When Your Pet Has Eight Legs

Dec 10, 2019 / Preventive Health / Exotics

[pet tarantula]

Tarantulas May Live 10 to 30 Years

Not all “furry friends” have fur. Some people choose tarantulas as their family companion. Dr. Krista Keller, a board-certified specialist in zoological medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says big spiders need attention and love, just like a dog or cat does.

“The most common tarantulas in the pet trade are the Chilean rose tarantula and the Mexican red-kneed tarantula,” says Dr. Keller. “Overall, they are pretty easy keepers, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t require care.”

Prospective tarantula owners should be ready to make a long-term commitment to their pet. Males may live as long as 10 years, and females may live past 30! Owners also need to understand general spider husbandry to keep their arachnid family member happy and healthy.

Where Do I Keep My Tarantula?

Dr. Keller advises housing your tarantula in a 20-gallon aquarium or larger. The aquarium should be kept in a quiet area of the home that is not too bright, because an area with commotion and brighter lights may be stressful for most tarantulas. As many tarantulas can climb the glass sides of the enclosure, a tight fitting and locking screen top should be used to reduce escape.

“A big spider should be given enough room to move and walk around in so it can exhibit its normal behaviors,” says Dr. Keller. In addition, at least one hiding area should be provided to these shy creatures. Simple hiding areas can be a flower pot turned on its side or commercially available hiding places sold for reptiles.

The substrate that covers the enclosure floor should be a soft, absorbent material such as coconut coir, over which some species of tarantula may make a thin web. A few rocks can be added to allow for climbing opportunities. “Make sure the rocks are arranged in a way that the spider cannot fall and get injured, nor the rocks fall on the spider,” warns Dr. Keller.

“Most tarantulas enjoy a temperature range between 70°F and 85°F,” says Dr. Keller. “Ceramic heaters, under tank heaters, or whole room heaters work the best.” She recommends keeping a thermometer in the tank to ensure that the enclosure does not become too hot for the spider. The heat source should not emit light, because tarantulas usually shy away from light sources.

What Do I Feed My Tarantula?

As carnivores, tarantulas need live food sources. “The easiest food sources to offer are gut-loaded insects, including crickets, mealworms, king worms, silkworms, dubia roaches, or horn worms.” Tarantulas can also eat young vertebrate prey, such as pinky mice, but this source of food can be inherently messier.

“Some people may be tempted to drop several crickets or other prey items into the enclosure at one time to feed their spider throughout the week. However, this practice may lead to injuries from the hungry prey insects biting the tarantula,” explains Dr. Keller.

She recommends giving your big spider food and then removing whatever it doesn’t eat within about 10 minutes. Feeding your spider a few times a week should provide a sufficient amount of food.

Dr. Keller warns that your tarantula’s water dish can be a hazard. “Deep dishes can lead to drowning, so place a low dish of water in the enclosure and refill it daily,” she says.

When Does My Tarantula Need Veterinary Care?

Common reasons to bring your spider to a veterinarian include oral nematodes and problems with the molting process.

“Oral nematodes are a common infectious issue in tarantulas,” explains Dr. Keller. “A veterinarian can remove the nematodes while the spider is under anesthesia.” Clinical signs of oral nematodes include decreased appetite and white material around the mouth parts. Occasionally, several anesthetic episodes are required to clear the infection. Tarantulas that are hatched in captivity are less likely to be affected by this problem.

The molting process in tarantulas involves the spider shedding its outer layer and crawling out of its old exoskeleton. It is a remarkable process. Usually, tarantulas will fast and refuse food for a period of time prior to the molt.

“This is a normal physiologic fast,” says Dr. Keller. “When the tarantula actually begins to molt, it will lie on its back and not move. Molting can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a full day, but owners who aren’t familiar with the process sometimes rush their tarantulas to the veterinarian. It’s important to understand that the tarantula shouldn’t be moved during molting.”

One of the coolest things about owning a spider is that after the molting process, a complete, empty exoskeleton is left behind that you can show your friends! If you have any questions about big spider care or are considering a tarantula as a pet, contact your local exotics veterinarian to ask about breeders and how one could fit into your life.

By Hanna Netisingha

Image by Christine Sevdas from Pixabay