Irrespective of what type of exotic pet you’re planning to keep one of the most important aspects to consider is their housing. In general cages used to keep exotic pets such as reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are known as vivariums although sometimes the alternative word of terrarium is used interchangeably.
Features Of A Vivarium
Whilst vivariums come in an almost unlimited range of styles, colors and materials (indeed there is an active trade in custom-built vivariums which increases the options still further) there are a number of features that most vivariums have in common.
If you’re going to enjoy keeping exotic pets then it’s natural that you’re going to want a clear view of your pets going about their everyday routines. As a result whether you opt for a mesh vivarium, a wooden vivarium, a glass vivarium or one made from another material most vivariums aren’t just designed to keep your exotic pet safe but also to allow you to enjoy watching them in their enclosure.
To enable cleaning, feeding and routine health checks it’s essential that you can gain easy access to the inside of your vivarium. Whether that entails a front-opening door, a glass panel that slides across and/or a removable lid think not only about how practical your daily tasks are going to be in with a specific vivarium but also about the actual animal you are planning to keep in it.
As an example geckos often climb up glass and can move very quickly so in these cases a lift-off lid may not be suitable because they would find it very easy to escape in these circumstances. Equally when maintaining a ground-dwelling tarantula a lift-lid may be ideal because the spider is likely to spend most if it’s time on the floor of the cage and as a result there is little risk of it bolting out of the top of your vivarium.
A vivarium needs to keep your exotic pet safe from any harm. Whether that’s household chemicals, the risk of drowning or interest from small children or other pets a well-built vivarium needs to allow you to confidently keep your exotic pet locked up tight and away from danger.
In addition it is worth mentioning here that some cages do indeed have the option of adding a lock, meaning that only people with access to the key are able to open it up. Selecting a lockable vivarium adds further security should you have children or other pets that may try to gain access to the vivarium and I also like to use them wherever possible with larger pets (such as pythons) to ensure that there is no risk of them somehow managing to use their strength and weight to open up a vivarium you assumed was totally secure.
Having nipped home for lunch one way to find a good-sized (and not particularly tame) green iguana had escaped from his vivarium by opening up the door that I thought was far too heavy for him, and the fun that ensued in trying to recapture him from my windowsill, I now prefer to take no chances!
The last point here is arguably the most important of all and that refers to environmental control. Exotic pets like reptiles and amphibians have very specific requirements regarding temperature, humidity and light as well as places to hide and so on. A decent vivarium will make it easy for you to control each of these factors and thus keep your pet fit and healthy. Examples might include fittings for UV lights or basking lamps, and variable ventilation to assist you in controlling the relative humidity within your vivarium.
Types Of Vivariums
As keeping exotic pets has gained in popularity, so the number of people looking to buy vivariums has increased along with the level of their requirements. At present therefore we have arguably the largest range of vivariums ever. The upside of all this variety is that there is now a commercially-available solution for any situation though of course the downside is that it can be very difficult to make an informed decision about exactly which vivarium is really most suitable for your needs.
If you’re looking for vivariums to buy then it makes sense to understand a little more about the different types of vivariums available. In this way you will not only have a better idea of the options available to you (as many stores only stock a small range themselves) but you will also be able to get a better feeling for exactly what type of vivarium will best suit your needs and will be able to make a better purchase, be happier with your decision and will hopefully end up with a vivarium that both keeps your exotic pet fit and healthy but also provides you with a practical and attractive display.
Whilst it would be impossible to cover every type of vivarium currently available it is worth taking a closer look at two of the most common materials used to construct vivariums as these are the vivarium types you are most likely to come across in your local pet store.
Wooden vivariums are really the “classic” form of housing reptiles and amphibians. Most regularly a wooden vivarium consists of a rectangular wooden box with a glass panel at the front through which you can watch your pet.
The wood most regularly used is melamine board which has a semi-waterproof covering on it to not only prevent rotting but to also make cleaning your vivarium far easier and quicker.
This covering also comes in a range of different styles so it’s often possible to buy wooden vivariums that look like they have been made from beech, oak or mahogany and in this way it is possible to match the color of the vivarium to the décor of your room. Black and occasionally white versions are also available and whilst they look less “natural” these two colors can be very successful for building an eye-catching display that really shows up your exotic pet a treat.
