is what good stores do, and bad stores don't. Some of this points take
some knowledge of the specific requirements of different species; others
should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever cared for any living
enclosures should be clean: no old feces, urates, long dead or dried
foods. It is not difficult to tell the difference between a recently
soiled enclosure and one in which wastes have been accruing for some
substrate should be suitable for the animal: no cedar chips or shavings,
no lava rocks, no inappropriate use of sand, corn cob, alfalfa pellets,
soil, moss, etc. Substrate must be clean and dry with necessary humidity
provided as needed by clean, damp--not wet--moss, air stone/bubbler,
water in clean bowls for every drinking and soaking animal; for drop-lappers
such as geckos, chameleons and anoles, there should be suitable leaves,
rocks, branches or clean glass for water deposits from misting/drips.
furnishings in enclosures should be clean, free of bits of dead prey,
animal wastes and old food. Find out how the enclosures, water bowls
and utensils are cleaned: is hot soapy water used, followed by a disinfectant,
or is only cold water available?
more than one animal is kept in an enclosure, the enclosure size must
be big enough for the animals to thermoregulate themselves without
undue competition for basking and cooling areas. Sufficient food must
be provided to feed all the animals. Aggressive animals causing injury
to other animals should be housed separately.
turtles should be in an aquatic environment: clean substrata, clean
water at least as deep as the length of the largest turtle in tank,
smooth rocks, cork bark or other safe, clean material for climbing
out of the water. Proper foods include live fish, turtle pellets or
sticks, fresh vegetables and greens. A basking area over the land
area must range in the mid to upper 80's and be available to the turtles
for 10 hrs/day. Full spectrum light should be available 10-12 hrs/day.
turtles should be in a primarily terrestrial environment with access
to clean bridge-deep water for soaking and drinking. A basking area
and full spectrum lighting must be available as for the aquatic turtles.
Proper foods includes worms, snails, slugs, small amounts of prepared
foods, fresh vegetables and fruits. Tortoises must be in a terrestrial
environment with a shallow dish of clean water for drinking. Heat
and full spectrum lighting must be provided as for turtles. Proper
foods are fresh vegetables and fruits.
and snakes should be housed according to their nature: terrestrial
animals having sufficient flat area; arboreal animals having sufficient
climbing area; fossorial animals having appropriate substrata in which
to burrow; semi-aquatic animals with sufficient water area for soaking,
feeding and drinking, etc.
must be housed in appropriate habitats with access to clean water,
clean substrate, plants or moss and branches. The enclosure should
be free of dead crickets and other prey, and of animal wastes.
lizards and all turtles and tortoises should be provided with true
full spectrum lighting. Chromalux and other bulbs coated with
"rare earth neodymium" do not provide the full spectrum
required for vitamin D3 synthesis. Plant "grow" lights and
aquarium lights are also insufficient.
should be provided which approximates the individual species' optimum
gradient. Optimum gradients include the daily temperature gradients,
with nightly temperature drops not below the lowest optimum for the
species. In addition, suitable basking areas must be provided. Temperatures
which are consistently too high are also harmful. Watch for desert
animals kept at temperate-zone temperatures, and temperate and neo-tropical
animals kept at desert temperatures.
for unsuitable heat sources. Low wattage light bulbs used in large
enclosures which are otherwise provided with no other sources of heat
are inadequate. Hot rocks for iguanas and other arboreal lizards,
ball pythons and other animals known to be susceptible to thermal
burns. Unshielded light bulbs or heating elements which are not screened
off and are accessible to the enclosure inhabitants may cause contact
or proximity burns.
for enclosures placed in sunny windows. Many times these are not provided
with proper full spectrum lighting (under the mistaken assumption
that the sun filtering through two layers of glass is sufficient to
promote D3 synthesis). In addition, the heat can build up to dangerous
levels within the enclosure causing severe dehydration and stress.
should be no noticeable smell or odor in the store. If the store breeds
or otherwise sells live rodents and rabbits, some odor is inevitable
but it should not be intrusive; bins for feeder/pet mammals and chicks
should be clean, well-ventilated, with proper food and water available
for the animals at all times and enough room for some spreading out
of animals which are housed in groups. The prey should be healthy
looking; watch for fleas, ticks, runny eyes, listlessness, etc.
worms and arthropods should be housed in clean enclosures or bins,
and should be provided with food and a clean source of moisture for
live non-mammalian feeders are put into reptile or amphibian enclosures,
there should be some food for the prey to eat in case they themselves
are not immediately consumed. Live mammalian and avian feeders should
not be left in tanks unattended by a store employee, especially when
the rodents are old enough to have significant teeth. Since most captive
reptiles will easily eat killed prey, there is little reason to feed
live mammalian and avian prey to pet store carnivores. Herps which
must be fed live mammalian or avian prey should be fed before or after
for abraded rostrums; water dragons and iguanas are particularly susceptible
to stereotypic rubbing against their enclosure, often tearing away
their skin and underlying tissue, leaving the jaw bone and teeth exposed.
