Grinning Gecko
Quality through Care 

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        FY4 2JE
    01253 283080

59 Highfield Road Blackpool FY4 2JE


The Five Needs - Animal Welfare Act (2006)

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 incorporates Five key needs (formerly the 'Five Freedoms'). The 'Five Freedoms' were originally written with regards to farm animals. However it is now recognised that the 'Five Needs' are applicable to ALL vertebrates INCLUDING domestic pets and of course reptiles.

As reptile keepers ( or keepers of any other animal species) we have a clear legal responsibility to ensure the five needs are met for our animals. 


  • Need for a suitable environment
  • Need for a suitable diet
  • Need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • Need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
  • Need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

These ' Five Needs ' sound pretty straight forward. However they do merit further exploration from a reptile keeping stance. In actual fact, if we put them as a core component of our reptile husbandry we wont go far wrong with our animals.

It is argued by some that the 'Five Needs' don't really fit in with the requirements of reptiles. Obviously, reptiles have special and unique needs according to their species. There will be times or circumstances where some flexibility in regards to meeting the 'Five Needs' is required. However the basic core element of the 'Five Needs' applies to reptiles as much as any other species.  

Lets start with the first of the five needs.

' Need for a Suitable Environment '.

There are numerous ways that keepers accommodate their pet reptiles. These enclosures range from lavish display setups through to tubs in breeding racks. The same species of animal is often kept in a variety of accommodation settings whilst remaining in robust health. However irrespective of the type of enclosure, the animals specific needs must be met.

The key word in the first of the Five needs is environment. A captive reptile needs a carefully controlled environment specific to its needs.

Accommodation size will of course be different for different species. As of yet, there is no legislation that provides a minimum accommodation size per species. However many councils are now being guided by the REPTA 'New Model Vending' recommendation for minimum enclosure size for animals sold in reptile shops. It is possible that these would be considered an absolute minimum size for animals kept as pets.

The enclosure should of course be big enough for the animal to move around freely. There are within the hobby generally accepted minimum enclosure sizes for the more commonly kept species.

If one looks at the humble leopard gecko, the widely accepted minimum size of enclosure is 2ft by 1 ft for a single leopard gecko with a 3 ft being desirable. For two leopard geckos a 3ft minimum. 

For an adult bearded dragon an enclosure size of 4ft x 2ft x 2ft is the widely accepted minimum.

There will be times where individual animals need deviation from any recommended size enclosure. An example being enigma morph leopard gecko suffering from severe Enigma Syndrome. It is understood that these effected animals often suffer a worsening of symptoms in a large enclosure, that in fact keeping them in an enclosure significantly smaller than the norm does calm down the symptoms to the extent the animals quality of life improves. In this situation a small enclosure can be justified as being in the animals best interest. If a keeper was to keep a healthy adult breeding female leopard gecko in the same enclosure size one would have to question if the animals needs were being met.

Arguments such as I have to use small enclosures to accommodate all my animals, they don't move around much etc are unlikely to support any defense if challenged in regards to meeting the 'Five Needs'.

Enclosure size does of course have more to consider than the animals room to move. Environmental conditions can be very dependent on the size of the enclosure. The accommodation must be of a size sufficient to allow the reptile to live on a thermal gradient. Where specialist lighting is used, there must be room to accommodate the required furnishings to provide a photo gradient. 

Temperature, lighting (including specialist lighting), heating, humidity, hiding spots, basking spots, foliage and substrate must all be appropriate for the specific species of pet reptile kept, i.e the environment should be suited to the needs of the specific species. Where necessary appropriate control and monitoring should be in place to safely maintain the environment.

Obviously if as keepers we get the environment wrong, we could be considered as being in breach of the first of the 'Five Needs'. Personally I think of greater significance, if we do not meet the reptiles environmental needs a stunning animal suffers and eventually dies. 

' Need for a Suitable Diet '.


At first glance this is again a rather simplistic need. It should really be quite simple as all living creatures need to feed. We should all know that any animal needs enough food to keep it nourished.

