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Before You Buy Reptiles from a Pet Store

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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.

Common Pet Store Chains

  • Petsmart
    Petsmart is the leading pet store in the United States. You can find a variety of reptiles and reptile products.
  • PetCo
    PetCo is a popular pet store in the U.S. here you can find reptiles and products that suit your needs.
  • PetLand
    PetLand is popular amongst many. It gets many of its reptiles from local breeders, but it has a smaller supply of products.

Reptiles have found their way in many homes in America these days. People own reptiles varying from ball pythons to Burmese pythons. leopard geckos to giant day geckos, and bearded dragons to iguanas. Reptiles can be found at many and most petstores, ranging from the large retail corporations to the small local petstore. They have become a popular pet for many to have.

Reptiles are appealing for so many reasons, some of which include aesthetics, simplicity, and intrigue. Some reptiles are solely look-at pets, whereas others can be handled with care. Some reptiles need many various husbandry requirements, whereas others will survive without.

I will look at purchasing reptiles from retail stores from three different views: the customer wanting a reptile, former large retail petstore employee, and experienced reptile owner and breeder.

I, also, want to make it clear that by using the term, "retail petstore" or "retail reptile" I am referring to larger petstores, versus the smaller locally owned stores.

Petstore Leopard gecko (Banon) when I got her

Petstore Leopard gecko (Banon) when I got her

Banon years later

Banon years later


Most people who want a reptile want something cheap and convenient. In this case, retail petstores are the ideal place to go. Most of the time petstores will carry the top selling reptiles such as leopard geckos, bearded dragons, iguanas, and ball pythons. Most petstores try to keep the simpler and better beginner reptiles in stock all the time, which is great for the customer who just wants a pet leopard gecko or bearded dragon.

The customer walks in, requests help in the reptiles, picks out the individual reptile or choice, and purchases tons of supplies. Then, the customer goes home to set everything up. Nice and simple. Right?


There can be big problems with purchasing reptiles from retail petstores. Just because it's quick and simple, doesn't mean that it's always the best choice. I will further discuss the cons to retail reptiles in a moment.

But, for the most part the customer had a pleasant experience of purchasing his/her first reptile.


As a former employee of a large retail petstore corporation, I want to add in a few tidbits. I will not name names as to wholesale companies that the reptiles were acquired from or the retail company that I worked with.

With the very first shipment of reptiles, I quickly recognized the name of the wholesale company, and vaguely remembered hearing bad things about the company. I did some research and found out that the particular wholesale company is prone to sending animals with various, and multiple parasites. This is something that many customers are NOT aware of when buying from a retail petstore. Buying from a retail petstore you never really know what you're going to get.

Even though the reptiles are 'vet checked,' it's not true. Reptiles do not go to the vet unless they were previously sick, which is, also, not told to the customer when he/she purchases the reptile.

Reptiles from Breeders

Male amel AFT

Male amel AFT

Female harlequin crested gecko

Female harlequin crested gecko

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Female peach bearded dragon

Female peach bearded dragon

Reptile Resources

  • GeckoForums
    Forum is composed of many hobby breeders, reptile owners, and other people interested in reptiles. Great forum for gecko species.
  • Reptile Rooms
    Reptile Forum consisting of gecko, lizard, snake, amphibian, and chelonian (turtles/tortoises) owners.
  • Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care
    Great info on various reptile species, illnesses, and other various reptile related info are provided here.
  • goReptiles
    My hobby breeding website. Caresheets, Feeder Insect Info, FAQs, Links, etc.


I want to start this viewpoint with a little information about myself. I've been researching, housing, and breeding reptiles for 8 years. I researched leopard geckos and bearded dragons for two years before I finally received one leopard gecko (Banon). Banon was followed by another retail petstore leopard gecko, retail bearded dragon, and breeder bearded dragon, and so on till the present day, where I currently own 9 leopard geckos, 5 African fat tail geckos, 2 crested geckos, 2 bearded dragons, and 1 ball python, amongst many furry friendly animals (i.e. mammals), and 2 dogs.

