Winter 2012 Magazine

Advice For Purchasing, and Caring For, Exotic Pets

By Kerry FitzPatrick, DVM ABQ PetCare

Reptiles can make excellent pets, but inexperienced owners need to ask for advice on keeping them healthy. Often times new owners think an exotic pet will be less expensive to keep than a dog or cat but this is not always true. They require special environments, foods and medical care. Unmet expectations and poor advice can result in a bad experience for owner and death for the pet!

Some reptiles are a good choice for beginners or busy owners and require less stringent attention to food and environment. Following are a few suggestions:

Bearded Dragons:
Bearded Dragons are social, easily tamed and quite fun to handle and watch. They are native to the Australian desert, grow readily and require a 40 gallon or larger tank for an environment. "Beardies" are brown/tan in coloration but can have other color variations. They require a diet of greens, fruit and insects that are balanced to prevent vitamin and calcium deficiency. (Crickets are not balanced food.)

Since most Bearded Dragons are native to the arid, rocky areas of Australia (today all are captive bred) owners need to keep them in a relatively warm environment and expose them to UVA and UVB light bulbs inside. Beardies need environmental enrichment and I recommend a non-organic bedding. Spines line Bearded Dragon throats. The spines are usually flat unless a dragon feels threatened and then spines stand up to make the dragon look more intimidating to predators. However we rarely see this in our office and these dragons are mostly docile. They are noted also for a neat greeting behavior where they wave with a font leg when happy. These fun guys usually live around ten years when cared for properly.

Corn Snakes
Corn snakes are beautiful, docile and easy to care for if you are looking to try out a snake as a pet. These snakes can live over ten years, reach anywhere between 3 and 5 feet in length and are very active (escape specialists). A solid 20 gallon cage is a fit for most and must have a secure top that can be snugly secured.

A variety of materials can be used for bedding but my preference is indoor/outdoor Astroturf. Owners can cut two pieces to fit and wash one while using one. This provides a bacterial static surface that is easy to clean frequently in a washer. Sand, soil, corncob, pine shavings and cedar shavings are not good choices.

A corn snake needs a hiding spot in its cage and any closed in container works as long as it is not too big. Ideally a hiding spot should be in a cooler part of the cage and one in the warmer part (a temperature gradient is important is snake husbandry). Temperatures from 70 - 85 degrees are appropriate. Under tank heating should be provided under of the cage and an accurate thermometer is necessary to keep a check on the heat (corn snakes are from a temperate climate, unlike Boas and Pythons, so corn snakes don't need tropical temperatures). Snakes need to climb as well, so we recommend an upright branch be placed in the cage. Water should be provided in a heavy dish and this should be cleaned daily to prevent bacterial overgrowth (some snakes defecate in the water). Corn snakes do not need special lighting. Feed corn snakes small mice when a snake is young and large snakes eat rats, Growing snakes should be fed twice a week and larger adults every 7-10 days.

When purchasing a scaled pet, it's crucial to buy your pet from a reputable pet store that has a knowledgeable person to help you. Then, make sure to bring your new pet to a vet to make sure it is healthy, and learn more about proper care. At ABQ PetCare, we see newly purchased exotic pets that are sold from pet stores who are sick and through no fault of the owner, die. (Subterranean Jungle is one of Albuquerque's reputable exotic pet stores). During your visit we will advise you on proper diet, housing and medical care for your new friend!

Dr. Kerry FitzPatrick is a veterinarian at ABQ PetCare in Albuquerque. Dr. Kerry's special interests in veterinary medicine include dentistry, geriatric care, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery as well as pet behavior issues. She is frequently sought after by the media for her expertise in pet health and veterinary care - appearing regularly on local television segments to discuss timely topics in pet health, and authoring numerous articles in both consumer and trade publications.

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