Like any animal though, reptiles do have species specific dietary needs. The diet for reptiles varies from species to species. It is essential that the reptile receives the correct diet in the correct amounts. This is by no means challenging in regards to the diet of the more commonly kept species. However, a species such as an iguana can have very complex dietary needs. Failure to meet these needs is of course a breach of the 'need for a suitable diet'. It is also likely to be the cause of prolonged suffering and result in the death of the animal. 

It is likely that the provision of water would be a consideration in regards to the 'need for a suitable' diet. How the water is offered to your animal is a significant consideration. For many species, their needs are met by simply offering a replenished bowl of water each day. Some species will not drink from a water dish and require misting and spraying, often several times a day. The keeper is obligated to provide their animal with water in a manner and frequency suited to the animals individual needs.

Although not part of the discussion here, some keepers argue that certain agamids, originating from some of the driest places on the planet, only need water on rare occasions. If you feel that your animal is one of the species where water should not be offered on a daily basis it may be in your own interest if you can provide research to support your practices. 

Most captive reptiles (apart from the more commonly kept snakes) need some form of dietary mineral and vitamin supplement. Failure to provide these will be detrimental to the health and welfare of the animal and see the keeper failing in meeting the animals 'need for a suitable diet'.

  • ' Need to be Able to Exhibit Normal Behaviour Patterns '.

This is perhaps one of the most challenging in regards to the application or interpretation of the ' 5 Needs ' for reptiles. However some core aspects of care in regards to allowing the animal to express normal behaviour patterns are clear. 

The provision of the correct thermal gradient in the enclosure allows the reptile to express normal ectothermic behaviour. Similarly the provision of correct specialist lighting with areas of shade to provide a photo-gradient allows the reptile to bask in a manner that is normal behaviour for its species.

Enclosure, set up and care should be directed towards ensuring the reptile can demonstrate behaviour typical of its species. There will of course be exceptions but these must be justifiable.

The demonstration of abnormal behaviour that is detrimental to the health and well being of the animal could be classed as breach of the 'need to express normal behaviour'. An example of this can occasionally be seen in water dragons. Water dragons often suffer from snout rub. This is usually a consequence of the animal being stressed from being kept in too small an enclosure. The behaviour of constantly rubbing its snout against vivarium furnishings leaves the animal with raw open snout wounds. This abnormal behaviour can be seen as a direct consequence of failing to meet the animals needs.

Researching the behaviour of your pets 'wild cousins' may help you create the environment and conditions for your captive reptile to display normal behaviour.

' Need to be Housed With or Apart from Other Animals '. 

' Housed with or apart from other animals' is at first glance a rather ambiguous statement. What does 'other animals' refer to ? We would hope that commonsense would tell a keeper that it is irresponsible, inappropriate and potentially dangerous to house a reptile with any non reptile animal. 

Some keepers will consider putting different species of reptile into one

shared enclosure. This is far from being as simple as it sounds and something that should only be considered by a very experienced keeper who holds in depth knowledge and experience of all the species involved. Successful multi species enclosures are a rarity. 

We advise strongly against multi species enclosures unless you have the appropriate level of knowledge and experience. If things do go wrong in a multi species enclosure and one occupant severely injures or kills another, if the conditions in the enclosure are unsuitable for one of the occupants resulting in suffering, the owner of the animals will be the one responsible.  

With most species of reptile, males are intolerant of each other and will inflict serious injury or death if they are housed together. Clearly, if a keeper keeps two males together and conflict arises resulting in injury to one or both of the animals, the keeper has breached this need.

In many species of reptile, males will actively seek females in order to mate. It could be argued that keeping males and females apart is denying them opportunity to engage in reproductive behaviour. Obviously if all the reptiles in captivity were allowed to breed the captive reptile population would far exceed the number of available homes. Thus it is at times prudent to keep the male and females of certain species apart.