I would, also, like to go over a brief list of what I have acquired via a retail petstore and its status now...

  • 2 leopard geckos- 1 alive and healthy, 1 dead (sickly from the start)
  • 2 African fat tails- both dead (both had parasites; I took one to a vet, but still didn't make it)
  • 1 bearded dragon- alive but sickly with severe MBD from near day one

As a side note, all the reptiles that I have acquired from breeders, are all still alive and well.

The main problems with purchasing retail reptiles include:

  • Unknown health history of parents
  • Unknown health history of individual reptile, unless the retail petstore had it for a while and can guarantee its health
  • Unknown breeding and genes (could be inbred, which can cause severe health concerns as well as temperament concerns)
  • Improper housing before and while at the retail petstore, which can cause minor and sometimes acute health problems

In my experience I have had better luck paying a little more, and received a top quality reptile that I KNOW has (1) great family health status, (2) great health status of its own, (3) known breeding, and (4) no inbreeding.


When Choosing A Reptile

I don't want to say that you should NEVER go to a retail petstore to purchase a reptile. If you check for all signs of good health, you just may get lucky.

Check for signs of healthy reptiles:

  • Clear eyes
  • Clear nose
  • Alertness
  • Plump belly and tail
  • No scratches
  • Old stool (to check its consistency- runny, solid, etc)

If you're really interested in a reptile, do your research FIRST! Check online forums, ask questions to other reptile owners, and just plain read up!

You do not want to rush into purchasing the first reptile that you may be interested in, as you may get a reptile with the following symptoms, which can sometimes be very slight or very prominent.

  • Sunken eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes, nose, and vent.
  • Lethargy
  • Thin
  • Protruding hip bones
  • External blemishes (scratches, scabs, spots)
  • Bone kinks (tail, spine, pelvis are more common)
  • Mites
  • Hard mass under the belly (impaction or retained eggs)
  • Retained shed

Talk to breeders, go to reptile shows and expos. Have fun with the experience, because, trust me, reptiles are different than most other animals in the pet industry. By going to reptile shows and expos, you will learn a lot by talking to the various breeders and hobbiest, as well as given a chance to see and experience many different species of reptiles.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Feline Pet Store on June 12, 2012:

My friends let their son by a snake from a pet store, The boy didn`t have the pet for 1 night and it was already lost.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on February 24, 2010:

Sometimes too big can stress out smaller reptiles. 20 gallon is fine for 1 leopard gecko. Not all females get along, and in most cases leopard geckos prefer to live by themselves. In general, you can house two females in a 20 though. I use a rack system, that has plastic storage totes, but they are not recommended for under tank heaters, if that's what you're planning on using as a main heat source.

I'm not sure what you're asking if leopard geckos need heat or what? As using heat for a heat source really doesn't help as heat itself isn't a heat source- an under tank heater or a ceramic heat emitter would be a heat source. I recommended under tank heaters for leopard geckos.

Young BDs need more crickets/proteins but still fruits/veggies daily. As they age they need more fruits/veggies and fewer crickets.

I think leopard geckos are a better pet, as they are smaller, generally cheaper, come in more variety of colors, and do not require as complicated a diet or housing. They only eat insects, so you'd never have to worry about produce. They don't need a basking light or UV, only under tank heater, so you don't have to worry about replacing UV tubes every 4-6 months, or spending about $50 for a UV bulb.

The morphs have nothing to do with the temperament. It's just preference as to what you prefer. Some morphs are more expensive, but pricing will vary on the breeder.

Lady Hyena-chan on February 24, 2010:


This spring I plan on getting either a bearded dragon or a leopard gecko. Ive done ALOT of research and plan on doing more till spring. But i do have a few questions.

Is using heat for a heat source good for the gecko? Ive read that it is but ive also here its bad for any reptile>.>~


if i get the beardie my father(im 18 no worries) will make a large cage when its old enough but for leapords i hear to big is bad. 20 is good for one but what about for 2 females? would that be large enough or should i get a bigger tank? I also hear some people just use like plastic totes or something like that for there geckos, is that alright?


