RSS Feed
  1. What Bedding is Best? Part 1

    April 7, 2016 by Lily


    Choosing the right bedding and substrate for your pet is as important as choosing the right food and housing. There are many choices out there, some good, some not so good, and some shouldn’t even be on the market. In some cases, it comes down to personal choice and what works best for you and your pet. But there are important points to consider to make sure your pet has optimal conditions, and also to avoid bedding that may actually be hazardous to your pet’s health.

    Here is a list of commonly used beddings and substrates for small animals, and their pros and cons so you can make an informed decision which is best for your situation.

    Aspen Shavings – Aspen is one of the best and safest beddings available, and also very affordable. It is perfect for rodents, rabbits and many snakes (especially species that like to burrow). Aspen is great for controlling odor and humidity and is a good choice.

    Pine Shavings – There are mixed opinions on how safe pine is for rodents, but from personal experience and talking to other rodent breeders, KILN DRIED pine is safe and a good, affordable choice. Kiln dried is important, as it has had the oils removed, making it safe to use with rodents and rabbits. Make sure to choose the larger flake type over the smaller finely shaved pine, which can be dusty and cause respiratory issues in rodents and rabbits.

    Pine Pellet – Pine pellets are also a good choice for rodents and rabbits.They are usually sold as horse stall bedding pellets at feed stores. Don’t wet them down as instructed for horse stalls. I’ve found the best way to use these in my rodent cages is to put a layer of pine pellets down, then a good layer of aspen or kiln dried pine over them. It really helps to keep things clean and odor free for a longer time than using shavings alone.

    Cedar Shavings – Don’t use it! Cedar may look and smell wonderful, but the oils in cedar can be deadly to small animals, especially in small spaces. Cedar is great for putting in a sachet in your clothing storage boxes or drawers to keep things smelling nice and to keep bugs and moths out, but never use it in pet cages! I am baffled and saddened that cedar is still marketed toward small animal use, as I’ve heard of the dangers decades ago.

    Care Fresh – Care Fresh is advertised as 100% natural paper and wood renewable product perfect for pets. It has great long term odor control. Sounds perfect, right? Unfortunately, the odor control includes baking soda, which is not safe for small animals. Many rodent and rabbit owners have reported their pets dying after switching to this product. Care Fresh has reported that they changed their formula after reports from pet owners and have removed the baking soda. Use this product with caution, or choose the variety that doesn’t include the odor control formula.

    Plain Paper Bedding – Paper bedding is often sold as a safe and renewable bedding. The downside is that it has horrible odor and moisture control, and must be changed often. So not the best choice.

    Corn Cob/Walnut – Corn cob and walnut shell bedding get mixed reviews. Some say it is great mixed with aspen, and others say avoid it altogether. On the plus side, it helps with odor. But there have been reports that some rodents have intentionally ingested it, and even though it is edible, it is not digestible and can cause impaction if enough is eaten. It also molds fairly easily, so should never be used in a humid environment.

    Stay tuned for part two of this list, which include many substrates that are marketed more specifically to reptiles and arachnids.

  2. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as Pets

    January 13, 2016 by Lily

    Madagascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), as their name indicates, come from the island of Madagascar.  In the wild, these large and impressive 2-3 inch herbivorous insects live inside rotting logs. They are also somewhat long-lived insects, with a lifespan of up to five years, although they more commonly live 2-3 years. The hissing sound that gives the Madagascar Hissing cockroach its name is made by forcing air out of modified breathing tubes, called spiracles, in the abdomen.

    Madagascar Hissing CockroachHissing roaches, or Hissers, as they are commonly called in the pet hobby, make easy and wonderful pets. Unlike their more well-known pest species cousins, Madagascar Hissing cockroaches are clean, quiet, and won’t infest your home. They don’t bite, aren’t very fast-moving, and can’t fly.

    Acquiring a Madagascar Hissing cockroach (or two or three), is fairly easy if you know where to look. There are several companies online which specialize in feeder insects and insect collectors who offer them for sale, as well as breeders who occasionally offer them through websites such as eBay and Craigslist. They are also very affordable pets, selling for an average of $1-5 each for adults. If housing more than one Hisser, avoid housing males together, as they are territorial.

    Housing your new pets is also easy. A 5-10 gallon aquarium will easily house several roaches. Make sure the cover is secure, as roaches are good climbers. For substrate, Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate, mixed with a little organic topsoil is ideal.  Add plenty of places to hide, like bark, small logs, or even toilet paper rolls or egg carton sections, since roaches prefer dark areas.  Hissing cockroaches are native to a tropical climate, so ideal temperatures are between 70 and 90 F.

