Archives for Reptiles

May is National Allergy Month

Terrific Allergy Free Exotic Pets

Achoo! What to do? You want a pet, but you’re allergic. So, what can you do? Get an exotic pet, of course! If you’re allergic, don’t despair. There are still terrific pets available that are allergy friendly. Here are just a few:

1. Reptiles:

If you’re allergic to fur and feathers, you can always resort to scales. Snakes, turtles, tortoises, and lizards of all kinds – all of these pets are non-allergenic but still offer a great deal of fun. Large and small, legged (lizards, turtles, tortoises) or legless (snakes), nocturnal or diurnal (active at night vs. during the day), carnivores or herbivores (meat vs. vegetable eaters), there are so many factors to consider if you’re planning on a reptile. With vibrant colors and varying body types, reptiles are fascinating to look at. What if you want a pet that’s responsive to you? Reptiles are still a great choice. As any reptile owner would tell you, reptiles know their owners – they respond to both their voices and their sight. They are responsive to handling and definitely appear more relaxed in their owners’ hands than in those of a stranger. When cared for properly, with the correct nutrition and environment, many reptiles can live very long lives (some turtles and tortoises can live more than 50 years!). So no need to worry if you’re allergic; there’s a reptile out there that’s just right for you.

2. Birds:

Many people who are allergic to fur are not necessarily allergic to feathers. Note, however, that some species (African gray parrots, cockatoos, and cockatiels) have a powdery white substance (powder down) on their beaks and feathers that can be allergenic to some people. But, if you don’t find yourself sneezing around birds as you do when you encounter a furry creature, then a bird might be right for you. Just as there are a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors of reptiles, the same is true for birds. You can choose from small birds that can entertain you with their singing (i.e. canaries) to large birds that can amuse you with their talking (African gray parrots and Amazon parrots). Some birds are known to be cuddly (cockatoos) while others are notorious for clowning around (caiques). Smaller birds (finches, canaries, budgerigars) are generally short-lived, while larger birds (African gray parrots, Amazons, macaws) may live for decades. Whatever bird species you choose, you can be sure that with a bird in your house, you’ll never be bored.

3. Hairless Guinea Pigs:

While not completely hair-free, the hairless guinea pig certainly is much less allergy-inducing than its hairy counterpart. While some people think these little wrinkly rodents are funny looking, they are actually very cute. Guinea pigs make great pets with or without fur, so if you’re not horribly allergic and can stand being exposed to a peach fuzz amount of hair, a guinea pig may be right for you. Hairless guinea pigs are friendly, very responsive, and generally love being with their owners. Other than not needing to be brushed and needing to keep them out of the sun so that they don’t burn, hairless pigs can be cared for the same way that haired pigs are. A heaping portion of hay, a small amount of vegetables, fresh water, and a daily vitamin C supplement, plus lots of attention, and you can keep a guinea pig happy and healthy. Guinea pigs are hardy and affectionate. Unbeknownst to many people, they purr and coo when they’re happy. They can make wonderful companions for nearly any family.

4. Hairless Rats:

Similar to their larger cousins, the hairless guinea pigs, hairless rats have a few sparse patches of fuzzy fur but are, for the most part, hair-free. These little hairless wonders are generally great pets for anyone with an allergy to the dander from saliva that hangs out on long hair, causing people to sneeze. They are as smart as and as endearing as furred rats and make great pets for people who want a low maintenance, short-lived pet. Living on average 2-3 years, hairless rats, like their haired counterparts, love to hang out on their owners’ shoulders, play games, watch TV, and run through mazes and tunnels. They bury, dig, and hide things and will keep their owners endlessly amused. They bond closely to their owners and often to other rats and are excellent for people looking for small, easily cared-for pets.

