One of the benefits of exotic pets are that the vast majority make very little mess on a weekly basis. Certainly terrapins (turtles to our American readers) can quickly make a mess of their water but for those of us keeping tarantulas, snakes, lizards and the like we tend to have quite an easy life in terms of cleaning.
Cleaning out exotic pets can be broadly split into two kinds of job – the spot clean and the full clean.
The spot clean is the kind of maintenance that can and should be done on a regular basis. My royal python, for example, only defecates once every week or so and because of this my typical spot cleaning involves carefully removing the faeces as they are deposited by picking them up in a plastic bag, turning the bag the right way, tying it at the top and putting it in the bin.
Occasionally during feeding a little mess will be created – such as blood dripping on the substrate but I then just follow the same procedure to remove any obviously-soiled substrate. Every so often my snake moults and I remove the skin as soon as I see it.
That’s the full gamut of most of my cleaning routine. A couple of minutes a few times a week cleaning individual problems up and leaving the tank in a clean and hygienic state.
Doing these regular spot cleans as you see a problem will significantly cut down on the other type of cleaning necessary and will also keep your cage looking (and smelling) nicer for longer.
The other type of cleaning is the full clean where every part of the cage gets attention and that’s what I’d like to discuss in a little more detail below so you can see just how much more work this is and therefore why spot cleaning is so important to save you from this job for as long as possible.
Here is the process in detail as I do it:
1) Remove Exotic Pet
Firstly remove your exotic pet from their vivarium. Doing this ensures you can complete freedom over the rest of the process and so makes things much easier than trying to clean around your pet.
The whole cleaning process can take quite some time depending on the condition of the vivarium, the size of the housing and the time of year (which will affect drying temperatures) so you need to put your exotic pet somewhere that it will be safe and secure for a period of time.
For this purpose I generally keep a range of old vivariums, tubs and containers of assorted sizes that cover the full range of my livestock collection. I place the animal in, secure the lid, place the container in a warm place and cover it with a towel so that my movements as I go about my work won’t stress them.
2) Remove All Vivarium Decor And Clean
Once the animal is secured I remove all the vivarium decor such as rocks, wood, the water bowl, any hides, fake plants and so on. Using a new toothbrush and a bucket of reptile-safe detergent I scrub each item to within a inch of it’s life to remove any faeces, blood, dirt or bacteria that may be present, rinse them thoroughly and set them down to dry naturally.
This is an ideal point to discuss how many household chemicals can be tremendously dangerous to exotic pets and so you need to keep these as far away from your pet and it’s vivarium as possible. It is therefore a smart idea to go and buy brand new equipment the first time you clean out your exotic pet and then use a marker pen to write on the outside of them so you know that they have never been used for household chemicals.
The most important parts of your cleaning kit are going to be a plastic bucket or two, a dustpan and brush and a firm brush such as a toothbrush, together with some cloths for wiping the cage.
Never, ever try to use household chemicals for cleaning your exotic pets. No bleach. No glass polish. No washing up liquid. Use only detergents from a specialist exotic pet store designed specifically for reptiles and amphibians. OK, rant over 🙂
3) Remove Vivarium Substrate And Dispose Of
Next up I get rid of all the vivarium substrate. The easiest way I have found of doing this is to use a dustpan to scoop it up then place it into a bin bag. This can either be disposed on in the bin or put on your compost heap if you have used a natural substrate. Typically you will be left with some fine dust at the bottom of the vivarium and this can easily be removed with a vacuum cleaner.
4) Clean Inside Of Vivarium Including Glass
Next grab your clean cloths and your reptile-safe cleaning spray and get to work wiping down every surface inside the vivarium. Every bit of wall, glass, every fitting, nook and cranny. We want the anti-bacterial formula of the cleaning detergent worked into every area of the cage to fully sanitize it.
5) Allow Vivarium To Dry Thoroughly
By now you should be ready for a short break. Making yourself a cup of coffee or tea at this point is ideal because you now need to wait for the vivarium itself and all the decor which have been thoroughly washed to dry out naturally. You don’t want to be putting your exotic pet back into a cage still damp with the detergent no matter how “reptile safe” it is. Once you’re confident that everything is dry you can move onto the next step.
6) Check Vivarium For Issues
Take the opportunity while the vivarium is empty to check it over carefully for any potential problems. Is the wood warped? Are the electrical fittings in good condition and are they where they should be or have things moved? Do the doors/lid still fit securely? Are there any gaps or holes appearing anywhere? If so, resolve these issues before putting the vivarium back into use.
7) Replace Substrate
Grab a new bag of substrate and fill up the base of the vivarium so that it looks just like it did before you started.
8) Replace Vivarium Decor
Put all the decor back into the cage, changing the layout where necessary based on how your exotic pet uses the vivarium.
9) Replace Exotic Pet
Lastly when the vivarium is fully clean and has been set back up with all the heating and lighting working properly you can gently replace your exotic pet. Don’t be surprised if your pet either spends a lot of time exploring or hides away for a while. The vivarium will likely smell – and possibly even look – rather different and so your pet may behave a little strangely at first as they get used to the changes.