I have worked at an exotic pet store, in a zoo, and at an exotic veterinary clinic, so I can assure you that amphibians make very cool pets.
I have a lot of experience caring for pet frogs and would like to help lay out some rules for basic frog husbandry:
Husbandry is the care, management, and daily maintenance of animals under someone’s care. It includes providing water, a proper nutritional diet, and a habitat that will meet the specific species’ needs. For frogs this includes accessible fresh water, an insectivorous diet, and appropriate substrate.
We will lay out some basic ground rules for properly housing any frog species.
These rules can be applied to frogs kept as pets and those kept in a facility, such as an education department, museum, or zoo.
Of course, if you own or work with a frog that is sick or dying, seek out an exotic veterinarian to diagnose and treat the problem.
Exotic veterinary clinics are few and far between, so do some research on ones in your area before purchasing or adopting an exotic animal as a pet!
Rule 1: Always Provide Fresh, Clean, Treated Water
Frogs are amphibians so they thrive in a moist environment.
Terrestrial amphibians are those that burrow in substrate but are never far from a water source.
In captivity or human care this would include species like Pacman Frogs.
Fully aquatic species kept in captivity, such as the African Clawed Frog, will need an entirely aquatic habitat.
This is typically an aquarium filled with treated water with plenty of hides and gravel or pebble substrate lining the bottom.
Amphibians should never be given plain tap water from a sink.
Water from the faucet could be high in metals and does not provide the clean environment pet frogs need in order to carry out respiration through their skin.
Water treatments for aquariums and frogs can be purchased at virtually any pet store.
For example, ZooMed makes ReptiSafe water conditioner:
- 4.25 ounces of instant terrarium water conditioner
- Great for reptile water bowls, chameleon drip water systems, amphibian enclosures, and aquatic…
- Removes chloramines and chlorine, detoxifies ammonia and nitrites, and provides essential ions…
- Also stimulates slime coat development in amphibians and fish
- Made in the USA
I worked in a facility where we used this form of water treatment when replenishing the amphibian’s waters each and everyday.
Another option would be to use dechlorinated or some bottled waters.
It is not recommended to use distilled water for amphibians since it contains no minerals.
Tap water can also be filtered to provide a healthier, cleaner water.
Proper and clean water can help avoid sicknesses in tadpoles and frogs including ICH.
We have great recommendations on how to chose the best water for your amphibian in this guide on our blog.
Rule 2: Mist, Mist, Mist!
In order to maintain that moist environment, amphibians should be misted daily to keep humidity levels up and hydrate the skin of the animal.
Remember to use treated water in the mist bottle as well!
I have known people to mist an amphibian enclosure from once to three times a day.
As long as you are covering the enclosure with a layer of moisture, all should be fine!
If the substrate starts to dry up, add some wet moss or mist a little heavier for the next few days.
Be careful of misting the enclosure too much.
Mold likes to grow in dark, moist environments.
So it is very important to turn the substrate and mix it up.
This helps keep moisture even through the layers as well!
Rule 3: Provide a Proper Diet
Always research your species before coming up with a diet plan for them.
You can feed your frog on tongs to ensure live food items do not go missing in the enclosure.
Something very important I learned as a zookeeper is a rotating diet.
Do you want to eat the same one thing every day? Probably not!
And chances are, it is not providing you all the health benefits you need to thrive as a creature.
Also, do not feed your frog everyday! They do not need to eat every day.
Once they get older, their metabolism starts to slow down, and they can be fed smaller, less frequent meals.
There are many different feeder worm options for frog owners; mealworms, wax worms, hornworms.
Keep it interesting for them while providing them a wide range of nutrients.
Larger meat items, such as pinky mice, should be fed at most once a week for larger species.
Rule 4: Provide a Proper Supplements
Be sure to provide all the proper supplements your pet frog needs to thrive in captivity.
Remember to dust calcium powder on your frogs’ food!
Calcium is needed for successful tadpole development (Lassiter et al., 2020) and is also necessary to maintain strong bones in adult frogs.
Lack of calcium can lead to spindly leg syndrome, other sicknesses, or death.
Rule 5: Wear Proper Gloves
There may be some debate in the Herp community on whether or not it is necessary to wear gloves when handling a pet amphibian.
