Reptile suffering in captivity

Keeping reptiles as pets has become increasingly popular during the course of recent years. Whereas some people purchase such an animal out of genuine interest, others do so to appear 'macho' or 'tough guys'. However, many people are repulsed by reptiles, so that - understandably - only a minority actually take reptiles into their homes. Can't you just imagine the ensuing problems with the neighbours! Unfortunately, there is also a huge disadvantage to this, because the very fact that keeping these animals is so out of sight has caused a 'proliferation' to come about. Keeping reptiles is still in the initial stages. There is relatively little information available on the keeping and care of these creatures. Contributed by .
Consequently, the care of many animals leaves much to be desired at this point in time. Ill-considered purchase of a reptile ('impulse buying'), incorrect information (especially from pet shops and internet) or inadequate research into the animal purchased is the cause of this. In particular, giving and receiving incorrect or incomplete information is a cause for concern. The fact that people find it 'tough', or 'macho' to be a 'reptile expert' and to be able to boost their ego by telling you exactly how you should keep and care for a reptile is part of the problem, but also the simple lack of available information is a contributing factor. In this way many misunderstandings have come about which, unfortunately, are upheld through ignorance (and sometimes for convenience sake).
There is also little evidence of (social) control. snakeA lame dog or a cat with fur problems will certainly raise reactions from concerned neighbours. In the event of negligence or even ill treatment, you will (thankfully) run the risk of a visit from Animal Welfare Authorities. But who raises alarm when a snake lies pining away in a tray that is far too small? Or a Water Dragon which is kept just on desert sand? Dominant lizards kept together in one tray who will fight each other to the death? Nobody!
mice kept as fodder animalsMany reptiles, particularly snakes (there are, of course, exceptions), eat rodents. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this. Dogs, cats, rats etc. also all need meat. Packed in handy tins, available in the supermarket and manufactured from offal. (You hardly thought there was steak in the tins, did you?) Fodder for reptiles is often bred by the owners, under abominable conditions. Animals which, as soon as they are fertile, breed nest after nest and are killed when the 'earnings' begin to disappoint. A private small scale factory farm in the shed…. There are also professional breeders of fodder animals. Here again, these animals are kept purely for profit. But a small number of these breeders bothers to ensure that the fodder animals lead a dignified life and that they are killed quickly and painlessly. More power to these people, if only there were more of them!

Some misunderstandings which, unfortunately, are still in circulation

Cannibalistic snakes can be kept together as long as they are fed amply. If you are stuffed with food all day long you, yourself would not have the urge to eat 'out'. Just as for humans, this is extremely unhealthy. It will cause the young snake to grow far too rapidly, leading to further, associated problems. Furthermore, as soon as these snakes are fully grown, all that extra fodder will only cause the animal to be grossly fat. And in an unguarded moment, one snake will gobble up another. NEVER do this!
Snakes kept in traysSnakes need to be kept in small trays, otherwise there is a risk that they will refuse to eat. This is sometimes true. However, you should not allow this to prevent you from providing a nice big terrarium. Do take care that there are enough hiding places for the snake. Just as in the wild, the snake will not wish to cross an open area, for fear of predators. Should the snake persist in not eating, which can happen, and you know for certain that there is no other reason for this, you could always offer the snake smaller Iiving space until it has grown somewhat.
Snake with bite in its head There are no risks involved in feeding live mice. If, in an exceptional case, a bite mark does occur, just apply some Betadine. Killing fodder animals yourself and/or feeding them live is legally prohibited! Animal Protection comes up for these cuddly animals, alright. There are so many established cases of snakes being on the receiving end of a final, desperate bite in the eye/skull from a fodder animal trying to defend itself. The risk that such an experience could make a snake afraid of eating this sort of prey in future, should be seriously considered. Just don't do it. Frozen and defrosted mice are just as nutritious for the snake.
Snakes who have not hibernated do not copulate. They certainly do! But there is a chance of fewer (fertilized) eggs, depending on the type of snake. But they will copulate. Pregnancies at a too early age can lead to retarded growth and can sometimes even be fatal.
The growth of giant snakes can be curtailed by reducing their feed. Certainly not! This leads to an emaciated, very disgruntled snake.
Egg-laying snakes are kept in optimal conditions. Not necessarily, "Adequate" is not the same as "optimal". Always strive for better. And there is much room for improvement!
Better not to bring snakes to a veterinary doctor. The stress caused by the journey to the Vet causes more damage than whatever the animal is suffering from. It is better to look for advice online. When in doubt whether or not to go to the Vet, it is indeed preferable to first contact a Vet with experience of reptiles. He/she can tell you if it is better to come to the practice or not. I would be hesitant about online consultations. At least seek advice from different sources and never accept advice on medication
Snakes should never be handled. Only in an absolute emergency. Snakes are not cuddly pets. Whether snakes would wish to be handled is doubtful. That having been said, there will of course be times when handling is absolutely necessary. When inspecting the snake's health, e.g. or when cleaning the cage. A snake which is more or less accustomed to being handled will experience less stress than a snake which is seldom or never picked up and who doesn't understand what is happening to it.
A snake feels no pain, but reacts mechanically to pain stimulus. It doesn't experience pain as we humans do. Yes, a snake does feel pain, just as we do.
Some snakes are born without "feeding response". If, after a number of attempts to feed it, a snake still refuses to eat independently, it is better to kill it. Scientists are still undecided about this question. It is also unclear whether this happens or not in the wild. Until more is known, we would be better advised to assume that it is our fault that the snake refuses to eat. Somebody experienced in succeeding to feed these animals can always be consulted. In the worst case scenario, administer euthanasia so that the animals do not have to slowly starve to death.

What The Animal Protection organizations should do

Reptiles kept in too confined quartersWith regard to the welfare of reptiles, I would like to see animal protection in the following role.
  • Prohibit keeping poisonous snakes or giant snakes without a permit.
  • Prohibit private breeding and killing of fodder animals.
  • Prohibit private killing or feeding of reptiles to other animals.
  • Set up regulation and supervision thereof with regard to the sale of reptiles at "reptile sales", amongst others.
  • Penalise withholding of medical care.
  • Prohibit sale of reptiles in pet shops without a permit.
  • Set up an alarm centre where mistreatment of reptiles can be reported.
  • Draw up a list of which reptiles may kept and which may not be kept (also with regard to protected animals and dangerous animals).
  • Draw up a document comprising the minimum requirements with which reptile housing and care should comply.
  • Take possession of reptiles when these have been mistreated.

This article is part of a series on pet adoption. Below the table of contents of this series. Below that even more articles about pets.

Table of contents

Introduction: keeping pets.

An example: the dog

The history of dogs.
Modern day dogs.
Consequences of irresponsible breeding for dogs.
Drawbacks for dogs.


Why do people want pets?
Drawbacks for humans.
The pet-industry.


Take a pet?

More articles on pets

Are pets education tools?
Bad reasons for keeping pets.
Dependency of animals.
Letting go of attachment to animals.
Children and their perception of animals.
A disposal fee for every pet animal purchased?
Abandoned pets as "free as a bird"?

Links to articles about specific animals

Suffering of reptiles.
Why the goldfishbowl is bad.
A rabbit as a pet… suitable or not?