5. Amphibians:

Not the first type of animals on most people’s lists for pets, frogs and toads can make great pets if you’re more interested in watching than in handling. Like reptiles, amphibians lack any allergy-inducing fur and instead have a thin, delicate skin covering their bodies. From the smallest fire-bellied toads to the largest Pac-man frogs, amphibians come in all sizes and colors and are simply phenomenal to look at. With their large eyes, necks that bulge in and out as they breathe, and shiny, glistening skin, amphibians are great for people that like to study and appreciate the natural behavior of animals. Some are active during the day and others at night. In general, amphibians are not meant to be handled for fear of damaging their sensitive skin or transmitting infectious bacteria to them from our hands. Some also secrete toxins from their skin that can be irritating or poisonous if absorbed by human skin. Many eat insects and require very specific tank set-ups to be healthy. So, if you’re allergic, and you’re the type that enjoys watching nature shows on TV but would prefer seeing the real thing up close, an amphibian may be just the pet for you.

As you can see from this short list of animals, there are many pet options for people with allergies to fur. It’s not the hair that makes the pet, it’s the personality. Besides, as many people say today, bald is beautiful, not just for people, but for pets, as well!

More great reptiles!

I went over some common reptiles that make great pets. This week, I’d like to continue that discussion in part two of my reptile blog. Below are two more great options for anyone looking to add a reptile to their family.

1. Red eared slider turtle –  These are hardy turtles that spend some time swimming and some time basking out of water on rocks and logs. They live in aquariums containing water at least 1.5-2 times as deep as their body length. Water should not reach too close to the tank top, or the turtle may escape. Sliders must be moved to bigger tanks as they grow. Water in the tank should be heated with submersible heaters to 75-85°F and should be kept clean with an automatic filter in addition to weekly changes of 25-50% of the total water. Sliders also need an out-of-water basking spot that is heated with an over-the-tank heat light to 85-90°F. In addition, like many other reptiles, sliders should be exposed to UV-B light to enable them to properly absorb calcium from their food. While sliders eat both vegetables and animal protein, younger sliders require more animal protein, while adults eat more vegetables. Young turtles should be fed daily, while adults can eat every other day. Several good commercial pelleted diets are available for sliders, in addition to dark leafy greens such as collard, mustard, and dandelion greens, plus carrots, squash, green beans and limited amounts of fruit such as apple, melon, and berries. Occasional live feeder fish and worms can be offered occasionally to stimulate sliders’ predatory instincts. Raw or frozen meat, as well as cat and dog chow, should be avoided. A balanced vitamin supplement also should be fed a couple of times a week. When fed and housed properly, pet sliders can live 50 or more years.

2. Greek  tortoise – These gold to olive-colored tortoises tend to remain smaller (6-8” long) than other species of tortoise and therefore may be more manageable as pets. They are housed in glass aquariums or large plastic bins that must be increased in size as the animals grow. Shredded paper in which they can burrow and dig works well as bedding. Large flat rocks on which to climb, a cardboard or plastic box in which to hide, and a shallow bowl of water from which to drink and soak, should also be provided. Heat is essential for tortoises; the basking area should be kept at about 95°F, while the cool zone in the tank should not fall below about 75-80°F.  Overall night time tank temperatures should not be lower than 75°F. Exposure to UV-B light is key for proper calcium absorption from food and for proper bone development. If kept in a safe enclosure, these tortoises benefit from direct outdoor sunlight during warm months or in warm climates. These tortoises are herbivores that should be fed a variety of leafy greens including kale, dandelion greens, collards, parsley, clover, and endive, plus hay and a very limited amount of fruit including berries and apples. Vegetables should be dusted with calcium powder 2-3 times per week. Cat and dog food has too much protein and should not be fed to these tortoises. Greek tortoises can make great pets for families and can live 50 years or more when cared for properly.

Remember, if you’re considering a reptile as a pet, whichever one you choose, remember always to wash your hands after handling them, as all reptiles, in general, carry Salmonella bacteria plus other bacteria and parasites that may be transmittable to people. Also, supervise all small children when they handle these pets, as the quick movements of young children can startle and scare these animals. Finally, once you get your new reptile family member, be sure to visit a reptile-savvy vet to have him/her checked and to make sure you’re caring for him/her properly. Remember, many reptiles are so long-lived that if you take care of them right, they may outlive you!

Slithery, scaly, shiny creatures – what are they? Reptiles, of course!