The oils in our skin can cause abrasive damage to the delicate skin of our frog friends.
But, are the gloves we are using the proper kind?
First and foremost, frogs do not want or need to be handled.
They do not socialize by handling like snakes and lizards do.
The only reason you should be handling an amphibian is for cleaning, feeding, and educational presentations.
Gloves should be changed before touching another amphibian and should be powder and talc free.
Rule 6: Choose The Right Enclosure Size
Frogs do not need large enclosures and sometimes an enclosure too big may cause the animal stress.
10 gallon tanks are usually a good option!
Arboreal species, such as tree frogs, should be kept in a taller enclosure, such as an ExoTerra brand.
- Elevate Your Terrarium Environment: The elegantly designed Exo Terra Terrarium Cabinets are the…
- Stylish Look: Finished in contemporary black with smoked tempered glass doors, these cabinets…
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The frog should have enough room to find their water dish and hide or decorations.
They do not do much most times, so providing too much room may not be as beneficial as you might think.
Rule 7: Use The Right Substrate
A dirt substrate and sphagnum moss mixture tends to be the best combination that I have personally found.
I have used EcoEarth in two of the facilities I worked with amphibians with, and used them for my own Pacman Frog.
- UNIQUE COMBINATION: Newzooland brings you a unique combination for reptiles lovers. Eco Earth…
- GREAT FOR TROPICAL SPECIES: You can use loose Coconut Fiber Substrate damp for tropical species…
- PERFECT FOR NATURAL GREEN PRODUCT: They are a perfect combination for all natural green…
- EASY TO USE: You can use Hydro Balls with a pump to create a waterfall and generate water flow…
- AFTER SALES SERVICE: If for any reason the package have damaged during delivery or you are…
- Ideal for naturalistic terrarium type set-ups incorporating reptiles, amphibians, or…
- Use it damp for tropical species as it naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste…
- Ideal substrate for all types of reptiles, amphibians, small animals or insects
- Naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products
Moss helps to keep humidity high in the enclosure.
Humidity is the moisture of the enclosure, so it is a good thing to have plenty of moss!
This moss retains moisture after being misted.
Remember, the substrate should be moist, but not soaking wet.
Find out why Miracle-Gro is not an appropriate substrate for captive frogs on our blog
Rule 8: Carry Out Interior Design
In-habitat decorations are essential for any captive animal.
This adds hide spots as well as enrichment.
Many frogs enjoy hiding under vines.
Providing vines and branches for arboreal frogs is essential!
My Pacman Frog had a ramp water bowl, a wooden half-log hide, and a set of vines in his enclosure.
This allowed him two spots to hide, plenty of room to burrow, and easy access to his water source (that was changed daily with appropriate water!)
Rule 9: Provide UV-B Lighting
Putting the enclosure next to a window does not provide it with the proper lighting.
The UV rays cannot penetrate the window or the glass of the tank.
Pet stores provide UV-B light bulbs and lamps to set up over the enclosure.
Frogs do not need a heat source as room temperature is adequate.
Rule 10: Always Clean The Enclosure
We put this rule last but it could have been the first rule on this list since it is so essential: always keep your frog’s enclosure clean!
Just use soap and water.
Diluted disinfectants that are animal-safe are fine as long as the habitat is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards.
Frog skin is highly sensitive to the chemicals surrounding them, including cleaning supplies with harsh chemicals.
Be sure to rinse things well and opt for soaps that do not contain strong chemicals.
By cleaning I mean I remove all the substrate, wash the enclosure, decorations, and water bowl with soap and water, and provide them fresh, moist substrate.
I hope these general rules of frog husbandry help you take good care of your pet frog to help them live a long life in your care 🙂
This article was written by Melissa M. who holds a Bachelors of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, and a Master Herpetologist certificate. The article was edited and published by Daniella, Master Herpetologist in the author profile below.
Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0033/89592/tm-wl-amphibian-hygiene.pdf
Lassiter E, Garcés O, Higgins K, et al. Spindly leg syndrome in Atelopus varius is linked to environmental calcium and phosphate availability. PLoS One. 2020;15(6):e0235285. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235285
Use of bottled water for amphibians. Caudata Culture Articles – Bottled Water for Amphibians. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.caudata.org/cc/articles/Spring_water.shtml