    Feeding a variety of foods is ideal for these vegetarians. Carrots, apples, squash, celery, bananas, and other similar fruits and vegetables are all on the menu. Remove and replace any uneaten foods every couple of days. Your cockroaches will get a good amount of their moisture from their food, but adding a water source is a good idea. The best and easiest way to offer water is by using polymer water crystals, such as Miracle-Gro Water Storing Crystals.


    Quick Hisser Facts:

    • The hissing sound is made when alarmed or feeling threatened. Males also hiss to females during courtship and to other males in a territorial display.
    • Males have a noticeably larger set of bumps or “horns” on their pro-thorax than the females. Males will use these bumps to ram each other in territorial battles much like rams or bulls.
    • Hissing cockroaches are among 4,600 cockroach species which are not considered a pest. Only four cockroaches have caused problems with people: German, Oriental, American and Brown-banded.
    • Hissing cockroach nymphsHissing cockroaches give live birth to nymphs after 60 days gestation.  The nymphs can live safely with their parents, and reach adult size in 3-5 months.
    • To help keep these great climbers in their enclosure, apply an inch wide ring of Vasoline or olive oil around the top of the tank.

  3. Good Beginner Snakes

    November 11, 2015 by Lily

    Pastel Ball Python

    Snakes. People either love them or hate them.  For those who know enough to love them, keeping a snake (or two, or three, or ten) can be a fun and interesting experience.

    Before adding any snake to your home, there are some very important points to consider.

    #1. Snakes are strict carnivores. In captivity, snakes usually eat mice and rats. Almost all snakes can be trained to take frozen/thawed rats which you can buy from a supplier or pet shop, but on occasion, you may have a picky eater who will only eat live or fresh killed food. You must be prepared and willing to do this if necessary.

    Brooks King Snake

    Brooks King Snake

    #2. Snakes can bite. Captive snakes are generally very docile, but they are not domestic animals, and can on occasion be feisty or cranky. All of the snakes below are non-venomous and pose no danger to humans, but they do have teeth. If you are bitten, it could hurt a bit (but a lot less than if you were bitten by your dog or hamster!).

    #3. Snakes aren’t cuddly like dogs or cats. They can learn who their owner is, and even prefer to be with their owner than other people. But they aren’t too big on belly rubs and hugs like a dog, or playing with toys like a cat. Regular handling will keep them docile, but they don’t seek out your companionship. What makes them happiest is food, water, warmth and a secure hiding spot.

    #4. Snakes need heat. Proper temperature and humidity is a must, and depends on the species of snake. They don’t need special UVB or other lights like some lizards and turtles, but they do need a heat pad or heat tape under their enclosure to keep them happy and healthy.

    #5. Snakes are best housed alone. Some people have success keeping more than on snake in an enclosure. As a general rule, though, it is best to house snakes each in their own enclosure, unless they are being bred. It is not unheard of for a snake to attempt to eat its cage mate. This is especially true with King snakes. NEVER house a King snake with another snake.

    Here are my top six suggestions of snakes that make great pets for beginners, in no particular order.

    Corn Snakes are one of the most popular snakes for a good reason. They are docile, long lived, and don’t grow unmanageably large. They are also an affordable snake, and usually found at pet stores and from breeders. Adult corn snakes can reach 4-6 ft in length and can live up to 20 years in captivity.

    Ball Pythons are another very popular species. Most would rather hide than bite, and are very docile. They are quite cute and friendly. Their popularity has led to many breeders working with them, and the wide variety of beautiful color morphs is very impressive. The only downside to ball pythons is that a few can be very picky eaters. But other than that, they are excellent pet snakes. Adult ball pythons grow up to 3-5 feet, with females growing a little larger than males. They can live up to 20 years.

    King Snakes are a good beginner snake which comes in many different varieties. Among the most popular are the California King snake and the Florida King snake. King snakes earned their name from the fact that other snakes are on the menu, including other King snakes. Always keep King snakes alone and never put another snake of any kind in their enclosure. Fortunately, King snakes are more than happy to thrive on a diet of mice or rats. Reaching lengths of 4-6 feet and living up to 20 years, they are great snakes to keep.

