Can I Keep My Reptiles Together?

Cohabitation (cohab) is one of the most controversial topics in reptile husbandry. Clint discusses some of the pros and cons of this practice, and why it is generally not a great idea.



Well hi there! I’m here today with a couple of different animals, a bearded dragon and a hognose snake, to talk to you about one of the most controversial topics in all of reptile keeping and that is the topic of cohabitation. That means keeping more than one animal in the same enclosure. I want to talk first about some of the reasons why this might be an attractive option for some people. I also want to tell you that I’m not gonna recommend doing this, but I can see why people would do it. And so I want to tell you why I think people do it and why I think, generally speaking, it isn’t a great idea.

So, for starters, one of the things that motivates some people to keep multiple animals in the same enclosure is that they think their animals are lonely and that they need a friend. And that’s a pretty fair thing to think because as a human being you get lonely and you need a friend. And it’s easy to think that reptiles are the same way but they’re just not. Reptiles, with very very few exceptions, are not social at all. And, outside of the breeding season, they probably would prefer never to encounter another reptile – unless, of course, it’s a reptile they could eat. So they’re actually perfectly happy all by themselves. That’s never a reason that you should be keeping multiple reptiles together. But there are some other reasons that people would do it. Like, for example, if you have multiple reptiles in the same enclosure – that means you can have more reptiles and you don’t need to buy and build more enclosures. Which saves money and potentially if you’re not saving money it means you can have bigger better enclosures for the animals that you’re keeping. Another thing that motivates some people to keep multiple animals in the same enclosure is that you get to see the way that the animals interact with one another. And I’ve got to tell you, that’s a real thing. Animals that are in the same enclosure together they are going to do things that they don’t normally do. You’re going to see behaviors you’ve never seen before. And that can be really fascinating, really interesting, and a great experience – at least for you, maybe not for them. Some of those behaviors might be because they’re stressed out. But, I can see why that would motivate some people to keep multiple animals in the same enclosure. And last of all, breeding. It is totally impossible to breed reptiles without ever putting them together. So sometimes, at least for the sake of breeding, it might be necessary to cohabitate multiple animals.

Now, I want to talk to you about some of the issues that can come up if you are keeping multiple animals in the same enclosure. And one of them is going to be if you’re keeping different kinds of animals in the same enclosure. Like suppose you want a bearded dragon and you want a hognose snake and you’ve only got one enclosure – there might be a temptation to put them both in there together. But to talk to you about this I want to talk to you about what it would be like for you living with another type of animal – let’s say a cow, okay. To start off with, there’s always the risk that you will kill one another. If you’re living day in and day out with a cow at some point that cow might kill you or you might kill that cow. And so that’s sort of a worst-case scenario but it’s really not all that unlikely, it could easily happen. If you get along well enough with each other that you don’t directly kill each other, you’ve got a real problem in that you have very different needs. If I’m looking to build an enclosure for a human and a cow. Given the fact that you want different things, you need different things, I can either build an enclosure that is really ideal for one of you and just terrible for the other or I can compromise and build an enclosure that’s okay-ish for a cow and okay-ish for you but really not great for either of you. And those are pretty much my options. Another issue is going to be stress. You might not kill each other directly but just living with a cow is probably very stressful – and with reptiles this will manifest a lot of times in the fact that they’re not sleeping properly, they’re not feeding properly, they’re not behaving normally, they’re stressed out, and that actually can lead to their death and other issues with them. And then last of all is something that you might not think about is disease. We all have what is called our gut fauna these are like bacteria and fungus that live inside of our digestive tracts and they help us digest things. One of these bacteria that you might be familiar with is called E.coli. And your E.coli is perfectly wonderful to have in your own digestive tract, in fact you’d have a very difficult time living without it. And cows also have E.coli but the type of E.coli that cows have is different than the kind of E.coli that you have. And you maybe heard of people getting the disease E.coli, right? And that is because they have accidentally ingested some of the E.coli from a cow’s digestive tract. And that can happen with reptiles too. There might be things that are perfectly healthy and normal for a bearded dragon to have living in its digestive system or on its body but if those things should end up getting into the digestive system of a hognose snake could cause your hognose snake to get sick or even die. And we might not realize exactly what these interactions are going to be like before we start to cohabitate them. So this is a very real concern – disease.

Now, when we talk about cohabitation a lot of times we’re not talking about keeping different species together. I’ve got something here with me. And this is another hognose snake. And so a lot of times when we’re talking about cohabitation you’re thinking about keeping multiple animals of the same species together. Which is gonna take care of some of the issues we talked about before but it might introduce a few new ones as well. So to start again, at this point you’re not living with a cow, right? This is like you living with another person, but it should be noted that that other person and you are both highly antisocial and a total stranger. So I just take two people, I stick them in the same room, neither of them like people at all, and now they have to live together. And so you can imagine some of the conflicts that might come up over time. And one of those, with two members of the same species just like members of different species, is they might kill each other. And as much as that may or may not happen it’s not very unlikely – it happens relatively frequently and it’s something to worry about. The next thing is that they have the same needs, which kind of fixed one of the problems before of having different needs but the problem now is that they’re going to compete for everything – which can be very stressful. Especially for the one that gets out competed on a regular basis. It might not have a good basking spot, it might not have good access to food or water or the places where a hognose snake could want to be, because this bigger hognose snake is pushing it out of the way. So competition becomes a real problem also stress. Stress is still an issue you’re living with a total stranger who doesn’t like people and neither do you. It’s stressful. And last of all, there’s still the risk of disease. Yeah the gut bacteria are probably going to be very similar but you now carry the same sorts of diseases. You don’t tend to get sick from say a duck nearly as often as you get sick from people. And so living with other members of your species just increases the probability that you will get a disease from another person. If you never were around another person you’d probably never get sick. Of course there’d be other issues for you, right? Because you’re a very social beast.

I hope that I’ve outlined at least some of the the pros and cons of keeping multiple animals together. In general, you might not have any problems. You can find examples of lots of people who’ve cohabitated different species, same species, for a long time and they’ve never had any problems. But you might. And so before you would ever consider this I would hope you would ask yourself a couple of questions. And the first one is: Do you know enough? Do you know enough that you’re certain, you’re aware, of what the possible issues could be the possible problems and how to deal with them? Do you know enough to say confidently “Yup, I’ve taken care of everything”? And second: Is it worth the risk? Yeah, there are good reasons to do it, but you’re taking a heck of a risk. You’re taking a risk that could cost all of your animals their lives. Is it worth it? I like I said I wouldn’t recommend cohabitation generally, but there are places where it may be justified. Make sure you’ve got a good answer to those questions and hopefully you’ll never have any of the problems that many people have when they’ve kept multiple animals together.

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