Keeping Tree Frogs as Pets


Australian tree frogs from the genus 'Litoria' are amongst the largest and most colourful in the world. Many of our own frog species are kept commonly overseas, from where this article originates. Commonly kept frog species in Australia include the green tree frog (Litoria careulea) , the white lipped tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata) and the red eyed tree frog (Litoria chloris). Tree frogs are generally easy to keep if the correct housing and husbandry is applied. This article is based on notes I picked up on the internet and has some excellent ideas on frog husbandry. For your information I have added a couple of great frog web sites at the end of this article well worth checking out .

Frogs are amphibians meaning they depend upon both land and water to exist. They need heat to some extent as do reptiles for thermoregulation. Their skin is porous meaning that water passes easily through it. From their skin, irritant excretions can leach out that may aggravate the eyes if accidentally rubbed into them. On the other hand it is also an easy pathway for toxins to enter into the animal. This is one reason why many experts believe that frogs are disappearing all over the world. As pollution around the world increases so does the toxic residues in our creeks , rivers and dams, favourate haunts of frogs. Frogs are believed to act as a sort of 'biological sponge' , soaking up all the nasties, perishing in the process and sending us the disturbing message that all is not well with our environment.

Frogs are a truly underrated and fascinating creatures, the more people out their who learn to appreciate and respect them the more chance we have of saving many of them in the future .

Selecting a Frog

Carefully select the type and number of frogs you will be keeping. This is best done by reading up on the species you wish to keep, the housing it requires and the equipment/caging needed to successfully provide the right environment to maintain these animals and ensure they are properly cared for. (I have added a list of useful references at the end of this article to assist you with this process).

Remember that amphibians are termed as cold-blooded and like reptiles they may require external heating, cooling and control of the relative humidity to maintain peak health. Amphibians will perish if exposed to extreme temperatures for long periods and it is therefore important that thermostatic control is provided with any heating along with a thermal gradient and good ventilation.

When looking at setting up housing for any species it is important to consider the specific requirements for heating, cooling, relative-humidity control. Tank/cage size and substrate and cage decoration and furniture.

Important things to remember when setting up a new enclosure

•  When obtaining or constructing your own enclosure, make sure that it is big enough for your animals to freely move around in and grow.
•  Clean your enclosure thoroughly before introducing frogs. If using a bleach solution to disinfect the cage ensure that it is thoroughly rinsed with a saltwater solution to neutralise the chlorine and well ventilated before introducing any frogs.
•  Add a basic substrate if any. Pebbles, Peat moss and potting mixture can be used. If pebbles are to be used it is best to cover them with moss to prevent frogs swallowing pebbles.
•  Heaters and filters can be used to provide a warm and natural environment. It is best to use waterproof aquarium heaters for safety purposes. Filters assist in maintaining clean water and running water also boosts humidity levels.
•  Cage decoration such as live or plastic plants can be used to provide natural an attractive looking display while also providing natural hides for frogs.
•  When using any water for the caging ensure that it has been dechlorinated first. This can be done by placing the required amount of water from a town water supply in an open top bucket for several days, allowing all chlorine to dissipate before using it for frogs.
•  Introduce your frogs to the cage and keep a close eye on them initially so you become accustomed to their natural behavior in this environment. This will help you in the long run to understand any abnormal behavior that may occur.By understanding your frogs you can better react to any health concerns that may eventuate.
•  Set up a regular checking and cleaning regime for yourself to ensure your pets are properly attended to at all times. This can be done by marking a calendar with your routine, or setting up a weekly checklist.
•  Most importantly - ENJOY YOUR ANIMALS. If this new to you and it is a novelty and that novelty wears off please don't let your animals suffer in the process. There are many potential homes out there so pass them on through your local herp society and do the right thing by them. Remember that they are totally dependant on you!

The Cage.....Design ideas

A screened enclosure
The ideal set up for a frog cage consists of a well- ventilated or screened enclosure. A great idea for constructing such an enclosure consists of a plastic laundry style tub as a base, with a screened wooden frame placed on top to act as a living area.
Some benefits of these cages are -
•  They can be used outdoors to provide the most natural environment, while providing protection against predators.
•  They provide excellent ventilation for indoor or outdoor enclosures.
•  By fitting a drain in the plastic base they are easy to clean and provide a wet environment.
•  They can be converted to a rain chamber system (which is used for inducing breeding) by simply adding a misting head and restricting water flow to provide standing water for the bottom of the tank.
•  Great for live plants! No critical wave lengths required for plant growth are lost through wire mesh.

