Caring for your pet amphibian
Amphibians are one of the most unique pets you could have. They are interesting to watch as they move through their life cycle: starting as an egg, hatching into a larval form with gills that live under water and as it matures, turning into a completely different creature that breaths air instead of water.
Having an amphibian as a pet is more of a hobby as these are not companion animals. In most cases, it can be dangerous to both the amphibian and the owner to handle the animal too often.
Amphibians are low maintenance pets, but you must ensure that their cages are clean, they are fed regularly and that the water is free from toxins in order for your pet to live a long life.
The most common amphibians that are kept as pets are frogs, toads and salamanders, but there are other amphibians that are also possible to keep as pets.
Housing and environment
The environment of your amphibian lives in is one of the most important factors in maintaining its health. Housing will differ depending on the variety of amphibian you want to keep as a pet, but there is one thing that remains constant, the enclosure must be escape proof.
The enclosure you plan to house your amphibian in must closely match their natural environment to ensure that they can adapt to it easily. This includes using driftwood, plants, mosses and rocks to create a 'natural' environment. If using rocks, they need to be above swallowing size to ensure that your amphibian does not ingest them, causing health problems.
All water within amphibian's enclosure must be free from chlorine as they are very sensitive to its toxicity. De-chlorinating the water can be done by using products purchased at a pet store or, alternatively, you can use bottled water.
To determine the right environment for your species of amphibian it is best to speak with the store or from where you purchased your pet. You may also like to do an internet search.
Temperature will vary greatly between types of amphibian. If your amphibian comes from a tropical environment then it will require a more hot and humid environment than one from a cooler climate.
As a general estimate, a temperature of 16 to 21 degrees Celsius with a humidity of 75-80% is ideal for the average amphibian but you should carefully consider the type of amphibian you want to keep. Those from tropical environments will require higher temperatures and humidity to survive.
A day/night cycle of your amphibian should be set to that of its natural environment (a 'normal' day/night cycle of 12 hours of light in the warmer months and an option of 8 hours a day in winter).
Most amphibians only consume live invertebrates, such as insects, crickets, wax worms and roaches.
The activity level of your amphibian will determine the frequency of feeding. Small, active species will need to be fed once a day while larger, less active species will only require feeding once a week.
To ensure that your amphibian gets all the nutrients required, you will need to coat the invertebrate with a powdered preparation of vitamins before feeding once a week.
Never feed your pet insects that have been exposed to insecticide or other chemicals.
Due to the sensitive, absorbent skin of amphibians the habitat needs to be cleaned thoroughly and frequently.
The water in an amphibian's environment should be changes daily and de-chlorinated to ensure it does not affect the health of your pet.
Commonly encountered problems with amphibians include:
- Heat stress (pacing, then lethargy)
- Egg retention (swollen abdomen)
- Cloacal prolapse (tissue protruding from cloaca – the anal area)
- Septicemia (red patches on lower legs and abdomen)
Hands should be washed thoroughly before handling your amphibian to avoid irritation the skin.
Most amphibians breathe through their skin, so any chemicals or residue on human hands can be passed onto them and even kill them. Smokers should never touch frogs. You must never squeeze them either.
Excessive handling of your amphibian can also be detrimental to their health and you can damage their skin leaving them prone to bacterial infection. Excessive handling can also cause distress to the amphibian.
It is also important to wash your hands after handling your pet. Amphibians can carry bacteria toxic to humans such as salmonella.
Legislation and licences
It is necessary to obtain a licence from the Department of Sustainability and Environment to keep most species of frogs in captivity. Contact the Customer Service centre on 136 186 to learn more about which species of amphibian you require a licence to keep.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 protects the welfare of all animals, including amphibians.
In Australia, frogs are a protected species. You cannot legally capture them and keep them as pets. Any frog kept as a pet must be registered with the state you live in and must be captive bred, not caught wild.
Amphibians make great pets but the different species have different humidity, temperature and environmental requirements. Before you purchase your amphibian, talk to your veterinary practitioner or a person experienced in the care of amphibians for advice. Also, research the species you want to keep as a pet so you are fully prepared for its arrival at your home.
The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Amphibians in Captivity has a list of recommended species to keep as pets, as well as good details on the necessary elements to successfully keep an amphibian as a pet.
An amphibian can live for many years or more. Regular cleaning and maintenance of housing is required to ensure they and their environment are kept healthy.
If you no longer want to keep your amphibian make sure you find an alternative home or humanely kill it. DO NOT release live amphibians into dams, rivers or other waterways (or down the toilet) as they can carry diseases that can affect our native species and may establish populations in waterways that compete with our native populations.