Reptiles can be great pets. They don’t need a lot of effort to thrive in our homes. If they have the correct environment and adequate attention, they will be happy. Their lack of care requirements extends to moving them as well; however, there are precautions that must be taken to ensure their safety. Knowing how to transport a reptile safely is essential and preparations prior to the move must be made.
Reptiles are tetrapod (four-footed) animals in the class Reptilia, including turtles, crocodiles, alligators, snakes, amphibians, lizards, tuatara, and their extinct relatives. Because reptiles have a slow metabolism and cannot maintain a constant body temperature, they are particularly sensitive to changes in in their environment.
Because reptiles maintain their body temperature through their surroundings, it is important to provide materials that will help mimic the humidity and temperature of their natural environment. More on this later.
In this post, we will discuss the transport of smaller reptiles such as turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards. We will leave the transport of alligators and crocodiles to the experts!
If you plan on transporting your reptile yourself, here are a few of the most important tips to keep in mind.
Properly and safely packing as well as transporting your pet reptile doesn’t just begin on the day you move. There are a number of steps you should complete before that day arrives:
- Purchase the proper container or have one made for your pet. Whether you choose a pre-made or custom-made container will be determined by the size and type of your reptile and the method of transport. Poisonous reptiles need to be wrapped in a cloth sack before being placed in a secured container. Tie off the sack and place it in a stiff-sided container with ventilation holes and a “live animal” sign on the outside. For more information on container requirements, read on.
- Once you have your container, it is time to get your reptile acclimated to their carrier or crate. Don’t disrupt their entire daily schedule, as this could stress them before moving day even arrives. However, you will want to place your reptile in their carrying container for an hour or two every day for a week or more leading up to the move. This allows them time to get used to the new environment and may cut down on their stress when it is time to move them.
- Before you move your reptile, it is also a good idea to ensure that your pet is in good health. Make sure to visit your veterinarian within 10 days of traveling. They can check out your reptile and provide a health certificate for your pet. For exotic animals, a health certificate is essential for travel.
- Local and state laws in the United States may restrict what types of reptiles can be imported. Many countries have laws restricting reptiles as well. Make sure you are aware of any laws pertaining to your specific reptile.
How to pack your reptile
Now the big day has arrived. You’ve followed all the steps outlined above, and everything is ready for you to move your reptile. However, you still need to ensure that your pet is properly packed. Here’s how.
- As mentioned above, the container you use to pack your reptile should neither be too big nor too small. If it is too small, your reptile won’t be able to move properly. If it is too large, your pet could get thrown around and injured during transport. More on this below.
- You may want to consider adding either heating or cooling elements (and thermostats or hygrometers) to the container to keep your reptile’s body temperature stable. Whether you need the heating or cooling pads will depend on the season and type of reptile. This step is especially important if you will be moving your pet via air.
- When flying with your reptile, the IATA Live Animal Regulations state that food and water will not be necessary unless it is a very long trip. In the case of flying long-haul with your reptile, water and food containers (troughs) are required to be attached to the inside of the container with feeding instructions taped to the top of the crate.
- If your reptile needs a moist environment, make sure to purchase a water-proof container. You can then line the bottom of the container with moist towels to provide the wet environment they need it. If your pet does not need a moist environment, you should consider placing dry towels at the bottom of the container to cushion it during travel.
- If you are flying or traveling internationally, you will need to visit your veterinarian within 10 days of transport. Attach your pet’s health certificate on the outside or top of the container in a plastic bag marked DO NOT REMOVE. It should be in plain view at all times. See more below about flying with a reptile.
- Do not add rocks, sticks, or other items to the contents of your pet’s crate. While these items could make the container feel more like home, they can also move during transport and hurt your pet.
How to transport your reptile by car
When your reptile is securely and properly packed in their container, it is time to load up the car. Follow these steps to make moving day as stress-free as possible.
- Again, make sure you have the right size pet carrier for your reptile. The carrier should be large enough so your reptile can move around, but not so big that they can slide around on the drive. Always plan to secure it in place, either with a seat belt or other items in the car that will discourage the carrier from shifting.
- Make sure to keep your reptile out of the direct sunlight or invest in window visors to block out light.
- Keep your stops to a minimum, and never leave your reptile unattended in the car. If you must leave them for a minute, make sure there is a window left slightly open.
