Owning Domestic Pets and Reptiles In The Same House


Reptile expert, Pete Hawkins talks us through his experience of owning both domestic pets and reptiles. He shares his top tips to keep both in a happy home.

Wanting a new pet Reptile takes a lot of planning. You’ll have a number of factors to think about such as their diet, all their essential equipment and where in the home the enclosure will be situated. ExoticDirect has a number of guides to help with this such as our Bearded Dragon Diet Guide so it’s worth checking out our other articles after reading this.

There are also factors and measures that will need to be taken if your home already has other pets, more so when it’s cats and dogs that are involved.

It can be a lot easier for Reptiles and a dog to co-exist in the same household, as dog respond better to verbal commands. While with cats, this can be very problematic.

But like with any domestic pet, every individual is different. Different breeds and different personalities can affect everything, and any co-existence within the same household can take a huge amount of time, patience, safety measures and appropriate planning.

Minimise visual stress

To minimise any stress for both the Reptile and your domestic pet, the location of your enclosure is vital. Having the enclosure off the floor, and not at eye level of your dog or cat is important.

A Reptile seeing a dog or cat around its enclosure will only cause stress, regardless of if the dog or cat is being friendly, playful, or even uninterested.

All that the Reptile sees is something often larger than itself, therefore a potential predator. Or simply another animal within/close to its territory.

Having your Reptile enclosure on it’s relevant cabinet, or at least something suitable and sturdy will not only keep the enclosure away from the eyes of curious domestic pets. But should they somehow reach it, it is a sturdy measure to stop an enclosure accidentally toppling over.

Any situation could be worse if you have a Tortoise and an open top Tortoise table. Access to the animal would be easier with the enclosure being open.

For this reason, a cat wandering around the house and an open enclosure would not be a clever idea.

As we know, cats can get to anywhere they want via a purposeful leap or two, and this puts the Tortoise at risk.

This risk can be reduced using an enclosed tortoise enclosure as opposed to a Tortoise Table. But not all Tortoise species are suited to these types of enclosures, for a few reasons. Read our tortoise set up guide for further advice on enclosures, heating and temperature.

Another idea would be to have a dedicated ‘Reptile Room’. An area or room where no other animals are allowed.

Many people use their garage, or a spare room for such, but not everyone has these, so the above-mentioned ideas can aid stress prevention.

Please note, only keep pets in garages which don’t have cars kept in them to reduce the risk of your Reptile inhaling fumes from your car.

Getting your Reptile’s setup is crucial, especially if you have other pets in the house.

Outside time

Reptiles can benefit from 30 minutes of outside time via natural heat and UV on a nice warm sunny day. Be it a Bearded Dragon, Snake, or Tortoise, all should be within a suitable and safe ‘outside’ space with access to water and shade made available, always.

Many people will use Rabbit or Guinea pig runs, or even puppy or child playpens. Whatever you decide, your pet should always be under supervision and never left alone. Ensure that the run is secure and there’s no risk of your pet being trapped in any areas.

Try and ensure it’s an area where your cat or dog doesn’t toilet, as to avoid any risk of your Reptile becoming unwell. You may wish to block an area of your garden off permanently to allow for this.

If you have a dog or cat in your household, keep them indoors while the Reptile is outside. It only takes an excitable dog to knock over or cause an issue with the playpen/space you are using for the Reptile to get away in fear, or worse.

Ensure any outside enclosures are safe, secure and your Reptile isn’t left unsupervised whilst exercising.

Should I introduce my dog or cat to my Reptile?

The simple, logical, and safest answer here is, no, never.

It is hard not to see photos of Tortoises and Bearded Dragons laying with/on someone’s dog for example when browsing in social media groups.

But please do not be that owner.

As pet owners, we have a duty of care for any pet we have, no matter how “friendly” we believe our animals to be.

You could have the friendliest dog in the world, but that Tortoise, Bearded Dragon, Gecko, whatever the Reptile is a wild animal, with a fight or flight instinct.

It only takes that Reptile to get spooked by something and make some sort of startled movement, which in-turn could invoke a reaction bite, pounce or scratch from the dog or cat causing injury to either party, or worse.

Honestly, it’s just not worth the risk. As mentioned before, sure you have some sort of verbal command over a dog, but if a Reptile makes a frightened lunge at the dog, the dog will run or try and protect itself, again, often ending in injury, or worse.

One other thing to consider…

Cross contamination. Reptiles are known to carry parasites as well as different strains of the Salmonella bacteria via skin, faeces, or saliva. This has a contamination risk for any environment the Reptile has access to or shared with your domestic pet, as well as anything you touch after any handling session.

Preventive measures

Good hand hygiene involving washing hands with a good antibacterial soap before and after handling your Reptile will keep such from having any ill effect.

I also recommend the use of an antibacterial hand gel afterwards, something we should all be familiar with now, following Covid-19.

Salmonella symptoms can include diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomiting, and general nausea. This can quickly escalate to more serious conditions.

Should any of these symptoms present themselves, a Vet appointment would be needed as soon as possible.

If you absolutely insist…

If you absolutely insist and are adamant on introducing your Reptile to your domesticated pet, then being able to read that domesticated pets body language would be essential.

A friendly nudge with their paw or nose, from the cat or dog may seem friendly in their mind but the Reptile may think otherwise – so never leave the animals unsupervised.

If the dog or cat is barking, whining, hissing, and likewise your Reptile turns defensive via retreating, expanding of its body, vocal cues – you should instantly separate the animals and try again another day.

To conclude…

It is honestly not worth the risk introducing your Reptile to your domestic animals, face to face. The risk of stress, injury or worse, and the heartache it brings if there are issues is hard to work out, and not fair on any of the parties involved.

Can they live in the same home together? Absolutely, but within their own boundaries or species-specific enclosures once the discussed preventive measures have been adhered, too such as keeping any enclosure off the floor and not at eye level of the domestic animal. This will minimise stress to the Reptile, the domestic animal, but also, you.

Pete Hawkins
16 Aug 2022

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