Frog Care 101

Sean Perry, DVM
Written by:
Published: October 28, 2022
Frog Care 101

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Frogs can be rewarding pets for any type of owner from the beginner to the advanced hobbyist. These unique animals are diverse–there are over 7,500 frog species! Many are readily kept in captivity as pets and can be great additions to any household. Because of the numerous species available it is important to understand their species-specific care requirements. Below are some general guidelines for pet parents.

Frog Housing

Housing frogs in captivity can be rewarding and provide a beautiful display cage for any room in your house. Enclosures can range in size based on the species and life history of the species you are housing.

Some species, such as the White’s Tree Frog, need more vertical space requiring a taller tank rather than a longer tank with more floor space. A single White’s tree frog could use a 20-gallon tank at a minimum but would benefit from more vertical space because of their arboreal (tree-climbing) life history.

Comparatively, an Argentine horned frog would benefit from a tank that is shallower because they do not climb vertical surfaces and are terrestrial. It’s important to understand the frog species you are keeping before making a decision on enclosure type.

Enrichment for Frogs

Enrichment can be provided for your frog multiple ways. Providing the most naturalistic enclosure is the best option overall. If you want a naturalistic look without the live plants, then fake foliage can be used to provide a similar aesthetic. Photos and other broad-leafed plants are common plants found in frog tanks. Silk and plastic leaves can be used without any issues and they can be cleaned and disinfected too.

If providing a naturalistic environment is not an option, hide boxes can be provided. Commercial hide boxes are available or custom ones can be made at home by using a flowerpot and placing it on its side. For arboreal species, providing branches to climb that are smooth using driftwood or bark can provide more space for a frog to use within its enclosure.

Heat Lamps for Frogs

Heat lamps are often not needed for frog species. It is important to understand what thermal requirements are for the species of frog you have. Lighting for frogs is not as necessary in order to keep a frog healthy when compared to other reptiles.

Frogs likely benefit from some UV exposure to help with calcium absorption but this is not always required. It important to use lighting that does not produce a lot of heat. It is easy for frogs to overheat, leading to heat stress and death.

Many frog species are nocturnal and are active at night so they do not require much lighting at all. Depending on how you set up an enclosure with frogs, if you are using live plants, the lighting for live plants is often enough to keep your frog healthy. Seasonal variation in lighting amount can provide a more natural effect for a captive frog and sometimes even influence breeding behavior.

Substrate for Frogs

Substrate can be simple or elaborate depending on pet parent preference with frogs. Paper towels are easy to use and are readily available for regular cleaning however these are not as aesthetically pleasing. For a more natural looking enclosure, top soil, coconut husk, damp peat moss, or sphagnum moss can be used to provide a substrate.

Gravel and rocks should be avoided as they can be easily ingested by certain frog species. Bioactive substrate can also be used with frogs; however, this is a substrate choice that owners should investigate first to understand how it works and how to maintain it.                                                           

Foods for Frogs

A varied complete diet is essential to ensure the health and longevity of a frog. Live insects and/or commercially manufactured pellets can be used to feed frogs. Insects commonly fed to frogs include: crickets, Dubia roaches, black soldier fly larva, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, earthworms, and redworms.

Frogs should not be fed any human food within their diet. Frogs should be offered an appropriately sized food item every 2-3 days for juveniles or 2-3 times/week for adult frogs. Prey items should be offered until the frog no longer wants to consume them. Once this occurs, remove any remaining prey items from the enclosure. Some live insects can injure frogs if left unattended.

Prior to feeding any frog, an insect's nutritional value can improve by performing either gut loading or dusting them with calcium and a multivitamin powder. This step is vital to ensure your frog will live a long life with adequate nutrition.  

Food can be offered within the enclosure in a small area such as a dish. To prevent any ingestion of the substrate within an enclosure a frog can be fed outside of its enclosure in a small Tupperware container.

Water can be provided to frogs using several different methods. These include a water bowl, a misting system, or a water feature with a waterfall. If an enclosure is large enough a custom area can be provided by adhering a pre-cut piece of glass or acrylic to create an aquatic area using silicone adhesive. With these advanced methods of providing water– filtration may be needed. Maintaining humidity within the environment with water is vital to thrive in a captive setting.

Frog Medical Needs

Signs of underlying health issues in frogs include:

  • Lack of appetite

  • Inability to catch prey

  • Red skin

  • Inability to defecate or cloacal prolapse

  • Inability to jump

  • Malformed jaws

If you notice any of these signs you should contact your local amphibian veterinarian.  Veterinarians with amphibian experience can be found through the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians Find a Vet function.

Frog Cleaning Needs

Leftover food or prey items should be removed if a frog is not interested in eating them. Water bowls should be cleaned daily and the frogs should be provided dechlorinated water. Depending on how your enclosure is set up, enclosure cleaning can occur every day to once a week. Bioactive substrates do not require regular cleaning.

Frog Handling

Frog handling should be kept to a minimum at all sizes and ages. A general rule is that the smaller the frog, the less handling it will tolerate. Frogs have a delicate slime layer and delicate skin which can be harmed if handled too aggressively. The mucous layer (slime) layer on frogs is part of their protective barrier to protect their body from pathogens.

It is best practice to make sure to wash your hands before and after handling any frog species. It is often recommended to have moistened hands with water prior to handling so handling the frog’s skin does not dry out. Frogs can harbor salmonella, so it’s important to wash your hands after handling a frog to prevent any salmonella transmission or infection. 

Featured Image: iStock.com/rookiephoto19


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