Any reptile can be a fun and fascinating creature. However, there is A LOT of work that needs to be done to ensure they are being cared for properly and are healthy. As Lindsay earlier in the month, it is very important we take any animal to a veterinarian- not just dogs and cats, exotics too! Here at Oakview, initial reptile visits see are always exciting as we know we are going to be a part of helping our patients lives longer, healthier lives. A lot of your reptile’s health comes from husbandry, which is their environment and how we are taking care of them. The best way to sum up how to care for a reptile is that you want their environment in your home to mimic their environment in the wild. In this week’s blog I will touch base with some most common reptiles and basic husbandry that the doctors would typically discuss with a new reptile parent. It is important to remember that each species of reptile is bit different and has unique requirements.
Diet- many many components!
-Live prey (crickets, mealworms, super worms) dusted with calcium and vitamin supplement
-Salads (dark leafy greens like romaine lettuce, dandelion, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, spinach, and cilantro are just some choices.)
-Vegetables (squash, zucchini, sweet potato, peas, grated carrot)
-Fruits as treats (papaya, melon, banana, raspberries)
Bearded dragons thrive in lower humidity. It is still good to have a small dish of water for them to drink from.
70 degrees F on the cool side and 95 degrees F on the warm side (Nubee temperature gun works best for monitoring your bearded dragon’s temp and making sure it is not too hot or too cool. If you notice them staying on one side (hot or cool) of the enclosure all the time, we need to evaluate out temp in the environment. If he is always on the warm side, you would believe he is cold and vice versa. It would be like me coming to your house in a sweatshirt and hat because your house is cold. We need to be sure they are comfortable!
For lighting, a heat lamp and UVB bulb (changed every 6 months!) is required.
We do not recommend heat rocks or anything warm that will be coming in direct contact with your bearded dragon as this could be potential for thermal burns. They should have a large enough enclosure for climbing, exploring, hiding, and basking areas. Bearded dragons should be kept away from sand substrate or anything else loose that they can potentially swallow and cause a blockage. Caution should be taken with any live plants as we want to be sure they are not toxic to the bearded dragon. Lightening bugs are toxic to bearded dragons and never to be fed! Remember these guys can live up to 10 years in well taken care of!
These guys are strictly herbivores which mean they eat only vegetables. A higher fiber, low protein, low fat grass-based diet is best to stay healthy. Most of their diet is fresh grasses, clover, dandelion, and edible flowers. A small part would be darker leafy greens such as kale or collard greens mixed in with carrots or other vegetables. Vegetables that are rich in protein are not recommended (like beans or peas).
We want to be sure that the enclosure for the tortoise is large enough and tortoise proof. They are escape artists and can burrow under fencing. They should also have a hiding shelter in the enclosure to keep them safe from predators and provide shade if needed.
Tortoises can be on a sandy, soil, peat mixture or even a nice, fresh patch of grass.
If your tortoise is a baby and is going to be indoors with you as he/she grows it is best to have a 20-gallon minimum tank that we can have supplemental heating and lighting on. Recommended temperatures are 75 degrees F on cool side and 95 degrees F under basking light. They will also need a UVB light to help them absorb nutrients from their food.
Tortoises do not hibernate so they will need to come inside during the cold Wisconsin weathers! Much like the bearded dragons they do not need any supplemental humidity as they also like it nice and dry. If you are putting too much moisture in the enclosure diseases like pneumonia can set in quickly so, please be aware! If you decided to get an adorable baby tortoise just remember their life span is almost as long as ours so plan to have them for a very long time!
They feed on primarily live moving insects such as crickets, mealworms, super worms, wax worms, and other live insects. These insects should be gut loaded as well-meaning we feed them calcium rich foods before giving them to the gecko.
They like it around 70 degrees on cools side and 84-88 degrees on warm side.
It is important to provide a moist hide box to help with shedding of the skin. This can be as simple as a Tupperware container with a hold cut in the side that you always keep moist paper towels in.
You should also have a small bowl of calcium supplement for the gecko that they can always have access to in the enclosure. Sand or other loose substrate is controversial as it may cause impactions. Include something that the gecko can rub against while shedding such as a rough stone or bark. Leopard Geckos are a bit different from others because they lack the sticky toe pads that enable other geckos to stick to walls and glass. Also, the animal should never be lifted by the tail as it could fall off if super stressed! If well cared for, they can live at least 10 years if not more!
MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease)
Metabolic Bone Disease is one of the main medical issues of reptiles and can be prevented and/or corrected with proper husbandry and care.
Reptiles that eat primarily insects or plants are at risk for developing metabolic bone disease, which is caused by an imbalance in the levels of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D in their bodies. Therefore, it is so helpful to supplement many reptiles with calcium and vitamins. Most of these supplements come in a powder that you dust on their live prey when feeding.
Things to watch out for if you are concerned are limping/lameness, bowed legs, softening or flexibility of lower jaw, and decreased appetite. If their calcium levels become very low, they can also have twitches, tremors, weakness and seizures.
For example, on a tortoise, if the scales on their shell start to become a pyramid like shape instead on a flatter shell, MBD may be suspected.
Things to look for in healthy reptiles
- Alert Attitude
- Willingness to eat and bask
- Upright posture
- No swelling in toes or tail
- Well filled out belly
- Clean vent
- Steady even growth from hatching
- Eyes clear, mucus free, and bright
- Uniform shell with no excessive pyramiding
- Alert and responsive
- Nostrils open and free of discharge
- Clean vent.
- Alert and responsive attitude
- Bright body colors
- No sign of old skin on toes
- Nice fat tail (this is where many of their nutrients are stored)
Just like a dog or cat we will do a full exam and look at overall health as well as individual parts of the body. Sometimes we also recommend bloodwork such as in bearded dragons to ensure the liver and kidney functions are okay and that we do not have any underlying diseases. Keep in mind that in some of the smaller reptiles it is more difficult to get a blood sample such as a leopard gecko so we may try other diagnostics instead like a radiograph. If you have a newly acquired scaled friend, we do recommend bringing it to your veterinary for a well checkup so we can make sure they are healthy and discuss how to properly care for your reptile.
Fun story to end the day!
“I did have a reptile that was hanging out with dad in the bathroom while he was caulking. The iguana ate caulk! Turns out it hardens INSIDE a reptile just like on our tubs! We took him to surgery and did a tiny enterotomy to remove the 2″ piece of caulk!” – Dr. Scott
Thanks to my own Bearded dragon, Leonard for being so photogenic for my blog!
by Christina Brandes
Christina graduated from Madison Area Technical College. She joined us in 2016. She is our therapy laser technician.
She and her husband David have a son named Kaysen. They also share their home with 2 cats, Moby and Annabelle, and a bearded dragon named Leonard.
In her spare time, Christina enjoys spending time with her family, often camping up north and being outside.