By Vanessa Voltolina
You may be considering an amphibian, such as a frog or toad, for your next pet. But before you bring your new pet home, it’s important to do your research. “Each species of frog requires different care and buyers need to do their homework before [acquiring] one,” said Cinthia Fabretti, DVM, of Animalis Veterinary.
Researching your frog of choice before taking it home will allow you to understand its specific needs, where to buy it, what it will eat and what its ideal habitat will be. Here, learn more about how to care for your pet frog.
Are Frogs a Good First Pet?
“Any animal can be a good first pet for a child as long as they have parental support, supervision, and above all, education on the animal,” said Erica Mede, president and founder of Friends of Scales Reptile Rescue. Frogs are a hands-off pet for the most part, and require a high standard of husbandry—which includes nutrition, housing, handling techniques, hygiene, health maintenance and disease prevention—to meet their needs and keep them healthy, she added.
Kristin Claricoates, DVM at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, agrees, adding that appropriate expectations are also key. “Frogs are pets to be appreciated from a distance, and not to be cuddled, pet, or handled frequently,” she said.
When handling frogs, you should use moistened latex or vinyl gloves for your frog’s safety. Anything on your hands can irritate a frog’s skin (from sunscreen to soaps and lotions) and some species of frogs secrete toxins from their skin. These are especially a concern when children are involved, as they may not be as thorough in washing their hands after contact with their pet.
Depending on your child’s age and temperament, a “look but not touch” approach may not be realistic and if this is the case, a frog may not be the right pet for your family at this time, said Claricoates.
Where to Buy a Pet Frog
Experts suggest obtaining a pet frog from local rescues if possible. “I recommend rescuing from places such as a local herpetological society or bonafide reptile rescue,” said Mede. Fabretti and Claricoates also advocate for animal rescues. Frogs can also be found through species-specific breeders and pet stores. Asking friends with pet frogs or an exotic animal veterinarian in the area may also help you find your best options for adopting or where to go to buy your frog, she added.
What Kind of Frog Should You Get?
It all depends upon your living situation, expectations and the time you can dedicate to your froggy friend. However, there are some appropriate options for pets and it’s important to know the difference between a toad and a frog as you start your research. Frogs and toads are both Anurian amphibians, with toads often identified by dry, warty skin and short legs and frogs identified by their smooth skin, Claricoates said. Their habitats also differ from each other: most frogs prefer to be around water while toads like dry land.
“African dwarf frogs are excellent frogs,” said Mede. They require excellent water quality in their tanks, however, since they are totally aquatic (and can even be kept in aquariums with fish of similar size). She also recommends fire-bellied toads, milk frogs, horned frogs and White’s tree frogs, which are all excellent, hardy species.
The age of the frog you purchase does not matter, necessarily, said Claricoates. “Some owners prefer getting a fully grown frog because this means you have a little more leeway as you go through the educational process and growing pains of having a new pet,” she said. Young frogs are still growing, she added, and without perfect nutrition, such as using a calcium and vitamin supplement on their food, the risk of metabolic bone disease in a frog can be quite high.
Your Frog’s Diet
“Generally speaking, I would recommend a diet that offers variety and optimal nutrition,” said Mede. Crickets have long been a staple of frog keepers, but lack the nutrition necessary for appropriate growth and health, she added. If you feed your pet crickets a few times per week, they should be ‘dusted’ with a vitamin/mineral supplement before giving them to your frog or toad.
According to Claricoates, frogs and toads are meat eaters, with the best meals taking the form of fruit flies and other insects to large mice (depending on the frog species). Either way, frogs depend upon high-quality protein from animal-based fatty acids and minimal carbohydrates. Research your particular species or consult care guidelines from reputable pet stores for the diet specific to your frog.
Mede agrees, recommending a mix of earthworms (cut to size as needed), crickets, dubia roaches and soft body prey items, such as silk worms and horn worms. She notes that different species will need different food items, stressing the importance of researching your specific frog species to determine what it will eat. For example, adult South American horned frogs (commonly called Pac-Man frogs because of their large mouth, rounded body and large appetite) can consume a small rodent occasionally—but a rodent may not be appropriate for a different type of frog.
Your Frog’s Environment
Researching your species will be crucial in determining the appropriate temperature, humidity, and bedding in your frog’s habitat, said Fabretti. Some habitat considerations for a few popular species of pet frogs, according to Claricoates, are as follows:
- Horned frog: these terrestrial frogs should be housed alone due to a tendency toward cannibalism. These are very large frogs, reaching up to eight inches long, but are sedentary so don’t need a lot of room to roam. Generally, they require at least a 10 to 15-gallon aquarium or container. The ideal temperature for these frogs is between 77 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, but can drop to 72 degrees Fahrenheit at night, with humidity maintained around 60 to 80 percent. They should have a large bowl of water they can soak in.
- Bullfrog: require a minimum enclosure of 20 gallons, with an additional five-gallon space in the aquarium per additional animal. This ensures there is enough room and hiding spots to prevent territorial aggression. The ideal temperate should range between 77 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. They should have a floating log or platform on which they can climb to get out of the water.
- Fire bellied toads: these toads can be housed alone or in a small group of same-size toads. They require a 10 to 15-gallon aquarium or container, which is adequate for two or three toads. The ideal temperature is 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop to 72 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The humidity in the enclosure should be 50 to 70 percent.
- White’s tree frog: because they are climbers, these frogs require a high, 15 to 20-gallon aquarium for one adult frog. Larger enclosures are needed for additional frogs (shouldn’t exceed five adults). The enclosure temperature should range from 76 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking area—an area of elevated temperature in your pet's enclosure—that does not exceed 90 degrees. They require a bowl of water large enough that they can soak in it.
Frog Health Issues
Before bringing your frog home, Fabretti recommends getting a check-up at a vet who specializes in reptiles. She warns about zoonosis—disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals—and introducing a frog to other species in your household, such as cats and dogs, that may contract an illness or disease. Depending upon the illness, it may require that your frog be quarantined for a periods of time before entering your household.
While there are a few of these diseases that frogs may carry, salmonella is one that most likely will affect humans. It may be contracted by direct contact with an amphibian, or through contact with materials in the frogs’ habitats.
“I strongly recommend the thorough hand washing for prevention,” said Claricoates. “From parasites to bacteria and everything in between, you can run the risk of contracting a lot of things if you are not using proper hygiene.” Be sure to supervise children around amphibians and help them wash their hands after being around pets.
When it comes to health issues down the road, the biggest problems frogs face in captivity are usually related to water quality, husbandry and nutritional deficiencies, said Mede.
According to Claricoates, frogs are prone to a disease commonly known as “short tongue syndrome,” or hypovitaminosis A. It can cause eyelid swelling, weight loss, abdominal distention from fluid build-up and increased susceptibility to infection. The lack of vitamin A often comes from owners feeding their frogs only one or two types of prey, which are nutritionally insufficient. This can be prevented by speaking with your vet to determine a variety of dietary options for your frog to keep them healthy. You can find recommendations for exotic veterinarians in your area through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.