The rainforest tank

Another useful cage design is the rainforest tank. This design consists of a converted 900mm 'fish tank' with a secure fly screen lid. The tank is turned on one end and placed in shallow plastic container or tub, which acts as a reservoir. The bottom of the cage is covered in small pea gravel and larger rocks to create a land water area. Moss is used to cover all of the floor area to prevent any frogs accidentally ingesting any small rocks, which may cause gut impaction and/or kill frogs. A unique heating system is constructed by using several lengths of 50mm PVC pipe that are glued together in a 'U' shaped tube.

A 200 watt aquarium heater is placed towards the bottom of the tube. The heat produced by heating the water in this manner produces upward flowing currents that carry heat to the top of the tube producing a high humidity and an ambient temperature above and beyond that of the room temperature of about 10oc+ providing a 'rainforest effect'.( for safety reasons ,don't forget to regularly top up the water in the pvc tube if using method!).

Live plants can also be added to the enclosure such as pothos, bromeliads etc that can be used for increasing oxygen levels and the overall 'jungle smell'. Lengths of bamboo are used to provide vertical climbing areas as well as a pathway for frogs to reach the top of the tank.

Home made ' cabinet style' Frog enclosure

This design idea consists of constructing a timber frame enclosure that is sealed with a marine epoxy. This is constructed by fitting glass sides and glass doors, which are hinged on the front for easy access and cleaning. The top of the enclosure is covered in a steel fly screen material. In this case the author has used a computer to adjust lighting, temperature and humidity. This can be done manually by the use of timers, on heating and lighting equipment and by measuring temperature and humidity accordingly. Relative humidity can be boosted by regularly misting the enclosure with a water atomiser spray. About 30cm up on the glass at the sides of the cage a decorative aquarium type adhesive (e.g. An underwater scenery or rock shelf) is attached. Many frogs constantly try to get through a glass surface rubbing their snout in the process. By providing an artificial barrier this prompts frogs to try and climb this area rather than trying to get through it reducing the risk of 'snout rub'.

Specialist frog housing

The 'basic' froglet rearing tank
Froglets or recently developed frogs are best reared in a specially designed cage.
The basic features for such a cage should include-
•  A small fish tank (relative in size to the amount of frogs being kept).
•  A flyscreen/mesh lid with plastic cover that can be partially placed over this screening to increase humidity as required.
•  A thermometer for measuring temperature and a hygrometer for measuring humidity.
•  Potted indoor plants or hydroponically grown plants.
•  A plain glass bottom (no substrate is necessary at this stage).
•  A shallow water dish.

The Quarantine tank
This type of caging is essential when housing a frog collection. By isolating new arrivals you reduce the risk of introducing diseases into the main frog population.
The basic features for such a cage should include-
•  A fish tank/lid as per above.
•  A hygrometer/thermometer as per above.
•  Potted indoor plants.
•  Cork bark or similar to provide shelter.

Heating, Cooling and Humidity Control
A combination of heating, cooling and humidity control may be required at any particular time depending on how stable these conditions are in the room where you are housing your frogs. Some suggestions on how to control these factors are as follows-

Heating Techniques
•  Water jars with submersible aquarium heaters. This method of heating is beneficial in that it supplies a good heating area for frogs to warm themselves.
It also increases humidity and can be used to grow plants hydroponically. Note: caution must also be exercised to ensure that the water jar is secure and/ or the aquarium heater has some form of glass protector on it.
•  Undertank heatpads and tape. These should only be used for approximately a third of the total floor area of the tank depending on their wattage. Ideally they are used in conjunction with a thick substrate e.g. potting mix.
•  Lighting. When used for heating they should be used for spotlighting a small area within the tank and not for heating the whole tank. This is achieved by experimenting with wattage, placing the heat source at one of the cage and ensuring that sufficient ventilation exists so as not to overheat the cage.
•  Room temperature control. Depending upon available space and a sympathetic family this is considered the most reliable and stable form of heating frog cages. Often a keeper's 'herp room' can be used to supply sufficient background heating for frogs.
•  Thermostats! Always remember that a thermostat control is required with all heater systems to prevent overheating.

Cooling Techniques
•  Fans. Air- flow is critical in the cooling process as stagnant air soon builds up to unacceptable temperatures in hot weather. Cage fans and/or room fans can be used to alleviate this problem. Ideally frog cages are not kept where temperatures go to such extremes.
•  Cold water containers. During extremes of temperature cold water containers can be added to cages to quickly cool them down.
•  Room temperature control. Not always practical or economically viable, room temperature control via air conditioning is ideal in housing larger collections.

