I’ve kept all sorts of exotic pets throughout my life and have refined my methods of feeding and housing them over the years as I’ve learned more about their unique needs. This education has allowed me to continually enrich their environment & diet to provide the best possible care. Therefore, this article is an attempt to share my experiences in keeping and housing but can certainly be adapted to any.  In my newest article (available soon) I’ll discuses the design and build of my used to house 3 colonies of birds and a pair of box turtles.  In this article I’ll share with the reader feeding and gardening strategies for these pets.


TURTLEVEGGIESAs owners of exotic pets we all struggle to keep our refrigerator stocked with fresh greens and veggies to provide daily “salads” to our friends.  Because I share a love of both pets and gardening I decided to plant a vegetable garden specifically to feed my birds and turtles.  An extra incentive was what seems to be the continuous recall of commercial vegetable due to bacterial and other contamination, and the high cost of organic produce.  I’ve found that I can supply my pets with safe, organic, nutritious and cost effective vegetables by growing them myself.


The first step in planning the garden should be to determine how much room you have available to dedicate to your garden.  This will vary for all yards and needs and no one formula is perfect.  Your garden can range from one or two planted patio pots to a raised box garden or a large garden plot.  I found it easiest to start with a small garden plot and have enlarged and expanded it over the years.  As you experiment with the size of your garden you’ll learn how much of each veggie to plant and how much food your pets will require.

For my garden I started with a small patch of dirt that I didn’t have any other plants or flowers growing on.  As an avid gardener this was unacceptable because of course all available space must be used.  So the area I placed my garden in is irregular in shape and has grown to about 9 feet x 17 feet in size.  I’ve found that this size works best for me and certainly allows me to grow enough veggies for my 2 box turtles and allows a large variety of extra vegetables to feed to the 3 colonies of birds.  The 3 aviaries include 2 Rosellas, a colony of Bourkes and a colony of male ‘fly-in’ or rescue Cockatiels.  It also supplies my 2 Goffin cockatoos with veggies.


The next step in planning your garden is to consider the environment in which you live and determine the best vegetables that will grow in your area and the best time for planting each type of vegetable. Also don’t forget that you are growing these for your pets so plant only items that are of good nutritional value to them and of course veggies they like and will eat.

My garden in located in the (AZ) and due to the inferno of our summers many of the more common veggies just don’t do very well here or need to be planted in the winter to prevent frying under our summer sun.  This too will take some experimenting to determine what will work best for your area.  A good resource is your local University corporative extension for horticulture.  I suggest googling your city and cooperative extension horticulture to locate a web site for your area of the country.  A good resource for AZ is: .
Also here is a good link for a national listing of cooperative extensions: .

For the desert southwest I’ve found that many vegetables do well if planted in a good location and at the correct time of year.  I plant my garden in full sun but do create microclimates by placing more sensitive plants next to large or aggressive growing plants allowing for more shade.  As an example I have a large Wisteria growing on a garden arch and I plant my green bean plants on the east side of this allowing for cooling in the afternoon shade.

So consider your layout to provide for these microclimates.


MARIGOLDSANDTOMATOCurrently, I grow carrots, a variety of squash, beans, corn, eggplants (for us), tomatoes (for turtles), numerous types of peppers, leafy greens, zucchini, pumpkins, and of course flowers.  I’ve found that the seeds for the leafy greens must be planted in the fall in my area for a good early spring or later winter growth.  The other plants I grow by a mixture of seeds and sprouts and typically plant in the late winter to allow a good harvest over the summer.  One tip is to collect seeds from your plants each harvest to allow for easy and inexpensive replanting the next year.  Again experimentation is your best tool and you’ll find over time what does the best and what your pets enjoy.  I find that my ornate box turtles will eat just about anything but love the corn, squash, greens, tomatoes, and baby carrots – oh and they love zucchini.  My birds enjoy all types of peppers, corn, some squash, carrot tops and sprouts of everything especially the leafy greens.

