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If you’re not quite a fan of reptiles, it may come as a surprise that more than 4.5 million American households own them as pets. The figure, which comes from the 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, may seem large, but if you stop to think about the positives of owning a reptile, you might change your mind. And there’s no better time to give a nod to reptiles than on National Reptile Awareness Day, which lands on Oct. 21.

To help celebrate the observance, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) is spreading the word that with informed selection and proper care, lizards, snakes and turtles can make a perfect pet companion. Reptiles have advantages over dogs and cats—they don’t bark, shed fur or scratch or chew the furniture—but they also have characteristics and care requirement that are important to know before embarking upon a reptile ownership journey, according to PIJAC officials.

“As more people recognize the benefits of pet companionship to help cope with social isolation and stress during the pandemic, we expect [the number of reptile ownership] to grow,” said PIJAC Board Chair John Mack, owner of Reptiles by Mack in Xenia, Ohio. “We continue to urge prospective reptile owners to do careful research, and consult with experts such as reputable pet stores, before making the ownership commitment.”

PIJAC offers the following things to think about when considering a reptile as your next pet:

  1. Legality. “While there are over 9 million pet reptiles in the United States, not every type is legal to own,” officials said. “Check your state and local laws to see if the specific reptile you’re considering is allowed.”
  2. Lifespan. “Be prepared for what may be decades of enjoyment, and responsibility,” officials said. “Depending on the species, in captivity lizards can live from three to 30 years, frogs for 10, and some tortoise lifespans exceed 50 years.”
  3. Habitat. “Reptiles thrive in many different environments in the wild,” officials said. “Providing the suitable temperature, humidity and lighting that imitates that natural environment is essential for creating and maintaining a healthy habitat.”
  4. Handling. “Proper handling is essential to protect both the reptile’s health and your own,” officials said. “Like most animals, reptiles may be carriers of bacteria that can lead to illness in humans, so among other precautions, it is essential to follow equipment disinfecting guidelines and to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling a reptile, its food, waste or habitat.”
  5. Diet. “Reptile species have a variety of specific dietary needs,” officials said. “Some can be fed processed pellets or fruit or vegetables, but others require a live diet like rodents for snakes, or crickets for lizards and iguanas.”

“There are hundreds of fascinating and unique reptile species commonly kept as pets, in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors to fit different preferences, space limitations or other care considerations of their owners,” officials said.

What reptile species would you consider as a pet?