Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Petco Conference Call: Melissa Kaplan's Recap

August 7, 1997

Melissa Kaplan


Attendees: Melissa Kaplan, George Richard, President, MHS
Don Cowan, Communications, Petco, Craig Parsons, Animal Acquisition, Petco
John Benjamin, Product Acquisition, Petco, Donna Moore and Jan Mitchell (Petco)

These are my notes of the subjects covered by the call. Don Cowan's recap of the call is also available, as are the notes made by George Richard.

Purpose and Premise
The purpose of the call was to identify some key problem areas in Petco's buying, maintenance, and selling of reptiles and reptile-related products, and ways in which changes can be made that would be of benefit to both Petco and the reptiles.

Petco is a large corporation with significant buying power. Petco could and should use that power to demand healthier animals from dealers and wholesalers, and better, or more appropriately packaged products, from reptile product manufacturers. Specific suggestions included:

Demanding better animals and products from vendors
Require reptile wholesalers and dealers supply accurate common and scientific names. (It was indicated that scientific and common names were now appearing on in-store signage. The problem still remains that wholesalers and dealers are notorious for not knowing what they have themselves, and are used to sending reptiles which were not ordered and which are not correctly identifiable by store staff.)

Refuse delivery of obviously sick animals and illegal species. (Petco Corporate states that this is policy, but the fact remains that sick animals are being sold in stores.) An effective hard-line stance, including refusing delivery, refusing payment, and severing the business relationship with vendors who don't get with the program would send a clear signal to that end of the industry that they need to make some changes - as well as help ensure that Petco is getting healthy, legal species.

Stop selling inappropriate and dangerous products, or educate store staff (on a continuing basis, due to staff turnover and appearance of new products on the market). Many of the products being sold are worthless or dangerous. Examples of dangerous products:

An example was cited of Zoo Med, whose customer service representative stated, online in rec.pets.herp newsgroup, that hot rocks are bad for iguanas and should never be used for them. When asked by, then, does Zoo Med prominently feature a picture of an iguana on the rock both on the packaging and in herp magazine advertisements, the rep responded that it's because "it looks good - besides, anyone with common sense should know that they aren't appropriate for iguanas."

Bark and other litters marketed for iguanas, including the "iguana-approved" ReptiBark. Iguanas ingest these litters, either sampling them for food, or because food is on them, or it happens accidentally when they are smelling with their tongue (a feature common to many reptiles, thus putting other species at risk for this as well). They become lodged in the gut, often to the point where the reptile requires surgery to remove the mass. If the animal is weakened too much from the internal injuries from the litter or impaction, or the starvation from being unable to eat or digest the food they eat, they die.

Zoo Med and other light manufacturers intentionally mislead the public by claiming their incandescent basking lights are "full spectrum" when in fact they are only broad or wide spectrum, providing only visible and some infrared light. The public (and too many store staff) believe that, based on the print advertising, the package information and statements made by ignorant store staff, that these lights provide UVB. They do not and cannot - special fluorescent UVB-producing tubes are required for this. (Note: here is one example of where, if Petco were on the ball, they would be increasing the average total sale of a reptile setup when selling diurnal omnivores and herbivores - the fluorescent tubes retail at ~$11-18.00 and fixtures ~$20-30. Instead, the person walks out with a single heat light, and their reptile ends up with metabolic bone disease, or severely ill from that light, appropriate for daytime use only, is left on 24 hours a day to provide heat at night.)

I have offered to provide a list of product and discuss the problems associated with each of them if anyone from Petco would like to follow this up. In addition, there are many products not marketed to the reptile trade specifically that could easily be sold by Petco. I can provide information on these as well. Note: Rather than my trying to produce a comprehensive list that will likely include products not stocked by Petco, it would be a much more effective use of both Petco's and my time if the product acquisition manager at Petco were to send me a listing of the reptile-related products they stock.

Species-specific care information
Petco needs to get more species-specific care information, as well as proper names. Based on what has been seen in the stores, both with setups and in the information given by store staff, there is an apparent unawareness that, for example, not all chameleons are the same in their care requirements. Failure to understand the specific species requirements leads to sick animals, both in the store and after sale. Petco states that they are getting and in turn providing, on in-store signage, scientific names for all species stocked or made available through special order. I have thus far been unable to verify this point.

Staff Training
Based on the information being given out by sales associates around the country, it is obvious that whatever training Corporate things sales associates are getting on reptiles isn't happening, at least not happening in regards to the reptiles sold and their care requirements. Staff training, both of those employees engaged in selling reptiles and reptile-related products, and those involved in accepting shipments and caring for the reptiles while they are in the store, needs serious attention nationwide.

To improve both the knowledge and experience of store staff and help educate the general public and improve the public's (especially the herpetoculturists' perceptions) of Petco, it was suggested that they offer in-store lectures to the public on reptiles, to be conducted by local herp educators. The lectures would include information on setting up environments, characteristics and concerns of the different types of reptiles in general, and more specific examples, augmented by the presence of and public interaction with live reptiles during the lectures. There are herpetological societies around the country which could be used as source contacts to find herp educators. In addition, there are an increasing number of specialty herp societies, such as the Chameleon information Network (CiN), which could be of use not only in public education, but in educating your own staff. Information on most states, and on specialty societies, can be found linked to my Herp Societies page.

