Should I Buy a Reptile from Petco/PetSmart?

Let’s be honest: Pet stores are a dangerous place for animal lovers like you and I. All it takes is the right look and we’re lost. But with chain pet stores like Petco and PetSmart coming under fire for animal neglect, we need to set our emotions aside and look at the ethics of the matter. Should you buy a reptile from PetSmart?

Should I buy a reptile from PetSmart? - the struggle
(artist unknown)

Recently an article has gone viral on my Facebook feed, and you’ve probably seen it, too: Reptiles Suffer, Left to Die at Another Massive PetSmart Supplier Mill. If you click the link, be warned: The pictures are a little graphic. I don’t endorse PETA, HSUS, or other anti-pet groups (for more information, visit the United States Associates of Reptile Keepers), but there is no reason to doubt the information and photos in this article.

This most recent pet store scandal leaves pet owners across the county wondering: “Should I buy a reptile from Petsmart (or any other pet store, for that matter)?” It’s a good question, which is why today we’re going to compare pet stores, breeders, and adoption options.

Pet Stores

There’s a big difference between chain pet stores and independent pet shops.

Chain Stores

Ex: PetSmart, Petco, etc.


  1. Some managers know what they’re doing, and are generally receptive to the advice of knowledgeable reptile keepers.
  2. Reptile supplies are conveniently sold in-store.


  1. Even knowledgeable store managers have no control over where they get their animals or feeders.
  2. Employees have at best a general knowledge of the species they’re selling.
  3. Provided animal care sheets are often severely deficit in specific information necessary for caring for reptiles. Also such care sheets often endorse specific products that the store carries, regardless whether it is the best choice for that species.
  4. Many reptiles sold in chain pet stores are wild caught (WC) rather than captive bred (CB).
  5. Reptiles are probably sick, injured, or malnourished.

Independent Pet Shops

There are lots of really good small pet shops out there run by people who know their animals’ needs. There are also plenty of small pet shops that are just miniature versions of chain stores. In fact there are two shops in my area that show this difference perfectly.


Injured ball python at a pet store
Photo taken in-store of a ball python with a severe injury.
  1. Bare-bones enclosures, not always species-appropriate.
  2. Enclosures are not always clean, water dishes often empty.
  3. Skinny, sick, unhappy reptiles.
  4. Poor lighting.
  5. Poor selection of reptile supplies.
  6. Employees have questionable reptile knowledge.


Nigerian uromastyx in pet store
Photo taken in-store of a healthy (if skinny) Nigerian uromastyx.
  1. Species-appropriate enclosures.
  2. Enclosures are attractive and clean.
  3. Single species housed together are of similar age.
  4. Reptiles are active and healthy.
  5. Warm store and bright lighting.
  6. Well equipped with quality supplies.
  7. Knowledgeable staff.

Reptile Breeders

Like independent pet shops, there are good ones and bad ones. Bad breeders are little better than the PetSmart supplier mentioned above. The best way to find the good ones (or at least the breeders to avoid) is through reptile communities. Herpetological societies, species-specific forums, and Facebook groups are all great resources.

Aside from getting gorgeous and unique color morphs, the biggest advantage of buying from a breeder is the opportunity to raise a puppy-dog tame reptile. This is especially important for large and/or temperamental species like:

  • iguanas
  • tegus
  • water monitors
  • black throat monitors
  • Burmese pythons
  • reticulated pythons
  • anacondas

Don’t forget to make sure that the breeders’ stock are CB. The more generations bred in captivity, the tamer your new reptile will be.

The Power of Your Money

Many keepers consider buying a reptile from PetSmart as a “rescue.” After all, they are giving it the first good home it’s ever had. But we must remember that every dollar we spend is a vote in favor of whichever business it’s spent at. So if you spend $40 buying a reptile from PetSmart or Petco, that’s 40 votes making sure that they continue getting reptiles from inhumane animal mills and treating their animals poorly.

The solution? Make sure they don’t get your money, even for supplies. Instead, buy your animals and supplies from high quality breeders and pet shops.


Adoption is always an option!!! There are lots of unwanted and/or neglected reptiles at animal shelters and in your local classifieds.


  1. Lots of reptiles to choose from.
  2. Adoption fees are less than what you would pay at a store or breeder.
  3. Reptiles purchased through local classifieds often come with some supplies.
  4. You’re doing both the reptile and its previous owner a huge favor.
  5. You meet new people.


  1. Taming may be slower/more difficult. A reptile acquired as an adult will probably never trust you the same way a reptile raised by you would.
  2. May need a trip to the vet (which you should do anyway).

Adopting from PetSmart

Chains like PetSmart and Petco offer an option to “adopt” out sick and injured animals for free. They tend to keep that out of common knowledge, because they want to make money. But all you have to do is:

  1. Talk to the manager.
  2. Point out the problem (injury, serious illness, etc).
  3. Explain that you will provide a proper environment and veterinary care.
  4. Ask to adopt.

This may take a few tries, but persistence usually pays off. Note: only adopt sick/injured animals if you have experience with the species and are able to provide the medical care it will need.

There is a desperate need for loving reptile keepers to take in unwanted reptiles before they get euthanized or released into the wild. YOU can save a life!

Several of my reptiles are adopted, and though we’ve had some hurdles with them, I’ve never regretted it. 🙂


If you’re still wondering, “Should I buy a reptile from PetSmart?”, here’s my conclusion: Don’t bother with chain pet stores. Support local, knowledgeable independent pet shops and breeders—or better, adopt!

**Reminder: ReptiFiles does not support or endorse PETA, HSUS, or other anti-pet groups (for more information, visit the United States Associates of Reptile Keepers).**




  1. Just want to share, I love in hillsboro oregon and I am not aware of any small business pet stores so my only option is petco petsmart and I got my bearded dragon from pet smart.. she is a healthy gal no problems with her at all. When ever I go there and I peek on their new bearded dragons they all look happy and have food, need their tank cleaned and sometimes there are 1 too many dragons in 1 tank but overall fine. 😀 but sure if there was a small business near me I’d rather go there to shop for one but thats not an option. Small businesses are closing down every sad to say especially near me.

  2. Glad to hear it! Not all reptiles sold by major pet retailers are neglected and unhealthy, but it’s still important to avoid purchasing reptiles from them due to the way that they are generally sourced and sold.

  3. I AM FURIOUS! Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the shenanigans of PetSmart when I bought a baby King snake from them. I’m an avid snake keeper of at least 10 years. I have a collection of over 20 snakes of assorted kinds and morphs. I never suspected that my King snake (Smiley) was wild caught until he suddenly got sick and refused to eat, and had a tough time adapting. I’ve had him for a couple months and I don’t know if he will make it beyond today. I’m kicking myself for not being more informed. So before somebody else goes through this same bad experience with PetSmart, I want to know how to do my part to prevent it. Please, give me a few helpful tips so I can get to work on this atrocity.