Humidity Control Techniques
•  Aquarium Covers. By adjusting the amount of ventilation by covering vents with plastic or glass, humidity can be greatly increased. Care must be taken however as extreme humidity or reduction of air- flow may cause health problems and/or overheating of the frog cage.
•  Jars with submersible heaters. As mentioned previously this method is ideal for heating and for increasing relative humidity.
•  Misting. Manual misting of a cage by atomiser/spray pack can be used to increase cage humidity and cool off its occupants during hot weather. This works well but must be done regularly to be effective.
•  Potted plants. An attractive addition to any frog cage, plants also help to increase humidity and air/carbon dioxide balance in cages also.

Of special mention:

Thermal gradients
Lighting and water jars with submersible heaters if placed at one end of a cage are useful in providing a thermal gradient and allows your frogs to select their preferred temperature at any given time.

Caution when using water jars
When using hydroponically grown plants or submersible water heaters with tree frogs remember that frogs can easily drown in these containers, especially if the sides of the jar are steep. This is best avoided by purchasing and fitting a large sponge into the jar lid (e.g. as used for washing cars). Before use this sponge must be cleaned thoroughly to remove any chemicals used during manufacture or to keep it moist during shipping.

Cut the sponge to fit snug in the jars opening. Holes are cut to fit stems of plants or water heaters if necessary. The water level is filled in the jar to just above the sponge. This prevents frogs from accessing deep water and unnecessarily drowning.

Decorating Your Frog Enclosure

There are several species that suit a planted vivarium style cage and are hardy. These not only provide an attractive feature for the enclosure but also offer areas for camouflage and hiding for your frogs. Ideally cages would contain some form of ultraviolet fluorescent light such as 'gro-lux' to enhance plant growth. Some species of plants successfully used are as follows-
•  Philodendron
•  Pothos (Hydroponically grown or potted in soil)
•  Monstera
•  Anthurium
•  Bromeliads

Plastic plants are also an option with some fairly realistic styles available on the market. Always remember to wash such plants thoroughly to remove any possible chemical residues before adding them to your enclosure.

Most tree frogs are "wide open mouth feeders", that is, these frogs hunt down their prey and dive onto it with their mouths wide open. They will typically swallow their food whole and whatever else gets into their mouths during the hunt. If not provided with an appropriate substrate the keeper risks their frogs swallowing small items and cause gut impaction and or obstructions that will usually cause death. It is for this reason that pea gravel or 'bite size' bark and the like never be used as a cage substrate. Ideal substrates include the following and although not always as aesthetically pleasing, offer a safe and hygienic floor material that make it easier to clean and maintain your frog.

•  Top soil/potting mix
•  Medium size bark chips
•  Artificial turf
•  Plain glass bottom
•  Soft brown paper
•  Paper towels

Clean Cages are a must for frogs, which can easily absorb toxins from their surroundings through their skin.

FEEDING YOUR, tricks and techniques

Frogs prefer live food such as crickets, cockroaches and mealworms. It is the movement of such insects that stimulate the frog to hunt and eat the prey. If frogs are fed dead prey, it must be offered by hand.

When feeding frogs dead food such as pre-killed pinkies they can be offered to your frog by attaching the food item to a blunt wooden skewer and moving the food around the tank within visibility of the frog. This is preferred to using your hand to offer food as this may intimidate your frog.

Most insects are not very nutritious. Feed insects can however be dusted with a powdered vitamin supplement prior to feeding out to enhance their nutritional value. A balanced diet also includes offering your frog a variety of food types/insects. Many pet shops now offer live crickets, mealworms and cockroaches for sale in bulk. Gut loading insects is a useful technique in boosting their nutritional value, this is done by placing the insect in a separate container 24-48 hours prior to feeding. Grated vegetables like spinach, carrots and kale can be offered and sprayed with a multivitamin mix for drinking.

Some common food items include-
•  Crickets
•  Grasshoppers
•  Flies
•  Moths
•  Cockroaches
•  Earthworms
•  Mice-pinkies or newborn mice and fuzzies or weaner mice. It is best to leave newborn mice with their mother for at least 3 days prior to feeding out to ensure adequate nutritional levels. Pinkies can be offered alive, but fuzzies should be observed closely and if not eaten be immediately removed from the cage as they may injure frogs.

