Keeping and Caring for Axolotls as Pets: The Ultimate Guide

Axolotl in an aquarium

Unlike their salamander cousins, axolotls spend their entire lives living underwater. Hence, a different approach is needed in keeping and taking care of them.

The good thing is, they are not demanding to maintain, and they are relatively easy to raise!

If you are planning to buy an axolotl or the Mexican walking fish as alternatively known, I advise that you read this guide entirely.

I will be covering topics that are essential in keeping and maintaining axolotls as pets which will greatly help you in your pet-owning journey.

Can Axolotls Be Pets? Is It Legal to Own a Pet Axolotl?

Adorable axolotl is exotic aquarium pet

Before buying an axolotl, the first thing that you should do is to find out whether owning one is permitted in your community or region. 

The majority of the territories in the United States allow the acquisition of axolotls as pets.

However, the states of California, Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia prohibit their citizens from owning an axolotl for environmental safety reasons.

The prohibition of owning axolotls as pets in the said states mainly roots in the fact that the status of these exotic animals is now considered extinct in the wild. Hence, they should not be taken for pet trade.

On another note, some states do not also allow keeping axolotls to protect the natural ecosystem in their region.

Axolotls that are released, accidentally or not, in a foreign ecosystem might become invasive and disturb the natural biodiversity.

The authorities also want to prevent the crossbreeding of axolotls with the native salamanders. 

Meanwhile, since axolotls are native in Lake Xochimilco, located in the southern area of Mexico City, the state allows the breeding and raising of axolotls as long as they are not imported from other states.

This means that if you do not live in the states mentioned above, you should be able to own and acquire axolotls as pets without a problem.

Nevertheless, you should still call the authorities in your community just to double-check.

If you want to learn more about why axolotls are endangered, watch this video:

Named for an Aztec God, This Species Is Critically Endangered | National Geographic

Axolotl Behavior and Temperament: Are Axolotls Good Pets?

Axolotls are indeed good pets. They are low maintenance and easy to take care of. On top of all that, they are also completely harmless to humans.

The only downside of owning these adorable animals is that you cannot pet and handle them no matter how much you want to. They need to stay on the water for their entire lifetime.

You can still enjoy watching your axolotl calmly float and swim around the aquarium, though.

They are gentle creatures but they can also be snappy, especially during snack time. They snap off their food easily in a darting manner. 

Since axolotls are not social animals, they won’t need companions as they spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank.

In fact, it is not advisable to put other aquatic animals together with axolotls especially fishes that are too small or too big.

They might look pure and innocent, but they tend to nibble and swallow smaller animals that go near to them. Now that’s not cute, isn’t it?

Placing big types of fish in the axolotl tank is also not a good thing. Larger aquatic pets might bite off and eat the soft gills and limbs of axolotls. But how about with another axolotl?

Putting two or three axolotls in a single spacious tank would be okay as long as they have the same size. Adult axolotls tend to bully the juveniles.

On some occasions, the poor young axolotls even become food for the bigger ones.

Keeping and Caring Your Axolotl

Pet axolotl in a tank

Axolotl care is pretty simple and low cost compared to other pets. You just need to provide a safe and comfy habitat and be mindful of the axolotl’s care requirements such as food and clean water conditions.

To make it even easier for you, I’ll elaborate on the things and items you need to acquire and prepare in order to maintain your axolotl. 

Caging/Housing

The first thing you need to acquire and prepare before even buying an axolotl is housing or an aquarium. As much as possible, the housing of your axolotl should be spacious, and it should resemble a natural environment. 

Here are some of the items that you can use in preparing the artificial habitat of your axolotl: 

Aquarium Tank

Your axolotl aquarium must have enough space for your pet to swim and roam around freely.

In purchasing the axolotl tank, you should also take into consideration the space intended for their hiding spot and aquarium plants.

Axolotls love to stay at the bottom of the tank, so these things are essential. A 20-gallon fish tank would provide the ample amount of space needed for them.

Expert breeders say that you may have a maximum of two axolotls in a single tank.

However, you should be careful and watchful about their behavior as they might resort to cannibalism when they are hungry or bored.

The aquarium should also have a secured lid to prevent the axolotl from jumping off the tank — although this rarely happens. The lid would also prevent foreign objects and materials from entering the aquarium. 

