One of the most hotly debated topics in the reptile keeping community is the issue of free-roaming. By definition, free-roaming means that the animal is not kept in an enclosure and it allowed to wander as it pleases around its owner’s property. At first thought, this seems like a marvelous idea. Why not save space and money by having your reptile sleep on a bed in the den like a Labrador rather than investing in an elaborate habitat? And wouldn’t it just be so cool when your friends come over and your scaly pet walks up and greets them at the door?
A quick search of Youtube and social media provides countless videos of pet reptiles, especially large lizards, crawling around living rooms and basically being treated like domesticated mammalian pets. This is NOT the proper way to keep reptiles. In order to keep them happy and healthy, certain requirements must be met. Being cold-blooded, reptiles need to be provided with heat so they can thermoregulate, as well as exposure to UV light to promote proper synthesis of vitamin D3. This is the reason pet reptiles need special bulbs in their tanks. Tropical species may also have humidity requirements. By denying your pet these basic requirement, you are greatly compromising their health.
Much like birds, reptiles are adept at hiding signs of stress and illness as an anti-predator measure so while the animal may seem healthy on the outside, pets that permanently free-roam often have internal issues. Lack of exposure to proper heat and UV can cause stress on the internal organs and cause food to be improperly digested, which can intern lead to issues like metabolic bone disease, fatty liver disease, gout, obesity, and retained shed. Often times, these animals live shortened lifespans.
The typical household is not really a great place to let an animal like a lizard or snake loose unsupervised. It is easy for them to crawl under or behind furniture and get stuck or potentially injured. To most reptiles, a dog or cat is a potential predator—to bigger species like monitors, it may be the opposite situation— and to allow pets of different species to free interact can lead to conflict. All this being said, taking your pet reptile out for socialization and enrichment is a very good thing.
Most species common in the pet trade can tolerate at least some handling outside of their ideal environment; many species can be out for hours at a time. This provides great mental stimulation and exercise for your pet and as long as they are allowed to return to their enclosure, they will not suffer for it.
The Painted Reptile