The kids finally talked you into it: you’re getting a reptile. If you’re not sure where to start or which types of reptile pets are good for first-time owners, we’ve got you covered. Thankfully, these critters are not only low-maintenance and budget friendly, they don’t require house training, annual shots or daily walks.
Welcoming a reptile into your home
Reptiles make wonderful pets because once they’re set up, their basic needs can be met in just a few minutes each day. The rest of the time you can simply admire their dinosaur-like features and enjoy hands-on playtime.
Family and friends will soon realize reptile pets aren’t slimy or scary, but instead fascinating, gentle and lots of fun to be around.
Choosing the best reptile for your family
Consider the type of environment the pet needs, its activity level and the space in your home where the reptile will live.
- Do you want a desert-dwelling animal that runs fast?
- Would a slow-moving woodland creature be better for your kids?
- Do you have room for an aquarium to accommodate a swimming reptile?
- Is a slender, vertical reptile terrarium a better fit for your space?
As you think about these considerations, one of the popular reptile pets on this list will pique your curiosity. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but we suggest making a unanimous family decision before bringing home any new pet.
General advice for all reptile pets
These easy-going reptile pets are best for kids ages 10 and older. Of course, any animal can nibble when teased or startled, so always make sure the pet sees you before reaching into his habitat and have an adult nearby when the animal comes out for playtime.
Note: All reptiles have salmonella bacteria in their digestive tracts. Pregnant women or people with weak immune systems should not handle these pets or clean up their waste. Always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap after handling a pet.
4 family friendly reptile pets
1. Bearded dragons
There’s nothing more intriguing than telling someone you own a dragon or two. Bearded dragons are a type of lizard that can live 7–10 years and grow up to two feet long.
Key supplies for bearded dragons:
- large glass terrarium with lid
- sand substrate and decorative tree branches
- vines and logs for climbing
Lighting & temperature
A beardie’s home requires special reptile heating and UVB lighting to help the animal regulate its body temperature and aid in digestion. The warmest area of his enclosure should be around 90–105F, with cooler areas in the mid–70s. Your new reptile will need rock caves to hide in to stay cool, basking lamps to increase his temperature and a rock heater to stay extra warm.
Diet & water
Speaking of digestion, bearded dragons enjoy a live diet. They munch on crickets, mealworms and fresh vegetables including kale, mustard greens, yellow squash, zucchini and carrots. Some bearded dragons prefer dried insects and vegetables hydrated with warm water. Experiment to see which your pet prefers in his daily diet. Also, dust the meals with calcium power twice a week to keep your beardie’s bones healthy.
When it comes to providing water, you’ll need a humidity gauge and programmable mister or water-filled spray bottle. Bearded dragons require a humid environment so they can absorb liquids through their skin. They also like to lick water off their own noses with their long, protruding tongues.
When it comes to turtles, decide if you want a species that lives in an aquarium filled with water, or one that lives on land. Both are fun to watch, but have very different habitat setups.
Red-eared sliders are a popular water-dwelling variety that grow to 6–10 inches long and live 20 years or more. Start with a basic 10– or 20–gallon aquatic turtle kit for one to two turtles, to ensure you get everything needed including:
- locking screen lid
- water filter
- UVB lighting
- heat lamp
Then, decorate with a floating basking platform or dock, faux plants, large stones and gravel on the bottom of the tank to replicate a pond scene.
Pick up some floating pellet food (or fresh minnows!) for daily feedings, and you’ll be ready to go.
If you prefer a turtle that lives on land, consider a tortoise. Some varieties stay as small as 6–10 inches in diameter when full size, while others can grow to be as large as a big dog and live over 50 years. Research the specific species you have your eye on, and be ready for the commitment before making any purchases.
Tortoises love canned or fresh fruits and vegetables (especially kale, bananas, collard greens, dandelions, squash, bell peppers) dusted with calcium powder twice a week and an occasional live protein treat such as earthworms, mealworms or crickets.
A basic reptile terrarium for a tortoise should be long with minimal height, since they don’t climb. Set up the enclosure to replicate a woodland scene:
- mulch or soil substrate to dig in
- logs or foliage to hide under
- a low food dish to step into
- a shallow but wide bowl of water for soaking and drinking
Tortoises also need external heat and lighting, much like the bearded dragon.
Whether you choose a colorful corn snake or a curious ball python, snakes become very personable over their 15–20 year life span and gentle to handle when given regular attention.
Much like bearded dragons, snakes require a warm habitat that allows for climbing and hiding. The species of snake (desert or woodland) will help determine what bedding to use in the reptile habitat. Some types of snakes, like garters, prefer a large water bowl that can accommodate a quick swim to aid in shedding or the option to catch a minnow for dinner.
Some species of snakes, like the ball python, can grow to 4–6 feet in length. A 75-gallon reptile cage or larger will be needed when the pet reaches his full size. It’s best to house one snake per habitat.
Snakes eat a live diet, ranging from crickets and mealworms, to small mice, fish and full-size rats. Take this into consideration when choosing a pet, because live feeding can be difficult for some people to administer and monitor. Tip: Never leave a pet snake unattended with live food.
An incredibly docile and friendly gecko is the pink, brown and yellow leopard gecko. They can live solo or a few females can house together for up to 10 years. Leopard geckos grow to 8–9 inches long and develop a thick tail when healthy.
Geckos enjoy a high protein, non-vegetable diet including canned, calcium gut-loaded crickets or a mixture of dried flies, calcium and insects. You can also feed them live crickets, wax worms and mealworms dusted with calcium powder.
Like tortoises, geckos also enjoy large water bowls for soaking, which helps them shed their skin like a snake!
Your gecko will be most cozy in a heated glass aquarium decorated with climbing branches, rock caves, a soft sand floor mat (not loose sand) and day/night reptile heat lamps with temperatures ranging from 70–90F within the habitat.
Ready to make a decision?
When you head to the store, consider a reptile habitat starter kit so you get (almost) everything your new pet needs all in one convenient package. Of course, your new reptile isn’t included in the box. You and the kids get to browse the tanks of reptiles and pick out the exact perfect pet for your family. Happy shopping!