Substrate

A substrate is a material that is placed on the bottom part of the aquarium. It can be rocks, pebbles, or sand. However, only rocks larger than the head of the axolotl and sand are advisable to be used on an axolotl aquarium. 

Axolotls tend to swallow anything that can fit their mouth. Hence, you should not place pebbles and gravel as substrates, or else your axolotls could suffer impaction or blockage on the digestive tract.

The perfect substrate for axolotls is sand. This kind of substrate provides a natural environment feeling, and axolotls love digging on it.

Impaction would not be a problem since axolotls can easily discharge the sand they ingested through fecal waste. 

Hide and Accessories

To give your axolotl a private space, you should add hiding places in the aquarium. This can be a cave-like structure or a mini house.

Aquatic plants (artificial or real) such as java moss, anubias, and hornworts can also provide a natural ambiance and hide your axolotl.

The primary considerations that should be taken in preparing the aquarium for your axolotl should be comfortability and safety.

The tank should be spacious enough and every item placed in it should be harmless for your axolotl.

Lighting and Temperature

Axolotls do not require special lighting since they are used to the low-lighting in their natural environment.

You will only need to add this to your axolotl aquarium if you have real plants that require light. 

If you want to add lighting to your aquarium for aesthetics, make sure that it is on a low level to avoid causing distress to your axolotl.

You should also provide shady places or caves where your axolotl can have privacy or hide from the light.

The perfect water temperature range for axolotl is from 16 to 18 degrees Celsius.

You should never allow the water to reach or exceed 24 degrees Celsius as it can fatally harm your axolotl. Subsequently, water that is too cold can cause distress to your lovely pet. 

You can purchase an automatic water cooler from the aquarium stores to keep the optimal water temperature in the tank stable. 

Water Parameters

For the water in the aquarium, you can use tap water as long as you treat it with an aquarium water conditioner.

Treating the water means removing and neutralizing the chemicals in it such as chlorine and chloramines. This can be done using water conditioners called dechlorinator. 

The acidity and basicity of the water (pH level) should also be tested. The ideal pH level of water for axolotls is between 7.4 and 7.6.

However, pH levels between 6.5 and 8.0 should still be fine. Water testers can be easily bought online for only a few bucks.

You should also buy a filtration system to keep the water quality in the aquarium safe and clean. If you have a water filter, you will need to change the water less frequently.

It is advisable to change 20% of the water only once every week if you have this item. If you don’t have a filtration system, you might need to change 20% of the water every other day. 

You should never do a full water change as it can cause stress to your axolotl. These cute pets are easily stressed when their environment changes abruptly so maintaining the standard water quality is a must. 

Feeding

Axolotls do love meat! Their diet is composed mainly of worms, insects, a variety of brine shrimp, and small fish. They will also enjoy bits of chicken or pork meat!

Nonetheless, the most common snacks given for these carnivorous amphibians are worms.

These can be the commercially available earthworms, blackworms, bloodworms, and mealworms. They can be given live or frozen. 

Juvenile axolotls eat more frequently than adult ones. Typically, fully grown axolotls will only eat twice a week. A single large earthworm will also be enough to make them full for two to three days. 

Just a word of advice. You should never feed your axolotls worms or fish that you have personally caught as they might have parasites in their body.

You can easily buy frozen and live worm packs from pet stores or trusted sellers online. 

Axolotl Lifespan: How Long Do Axolotls Live as Pets?

Black colored axolotl in an aquarium

Axolotls have quite long lives. Would you believe that these cute small walking salamanders have life expectancies ranging from 10 to 15 years? Nevertheless, most axolotls held in captivity only live for 10 years. 

With proper care and maintenance, some reports say that there are pet axolotls that reach 20 years old.

Meanwhile, wild axolotls tend to live shorter than pet axolotls. They only live for 5 to 6 years because of predation and climatic factors. 

Axolotl Common Health Problems: Do Axolotls Carry Diseases?

Axolotls are famous because of their regenerative ability. However, this unique ability does not make them immortal.

Just like other pets, axolotls suffer from common diseases that arise from unsanitary habitats, improper keeping and handling, and unhealthy diets.

They need to be brought to the veterinarian if this happens, which is super inconvenient.