If a male and single female are kept together, the female is likely to become stressed by the harassment of the male when he wants to mate. Males often reach sexual maturity before females of the same species.This can result in premature breeding before the female is fully prepared for the rigors of egg production. Egg production places a massive physical strain on the female, it can cause significant weight loss and calcium depletion. Premature breeding is more likely to result in egg binding. There is no doubt that breeding exposes the female to a degree of risk and vulnerability. Sadly a number of breeding females both in the wild and in captivity will die as a direct consequence of reproductive activity. However the same can be said in regards to ALL animals including the human species. 


It is sometimes possible to keep females of the same species together but often there is no guarantee that they will tolerate each other. In some instances conflict will start the moment two females are introduced to each other. In other instances,females may be housed together for a considerable period of time and then without warning conflict can arise. When such conflict arises the females can inflict severe injury on each other,even death. It is vital that if the slightest sign of conflict is noticed that the animals are separated. 

On the other hand, some species are gregarious and do appear to get stressed if housed alone. Species such as Stenodactylus or Tropicolotes are thought to experience stress if housed away from a communal setting.

As with any of the 'Five Needs', it is simply a matter of research and putting the research into practice. It is down to the keeper to ensure they have researched the social nature of the animal in their care. Clearly if two reptiles are housed together and conflict arises, a keeper failing to

separate the animals would be breaching the animals need.

' The Need to be Protected from Pain,Suffering,Injury and Disease'.

This need should be apparent to ALL keepers. It is an all encompassing need when applied to reptiles and probably any other species.

Failure in any of the previous four needs is likely to result in suffering for the captive reptile. The enclosure and setting in which we house our animal should as far as possible be designed to reduce any risk of injury to the captive reptile. If an animal gets burnt from an unguarded heat lamp, or un statted heat mat it is arguable that the keeper has failed to meet the requirement for protection from injury. (It is recognised that some species of reptile are more likely to sustain injury if a bulb guard is used.) 

If the animal does sustain injury it is mandatory that the animal receives an appropriate level of help and attention to prevent pain and suffering. If the animal is suffering from disease, it is mandatory that it receives appropriate intervention to cure the disease and to prevent its spread to other animals.

This should really be one of the most common sense based requirements of the five needs. Sadly, the reality is that some keepers fail their reptile abysmally in regards to the 5th need. 

We frequently read posts on internet reptile forums from keepers seeking help and advice for unwell reptiles. If for instance an animal is looking unwell, perhaps it has gone off its food or is less active than normal it may be appropriate to ask for help and guidance from other more experienced

keepers. The forums can be a great place for general or non emergency 

health advice for our reptiles. 

Unfortunately we see too often posts from keepers where an animal is in a state of extremis and desperately needs urgent specialist veterinary help.If a reptile has sustained a major injury, is in a state of collapse or experiencing difficulties that are endangering its life, there is little an on line reptile forum can offer in the way of help. 

All keepers should have a number for a vet, preferably a reptile or exotics specialist. All vets offer some form of emergency service for out of hours emergencies. This should be the FIRST port of call in the event of a health emergency for your reptile.

A recent example of inappropriate measures to obtain help relates to a crested gecko. The owners crested gecko had escaped its enclosure and was caught by the families cat. The gecko had sustained injuries from being mauled that included a pierced eye ball. Its owner turned to an on line reptile forum asking for advice on how to help and care for the gecko. The animal clearly needed the emergency support of a veterinarian to alleviate pain and suffering and to initiate life saving measures. To delay obtaining specialist help whilst seeking advice on the internet was clearly a breach of the last of the ' Five Needs'.

The 'Five Needs' may have been written originally with farm animals in mind. However it is abundantly clear that they are applicable to any vertebrate animal INCLUDING reptiles. 

We have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure the 'Five Needs' of our pet reptiles are met. There may be some flexibility in regards to the interpretation of the 'Five Needs' but the core elements apply to every captive reptile and its owner. 

Meeting the 'Five Needs' of our reptiles is NOT an optional element of reptile ownership. It is a responsibility that is carried by EVERY keeper in the land and the needs apply to EVERY captive reptile.