All animals (even us humans) need a few basic necessities in life, like food, water, shelter and varying degrees of social interaction. One explanation for the popularity of dogs and cats as household pets is that they don't require much more than these few basic elements to thrive and provide loyalty and love in return.
Exotic pets, however, often need more specialized care, including (for many species) UV lighting. Do you have a turtle, lizard or frog? Your exotic pet vet will likely ask what you are using to provide UV light during an examination.
What Is UV light?
UV (ultraviolet) light is often associated with negative effects in humans as it can lead to skin damage and even cancer. For our reptile and amphibian friends, however, UV light is a daily necessity to maintain good health and to help avoid trips to your exotic pet veterinarian.
UV light is broken down into different rays, namely UVA, UVB and UVC, all of which exist in sunlight, but have different effects and characteristics. UVA light can help encourage natural behavior in your pets and plays an important role in healthy reproduction, but UVB light is crucial for them on a daily basis because it helps them absorb calcium and synthesize vitamin D.
Both are important for reptiles, as calcium deficiencies can lead to health issues including Metabolic Bone Disease, in which bones become fragile and more susceptible to breaks and fractures. Besides protecting their bones, UVB rays boost the immune system and provide energy.
How to Provide Your Reptile with UV Light
Get the Right Bulbs
While reptiles can have all of their UV light needs fulfilled by basking in the sun in the wild, domesticated reptiles need direct access to artificial UVB light. If you're considering getting a reptile, you should do some research and consult your exotic pet vet to determine precisely which bulb is best for your pet.
How far away should your UVB bulb be?
It's important to note that UVB rays intensify the closer an animal is to their source. Ferguson zones are ranges, numbered 1-4, that indicate how far a specific species should be kept from a UVB light source.
As a general rule, pets belonging in zone 1 should be provided with heavy shade from the UVB bulb, while those in zone 4 should enjoy mostly direct access to the more distant light source. UVB lights should also be turned off at night to simulate a natural day/night cycle, though an additional source of heat should be provided when the bulb is off.
Keeping the UVB bulb the right distance from your pet requires that you have an appropriately sized terrarium and that the bulb be suspended at the correct height. If it's too close, you can move the bulb further away from the tank by using a stand or lowering your reptile's basking platform.
Check out our extensive pet care guides for more information about caring for your reptile.
Still have questions about UV?
Providing your pet with just the right amount of UV light can be a little tricky, especially for first time pet owners. If you are unsure you have provided your reptile or amphibian with the right bulb at the right distance, or if you notice odd behavior that could be the result of UV light issues, don't hesitate to contact Long Island Birds & Exotic Vet Clinic for more information.