9 things to know before getting an Axolotl pet
By Sviat Oleksiv | Updated on August 24, 2021
The Mexican axolotl is one of the most unique exotic pets you can get legally. And, while these adorable salamanders aren’t yet as popular as many snakes, lizards, and even tarantulas, they are getting more sought after as people learn how to look after them. They are widely available too – both from private breeders and on the internet, as well as in reptile shows and expos.
Is the axolotl difficult to look after, however? It certainly looks like it is but the axolotl is actually a very beginner-friendly reptile.
1. Are axolotls good and well-behaved pets?
Axolotls are surprisingly great pets – not just visually but in terms of their temperament as well. Mild-mannered and calm, these aquatic reptiles love to swim around for fun, hide and play around their tank’s plants and decoration, as well as come and observe you through the glass as you’re watching them.
That being said, axolotls aren’t exactly social, which can be both a positive and a negative, depending on what you want. Axolotls don’t mind being a solitary pet in their aquariums – in fact, they prefer it that way. And, while they don’t mind seeing you through the grass or even you knocking the glass or making a ruckus around it, they are not big fans of being handled.
This last part is especially crucial when you consider the fact that axolotls are very gentle creatures. As a matter of fact, most of their skeletal structure is made out of cartilage rather than bone – that’s how fragile axolotls are. So, handling axolotls is generally ill-advised and should be avoided. If you have to move your axolotl from or into its tank, it’s best to use a fine mesh net. This will make the move smooth, easy, and safe – especially as long as the mesh is fine enough so that the axolotl’s limbs can’t get caught up in it.
Is it ok to have more than one axolotl in the same tank?
When we say that axolotls aren’t social, that doesn’t mean that you can’t look after more than one in the same tank. In fact, it’s common for people to have two of these reptiles in an aquarium. However, there are a few things to consider when housing more than one axolotl, aside from the size of the aquarium which we’ll touch on below.
Crucially, you should note that axolotls can actually be cannibalistic toward other salamanders and fellow axolotls. This is especially common if one of the two axolotls is bigger than the other. So, if you want to house two in the same aquarium, it’s best if they are both of the same age and size. Going with females is also generally recommended.
As for housing an axolotl with other reptiles or fish – that’s generally a No-No. Axolotls are predatory carnivores, after all, so they will attack and eat most other fish and animals if they are small enough. The opposite is also true as there are many pet fish and reptiles that’d try and attack your axolotl if given the chance. Even smaller fish would sometimes try to nib on your axolotl’s limbs if they can.
2. Axolotls have amazing regenerative capabilities
Many reptiles and lizards are known for being able to detach their tails when attacked and then regenerate a new tail later on. Axolotls can do the same and so much more! These adorable Mexican salamanders are even able to regenerate other limbs and even body parts such as their heart and eye tissue!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should bother them too much or get them in situations that would lead to limb damage. The fact that they are able to regenerate a tail or a foot doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. This is another argument against housing your axolotl or another pet – only group two axolotls together if you’re relatively certain they can get along.
3. Get the right axolotl from the right breeder
Axolotls are relatively easy to get from fellow breeders and online although we’ll touch on their legality below. Either way, we’d definitely recommend looking for a captive-bred axolotl rather than a wild-caught one. Axolotls are actually endangered in their natural habitat so getting wild-caught ones will only quicken the demise of this species.
Besides, as is the case with other reptiles and exotic pets – captive-bred axolotls make for better pets. They are better accustomed to living in an aquarium, they are used to artificial lighting, and they don’t mind people around them.
What’s more, a breeder should be able to give you some health information about the axolotl and its parents if it’s a captive-bred pet. This is quite useful if you want a healthy pet even though axolotls generally don’t have too many health issues – more on that below.
4. A good aquarium is the first thing you’ll need to get for your future axolotl
You should get and set up the tank before you’ve gotten your pet or even before you've ordered it delivered. While easy to look after, axolotls do have some pretty specific environment requirements. This means that everything should be set up perfectly before your axolotl enters your home.
So, how big should the axolotl’s aquarium be?
For a single axolotl, a 10-gallon tank is an acceptable minimum. However, we’d still recommend something larger if you want your pet to be happy and comfortable. 20 gallons or more are strongly recommended, especially considering that axolotls leave their excrements in the water they swim in. An adult axolotl can grow up to 12 inches or 30 cm and can weigh as much as 10 ounces or 300 grams. So, if you can go above 20 gallons – that’d be great for your pet.
So, the larger the tank is, the cleaner the water is going to be in between your maintenance. And, if you want to look after more than one axolotl, you should absolutely get a bigger tank. For two axolotls, we’d recommend 30-40 gallons at a minimum.
The tank itself can be a pretty standard glass tank – as long as the glass is strong enough to support the weight of the water in it, you should have little other worries. Naturally, you’d want to add a good filtration system to the tank as you would for other aquarium pets.
In fact, you’d do well to make sure the filtration system is as good as possible – axolotls tend to produce more waste than fish so a better filtration and more frequent filter changes are recommended. That being said, make sure the filter isn’t too strong as powerful water currents can stress out your axolotl.
As for the contents of the aquarium – it can be completely full of water as axolotls are purely aquatic and don’t ever need to go out on dry land. That doesn’t mean that axolotls don’t sometimes try to leave the water, however, so a mesh should be securely placed over the tank – this will prevent the reptile from jumping out.
Last but not least – the tank’s interior. This can be kept relatively simple and as per your personal liking. The bottom of the tank shouldn’t be just glass of course but a layer of standard aquarium sand can be more than sufficient. Although, some axolotl owners recommend using larger gravel – larger than the reptile’s head – to prevent the axolotl from accidentally ingesting it.
