Choosing the Right Enclosure for Your Pet Reptile
"The Vivarium itself is as vital to the correct provision of an animal as is the provision of the pertinent heating and lighting systems. These are not just boxes in which an animal is living, but rather they are a core part of the technology needed to ensure high levels of health and well-being. Therefore, choosing the right type and size of vivarium, then installing the correct decoration or naturalistic habitat alongside the correct electronics is as of vital importance to overall health and well being as every other part of the system."
John Courteney-Smith MRSB, Head of Science and Innovation at Arcadia Reptile
See Our Easy to Follow Graphic on Choosing the Right Enclosure Here
Some like you to think they make the best reptile enclosures but without certain design standards, it's just hype. We developed our brand Maximum Reptile™ because nearly all brands of commercially available reptile enclosures in the US simply lack the necessary design features that pet reptiles need like external lighting and heating that is better, safer and provides more room for the inhabitants.
The same old “Breeder Standard” enclosures from the "Rack em and Stack em" builders may work well if your goal is to store as many reptiles as you can in a small space but pet reptiles need far more in their forever homes and this is where Maximum Reptile™ is leading the way forward.
Below we have listed the most important steps in choosing a suitable enclosure for your pet reptile.
Step # 1 - Enclosure size
First and foremost, make sure the enclosure is at least the minimum recommended size for the species you are keeping. There are many opinions on what the minimum recommended sizes should be for many species of reptiles and so its best to only follow factual, well researched recommendations from credible sources.Once you have selected a suitable size, move onto step # 2 - Choosing your reptiles life support system
Step # 2 - Life Support System
This includes the heating, lighting and ventilation systems that are integral to your reptiles health and well-being. Most reptile enclosures have external lighting as it's safer, more effective at maintaining correct ambient temps and provides more room for the inhabitants. Internal lighting makes as much as the top 14 inches or more unusable due to unsafe UVB levels (allowing 2" for the fixture and then 12" from the tube). Internal lighting can also burn reptiles and is more reflective causing unnecessary stress for your pet.
It is also harder to control the ambient temperature inside the reptile enclosure when lighting and heating are positioned inside the enclosure, especially as many of these enclosures have extremely limited ventilation and airflow. This makes it harder to provide and maintain a thermal gradient inside your reptiles enclosure and can result in a very dangerous situation for your pet. Remember, the goal is to provide a basking spot or area, not to make the entire enclosure it's basking spot and in doing so, risk making your reptile dangerously hot. This serious design flaw is eliminated with designs incorporating front ventilation and screen tops, that you see in the overwhelming majority of smaller reptile enclosures that are correctly designed for reptiles. Sadly, this is lacking in most of the larger enclosures currently being made.
Important - Before moving onto the next step: Does the Life Support System satisfy all of the needs for your pet reptile without reducing the minimum enclosure size (usable internal space)?
If not, increase the size of your enclosure to allow for the area that internal lighting makes unusable. This is usually the top 14 inches that has dangerously high UVB levels. Most high output linear light fixtures need to be placed 12 to 18 inches above the reptiles basking spot. What this means as an example is that a 4 x 2 x 2, 120 gallon enclosure with internal lighting may have just one quarter (30 gallons when allowing for just a 4" substrate later) of usable space and therefore, it's no longer able to provide the minimum recommended space for your pet.
Step # 3 - Enclosure Design
Correctly designed enclosures are secure (lockable), and are made with the pets needs first and foremost.
The substrate lip height should allow for your pets digging and burrowing needs.
The acrylic or glass doors should not be reflective and this issue is usually solved with external lighting, which directs the lighting down towards the bottom.
Front and top ventilation (by way of a screen top) will also help increase airflow and will help prevent fogging on the doors that usually happens with poorly designed enclosures AKA "Breeder Boxes" that are made for stacking and ease of manufacturing vs. what's best for the inhabitants (see above - Step # 2 ). You will also notice that nearly all inexpensive glass enclosures (Exo Terra, Zoo Med etc.) incorporate front and top vents. This design is simply better at creating airflow in and out of the enclosure so that your pet reptile can have a safe "Cool Spot" in which to retreat and help thermoregulate its body temperature.
Once you have selected an enclosure that is secure, has a suitable substrate lip, has non reflective doors and has proper front and top ventilation, it is time to consider the materials its made from.
Step # 4 - Materials
Most larger enclosures in the USA today are made from PVC foam board, but some cheaper PVC materials can contain harmful chemicals that may cause serious issues for your pet reptile. Always select USA made enclosures from a reputable manufacturer that uses high quality, USA made, chemical free PVC foam board. Other suitable materials include HDPE and ACRE which is a sustainable wood-alternative.
Screen tops should be made from aluminum or stainless steel and should let at least 70% of UVB to penetrate through the screen. Warning: do not use galvanized screens as the zinc used in this process can emit toxic gasses when heated at a high temperature.
Once you are satisfied that your enclosure materials are safe for your pet reptile, it is time to consider the aesthetics of your new enclosure.
Step # 5 - Aesthetics
Many keepers make the mistake of selecting appearance over the size, the life support system, the enclosure design and the materials used. Your enclosure can and should look great in your home or office, but this is no reason to choose the appearance over the necessary features when you can have all of these key features and, a beautiful looking enclosure too.
Don’t get fooled into purchasing because of an external embellishment when the actual enclosure lacks the necessary features that provides your pet with all that it needs to really thrive in it's artificial habitat.
At Maximum Reptile™ we have addressed all of these 5 steps and with our commitment to quality, innovation and superior designs, you can be assured that your pet reptiles have the very best enclosure that will enable you to provide the optimum habitat for its unique needs.
Maximum Reptile™ - Better by Design™
About the Author:
Paul Barclay is the founder and CEO of Custom Reptile Habitats and is a lifetime reptile and amphibian enthusiast. Originally from Perth, Western Australia, Barclay grew up catching and keeping amphibians and reptiles such as turtles, lizards, monitors and pythons before immigrating to the USA where he has kept a more extensive list of reptile species.
As a business executive, Barclay has launched several international businesses and brands in the fitness, weight loss and footwear industries and more recently in the pet industry where he has for over 8 years consulted formally and informally for over a dozen companies. During this time, Barclay has worked extensively with every major pet store chain in the USA, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturers, breeders, importers, exporters, industry publications, reptile Zoos, YouTube personalities, trade show promoters and pet advocacy groups.
Now based in Dayton, Ohio, Barclay's latest creation has a mission: To advance the husbandry of pet reptiles by raising the bar on reptile products in order to provide customers with better habitat choices that enable their pet reptiles to really thrive.