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Housing Exotic Pets: FAQ

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Housing Exotic Pets Heaters Thermostats

Housing is obviously a major consideration when it comes to keeping exotic animals; they depend on their homes to provide all of their needs in a way few other kinds of pets – except fish – do.

Whether you’re planning on keeping reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates, you’ll find a wealth of tanks and equipment on offer – and making the right choices from this bewildering array can often seem a daunting task.

What Are The Most Important Features To Look For When Choosing A Tank?

Tanks come in a wide range of materials, sizes and designs and choosing the right one largely depends on the animal you intend it to house. For those which are wholly or mostly ground-living, the tank’s floor area is likely to be more relevant that its height; by contrast, for tree-dwellers, floor space can often be sacrificed in favour of obtaining the benefits that a taller tank would offer.

Virtually without exception, no matter what kind of creature you keep, a good, secure lid is an absolutely essential feature of any tank you pick. Almost all of them are good escapers, while snakes, spiders and even scorpions can disappear with such consummate ease that they could probably teach a few things to Houdini himself! Save yourself a whole lot of distress and always opt for a strong and well-fitting top.

Every tank needs to be easy to clean. With exotic pets spending so much of their lives within its confines, there is always the potential risk of disease, fungus or parasite infestation to contend with – so good hygiene is vitally important.

What Sorts Of Heating Can I Use To Keep My Tank Warm?

Aquarium tanks are well catered for with a range of purpose-designed heater/thermostat units of varying power. There are plenty of heaters for the terrarium too, though picking the right one is not quite so straightforward.

There are heat pads – a favourite with many invertebrate keepers – which sit below the tank, warming it up from underneath. If you opt for this type of heater, it’s often a good idea to make sure that it only covers perhaps half of the base, to avoid the inhabitants from coming too close if they burrow.

Hot rocks – electrically heated artificial stones – can be useful, especially in reptile tanks, often used alongside the more typical ceramic heaters and spot lamps, which are ideal for generating basking hot spots.

How Can I Make Sure The Temperature Stays Right?

Your heating system will need a thermostat. Most aquarium heaters come with one already fitted, but terrarium heaters generally don’t, so you’ll have to pick something suitable from the range available.

Modern thermostats are remarkably efficient, with some kinds able to adjust the temperature gradually – rather than simply switching the heater on or off – and others able to set different heat levels for day and night. Of course, this level of sophistication doesn’t come cheap, but you do get what you pay for, and it’s always best to pick the most reliable you possibly can.

Do I Need To Use Filtration In My Aquarium If I’m Not Keeping Fish?

Unfortunately many of the most popular aquarium exotics are rather messy – both in terms of eating and their own wastes – which means that the water in their tanks can become unhealthy quite quickly, especially if their homes are relatively small.

Normal aquarium under-gravel or box filters can be a very useful addition – but do remember that not every species welcomes fast water movement, so if your pet is one of those which doesn’t, make sure you don’t overdo the current!

Alternatively, you can get around the need for filtration equipment by doing regular full or partial water changes, though many types of pets – especially amphibians – are very intolerant of sudden temperature changes, so you’ll have to be careful if you do decide to try this.

Why Is It Important To Keep Heating And Lighting Separate?

It’s important to keep heating and lighting separate principally because it allows your pets to experience a more normal day/night cycle and can let you vary the length of their artificial “day” independently from their temperature – which can be important if you hope to get some species to breed.

Obviously, it’s essential too for many kinds of nocturnal animals – especially shy ones which will only feed at night – to have a proper period of undisturbed darkness if they are to be given a fair chance to behave naturally.

The real trick to getting the housing right is to understand the needs of your pet. Once you know the sort of conditions it favours in the wild and the way it naturally lives its life, recreating an appropriate environment for it becomes much simpler. There’s no substitute for doing your own research; it may take a bit of time, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did.

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