Are keeping them alive hard? and can you breed them? I think i got a good handle on gut loading them. would flight less fruitflies be alright to for like treats(along with meal worms and such)

Veggies for the beardie:

What veggies would you recommend for a youngester.

In general what makes a better pet of the two species?

Please don't just say beardies coz there more docile(is the only reason people give me)

Like i said i wont be getting anything till spring when its warmer, and i want to be completely perpared.

also what is up with all the morphes and such. Like i see fire something beardies that go for more then the "normal" beardie or a blizzard leo gecko go for more then the average. just coz of their looks doesn't make them better pets does it?~


Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 10, 2010:

All reptiles can carry salmonella, it's not species specific. See the link below about salmonella and reptiles. Pet store reptiles are common to have parasites; I wouldn't recommend buying from a pet store. I would recommend finding a local breeder or an expo as leopard geckos are common and really easy to find. Wash your hands before and after playing with the reptile and use hand sanitizer.

jill4x4 on January 10, 2010:

i read somewhere that lizards can carry son(8yrs)wants a pet lizard and i don't know how to find out which lizards carry this or how they get it.i asked at the pet store and they didn't really know the answer.all they said is that they had healthy lizards.if we purchase this leapord gecko that he's interested in is it possible that any of the parasites (i've read they could have)could be passed on to my cats?the gecko we looked at seemed healthy but after doing some reading on-line i don't know how i can be mostly concerned with the risk of my children or cats picking up something from a pet lizard?

Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 23, 2009:

try a gift card for pet supplies or pet supplies instead of the pet. there are so many morphs that you want to make sure he gets the one he wants. or take him to a reptile show, and buy the one he wants. box up a picture for the holidays to give him.

Char! on December 22, 2009:

This was really helpful in so many ways! I am buying a leopard gecko for my friend for Christmas as a first reptile and I was very unsure how to go about it.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 16, 2009:

Start doing your research. The below links will get you started, but it won't be enough to tell you everything about them. I suggest buying a few books, and doing research on the internet. Don't be sad that you have to know how to care for an animal before you're allowed to get one; that's how it's supposed to work. Never get an animal if you don't know how to take care of it; that's call ignorance and plain stupidity.


Care Sheet:

kristen on November 16, 2009:

hello, yeah i want to buy a bearded dragon but don't know that much about them and i really need help. i need to know EVERYTHING about them or else i don't get to buy one :(

Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 22, 2009:

Never get a new pet if you don't know how to care for it. Never go a year without properly knowing how to care for the reptile; that's ignorance and stupidity.

The employees at pet stores generally know basic info. They need UV lighting, all diurnal reptiles need UV lighting.

You need to measure the temperatures with a digital thermometer and make sure that is is right. If you don't know what the proper temperatures are, you need to do serious research or consider finding a new home for the BD.

lidia on September 22, 2009:


I bought from a petshop a bearded dragon, he was a baby when i got him, my question is that i don't know if he needs a uv light or a heat light or both, at petsmart no one really knows. i need to know what does he need. his tank is a medium size, and they where selling me at petsmart a basking heat light 75 watts and i think that's too much for him, he kept openning his mouth and i thought it was too hot so i took it back. i hate that store. please help. his a year old now....

Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 04, 2009:

I will try to help. Iguanas reach very large size, can become very aggressive, and are not the best pets for everyone. I recommend doing your research, as they are one of the most returned reptiles.

collin on August 04, 2009:

hello im joe im on the way of thinking about buying an iguana and just thought you could help with the right opoinion

Whitney (author) from Georgia on April 20, 2009:

There is a risk of buying from reptile expos, as with pet stores. You should always get the name and number of the person you're buying from in case there are any problems. The breeder may not have known the exact age. It's also hard to prove that it was WC or CB.