If force- feeding is required use the following procedure -

Cut a shovel shaped piece of cardboard (about the thickness used on the back of a notepad). Dull all edges and bend it slightly to form a shovel shaped piece. This piece is then used to gently pry the frogs mouth open. Place the cardboard under the upper lip and gently lift the upper jaw open, then insert the cardboard just enough so as the frog cannot close its mouth (this procedure will usually require 2 people to perform until you become proficient at this technique). Place a live cricket directly into the mouth of the frog and then quickly remove the cardboard. It is important that live feed is used so the frog recognises that it is a food item and not a foreign object introduced into its mouth, which may cause it to spit it out..

Common diseases and health problems

Healthy and well kept animals are a product of good animal husbandry and care and a thorough understanding of the species you are keeping. Many of these basic concepts you have been previously introduced to in this article. Disease is usually the result of compromising one or several of these factors.
Problems that may occur include the following-

•  Internal Parasites
Symptoms- The presence of parasites may cause weight loss and less formed or bloody faeces.
Possible solutions- Ideally a faecal check should be performed by your veterinarian to determine the exact parasite present and the appropriate treatment or medication required.

•  Sores and injuries
Symptoms- Rubbed snouts, open cuts or wounds.
Possible Solutions - If this is caused by obvious cage furniture items, they should be removed from the cage. Rubbed snouts may also occur if frogs try to escape through a section of glass not realising it is there. If this occurs a barrier outside the glass such made of black plastic or aquarium backing can be placed over the transparent base of the cage to deter the frog from this behavior. Regardless of this if the wound is large and / or is not healing on its own accord a veterinarian should be consulted as it is likely that a course of antibiotics is required.

•  Clouded eyes
Symptoms- an obvious change in colour of the eyes when they may become 'milky' or clouded in appearance. This condition is often caused by direct trauma to the eyes, immune system failure, toxin absorption or poor diet.
Possible Solutions- it is best to correct all things within your control initially to ensure your husbandry practices are correct. Check over the previous notes on housing heating , adequate diet and water to make sure these are covered.( For toxin absorption see Toxing out in this section). Failing this it is best to take a visit to your local herp vet.

•  Red leg
Symptoms - these include listlessness, lack of appetite, bloating and the namesake reddish colouring that occurs on the underside of the thighs and belly.
Possible solutions - This disease is usually the result of a frog being exposed to overcrowding or too cold or unsanitary conditions.

Possible solutions - Separate sick animals from healthy animals and correct environmental conditions. Thoroughly clean enclosure and transfer sick animals to quarantine style enclosure as previously mentioned. Veterinary treatment is most likely required with a course of antibiotics necessary.

•  Toxing out
Symptoms- frogs can absorb water from their environment and particularly through their ventral surface or belly skin. Symptoms include convulsions, hind leg extensions, bloating and eye clouding .
Possible solutions- Great care must be taken to ensure that cages and water are free of any toxins. Clean aired water and fresh bedding should regularly be supplied. Fly sprays and other toxic aerosols should be kept well away from frogs. One method that has been successful in helping frogs recover from this condition is letting them soak low levels of clean water for several hours.

•  Drying Out
Symptoms - this condition often occurs if a frog has escaped its enclosure and has not found a sufficient water source to hydrate itself in .
Possible solutions- The frog must be rehydrated. To do this, gently remove any hair or dust residues on its skin with a damp cotton bud. The frog is then placed in a shallow container of water inside a cage, making sure that the water depth is half the height of the frog lying down, to ensure that it does not drown.

Handling Frogs

As previously mentioned, a frogs skin is porous and hence extremely sensitive to toxins. When handling frogs it is important to ensure that your hands are clean and free of toxins including nicotine from cigarette smoke. A frog may also generate toxins from its skin so it is also important to wash your hands after handling.

Cupped hands are not recommended when handling frogs as this may adversely effect body temperature. Frogs are best restrained by gently holding both back legs 'straightened' in one hand, with the frogs ventral surface resting on the palm of the other hand. Some frogs become accustomed to handling and do not need to be restrained, but care should always be taken regardless of this. Frogs are still wild animals and over handling is not recommended and is likely to cause stress.

This article was adapted from an internet article on the 'Complete tree frog Home page' by Stephen Boys.

References and Suggested further reading:

1996 de vosjoli, Mailloux and Ready Care and Breeding of Popular tree Frogs The Herpetocultural Library
1996 M.J.Tyler Australian Frogs "A natural History" Reed Publications
1995 Barker, Grigg and Tyler A Field Guide to Australian Frogs

Surrey , Beatty and Sons

1993 Klingenberg Understanding Reptile Parasites The Herpetocultural Library

Useful Frog Related Internet sites -
The Victorian Frog Group -  
Tree frog land -
Frog Land -  
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