The glass front of wooden vivariums normally consists of two panes of glass which slide across, enabling you to open either end of the vivarium simply and to choose the size of the gap. In this way the doors can be slid totally open to enable proper cleaning or to add or remove vivarium décor while conversely you can slide open the front just a tiny amount if you’re trying to feed a particularly fast-moving or aggressive reptile or amphibian and want to minimize the chances of it escaping (or you getting bitten!).
Wooden vivariums are typically one of the lowest-priced forms of housing for reptiles and amphibians but one should be careful when considering using them to care for species that require a high humidity or a body of open water in their cage. Whilst the semi-waterproof covering of the wood will protect it to a degree, in a particularly humid environment it has been known for the wood to start to warp and rot so these cages are typically more suitable for species that prefer a dryer environment. As an example they can be ideal for many popular species of snake or for bearded dragons and leopard geckos.
Glass vivariums are normally constructed almost entirely out of strengthened glass though some areas may contain mesh to help ventilate the vivarium properly. Whilst they can be very heavy indeed at larger sizes they are far easier to keep clean than wooden vivariums because the glass in impermeable and so you can be certain that your reptile-safe cleaning products are sterilizing every area if the cage successfully.
Depending on the brand that you go for glass vivariums may either have sliding doors at the front like those of the wooden vivarium or they may have doors on hinges which open out and so in this cage careful consideration needs to be given to the species you are planning to keep to ensure they cannot quickly dive out of the door as you open it to feed or clean them.
Additionally it is worth noting that as glass vivariums are typically made almost entirely of glass your pet can be viewed through any side which offers both benefits and weaknesses. On the upside it can be easier to keep an eye on your pet and to ensure it is healthy without needing to coax it into view or take it out of the cage. In the other hand some exotic pets will feel less secure without a nice, private dark corner to hide in so if you opt to use a glass vivarium – especially with the more shy species – great care should be taken to provide multiple hiding places and this to help them feel safe and secure in their housing.
One final point of note regarding glass vivariums is that consideration should be given to the ease with which you can fit electrics to the model you’re considering. Wooden vivariums are easy to work with and with an electric drill it’s easy to fit heaters, lights and so on but with glass vivariums these accessories can be rather more difficult to fit. Before buying a vivarium check to see whether the model you’re considering comes complete with fittings for this purpose.
Two Types Of Vivarium Setup
Broadly speaking there are two ways to set up a vivarium for an exotic pet – typically known as naturalistic vivariums and the clinical vivarium.
As the name suggests naturalistic vivariums are set up in such as way as to mimic the natural habitat of an animal as closely as is possible and reasonable in captivity.
In essence a naturalistic vivarium simply looks like a piece of nature has been brought into your home. For rainforest species the base of the vivarium may be covered with soil and leaf litter, with healthy green plants and twigs providing cover, color and places to climb and hide. In a desert set-up, a sandy base together with rocks and other vivarium décor aims to give a realistic feel of the natural environment.
Naturalistic vivariums are a pleasure to look at and create a focal point in any room. They are arguably “kinder” to your pets too, making them feel more at home and allowing them to display more natural behaviour which in turn can increase the pleasure you get from keeping them.
The downside to the naturalistic-style of vivarium-keeping is that they can require far more maintenance than the more clinical type of vivarium. Plants need to be fed, watered and pruned. Cleaning fecal material is more problematic and cage cleaning takes longer as every element will need to be removed and thoroughly scrubbed before being replaced.
In contrast the more clinical style of vivarium involves providing the bare minimum necessary to keep your pet healthy. For many snakes this may simply involve a water bowl, a layer of newspaper on the floor and something to hide in or under such as an old cereal box. In this way cleaning and maintaining such a vivarium becomes very simple indeed. Simply roll up and throw away the newspaper and hide before replacing them with.
It has been argued that you will therefore be more likely to clean such a vivarium and that they can be safer and more hygienic for your exotic pets though many people, myself included, shy away from this type of vivarium.
Not only are they truly ugly to look at but I also worry that we are keeping our pets in unnatural surroundings and that this may impact their health and well-being. Of course there is no right or wrong answer – this is all just personal opinion – but I like to try and create as natural and as stimulating an environment as I can for my captives and even if I fail, at least I know I have tried my best to give my exotic pets the best possible lifestyle.