Reptile expos are always a better place to purchase from in comparison to pet stores, but when buying from breeders, you should really make sure to get the name and info, especially if you have never heard of the breeder before.

Also, remember that when getting any pet, you should try to be able to afford medical bills in case of mishaps. Reptile healthcare can get rather expensive.

TJ106 on April 20, 2009:

I went to the Reptile EXPO in White Plains, NY and I bought a clown face red foot tortoise i did most of my research on the greek and the cherry head red foot tortoise because they were around the max size i wanted, i followed the general rule to buy a small one because more then likely it would mena that it was CB and not WC so that is what a did I bought and I am learning a whole bunch of stuff that I didn't know or expect nor appreciate about my new found friend. We just got back from a very expensive vet visit and she is sick with worm and a respitory infection and is now on antibiotics I am tapped both physically and finacially and in only a matter of 24 hours the vet told me that my tortoise is WC is 10 years old as opposed the CB and a little over 3 years that i was told . Now I don't know what to do... I will have to take care of her but I definitely can't handle the finacial obligation of a sick tortoise. So I don't know maybe i would feel more safe buying from a big name like a petco or petland because then at least i know I have options in term of compensation or return I the Vendor i bought her from is long gone now and I just feel cheated and the worst part is that Abigail is still sick and I am still worried.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on April 01, 2009:

I'm sorry to hear about your snakes. I have had a few sickly reptiles, but only a few. I knew better when I purchased them, but they were all impulse buys. Definitely check around if you're looking for replacements. has a great selection of breeders. Just remember though you have to be careful about what breeders you buy from because you can run into scams and sick reptiles, there too.

nicko guzman from Los Angeles,CA on March 31, 2009:

Thanks Whitney05.I love going through your work.Me and my cousin went to petco and bought two garters.One was very sickly and was not shedding properly.They belonged to my cousin,but I knew how to deal with snakes a lot better so I soaked Lily.The other snake,Draco looked healthy.After a few hours of being purchased,they both ate.A few weeks later Lily had mouth rot.My cousin did some research and later identified as a striped keelback and we moved her to a new enclosure with the correct temperature and humidity,but the mouth rot progressed and lost 10 percent of her body weight.She was so sick that my cousin made the correct decision to put poor Lily down.As for Draco,he along with Lily had parasites.Draco is still alive,but is obese and has stopped eating.RIP Lily the Snake.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 30, 2009:

Could have been parasites. he black area is probably the liver, as the liver is very prominent on a gecko's belly but turns very dark after death. Could also be impaction, if the gecko has been house on loose substrate, such as sand.

Not Telling My Name on January 29, 2009:

When I came home from school today, I looked at my brand new leopard gecko that I got almost 2 weeks ago and it was dead ): . I turned it over and it had a large black spot on its belly. Does anyone know what that means? I also noticed very shortly after I got it that it WOULD NOT eat anything whatsover and it hated basking. Anyone know what any of this means???

Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 26, 2009:

I sell on my own website (, as well as a few reptile forums (pangeareptile and geckoforums). I will be venturing to reptile expos sometime this year, if my season goes better than the last.

Me on January 25, 2009:

You said you breed reptiles. do you sell them? And if you do where do you sell them?

Ken Devonald from Edinburgh on January 01, 2009:

I totally believe that you are better off buying direct from breeders wherever possible! Thank you for an interesting hub!

evemurphy from Ottawa on July 11, 2008:

Reptiles rock! They are the oldest, or one of the oldest, life-forms on this planet and they deserve our love and care and respect. Such interesting creatures. Thank you for this! :)

Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 11, 2008:

Not all retail reptiles are bad, but there are a high number who are sick. By breeding a patternless with a blizzard het albino, you'll get a normal het for blizzard and patternless.