There is a Petco person in the northeastern U.S. who puts on talks at store openings, including, we were told, bringing large iguanas. When asked how large the iguanas are, we were told "3-4 feet". Both George and I pointed out that these were not large iguanas...and that there was a very real problem when Petco's "iguana experts", Corporate management, and sales staff have no idea just how big many of the reptiles they sell get, nor how fast they get that big. This includes some tortoises, pythons and boas, iguanas, and Nile monitors. True - if people keep the reptiles the way they are told by most stores and by the books sold by most stores, they won't get as big as they should, but surely intentionally mistreating an animal to keep it small, or smaller longer, isn't what Petco intends? For reference, the following is how green iguanas (Iguana iguana) should be growing, and will grow when housed and fed (with a properly constructed fresh food diet, not a commercial diet like those sold in your stores) properly:

End of Year: SVL (inches): STL (inches): Wgt/Lbs:
Hatchling 2.5-3 6-9 90 gm
1 8-9 20-27 1-1.5
2 11-12 28-36 2-4
3 12-14 30-42 4-6
4 14-16 35-48 5-8
5 18-20 45-60 10-15
6 20-22 50-66 14-18
7 20-24 50-72 15-20


  • svl = snout-vent length
  • stl = snout-tail length
  • Iguana tails range from 2.5-3 x the svl. Females are generally smaller than males.
  • There is some regional difference in size/mass so actual size will be dependent upon where the iguana was originally from, but overall will be well within the above ranges.

Based on the above, one can see that the "large" iguanas used by the person in the northeast US are in actuality the size of a 2 year old iguana - and not even close to the size of a half grown iguana. When I was yelled at by the Santa Rosa manager "lying" to her customers about how big iguanas get and for saying that mine was the same species at that sold in your stores, my iguana at that time was only 3 years old... Perhaps a better resource to draw on for public lecturers would be reptile rescue groups. They are the ones that end up with the cast off monitors, truly large, untamed, male iguanas in breeding season, and 16 ft pythons with respiratory infections and mouthrot... I have offered to put together a sort of syllabus based on the lectures I do, if indeed there is any real interest on Petco's part in my actually doing so.

The above also points to another problem cited: Petco isn't selling large enough enclosures. Lizards require enclosures that are at least 1.5-2 x their total (STL) length...a properly growing iguana will outgrow a 55 gallon tank within its first year, yet the tank size commonly sold with hatchlings is 10-20 gallon. Nile monitors (adult stl = 7-8 feet; easily 4-5 feet stl by end of year 2-3), who also exhibit the same rapid growth rate, are semi-aquatic, and so need a sufficiently large land area as well as a large enough pool of water in which to fully submerge. Again, this is an area where Petco could be both attracting more business and adding to their bottom line - NO store is currently selling appropriately sized and designed enclosures suitable for large reptiles.

Petco said that they will be phasing out the sales of green iguanas, instead replacing them with more appropriate lizards, such as leopard geckos and bearded dragons. Petco also said that it will change their policy regarding Nile monitors: instead of selling them directly at the stores, they will be available for special order only. The question was raised as to whether they would order them for just anybody or if they would do some sort of screening to determine whether the person fully understood what a Nile monitor was. (For those of you who do not know, they start out as incredibly cute, soft-as-silk, 5-7" stl gold and yellow hatchlings....and by the end of their first year are able to inflict serious damage to most parts of one's anatomy. They are amongst the least "nice" of the monitors, with a "tame" Nile being a tiny exception to the rule. They are also blindingly fast when when you stick your hand in to feed or clean their tank.)

Adoption Days for herp rescues was briefly discussed, with my mentioning the dilemma I and others face: advocating Adoption Days when the same animals the rescues will be trying to get adopted out are being sold in the store in which the Adoption Day is being held. It was at this point that we were told about Petco phasing out iguanas. Petco also said that they would take in unwanted iguanas they had previously sold, and would adopt them out "to whoever wants them." I asked if they would be screening prospective adopters or would, literally, adopt them out to whomever wanted one. Apparently, no thought had been given to Petco's making the same mistake over and over again: letting people who are ill-suited to the keeping of iguanas walk out the door with them. I offered to send my Adoption Application in the hopes that Petco will use it, or something very like it, to screen prospective adopters. It should be noted that, whether or not the person has ever kept an iguana before, they should be required to read an accurate, up-to-date iguana book (such as Jim Hatfield's Ultimate Iguana Owner's manual), or care guide (such as the 26 page guide at my Iguana Care page), or video (much as I hate to sound like I'm pushing a product I am involved in, it is one of the best rated videos out there - a review of the video is available at my website). An accurate video or care information guide (not a one-page summary sheet) should be reviewed at before the person fills out the application.

    Example: I got word that a dance club was going to be raffling off an iguana. I contacted the club owner and talked to him. I found out that the iguana was from a local pet store (one that I knew had been subject to repeated complaints and visits by the local humane society for the condition in which they kept their animals) and that some store employees were going to be on hand to "teach" people about iguana care. The owner was not aware that igs were anything other than "easy" to care for, nor of the store's reputation. I sent him copies of my care article and adoption application form. They handed out 100 packets that night - and got only 12 applications back. Point: Once people start to realize what is entailed, it generally changes their minds. Better to change their minds before they get that animal rather than have it dumped on your counter yet again.

Summary of additional action discussed:

  1. I will send a copy of my adoption application under separate cover to Don Cowan and Craig Parsons.

  2. Rather than my spending a great deal of time writing about products Petco doesn't even carry, it would be best if Petco would send me a list of the reptile products they already carry for me to comment on and offer, when appropriate, safer or more effective alternatives.

  3. If indeed Petco is interested in getting an idea of an effective public education program and employee education information, I will indeed write up an outline of the talks I give and convert some of my existing handouts. If there is no real interest on Petco's part, I would rather not spend the time doing so.

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