Some people love them. Others fear them. Regardless, most of us would agree that they are at least very interesting to look at. Reptiles: they can make fascinating pets if you are a reptile fan. Whether they hop, climb, or crawl, have legs or not, there’s a reptile for everyone who is intrigued by these animals. With so many reptiles from which to choose, if you’re considering a reptile as a pet, where should you start? Here is part one of my blog on reptiles. Below are 3 different reptiles commonly kept as terrific pets. Stay tuned for part 2 of my blog on why reptiles make great pets, where I will discuss more terrific reptiles.

1. Bearded dragon lizard – These medium-sized (1-2 feet long), yellow/brown/orange to red-colored lizards get their name from their ability to puff up the skin over their throats when they are angry or stressed. They are housed in glass tanks heated with over-the-tank lights so that the temperature in the basking zone should be 90-105°F and in the cool zone in the mid-70s°F. They need a tree branch or log for climbing and full-spectrum lighting with a UV-B/UV-A bulb to help them synthesize vitamin D-3 in their skin so that they can properly absorb calcium from their food. They should be fed crickets, mealworms, pinkie or fuzzy mice (dusted with supplemental calcium powder at least twice a week), plus a variety of chopped vegetables such as collards, kale, mustard greens, yellow squash, zucchini and shredded carrots. They should be sprayed daily with water which they will absorb through their skin and lap up off of their noses. If handled often, captive bearded dragons can be tamed to be quite docile and can live, on average, about 7-10 years.

2. Leopard Gecko lizard – These large geckos (8-9 inches long) get their name from their yellow skin covered with brown stripes initially that fade to spots as they age. They live in heated glass aquariums with rocks on which to climb. Temperatures should range from 90°F in the basking zone to the low 70s°F in the cooler area of the tank. Although they are nocturnal, captive leopard geckos living indoors that are never exposed to direct sunlight fare better when exposed to some UV-A/UV-B rays from an ultraviolet bulb. They should be fed crickets regularly, along with occasional mealworms and wax worms (plus a pinkie mouse, if they are large enough to eat it). To provide better nutrition for the gecko, insects they are offered should be fed a diet containing vitamins (“gut-loaded”) and dusted with calcium powder before being fed to the gecko. Leopard geckos need a shallow water dish in which to soak and should be provided with a hide box containing moss or vermiculite that can be misted to provide a high enough humidity to allow normal shedding of skin. These gentle lizards live 8-10 years, on average, in captivity and make great pets for families.

3. Ball python snake –  These snakes get their name because they curl themselves up into tight balls when they are nervous, with their heads pulled into the center. They are curious, gentle snakes that generally grow to 4-5 feet long. In the wild, they eat amphibians, other snakes, birds, and small mammals and do not typically eat the mice that fed to captive pythons. Thus, many ball pythons can be picky eaters that resist eating for weeks to months, at times. They can be housed initially in 10-20 gallon glass tanks with tightly fitting screen lids to prevent escape and with branches on which to climb. Shredded paper products are best used for bedding. They need a log or upside-down cardboard box in which to hide. Tanks must be heated to provide a 90°F basking zone, an 80-85°F cooler zone, and a 70-75°F overall temperature at night. While ball pythons are nocturnal, many captive ball pythons are healthier when exposed daily to full-spectrum light. They must have a shallow bowl of water in which to soak and should be sprayed daily so that tank humidity is 60-70% to shed properly. Ball pythons should be fed only pre-killed rodents (never live, or they may be bitten by their prey). Young snakes may be fed fuzzy mice, and adults may eat full-grown mice or small rats. Ball pythons may be tamed by frequent handling but should not be touched just after eating or in the middle of a shed, as these are times when snakes may be cranky. If maintained properly, ball pythons can make great pets that can live 20-30 years. If you’re considering a reptile as a pet, whichever one you choose, remember always to wash your hands after handling them, as all reptiles, in general, carry Salmonella bacteria plus other bacteria and parasites that may be transmittable to people. Also, supervise all small children when they handle these pets, as the quick movements of young children can startle and scare these animals. Finally, once you get your new reptile family member, be sure to visit a reptile-savvy vet to have him/her checked and to make sure you’re caring for him/her properly. Remember, many reptiles are so long-lived that if you take care of them right, they may outlive you!