    Western Hognose snake

    Western Hognose snake

    Western Hognose snakes are another great beginner snake. These little snakes are among the smallest and by far the cutest on this list, with males growing only to about 20″ and females growing up to 35″. They live 15-18 years in captivity. With their upturned snouts (which gives them their name) to their active and entertaining personalities, they are a favorite with everyone who keeps them.


    Milk Snakes are among the most colorful and beautiful of snakes, and are great beginner snakes, too. Some species of Milk snakes look very much like the venomous Coral snakes, but are completely harmless. “Red touches black, venom lack” says the rhyme. Milk snakes grow to about 3-5 feet and live 15-20 years.

    Garter Snake

    Garter Snake

    Garter Snakes are one of the most underrated, but also among the most familiar of the beginner snakes. Most kids who’ve spent a lot of time outside in nature have seen or caught these little backyard visitors. Garter snakes are an excellent choice for someone who wants a small, docile snake, but would rather avoid feeding mice or rats. Garter snakes will readily eat earthworms and goldfish. Fishing worms can readily be found at many stores, and make a great food source. Garter snakes are relatively small, maxing out at 2-4 feet, and live between 10-12 years.


    No matter the type of snake you choose, always remember that they are a long term commitment and depend on your for all their needs. As with any animal, do your research and make sure you choose the best snake for your wants and abilities. And most of all, enjoy the rewarding and addicting hobby of snake keeping!

  4. Keeping Less Common Critters

    October 15, 2015 by Lily

    Leopard Gecko

    Dog and cat ownership by far make up the largest groups for pets owned by U.S. households. Their numbers in 2012 ranked 36.5%  and 30.4%, respectively.  Fish, birds and horses trail behind, but are still popular pets.  But what about the rest? For those who are thinking of adding one of the more exotic or different pet, there are many to choose from for all types of households. There are many factors that should be considered before adding any pet to your family.

    Pink Toe Tarantula

    Pink Toe Tarantula

    One of the most important things to consider is proper housing. This can range from a simple enclosure for a tarantula or mouse to a large and elaborate enclosure for a monitor lizard or large livestock.  Remember, that baby Savannah Monitor, Green Iguana or Burmese Python that started off happy in a 20 gallon aquarium will grow to a large animal which will eventually require a very large enclosure. “A reptile will only grow as large as its enclosure” is a HUGE myth, and entirely untrue. They will outgrow their small tank, and they will need a lot more space. Make sure you can provide this when the time comes.

    Another thing to consider is environment. Some exotics live in very temperate climates with specific humidity requirements. A cold and dry house might make keeping the proper humidity and temps quite a challenge. Make sure you will be able to meet those requirements in your pet’s enclosure no matter the temperatures of your home. Also remember this could be an added expense that you might not have considered. If you don’t want to have to worry about higher electric bills, look into pets that are already adapted to the type of environment that doesn’t need many extras and can easily be emulated in your home environment.

    Bantam Dominique Chicken

    Bantam Chicken

    Feeding is another big consideration. If you are squeamish about feeding animals to other animals, a carnivore like a snake or monitor is probably not the pet for you. If you don’t like bugs, then you might think twice about getting that cute leopard gecko, who loves to eat them. There are quite a few exotics that are largely vegetarian, like many lizards and tortoises. Pets like rodents, rabbits, chickens, goats and pot-bellied pigs are also happy to eat pellets, hay, and veggies also. (Note: although chickens are happy to eat chicken feed, they are by no means vegetarians, and having a well-rounded diet that includes insects and other proteins will help to keep them healthy and happy.)

    Commitment is a biggie also. Some insect pets will live just a few months, and many tortoises will most likely outlive you with proper care. Make sure you have the means and desire to stick it out to the end. A pet is a commitment to the end of its natural life, and not just a fad, tossed aside or moved along on a whim. A lot of animals end up in bad situations because the owner got sick of them or got in over their head.

    Another important consideration is medical care. It is a good idea to find out what veterinarians in your area treat exotics or farm animals and get to know your vet. There may come a time when you need veterinary care for your pet, and many regular dog and cat vets don’t have the desire or expertise to see your reptile, rodent or livestock animal.

    Ball Python

    Ball Python

    Most importantly, before getting any animal… research, research, research! Find out all you can about the pet you are interested in getting before you get one. There are many great online forums full of knowledgeable owners and breeders online, and always check multiple sources, because there is a lot of misinformation online, also. Check Amazon   for recommended books on your pet of choice, and read as much as you can. That way you can make an informed decision if that pet is right for you and if you can meet all the requirements to give that animal a long and healthy life.