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Reptile & Amphibian Center

Can Your Reptile Bond with You?

By Jill Fanslau


Reptiles are cold-blooded, but does that mean they’re cold-hearted, too?


Experts aren’t exactly sure if reptiles have the ability to bond with humans or not. “Unlike domesticated dogs and cats, reptiles have retained their primitive characteristics,” says Adam Denish, VMD, a veterinarian at Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital in Philadelphia and Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pennsylvania.


Dr. Denish believes reptiles show emotion—but in a limited form. “Most of their life is about basic necessities like drinking, eating, breeding, and surviving,” he says.


Two of the most obvious emotions: fear and aggression. For instance, a snake will hiss if she feels threatened and a bearded dragon lizard will puff out his beard and change its color from light brown to black when he’s mad or stressed, explains Dr. Denish.


Snakes have been known to show excitement and curiosity, too. “At the zoo,” says Dr. Denish, “we see snakes that are interested in new forms of enrichment like bedding, housing, or a new scent.”


Some reptiles will also show pleasure at human contact. Iguanas liked to be stroked on the top of the head. Turtles will hurry over toward you if food is being offered.


Actual love for a human, though? That, says Dr. Denish, is difficult to prove.


But as long as you feel a connection with your pet, that’s all that matters. The more time you spend nurturing your pet, the better it’ll be for both of you. You’ll be more comfortable around one another, leading to a greater chance that a “bond” will form—whatever that bond may be.


“There’s no doubt in my mind that people can create wonderful bonds with reptiles,” says Lorelei Tibbetts, LVT, VTF, a veterinary technician who specializes in exotic pet medicine and is the hospital manager at The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City. “It may not be the same relationship you get with another kind of pet like a dog or cat, but it’s not any less rewarding. It’s just a different bond.”


People who own reptiles aren’t getting them to snuggle, she explains. But there are other ways to feel as if you are “bonding” with them.  Try some of the examples below.


1. Handle your pet.

Have you ever seen a pet snake be taken out of his enclosure? “He’ll twist around your arm. It’s like they enjoy your body heat and like being outside, not cooped up in a tank,” she says.


Bearded dragons are another species that like to be held. They’re usually fun and interactive, and like sitting on your shoulder, according to Tibbetts.


And many turtles love to have their shells scratched or rubbed, she says. In fact, many turtles will actually push into your hand if you’re petting them. They may also like having their heads or chins stroked.


But remember: Like humans, every pet will have his or her own personality. Make sure you are cautious when handling or caring for your reptile. Be aware of behaviors signaling aggression or fear. Also, wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet reptile. Reptiles can be carriers of Salmonella, a bacteria which can be spread to humans.


Comments  3

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  • Snakes bond with people
    08/15/2015 02:16pm

    I raised two ball pythons (and chickens, dogs, and cats) and found my snakes knew me well, bit me only once each (during brumation - so they couldn't see well and I must have startled them). They are incredibly affectionate pets, even though they probably have a brain the size of a pea - they "learn" to know their keepers. I would assume this is true for all snakes raised from young to adulthood in the company of humans, provided they aren't abused or mistreated.

  • Respect for Reptiles
    12/15/2015 04:16pm

    We have had and still have Red Tailed Boa constrictors and green iguanas and they love going outside in the summer months and wandering and slithering thru the yard and landscape area. No dogs allowed outside during this period as they will spook the reptiles but they do leave them alone in the house as they have been taught that they could get hurt from them.

  • has a snake
    06/12/2016 01:48am

    I once had a snake when i lived in egypt for 5 years. when at home. it always hangs on me. at first it just wonders around. i thought that it is just not that bright. but then it used to knock the cover of the glass tank it is in by striking it at the corner. then it sneaks around. when i am not in the hallway to my room for whatever reason. the way it anticipated where i am blew my mind. with time i started handling it and trying to leaving it on me as much time as possible. with time i find myself struggling getting it off my neck.i try to be as gentle as possible. as the days passed by when i am at home it is almost always on me. to a degree that i just get the cover of the tank off. put my hands on the edge and it comes out on me by itself. and stay on my neck and always refuses coming down. not even once i was bitten for 2 years . it was my faithful companion when watching tv. or doing anything at home. l once left it in the corner of the room. it simply came to me. and as usual went on my neck. the best companion i ever had that killed loneliness. i once had a cat before it. it is no where as good as my snake. the only things i miss in Egypt are the pyramids and my snake. i couldn't take it with me so i gave it to someone . i wish if I knew its name. it was white/creamy with faint black stripes. about 3-4ft long. bought it at a flee market there for the equivalent of 10$. i left the place in 2011 the only think i wish i took with me is my snake. but then the only way to do it was to smuggle it. and i don't want it to die.

    so yes. they can bond with you TO THE EXTREME. but my case may not work for everybody. i am not a pet expert. but i always feel that something is missing in my life :(