Caring for your pet amphibian

Green frogAmphibians 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 breathes 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.

Legislation and licences

In Australia, frogs are a protected species. You cannot legally capture them and keep them as pets. A frog kept as a pet must be registered with the state you live in and must be captive bred — not caught wild.

You must have a licence from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 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 welfare of all animals, including amphibians, is protected by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

Amphibians make great pets but different species have different humidity, temperature and environmental requirements. Before you purchase your amphibian, talk to your vet or a person experienced in the care of amphibians for advice. Research the species you want to keep so you are fully prepared to care for it in 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 essential details on how to successfully keep an amphibian as a pet.

An amphibian can live for many years. 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.

Housing and environment

The environment of your amphibian lives in is one of the most important factors in maintaining its health.

All amphibian enclosures must be escape proof. The enclosure must closely match their natural environment so they can adapt to it easily, you can use:

  • driftwood
  • plants
  • mosses
  • rocks.

If you use rocks, they need to be large enough to ensure your amphibian does not swallow them.

The type of housing needed will be specific to your type of amphibian. 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 and research online.

Regular cleaning and maintenance of housing is required to ensure they and their environment are kept healthy.

All water within amphibian's enclosure must be free from chlorine as they are very sensitive to its toxicity. Dechlorinating the water can be done by using products purchased at a pet store or you can use bottled water.

Temperature

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 to survive than one from a cooler climate.

As a general estimate, a temperature of 16 to 21 degrees Celsius with a humidity of 75 to 80% is ideal for the average amphibian but you should carefully consider the type of amphibian you want to keep.

Lighting

The day/night cycle of your amphibian should be set to that of its natural environment. A 'normal' day/night cycle is 12 hours of light in the warmer months and an option of 8 hours a day in winter.

Feeding your amphibian

Most amphibians only eat live invertebrates, such as:

  • insects
  • crickets
  • wax worms
  • roaches.

The activity level of your amphibian will determine how often you feed them:

  • small, active species will need to be fed once a day
  • larger, less active species will only need to be fed once a week.

To make sure your amphibian gets all the nutrients it needs, coat the invertebrate with a powdered mixture of vitamins before their once a week feed.

Never feed your pet insects that have been exposed to insecticide or other chemicals.

Cleaning the habitat

Due to the sensitive, absorbent skin of amphibians their habitat needs to be cleaned thoroughly and frequently.

Health problems

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).

Handling

Hands should be washed thoroughly before handling your amphibian to avoid irritating 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 be harmful to their health and you can damage their skin leaving them open to bacterial infection. Handling them too much 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.

Page last updated: 13 Jul 2020