Such behavior is also common in many boids.
for skinny tails, jutting hip bones, loose, saggy skin on legs, lateral
folds, sunken eyes, dull skin: these are all signs of starvation and
dehydration. Causes for starvation may be inappropriate foods being
offered, food items offered in pieces too big for the animal to eat,
mouth rot, fibrous osteodystrophy (swollen jaws consistent with calcium
deficiency). Dehydration may be due to inadequate amounts of water
offered, water offered in ways unusable by the animal (e.g., water
bowls for chameleons, drip systems for snakes). Many animals arrive
at the store already severely emaciated and dehydrated. Look to see
if the store does anything to help the animal recover (veterinary
care, electrolytes, subcutaneous or gavaged fluids). Does store staff
know how to force feed animals properly, using nutritional gruels
for ticks and mites. These are often left untreated, with new, unaffected
animals placed in the same tank as the parasite-laden animals.
around the nose and mouth, excessive or thick or ropey saliva and
open mouth breathing ("gaping") indicate a respiratory infection.
In many reptiles, when the mouth is very pale, or is a grayish-pink,
the animal may be anemic. Yellow plaques inside the mouth around the
gums is mouth rot (stomatitis). Swollen eyes are an indication of
infection or dietary problem.
backs and tails indicate a calcium deficiency. Rounded, firm thighs,
whether or not accompanied by bumps in the tail, legs or swollen jaws,
indicates advanced calcium deficiency. Flaccid or limp toes or limbs
indicate possible fractures.
vents and swollen, distended bellies may be related to amoebic or
parasitic infections, inadequate heat, substrate which has been ingested
and become impacted, inappropriate food items or dehydration.
for lacerations, abscesses (lumps appearing anywhere on the body which
may or may not have fluids seeping from them). These may be related
to attacks by other animals or overcrowding during shipment or in
the store specialize in reptiles and amphibians, or are they sold
incidental to mammals, birds, fish and/or pet supplies?
types of herp supplies does the store carry? Is it primarily commercial
foods and home treatment preparations, or quality items required to
construct proper captive environments?
the store staff have access to good reference books such as herp field
guides and atlases, or is the information they give something they
picked up from someone else? What type of training does the staff
receive? Do they give honest information to customers inquiring about
giant boids and lizards (or tell them about the "slow growing
anacondas," "dwarf iguanas," and "docile African
blame their suppliers for the condition of their animals. A few instances
of improper care may be the result of improper species identification
by the wholesaler (such as the so-called forest chameleons (Corytophanes
cristatus) sold to stores as brown basilisks (Basilicus basilicus).
But if the store consistently sells animals are sick, underweight and
listless, if the enclosures are always dirty, dark, too small or too crowded,
the problem is not be their supplier. Improper environments are due to
ignorance, lack of interest or the overriding desire to maximize profits
on the part of store management. If they are getting sick, illegal or
incorrectly identified animals from their suppliers, they should vigorously
complain or send the animals back. If pet stores don't demand healthy,
legal animals from their suppliers, the suppliers have no incentive to
provide them. By the same token, if herpers don't demand healthy animals
and clean, appropriate conditions, stores have little incentive to provide
the pet stores' owners or managers responsibility, however, to make sure
that every animal is housed according to its needs, that every animal
displayed for sale is healthy and properly fed, that enclosures are properly
cleaned and disinfected, that staff is trained in species identification
or at least taught to use and given access to appropriate references.
are some good stores out there. There are stores that are open to learning
how to do things better. There are some knowledgeable people working in
pet stores. There are even stores that will only accept healthy animals
from their suppliers. A good store can have a "bad hair" day
once in a while. But if the conditions are the same each time you visit
the store, then the problem is not a bad hair day, but bad management.
State Animal Welfare
Codes: California Florida
on Pet Store in Willits, CA
on a Santa Rosa, CA Pet Store
on a Sebastopol, CA Pet Store
of Thumb for Evaluating Pet Stores (Finnish translation)