The rest of the decorations can consist of rocks, branches, and standard freshwater plants. Axolotls do like to swim around, hide in, and play with their environment so, the more plants, rocks, and decorations you put in the tank, the happier your axolotl is going to be.
5. Set up the right lighting, temperature, and water quality
The first thing to note when we talk about lighting is that axolotls don’t like bright lights. So, your axolotl’s aquarium should be placed away from any sources of direct and bright light. This means keeping the aquarium away from any windows and even away from especially bright lamps. This doesn’t mean that the room should always be dark – of course you can turn on the lights in the evening. However, they simply shouldn’t be too bright and shouldn’t be directly next to or above the axolotl’s tank.
With that out of the way, what about any lighting inside the aquarium?
Such lighting really isn’t required – this is another thing that sets up axolotls away from other reptiles. If you categorically want to add some decorative lighting to the tank, make sure that it’s dim and not too bright.
In fact, it’s smart to do the opposite of adding lights – give your axolotl plenty of places to hide in shade. That’s the decoration we talked about above – plants, rocks, and other places the axolotl can hide in. You can add some especially good hiding places such as decorative caves and underwater “sandcastles” or something as simple as a flower pot with a hole in it.
This affinity for shade and dark places is especially true for young axolotls who are especially shy. As they grow up, they tend to loosen up and become more accustomed to their environment.
What about the water’s temperature?
This is very key too as axolotls don’t tolerate high or even moderate temperatures the way other pet reptiles do. For an axolotl, the ideal water temperature range is 57 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 14 to 20 degrees Celsius. Anything above 75o F or 24o C can be outright deadly for the axolotl so it’s safe to just stay below 70o F / 21o C at all times.
So, the axolotl needs freshwater?
Yes, and that’s relatively easy to manage. You can actually fill your axolotl’s aquarium with tap water as long as it’s treated with an aquarium water conditioner which removes the chlorine and chloramines from the water.
Do not use distilled water, however, and make sure the water’s pH is always between 6.5 and 7.5. To make sure everything is in order, you can use a water test kit which should be available in your local pet store. Here’s a good video explaining how these work.
6. Look up if axolotls are legal where you live
As awesome as they are, axolotls aren’t actually legal as pets in every country or in every US state. So, if you want such a pet you should make sure it’s ok to have it where you live. For reference, as of the writing of this text, axolotls aren’t legal in California, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maine. However, these things are subject to change so you should always check which exotic pets are legal in your country/state and which aren’t.
A big reason why axolotls are illegal to import in many places is that they are actually an endangered species. That’s why we always recommend getting such a pet from a breeder and not wild-caught axolotls – you don’t want to contribute to the extinction of this wonderful species. That’s why there are also states and countries where it’s legal to own axolotls but illegal to import them from out of state/country.
7. Pick the right food
Fortunately, feeding an axolotl is actually pretty easy. These salamanders are carnivores but they can easily be fed with bait worms which you can get from any fishing supply store. Bloodworm cubes can also work and a nice treat for your axolotl would be a frozen shrimp. Even something such as a ball of raw hamburger meat can be both a healthy and pleasant treat for your Mexican salamander.
What is the axolotl’s natural diet?
In the wild, these reptiles eat snails, small fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. Mollusks and insect larvae are also a frequent target of axolotls. However, they are adaptable enough so that you don’t need to bother with that strict of a diet. Other alternatives you can go with include tubifex worms, earthworms, strips of beef and liver, commercial fish pellets, and frozen fish foods. And, as long as the meat quality is good, you won’t even need to bother with any vitamin and mineral supplements.
Two or three feedings per week are usually enough for an adult, although you should consult with your vet. Younger reptiles can need more regular feedings, depending on their age and health. Regardless, it’s best to feed your axolotl after dusk when these reptiles are more active. Make sure to drop the food near the reptile or at a regularly used corner of the aquarium. If your axolotl isn’t interested in the food – remove it to keep the aquarium clean and try again later.
8. Keep your axolotl healthy
Axolotls may have some incredible regenerative powers but that doesn’t mean that they are immune to health problems. Viral and bacterial infections are a common problem if you haven’t kept your axolotl’s tank clean enough, for example. Another noteworthy problem is ammonia buildup which can be toxic.
If your axolotl has ingested the small gravel or sand at the bottom of the tank you should look out for gastrointestinal obstructions. These are characterized by sluggishness and a lack of appetite.
Also, keep in mind that the axolotl is a very gentle animal and can suffer from physical injuries. Always be careful when handling your axolotl if you want it to remain healthy and happy. Here’s a good video guide on what to do if your axolotl is sick. If you take good care of your axolotl, you can expect it to live up to 15 years.
9. Tank maintenance is key
We touched on the basics above but tank maintenance is the most crucial part of making sure your axolotl is healthy and happy. Good and frequent filtration is vital if you want your axolotl to not develop any infections but the filtration system shouldn’t be too strong either. A lot of times – especially after feeding – you’d do well to clean the water manually by removing large chunks of leftover food.
If your axolotl hasn’t eaten its skin after shedding – you should remove that too. It’s not unhealthy for the axolotl to eat its skin in any way – it’s normal – however, if it doesn’t, the skin should be treated like any other waste and be removed.
As you can see, axolotl pets are much easier to look after than you may have anticipated. A lot of wanna-be exotic pet owners ignore the axolotl because it just looks too weird and unmanageable but this pet is actually very easy to look after. As for its strange look – that’s a huge benefit as far as we’re concerned!