As a side note, I also grown a variety of herbs and I’ve found that my birds love these and that they are easy to grow even in the heat of our AZ summer.  Some of the herbs I’ll plant in my garden plot but most of them are planted in pots by the aviary.  My aviary has misters on the outside that run during the summer and these seem to create a good microclimate for the herb pots. The pots allow for convenient plucking of leaves and stems during each visit to the aviary.  The birds and turtles now expect a ‘gift’ with each visit and my herb pots make this an easy task. While I have a large selection of herbs I’ve found that mint plants do vary well, come in a large variety of flavors and scents and are well accepted by the birds.


Okay so being a flower gardener and not terribly organized my vegetable garden is full of flowers and definitely not organized.  I  couldn’t bring my self to have a large plot of ground with only veggies and no color so did some research and found that marigolds do great in AZ (often will live all summer) and have some natural insect repellent factors aiding in organic insect control for your garden.  I purchased some commercial marigold seeds and literally tossed them throughout the garden at first planting.  These now re-grow every year from seeds they have dropped and seem to do a great job of keeping pests away. Additionally, we grow lantana throughout our garden for the beauty of the flowers and the natural insect repellent (berries are toxic). While we don’t feed the lantana we have found that their leaves when plucked work nicely as a natural scrubber and bacterial to scrub out the water dishes with, keeping them clean and safe for the birds.

For arrangement of your veggies, I do recommend considering your access to the individual vegetable plants for harvesting.  My arrangement of a long and wide plot makes access sometimes challenging but I like the look so stay with it.  The best set-up for growing is long and narrow rows allowing access to every plant and easy watering.

Also consider how the individual plants will grow.  Veggies such as squash will be ground vines and will quickly overtake other plants and spread outside your plot.  As they are growing you can manipulate them to the area you have laid aside, but this will take daily investigation and arrangement of your garden. Another option is to have two plots with one designated for vegetable vines and one for other plants such as carrots, peppers, and tomatoes.

GARDENPUMPKINSoil is perhaps the most important thing to consider when planting and it is important to amend your soil prior to any planting. In AZ we have very poor soil but I’ve still been able to grow beautiful gardens by amending prior to planting with organic mulch and then continuing to mulch throughout the growing season.  So basically, I worked with what I had for soil with only a small amount of improving for the first garden and each successive garden, due to continued mulching, has resulted in a lovely plot with much improved soil for vegetables.


Many options are available for you to easily care for you garden, but I enjoy the old fashioned method of hand watering and organic fertilization.  However, if you don’t have this time a simple battery operated timer and watering system can be purchased at any of the large box stores.  This method is inexpensive and I’ve used the faucet timers for my bird’s mister system and find that they work well.  Theses timers can also be connect to a drip or sprinkle system for daily watering of your garden at little expense.

In regards to organic growing, please always keep in mind that your pets and perhaps your family will be eating these vegetable so avoid all commercial pesticides.  I’ve found the best method is companion planting with marigolds & herbs. Marigolds have worked form me to keep pests away and “smelly” herbs seem to also be good pest control agents for the garden.  Here are a few links on companion planting

One thing to remember in an organic garden is not to expect perfection.  U.S. grocery stores and produce stands have accustomed us to expecting that perfect vegetables or fruits with absolute perfect size and shape that is free of any blemishes.  I’ve learned to accept various sizes and shapes from my own garden and a certain degree of insect pests.

I do feel that companion planting is helpful but if additional control is needed I simple use a soap water spray and that also seems to curtail the pests and prevents an infestation.


DSC01040-copyThe arrangement of my garden has allowed for continued harvesting throughout the spring and summer keeping all my pets well fed.  I attempt to plant vegetables with various maturation rates and continue to plant throughout the season to keep the harvest as long as possible. As a result I’m able to walk my garden daily and pull a days worth of veggies for the birds and turtles.  On a typical day I’ll harvest several squash – zucchini, pumpkin, and others, many peppers, tomatoes, beans and greens.  But of course the availability of vegetables to harvest will continually change throughout the season allowing me to provide my pets with a rich variety of nutritious organic meals daily.


I hope this article prompts others with exotic pets to start their own garden.  As you can see with minimal expense, time and materials you can enrich your pet’s diet and lives and have the joy of watching them experience the fruits of your labor.