Fish & Reptiles

Aquarium animals such as fish and reptiles can be great family pets! But it is important to know the facts on how to care for them, including habitat and nutrition requirements. Our helpful Vets have provided general information you need to know before bringing home your fish or reptile.

What should I feed my fish?

The eating requirements of fish vary, but there are some basic rules.

Do not feed more than twice per day and only put enough food into the tank to last for 3 minutes. Any uneaten fish food will simply sink to the bottom and rot, causing the water to go murky and produce more algae.

Fish can be carnivorous, eating other fish, crustaceans and insects; herbivores or plant eaters, or omnivores. Fish can also be classed as surface feeders or bottom feeders. It is important to know what categories your fish fit into when selecting a food.

Most fish are fed a dried pellet or flake as a base diet. These are formulated to contain most of the vitamins and minerals your fish need. Both pellets and flakes are available in vegetable and meat formulations. Tablets are also available for feeding over a few days. These are not suitable for long term use as they tend to release too much food into the tank and cause problems with algae overgrowth and waste build-up.

Live foods are a good supplement to your fish’s diet. As live foods may cause disease, most can be bought freeze dried or frozen instead of actually alive. Worms, water fleas and brine shrimp are all good to give as a treat.

Certain fish can also have vegetables as well as meat in their fish food diet, but it must be given in small portions. Good choices are peas, romaine lettuce, broccoli and cucumber. Before adding to the tank you must blanch the vegetables by boiling a pan of water and then cooling in cold water.

Why are my fish gasping? Why are my fish not eating? Why are my fish's eyes cloudy?

These are all signs that your fish is unwell.

  • Examine the fish - Note any changes to the gills, spots on the scales and damage to the fins that could give a clue to any underlying illness.
  • Clean out your filter - The filter can be clogged with food, waste or rogue snails so dismantle and clean your filter thoroughly.
  • Do a water change - A partial water change is an excellent way to maintain tank hygiene. Always add water conditioner to any water you are adding to your tank. In case of illness, a large water change up to one third of the tank’s volume is acceptable. This can be followed by smaller water changes of one fifth of the tank’s volume every day or every few days.
  • Check your water temperature - A heater malfunction could lead to the water being too hot or cold and cause your fish distress.
  • Check your ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels - Ammonia is a waste product produced by fish, and a build up of ammonia will make them feel very unwell. Ammonia can build up when tanks aren't cleaned properly, if the tank has not cycled or built up an appropriate biofilter or if there are too many fish in the tank. Commercial products are available to bind ammonia, or perform multiple water changes.
  • Check your water pH - Different fish have different pH requirements and a sudden change in pH could make your fish feel unwell. Commercial products are available to increase or decrease the pH, or perform a water change to try and bring the pH closer to neutral.

General advice for keeping snakes, lizards and other reptiles as pets

You should never keep a reptile taken out of the wild. These are not accustomed to being kept as pets and belong in their natural environment.

If you have found an injured reptile, please contact your local council of wildlife Victoria for someone to collect it for care. Your local council can also arrange for relocation of reptiles on your property that are not injured but that you would like removed, such as tiger or brown snakes. Do not attempt to catch or kill these yourself. Native animals, including venomous snakes are protected by law and cannot be killed unless for humane reasons.

Do I need a licence to keep a reptile?

To keep most reptiles you will need a licence. These are available from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, as well as many reptile retail stores.

The licence will ask you to specify the type of reptile you intend to keep. Please note that you are allowed more than one type. There is an annual fee involved in keeping your licence.

To learn more, please visit the Department of Sustainability and Environment's website.

How to house pet snakes and lizards

Reptiles are adapted to specific environments. These vary depending on the particular reptile you would like to keep.

Reptiles are best housed completely enclosed to ensure their safety and be able to control their environment. The usual enclosures are glass or perspex aquariums for turtles or terrariums for lizards and snakes.

The flooring can be a range of materials:

  • Newspaper or other paper
  • Sand
  • Vermiculite
  • Specific reptile litter
  • Fake turf (grass)

A range of funky cage furniture is available. Keep in mind your reptile’s need for hiding or basking under the heat light, as well as the ease of cleaning when choosing your style.

If you choose natural materials from outside, ensure they are collected legally and cleaned well to be free from germs and parasites. We prefer the store bought variety to prevent any illness or infestations in your reptile.

Reptiles need both UVA and UVB light as well as a heat lamp. To ensure optimal temperature and humidity, you will need to monitor your enclosure. Temperature and humidity monitors can be purchased from your local herpetology supplier.

Droppings and any waste foods should be removed daily. Keep an eye on what type and how many droppings you observe each day. This can be recorded in the log you keep for temperature and humidity.

How do I light and heat my reptile enclosure?

Reptiles need both UVA and UVB light as well as a heat lamp. UVB is critical in their calcium regulation and without it they will suffer metabolic bone disease, which can be fatal. UVA is beneficial both for their general health and behavioural and foraging needs.

Reptiles are ectothermic, relying on external heat for their normal body processes to function. This can be provided through a heat lamp.
A heat lamp will allow your reptile to bask and absorb heat to ensure optimal metabolism of their food.

All lights must be placed behind wire mesh to protect your reptile from harm. Reflectors (behind the light globes/tubes) can be used to intensify the light for your reptile. Glass or Perspex should not be placed in between the lights and your reptile, as this will prevent the benefits of the lights from getting to your reptile. All lights, especially UVB, should be changed every 6 months to ensure continued exposure to the correct UV rays.

Some reptiles like it dry, others prefer it humid. You will need to find out your reptile’s specific requirements at your local herpetology store. Humidity can be provided from the water bowls in your enclosure. Additional humidity is usually offered through a water mist.

Feeding your pet reptile

As dietary needs between reptiles vary, it is best to consult with your local herpetology supplier.

Examples of common reptile foods:

Lizards: fresh meat, snails, crickets, mealworms, veggies, pelleted food.
Snakes: thawed prey like rats, mice or rabbits. Rabbits are for larger snakes.

Please note: you should never feed live mammals to reptiles. This is illegal and can cause injury to your reptile. The freezing process also kills most parasites inside the prey that can harm your reptile.

Fresh water should be available to most reptiles at all times. The exception is reptiles from very arid environments that may only need water 2 to 3 times weekly.

Offer a couple of bowls that are cleaned daily. When reptiles are shedding, they will often lay in their water bowl to help with the process. Your reptile may also spend lots of time in water if they feel itchy from mites, so always check your reptile when they spend extra time getting wet.

Handling your reptile

Purchase a young, already well-handled pet. Continue handling your reptile daily to encourage bonding.

Reptiles, like other animals, have varying personalities and some are friendlier than others. Gentle, confident and regular persistence in handling will pay off.

Always wash your hands after handling your reptile. Reptiles naturally carry germs on them that may be harmful to you, particularly if ingested. If you have come into contact with reptile faeces, it is best to worm yourself with a human all-wormer within 24 hours.

Don’t handle your reptile if you are likely to smell of food, eg if you have just been taking their food out of the freezer to thaw or cutting up meat. They may give you a nasty bite, thinking that you smell pretty yummy!

More information

For more information, please contact us at Glen Iris Veterinary Hospital & Cattery.

We are conveniently in the City of Stonnington and Glen Eira. The pawfect location for pet parents living in Glen Iris, Malvern, Toorak, Kooyong, Armadale and surrounding areas!