Reptile Exercise

Synopsis: Many pet reptiles will get enough exercise in their cages, but large snakes and large lizards may benefit from swimming. Some lizards enjoy being leash-walked for exercise. Some turtles and tortoises benefit from being placed in a large, outdoor pen for exercise.

Exercise for your pet reptile? No, your pet green iguana won't catch a frisbee, and you can't go jogging with your pet tortoise! But, as strange as it sounds, exercise is very important for some pet reptiles. While the average pet snake, lizard, tortoise, turtle or frog will get enough exercise just walking around its cage, some reptiles will benefit greatly from additional exercise.

For example, large boas and pythons often spend their whole lives in fairly small cages. This can be problematic, especially for a breeding female, or a large sedentary adult. As you might expect, a female must use her muscles to squeeze out her eggs or babies. If she has spent all her time in a small cage, she might not have the muscle tone necessary to perform the blessed event. What can you do if you own a large snake, yet you don't have the space or financial means to provide a larger cage? Take it swimming! No, this doesn't require joining the nearest health club with a pool. If you have the space, a molded plastic kiddie pool or a vinyl-liner pool will work just fine. Fill the pool with enough warm water so that the snake is able to keep its head above water. Put the snake in the water for supervised exercise sessions, allowing it to swim for 15 or 20 minutes several times per week.

Follow these guidelines for healthy exercise:

Green iguanas are another species that benefit from exercise. Larger iguanas often spend their days lounging around like couch potatoes. While obesity is not a common problem in the iguana that is fed a proper diet, lack of muscle tone often is. Additionally, most people don't realize that iguanas are good swimmers, and would naturally spend some time swimming in rivers or ponds, given the opportunity. Most iguanas get almost all of their moisture from the foods they eat, since they often won't drink out of a bowl. So, allowing a green iguana to swim a few times per week is a great idea to ensure that it is well-hydrated and in good shape. An added benefit is that most iguanas will defecate while in the water, which will keep its cage cleaner longer, as well as promoting regularity. The same rules apply to swimming iguanas as for swimming snakes.

Female green iguanas may develop eggs, even if a male iguana is not present. For her to be able to easily pass her eggs, she should be in good physical condition. A female usually requires a suitable site for digging in order to stimulate her to lay her eggs. Swimming is great exercise for these females to prepare them for egg-laying easily and safely.

In addition to swimming, some iguanas can be trained to walk on a leash. There are several types of harnesses available for them. It seems that many iguanas enjoy going for walks with their owners. In addition to the exercise, iguanas will definitely benefit from the natural sunshine. Keep in mind that if you take your pet iguana outside for a walk in the sun, if it gets very warm, it might try to bolt and run away if it is startled or alarmed. To prevent losing your pet, make sure that the harness fits securely and snugly, and that your iguana cannot slip out of it easily.

Tortoises, box turtles and some land turtles aren't good swimmers, so let's not try to swim them for exercise. However, they do enjoy being soaked from time to time. Land tortoises do like to walk, and it is very beneficial to put pet tortoises in a secure, outdoor pen to allow them to graze and walk, enjoying fresh air and sunshine. To make a pen safe and escape-proof, it is best to dig wire down into the ground about 18 inches, rake it well, and make sure there aren't any pesticides or toxic plants in the pen. Water turtles are good swimmers and should be housed in the largest tank possible to allow adequate exercise.

The best exercises for most reptiles are swimming and walking. Some smaller reptiles will get adequate exercise within their cages, but larger herps often benefit from leash walking or swimming in a larger pool.

Q1: What is the best way to exercise adult boids and iguanas?
A1: Swimming (hopefully not in your bathtub) is the best exercise for boas, pythons and green iguanas.

Q2: What is the best way to prevent obesity in land turtles and tortoises?
A2: Feed an appropriate diet and during warm weather, prepare an outdoor pen to allow your turtle or tortoise to receive fresh air, sunshine and exercise.

Copyright 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
All Rights Reserved

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