Allee on July 11, 2008:

I bought a Patternless Albino Leopard Gecko with Snake Eyes from a Petco. So far, my gecko, Gustavo, is in great condition. I took him to my vet the day I purchased him, and he did some x-rays and diagnostics on him. I'm picky with my geckos, and finding this little hatchling in a terrarium with 5 inch long juveniles, I had to do something about it. He was barely 2 inches long. And so adorable. He's about 4 months old now, and 6 inches long. He's had a run in with mites. I was horrified. But our vet gave us a medicated spray that we spray on him, his food, and in his water, to kill all mites in/on him. I've been very lucky with this little guy. I want to breed him with a Blizzard who's Het for Albino, just to see what morph will turn out.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on April 10, 2008:

They live 15-20 years with optimum care. At a pet store you can average 1-3 months if it's small or 6+ months if it's larger. Without weights and lengths, I can't help you otherwise age.

Julia Barnes on April 10, 2008:

well I just recently bought a Leopard Gecko and I have had trouble trying to find out a couple of things. First of all how long do they usually live? And I don't know how old my Gecko is. I need help.... please!

Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 18, 2008:

You have to worry about parasites and illnesses at any pet store. So keep that in mind when buying reptiles at any pet store.

Dan Steinmiller on March 18, 2008:

I prefer getting my pets from either Pet Supplies Plus or a local store near where I live. I think PetCo is alright but there prices are questionable and I absolutely hate PetSmart - what a bunch of crooks they are.

Frances on February 09, 2008:

I really enjoy reading what you have to say about leopard geckos and reptiles in general. You are really informative and knowlegable in a way that only happens with good research and experience. I have owned my male normal morph leopard gecko, Wapsi, for almost 6 years now. I purchased him at a large retail store (PetCo I think?) and sort of rushed into it at the time. I had wanted a lizard for as long as I can remember and just happened to see one at a reptile exhibit. I basically pestered my parents into submission and in one strike, I came home with Wapsi, and all of the supplies that the people there said I needed. I had done limited research before going in for the purchase but my knowlegde for the most part, consisted of the silly care sheet they give you whenever you buy an animal. I was ill prepared an to my astonishment, I had few mishaps early on. He went through a couple sheds I didn't know how to help the shed come off easier (I did not supply a moist hide at first) so he has sadly lost a couple of his toes during his time with me. Now I always make sure to soak his feet and remove the skin if he's having trouble. The most interesting thing that your posts have brought to my attention is genetics and the types of reptiles and other animals as well that are allowed into the pet trade. I say this because a couple years ago my gecko started to get a tilt to his head. I didn't seem to bother him a lot but it looked very unusual. At first my parents(mostly my dad) were resistant to taking him to a vet. So for a year his head remained crooked until it seemed that it could be getting worse. By this point I was a Sophmore in college and I took him myself. I found out after a quick examination from the vet (I had to look around for one that specialized in exotics,luckily she was right in my town) that he had MBD. Something I had never heard of. She gave me recommendations of gut loading his food and using calcium powder, but I had been doing those things already. She also specified using a full spectrum bulb in his terrerium, but I have read in many other places that it is not necissary. Basically in the end the vet simply said that it could be that Wapsi is just predisposed to getting MBD and might just have a problem with absorbing calcium. It is so obvious now after reading your articles and posts and the posts of hundreds of people all over the internet, that people are being irresponsible to the point of recklessness by wanting to breed any two geckos that happen to be of opposite sex. I want to try breeding someday in the future but will only do so when I am able to buy two geckos that have good physical and genetic health. I will never buy from a petstore again. I would also never recommend that anyone buy one from a petstore unless they can be sure that it came from good genetics and has a clean bill of health. I feel lucky that I still have my beautiful gecko, who, besides his crooked head, is healthy and happy and a complete sweetheart (except to my mom, whom he tries to bite any chance he Thank you for all of the good information!

Jamberry on January 27, 2008:

I think I love you, lol.

Fayme Zelena Harper from Lucerne Valley, CA on August 15, 2007:

I love snakes and their scaly cousins. I love going to Prehistoric Pets because I can always overhear interesting tidbits from the people who work there. At every pet store or zoo I always check out the reptiles.

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