Amphibians & Reptiles as Pets

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Reptile for 5-year-old

Nov 2003

Our 5 year-old is very focused on having a reptile as a pet. He's decided that he wants a bearded dragon lizard. Does anyone have experience in having one of these as a pet? hs

My son had a leopard geecko(sp) at around the same age and I would not recommend a reptile as a pet for a 5 year old. The fun of having a new pet wore off quickly and it required a lot of care by Mom. I'm not certain what is fed to a bearded dragon, but the geecko needed live crickets doused with vitamin powder. It was more like a shake and bake. So in addition to having a reptile tank to care for, we had a cricket tank to care for as well. The crickets needed a supply of water and food, and the tank needed cleaning periodically. Additionally, reptiles shed and require assistance (in some cases) around the ''toe'' area. If skin is not shed completely, it causes a rubber band effect over time and the animal could lose a digit. Eventually, we sold back the geecko to the East Bay Vivarium. I would contact them and speak to any one of the knowledgable employees prior to doing anything further. They can let you know what to expect in terms of care and also life expectancy. Good luck. dg
My daughter has a corn snake. It is simply the easiest pet I've ever had the pleasure to take care of.
My child had a leopard gecko and several snakes. The main problem, the only problem, is the food they eat. On a regular basis I had to drive across town to the Vivarium to get the food (crickets, mice, etc.), usually in rush hour and usually because it was suddenly brought to my attention that the pet had not eaten in some time and needed food, and a quick check of said pet confirmed that it seemed to be close to death by starvation. Or you can raise the food yourself. But just make sure you are OK with a cage of mice or a box of crickets in addition to the reptile. Oh yes, and the crickets do get out, and hide in your house. It's very charming at first, to have a little cricket serenade as you're going to sleep, but the charm wears off after a few days and you will never ever find where the cricket is hiding. But they have a short lifespan. Ginger
Bearded Dragons are wonderful, gentle lizards, and are a favorite at preschools. You will have to feed them live crickets every once in a while, though. Talk to the people at the Vivarium, on Fifth near Hearst in Berkeley. If you need a terrarium, I just found two old (not leak-proof) aquariums while cleaning out my garage. One is quite large. You can have either one if you'd like to pick it up. letitia
We once went to a reptile birthday party and the handlers said that bearded dragons were absolutely the best reptile pets for kids. They will sit on the shoulder while the child reads or watches tv, etc. They also recommended corn snakes for those who prefer a snake. They come in many lovely colors. Our neighbor has some sort of gecko, and it cannot be handled because the skin is so fragile. Remember hands must be washed after handling reptiles because of the possibility of salmonella.
My husband and I have tended bearded dragons and bred them for years. As others said, bearded dragons make incredible pets for kids. They are not aggressive, hold still in one's hand, and have a fascinating vocabularly of sign language to watch.

HOWEVER, THEY HAVE ONE HUGE DRAWBACK. Most of these animals carry SALMONELLA and can easily transmit it to humans. We learned this the hard way. My husband was an asymptomatic carrier (didn't know he'd had a recent bout of salmonella poisoning contracted from the lizards) and passed salmonella on to our infant son at 4 months. Our son became seriously ill, had to be hospitalized for a weekend, and underwent multiple rounds of antibiotics.

The upshot? If you have these lizards around kids, then you must institute rigorous precautions. Frequent, hot-water hand washing, isolation of food dishes and anything that comes into contact with the lizards are a must. For us, the risk felt too great and we have gradually phased these wonderful creatures out of our lives. Lizard-lover from a distance


What makes a good pet? I vote for snakes. They are, relative to any mammalian pet, extremely low maintainance, fascinating, beautiful, and foster an appreciation of creatures wholly unlike we primates, thereby encouraging an appreciation for all of nature's creations. They are available in a wide array of sizes, temperments, and habits. And should you also opt for the rats, well, you'll have no difficulty with rodent population problems. Feel free to contact me for more detailed information. I am a reptile enthusiast and breeder. John
We had a parade of reptiles growing up and there are ups and downs to them. On the upside, many of them can be quite easy to care for. Small snakes can be great, as can small lizards or newts. I STRONGLY recommend East Bay Vivarium for reptiles and the like as the staff there are quite knowledgable. As with any pet, you really need to know what you are doing to adequately care for reptiles. On the downside, reptiles are lacking in the cute and cuddly factor, although this can also be an upside. People's entertainingly unwarranted freak-outs upon seeing you wander casually through the house with a snake around your neck can satisfy. Snakes on the whole are usually relaxed and gentle pets who will bite far far less than the average mammal. One thing to watch out for are small snakes that will grow to enormous sizes. Again, the Vivarium will be clear about what's a small snake and what's a baby Reticulated Python. Our baby Columbian Boas started out small enough to curl up in your hand and ended up taller than me. We were prepared for this, of course, but, also of course, our mother was not. Melissa (Feb 2001)
I remember reading an article a couple of months back that reptiles or amphibians (I forget which, but I think the former) can carry salmonella which can harm children (and I suppose adults). This was discovered when some people became seeking after having even minimal contact with some animals at a petting zoo. Therefore, if you are thinking of such a pet, I suggest you have it tested before introducing it to your children. I don't know exactly how this is done, but at one petting zoo that I went to, I asked about the salmonella and they told me their pets were tested every 6 months, so it is possible.