- Cars can get too hot or too cold quicker than you might guess, so make sure you control the temperature inside the carrier as we explained earlier. If you’re traveling from a hot climate to a cold one, a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel will keep your reptile cozy. Or if it’s the other way around, a cold pack in your reptile’s carrier will keep your pet cool. Either way, the surface of the container should not touch your pet’s skin.
- Check on your pet every time you stop to ensure that they are comfortable and safe. Although they may be hiding in the folds of the towel, do not open their carrier as this will provide an avenue for escape.
How to Transport your Reptile by Air
Sometimes driving is simply not possible and you need to fly your pet. Commercial airlines will require that your reptile fly as air cargo. In this case, you must have a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days of travel.
You may need an export permit issued by a government agency responsible for the import and export of reptiles. In the United States, this is the US Fish and Wildlife Association.
You will also need to verify that your reptile is not covered by The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) regulations. Generally, permits are issued by the government agency in your country responsible for the protection of wildlife.
Many foreign countries require import permits for reptiles so be sure and verify those requirements.
There are also are specific requirements that must be met regarding their crates and these can be confirmed by contacting your airline’s cargo department.
- When sizing your pet’s crate, measure your pet from tip of snout to vent (end of body not including the tail) and also the body width and length of tail. Your pet’s crate should accommodate the snout to vent length + half of the tail length.
With snakes, measure the widest part of the body and the length of your snake. Always measure your pet while in an extended, resting position. Your crate should allow every inch of the bottom of your snake to touch the bottom of the crate.
The height of the crate should not be more than 1-2 inches higher than the height of your reptile to avoid injury if jumping. Smaller tree frogs will need 3 inches in height clearance.
- Crates should have adequate ventilation. If you are transporting your reptile to and from areas with high temperatures, your crate will need more ventilation than if you are transporting to areas with low temperatures.
- All crates must be labeled and marked prior to transport. Labels should not interfere with ventilation. A shipping declaration should be included reflecting your name and contact information. LIVE ANIMAL and THIS WAY UP labels must be adhered to all 4 sides of the crate.
- Your pet’s crate must be sturdy and well-constructed out of non-toxic materials while not offering any sharp edges or other protrusions that could injure your pet during transport. There must be no gaps that would allow any escape from the crate. The door must be constructed so that your pet cannot open it or squeeze through a grid. The crate must have a handle or spacers to allow baggage handlers to move the crate without danger of being harmed.
Plastic crates are permitted for snakes less than 24 inches in length and turtles less than 4 inches in length.
- Absorbent bedding that is appropriate for your reptile should be placed in the bottom of the crate. Straw and moss are not advised as many countries will not allow it. The bottom of the crate should have spacers to avoid direct contact with the floor which would encourage temperature change.
- Inner containers made of polystyrene may be beneficial to maintain a constant temperature.
- Hot and cold packs can be used; however, check with your airline’s cargo department to see if they will accept hot and cold packs. These packs should not come in direct contact with your reptile and should be insulated.
- Reptiles that are cannibalistic should always be packed separately. Any dividers in the crate must be attached to the crate and sturdy so that they will not collapse during transport.
- Pet owners of aquatic amphibians should provide an inner enclosure of rigid plastic or double plastic bag with 1/3 water, 1/3 pure oxygen and 1/3 air.
Of course, if you are unable to transport and move your pet yourself, you can always hire Pet Travel Transport to do the job for you. They have plenty of experience safely and properly packing, transporting, and moving reptiles domestically and internationally.
Once you get there
You did it. You have arrived and successfully and safely transported your reptile. Now what?
Now it is time to begin acclimating your pet to their new home. Make sure that their normal environment is set up before you take them out of their container. Also, remember that moving day was probably quite stressful for your pet. Handle them with more care than normal, as their behavior may be different. As soon as you can, return to your pet’s normal daily schedule. This will ease their transition to their new home.
Properly packing, transporting, and moving a reptile can seem like a challenge. The tips provided here will help you with how to transport a reptile. Of course, there will always be some stress. But, when you approach the move with the right attitude and follow the correct steps, you and your reptile can get to your destination safely.
Contributor: Anoop Nain is the proud father of four rescued dogs and two Flemish giant rabbits. Although his “puppers” are grown up, each day with them is a new learning experience for him. He has a degree in Animal Behavior and Welfare.