Considerations When Buying Vivariums
Thanks to the wide range of vivariums for sale in conjunction with the ever-growing list of commonly-available reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates trying to decide on the best option for you can be something of a challenge.
There are a large number of factors that should be considered before making a decision so let’s take a closer look at some of the more important in the hope that you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about which solution is best for your needs.
In most situations in life “bigger is better” but that’s not necessarily so when it comes to vivariums. Certainly your exotic pets will need suitable space to move around and exhibit their natural behaviours but also bear in mind that there are some downsides to overly-large vivariums.
Firstly, of course, are the cost implications. Secondly a larger vivarium can make it harder to keep an eye on your pet which can not only reduce your enjoyment of your pet but in addition can make it harder to spot any potential health issues which are easily noted during routine observations.
Taming down your pet is also an important part of keeping exotic pets because it makes health checks and routine tank maintenance easier, quicker and far less stressful for your pet but many keepers find it harder to tame down their pet when they are kept in over-sized vivariums.
Lastly some exotic pets seem to feel less confident when they have a large amount of space and may well be observed sticking to just one area of their vivarium while almost totally ignoring other parts of it. This makes the additional work and cost of the larger vivarium a potential waste.
In short, consult a suitable vet or other reliable source of information to be certain you’re selecting a vivarium of a suitable size for your pet and appreciate that if you are buying a baby or are planning to breed your exotics in the future you may need to move your pets from one vivarium to another of a different size in time so factor these additional costs into your budget and ensure you have a full understanding of just how large the eventual vivarium will need to be.
Vivariums can vary considerably in price with wooden vivariums typically being far cheaper than glass vivariums though of course price should be secondary to the health and well-being of your pet. However carefully research the requirements of the species you are planning to keep so that you can make an informed decision about the ideal vivarium and find one which is not only suitable on a practical level but is also reasonably priced.
Vivariums can be surprisingly heavy. Whilst plastic vivariums are generally lighter in weight, wooden and glass vivariums can weigh quite a bit and when you factor in the weight of your pet, the tank décor such as sand and rocks and even, depending on species, an aquatic area, this weight can become a serious consideration.
Not only should you consider how you’re going to move your vivarium should you ever need to but also what you’re going to rest it on. Placing a vivarium on the floor – no matter how heavy it is – is generally not recommended because this position can not only stress out exotic pets as people walk past but additionally there are likely to be more extreme temperature changes at this height.
To fully enjoy your pet then, and keep it happy, you should aim to place your vivarium onto a surface off the floor so consider whether your furniture is going to be strong enough to safely support it for years to come or whether it would be advisable to invest in a proper vivarium stand made specifically for the job.
Take care to research fully the environmental condition that your chosen pet will need in terms of temperature, humidity, lighting, air movement and behavioural requirements so that you select a vivarium that is ideally suited to these conditions.
As examples a mesh cage is ideal for species that dislike stagnant air but can be difficult to use if you need a high humidity within the vivarium. Equally if your pet requires a hot basking spot then wood or plastic may suffer from the intense heat while glass vivariums will take such abuse in their stride. Further still fitting a UV light into a wooden vivarium can be a very simple affair while adding one to a glass tank can be rather more problematic depending on what accessories you can find for your vivarium.
So in short figure out the exact requirements of your exotic pet and then work backwards to match these to the ideal vivarium.
In an ideal world we would place our exotic pet into a beautiful vivarium which will show it off to perfection and place this in pride of place in our living room or bedroom but in reality we also need to consider the ideal location for our vivarium.
For example care should be taken to avoid extremes of temperature or places where the temperature is likely to change on a regular basis making it harder for our cold-blooded pets to accurately thermoregulate and also increasing the chances of respiratory problems.
Windows and doors are two major considerations. Not only should you avoid placing your vivarium near to any exterior door to prevent druaghts as well as increasing the risk of a pet escaping from your home, but you should also ensure that your vivarium is not only placed far enough away from windows to avoid a draught but also that no direct sunlight can fall onto your vivarium and heat it to a dangerous temperature.
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