Leopard Gecko

Feb 2001

My daughter really wanted a pet, which also could not be a cat or dog and could not be high maintenance (such as having to clean a cage every two days). We tried goldfish and borrowing animals from the animal library at the Lindsay Museum, but neither seemed to do the trick. We had visited the East Bay Vivarium a few times and she was interested in the reptiles. For her 8th birthday this summer we got her a leopard gecko and she was thrilled. They are low maintenance. They don't need their cage cleaned often and you can buy 50 crickets at a time, which currently last for a week. As far as interaction goes, she holds it and puts it on her shoulder and she builds obstacle courses and houses that it crawls around in when she takes it out of its cage.


Please don't consider a gecko for your little girl. As the crew down at the Vivarium on 5th St. in Berkeley will tell you, they require a heated tank, live crickets (which have to be bought regularly and then housed and fed themselves!), and a light touch. (Well, said one clerk to my then-nine-year-old, you might try holding your gecko for five minutes at a time at first, then work your way up to 20 minutes or so per day.) They're great looking, but not an appropriate pet for a young child. Melanie

Pet Turtles

July 1999

Just a note, the little turtles are fun but they're illegal. They're not suppose to be sold until their shell is atleast 4 inches across (I think). You can ask the Berkeley Vivarium about it. If you can stand being in there, the Berkeley Vivarium do have turtles and frogs in addition to lizards and snakes. You might want to consider those. I've seen people walk their turtle at the Berkeley Marina grass area. They just bring them there and let them roam on the grass a bit. That seemed like a lot of fun.

I would definitely NOT recommend acquiring a little turtle for your child for the following reasons: Although cute, turtles, require more care than what you or I may remember as a child -- those cute little dollar size turtles that were sold in abundance. What many people may not remember is that many of those turtles did not survive that long; the reason being not because they had a short life span but because they were not properly cared for. I was forced to do some research on the proper care of turtles, both aquatic and land, when I received one as a gift two years ago. To make a long story short, many species of turtles are either on, or close to being added to, the endangered species list because too many are being captured and sold as pets -- most die within a few months or weeks because they did not receive the specific kind of care they require to survive. Many pet stores do not fully inform you of what is involved and make it appear that their turtles are easy to care for; and then when the animal falls ill and dies, the child/parent is at a loss as to what happened. I would strongly suggest that you visit or call the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley located at 1827-5th St. (510) 841-1400 and talk with one of their staff familiar with turtle care. Information is also available on the web -- the California Turtle & Tortoise Club's website is abundant with information: -- Eleanor
I would not recommend a turtle, as aquatic pets such as turtles can carry salmonella. I am allergic to fur myself, so I do have lizards and snakes -- and, I have Bearded Dragons, rather large, gray lizards who are very friendly and make very good pets. I might recommend one of them! -- Linda

Where to Get Frogs & Turtles

Oct 1998

Regarding frogs and turtles: The Albany Aquarium San Pablo Ave. near Washington) sometimes has frogs that live in lots of water. The best place for turtles and probably frogs as well is the Vivarium on Fifth Street near Hearst. They have all kinds of reptiles and amphibians and very knowledgeable staff. Nancy

We got our frogs at The Albany Aquarium on San Pablo in El Cerrito just north of Potrero...can't remember the name of it. They are little tiny frogs, (more like a dime than a silver dollar) but they're really cute. We've had these two for several months...maybe even almost a year. Molly
I would visit the East Bay Vivarium n Berkeley on 5th Street near Hearst. I worked for the business when I was in college many years ago. You won't find tiny little red eared turtles because their sale is illegal, too many kids got salmonella from popping them in their mouths. Young turtles have to be a certain number of inches across. I can't remember how many though. They used to sell good aquariums with snug tops and heating equipment, lights etc. for reptile use. They also sell live food that turtles like: crickets and goldfish (and for the nonsqueamish, baby mice). Laurie