Here are the common health problems that axolotls may suffer from:

Stress

If your axolotl hasn’t eaten anything for more than a week, it might be suffering from stress. Axolotls that are stressed lose their appetite. Their regular eating habits are also disrupted. 

The primary causes of stress are abrupt changes in the environment.

Axolotls become distressed when the temperature of the water changes, the lighting is too bright, unclean habitat, or the plants and rocks are removed.

Some also get stressed when they are bullied by their tank mates.

Injuries and Amputations

The soft and sensitive body of axolotls can easily get damaged or injured.

Their limbs can get amputated when they fight with their tank mates or when they hit sharp objects.

Luckily, they can regenerate a part of their body that is damaged or cut off.

Usually, it takes 40 days for an axolotl to regenerate amputated body parts. During the healing process, make sure to isolate the injured axolotl from its tank mates to avoid further injuries.

Fungal Infection

Fungal infection is pretty common for axolotls. They acquire this infection when the water temperature in the aquarium is too warm or when the water is dirty. 

One of the most common axolotl fungal infections is called Mycosis. The fungus responsible for this infection creates a cotton-like material that sticks on the gills and skin of axolotls.

Fortunately, this infection can be easily treated with a salt bath.

Impaction

As mentioned earlier, axolotls tend to swallow anything that can fit in their mouth, including rocks and pebbles.

Impaction happens when an ingested material is too large for the stomach to release through fecal waste or vomiting; hence, blocking the digestive tract. 

This condition can be fatal if left unattended. The assistance of a veterinarian is very much needed in treating this condition.

For severe cases of impaction, surgery might even be required. 

Axolotl Prices and Expenses: How Much Does an Axolotl Cost?

Axolotl hiding under rock

The prices of axolotls vary depending on the type and rarity of the color or morph.

The costs of axolotls with common and uncommon morphs range between $40 and $100. Meanwhile, unique axolotls that have rare coloration are priced around $200 to $1,500

Currently, there are 15 commercially available morphs of axolotls. Each of which is priced differently.

You can check out our axolotl price guide for the detailed price and cost discussion for each type of axolotl.

Upon buying an axolotl, you should also anticipate cashing out a few hundred bucks for the initial expenses.

The Mexican walking fish starter items include aquarium/tank, substrate, food, accessories, filtering system, dechlorinator, water tester, and water cooler.

These supplies will likely set you back around $200 to $400.

RELATED: How Much Does an Axolotl Cost? Breakdown of Expenses

Purchasing Your Axolotl: Places to Find Axolotls for Sale

If you think you are now ready to have your very own Mexican walking fish, you should check out these axolotl breeders that offer and sell various morphs! 

  • Northern Axolotls – Some of the morphs sold by this breeder are gold, leucistic, coppers, wild-type, green, and melanoides. The breeder has been rearing axolotls for more than 30 years already and offers a pet shipping service with a live arrival guarantee policy. 
  • Gilly Water Aquatics – Gilly Water Aquatics is an axolotl breeder based in New Hampshire. They also offer various axolotls types such as melanoides, albino, leucistic, and gold. They only ship in states where owning an axolotl is legal. 
  • Fantaxies – You can have your very own axolotl from Fantaxies for $60 to $200. This breeder assures that their axolotls are raised in a clean and stress-free environment. Their axolotl cages are spacious, filtered, and equipped with plants and hides where the axolotls can rest.
  • Ivy’s Axolotls – This axolotl breeder not only ships their axolotls to their customers but also helps in working on the permits needed. They have a wide selection of axolotls with prices ranging from $65 to $300. 

All of the mentioned axolotl breeders offer live arrival guarantees which means they will replace or refund the cost if ever the ordered axolotl died on arrival.

Nevertheless, you should still read their official guarantee statements as they might have added specific conditions and requirements for the guarantee to be effective.

12 Frequently Asked Questions About Axolotls as Pets

Axolotl walking in the tank

Here are some of the questions about axolotls that many people are curious about:

Do Axolotls Like to Be Touched?

Axolotls do not show affection, unlike other pets. Hence, it is hard to say if they like being touched or not.

However, one thing is for sure, children and adults should not touch or pet axolotls. 

These cute exotic animals have delicate and sensitive bodies. They have cartilage skeletal systems which are not as hard as bones.

