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Amphibians (frogs, toads newts, salamanders and the unusual axolotl) are a widely diverse group of cold blooded animals which, compared with mammals, birds and reptiles, have been rather overlooked as pets. They are relatively easy to keep and can be fascinating to study, even though not easy to cuddle or take out for a walk!

One of the most amazing things about amphibians is how they have taken the basic theme of being cold blooded, having a thin moist skin and needing to return to water to breed and adapted this unpromising set of features to all sorts of environments across the world.

But this means that different groups of amphibians need varied environments in which to survive and thrive but some generalizations can be made. They all need to be kept moist. Some, like the African clawed toad, live all the time under water and need an aquarium, while the majority are terrestrial or arboreal (tree-dwelling) species so can be kept in a vivarium with regular spraying keeping the humidity.


Amphibians almost invariably need to be fed live food. Most adults can be fed invertebrates either wild-caught such as earthworms and slugs or captive-reared such as wax moth larvae, mealworms and crickets. Aquatic species thrive on live food sold for feeding to fish. The key in any diet is to avoid repetition, which is boring for the animal and nutritionally unbalanced. The same can be said for feeding only raw meat rather than whole prey items. Feeding the whole individual, be it a small fish or an earthworm gives a wide range of minerals and vitamins while meat on its own is low in calcium and vitamins. If larger toads and frogs are fed on such a diet a vitamin and mineral supplement should be given.


Because of their moist and reasonably fragile skin amphibians should be handled carefully with moistened hands or while wearing wet plastic gloves. This protects the animal and you from any toxic substance amphibians, especially toads, might produce. Since they can absorb chemicals through the skin it is a good idea to wash your hands before picking them up but importantly be sure that you rinse off any detergent.

Common problems

These include failure to feed and red leg. The former may be part of a condition known as maladaptation syndrome. Here a host of factors are not quite right in the environment: temperature, humidity, light and diet, all conspiring to put the amphibian off feeding.

Anorexia merely adds to the downward spiral and unless conditions change to mimic better the amphibian's natural habitat he is unlikely to recover.

Red leg is a skin condition which is really an outward sign of a generalized bacterial infection. This is often related to unhygienic conditions where the water in the virarium or aquarium is not changed often enough. Affected animals should be removed from other members of the colony to a hospital tank where they can be given appropriate antibiotic treatment. Such a tank can be a large lunch box with a piece of moist foam rubber which they can climb onto or hide under. The vivarium should be thoroughly cleaned while the sick amphibians are undergoing hospital treatment.

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