This is why their limbs and appendages can easily get injured and amputated. You might cause harm to your axolotl if you do not handle them properly.

Can Axolotls Live With Fish?

Expert breeders and axolotl fanciers do not advise putting axolotls and fishes together. Big fishes might bully the axolotls. Meanwhile, smaller fishes might become delicious snacks for your pet axolotls. 

Despite this, some breeders are successful in keeping axolotls with other fishes.

Some of these aquatic animals that can potentially live with axolotls include guppy fish and white cloud mountain minnows.

Since both fishes do not have sharp spines, the axolotl would be just fine eating them. 

How Long Do Axolotls Sleep?

There is no clear-cut answer about the axolotl’s length of sleep. But on a rough estimate, axolotls spend several hours sleeping during the darkest hour of the night and mid-day.

An interesting fact about axolotls is that they sleep with open eyes since they don’t have eyelids. 

Do Axolotl Bites Hurt?

For humans, axolotl bites are completely harmless and painless. If you are bitten by your axolotl, you might feel like sandpaper is softly rubbed against your finger.

They do have teeth but it is not really intended for biting but rather for grabbing their food so they can swallow it. 

Do Axolotls Like Humans?

Axolotls are not like dogs and cats that can easily show their bond towards their pet owners.

However, on some occasions, axolotls are more active when their owner is around. They might wiggle and swim livelier when they see their humans. 

How Do I Know If My Axolotl Is Happy?

In general, a happy axolotl is energetic and active. It moves freely in the tank with no signs of tension or stress.

It also eats regularly and properly. There should also be no signs of infections or common health issues.

Watch this cute little fella happily move around and yawn:

Axolotls Have The Cutest Yawns | The Dodo

Are Axolotls Smart?

If what you mean by smart is being able to recognize their surroundings, then yes, axolotls are smart.

These cute critters can recognize their owners, other organisms, and shapes in their surroundings. 

Can You House Two Axolotls Together?

Yes, you can have two axolotls together but it is not recommended. Axolotls tend to bully each other, especially if their tank mates are smaller.

When axolotls reach their adult form, they might even commit cannibalistic behavior towards the juveniles. 

Why Do People Put Axolotls in the Fridge?

This might sound crazy but fridging or putting an axolotl on a fridge is a kind of treatment.

When axolotls become sick due to heat stress, they are placed inside the fridge with temperatures ranging from 6 to 8 degrees Celsius to slow down their metabolism and cool down their temperature. 

Do Axolotls Need Air?

Axolotls do need oxygen. However, they do not breathe the same way land salamanders and humans do. Axolotls are like fish.

They breathe through their gills. Hence, they cannot live outside their aquatic environment. 

Do Axolotls Die Easily?

Although axolotls have long lifespans, they can easily die when not kept well and maintained properly.

They have sensitive and delicate bodies which could easily get injured. They also get easily stressed with abrupt changes in their environment. 

Do Axolotls Eat Their Eggs and Babies?

Unfortunately, axolotls do eat their eggs and babies. This is why you should separate the eggs from the adult axolotls as soon as egg hatching is finished.

The juveniles should also be kept in a separate tank unless you want them to be snacks for the adult axolotls. 

Similar Species to the Axolotl

Axolotls are closely related to salamanders; the genus includes tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) and Ambystoma mexicanum.

They belong to the same order as Caudata. If you also want to own animals that are closely akin to axolotls, salamanders and newts are the best options you have. 

Here are some of the species similar to axolotl that you can own as pets:

  • Tiger Salamander
  • Fire-Belly Newt
  • Eastern Newt
  • Kaiseri Salamander
  • Crested Newt
  • Gallaica Salamander

Before buying any of these animals, you should know that these are not your normal animal pets.

Just like axolotls, they are “no-touch” pets, as some of them have toxic self-defense mechanisms. 

Final Thoughts: Is an Axolotl the Right Pet for You?

Axolotls are not only unique and adorable pets but also easy to take care of. They are low maintenance and can be easily satisfied with just a thick roundworm. 

They also have relatively lower prices than other pet animals. On top of that, they have an amazing ability to regenerate their body parts such as their limbs and gills.

So unless you think you are not capable of taking responsibility for a living creature, I see no reason for you not to own an axolotl.

John Carter

My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially cats and dogs. I've got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.

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