The Paw Report, Episode 906 – Living with Lizards

[music playing]
Kelly: Do you know your reptile? Believe it or not, nearly 5 million US homes
kept more than 9 million reptiles as pets in 2016. Well, caring for these exotic creatures can
be a bit different than your average cat and dog. On this episode of the Paw Report, we’re joined
by Dr. Sarah Reich who treats wildlife and exotic pets at the University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine, the Wildlife Clinic. She’ll share with us some advice for current
or perspective reptile owners. So stay with us. [music playing] Katelyn: Fetchers Pet Supply on the north
side of the Charleston square. Serving the EIU community since 1991. Fetchers welcomes all pets on a leash. Is open seven days a week and offers made
in the USA food. Pets supplies for dogs, cats, reptiles, and
fish. Fetchers Pets Supply in Charleston. Rameen:
The Paw Report on WEIU is supported by Rural King, America’s farm and home store, livestock
feed, farm equipment, pet supplies and more. You can find your store and more information
regarding Rural King at Rob:
Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter of the Paw Report on WEIU. Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk
Smartstrand Silk Forever Clean carpet. Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk
color center in Charleston. Kelly: And thanks for joining us for this
episode of the Paw Report. We are joined by a repeat guest and we are
so glad she is here from the University of Illinois Wildlife Clinic, Dr. Sarah Reich. And she’s brought with her a very special
friend, her little buddy Wesley and we’re going to talk about Wesley and what exactly
he is, coming up. Sarah, thank you for joining us. This time we’re in studio instead of being
at the Wildlife Clinic. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: We do appreciate you inviting our crew
there, last summer. This summer we’re talking about reptiles,
selecting the right reptile for your family, how to keep them healthy. We’re going to get into all of that for the
next half hour. But first, tell our viewers about you and
your position at the Wildlife Clinic. What the clinic does at the U of I and all
that good stuff. Sarah: Sure. Yeah. Well thank you so much for having me. And so, kind of my jobs are one, to help teach
a lot of the veterinary students that are over there, different courses, classes, things
like that. But then also to oversee the medical care
at the Wildlife Clinic. And our Wildlife Clinic is very unique in
that it is basically student run. So we have about 120-ish veterinarian and
undergraduate students who take on the care of our wildlife patients. Everything from intake exams to diagnostic
tests like blood work and x-rays and things like that. Even surgical procedures, these guys get to
take part in. So it’s quite amazing. We see about 2000, around 2000 patients every
year, the majority coming in during the summertime. So we’re quite busy around May to August. And we do actually see tons of reptile species
in our Wildlife Clinic, but then also tons of them are kept as pets. Kelly: What other types of species do you
have in the clinic? Sarah: Yeah, so we have basically, we treat
all native species to Illinois or the Midwest. So we take in birds, mammals and reptiles. Reptile wise, we see mainly turtles or chelonian,
so turtles and tortoises, box turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, all sorts of things
like that. Mammal wise, I mean everything from cottontail
rabbits and squirrels to foxes, coyotes, fawns, deer, things like that. And then birds, everything. So from raptors, so bald eagles, red-tail
hawks, turkey vultures, things like that, to great blue herons and tiny birds like robins
and chickadees and things like that. So really a huge span of every creature that
we could see out there. Kelly: So your passion is probably more the
wildlife side of animals, but you do have a household of animals. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: One of which is Wesley, that you brought
today. Fitting, because our whole episode today is
on reptiles. Sarah: Exactly. Kelly: Tell us about Wesley and his coloring
and what’s his makeup? Sarah: Yeah. So we all wish we could be as camera ready
as Wesley is. So Wesley is a bearded dragon. He’s about three years old. So he’s an adult. He’s about as big as he’s going to get. And he’s a little on the chunky side, I will
give him that. So these guys are probably one of the more
common species you’ll have in the kind of pet situation, exotic pets. Very, very easy to take care of. His species is from Australia, however he
is captive bred, so there’s that. But he’s great. His coloring, you had mentioned before, so
bearded dragons come in a variety of colors, different morphs and things like that. On his good days when he’s nice and warm and
happy, he’s this very brilliant yellow, orange. Right now he’s a little chilly and as you
can see, he’s also a little red on his chin because he ate some raspberries this morning,
which is kind of his go to snack. Kelly: Mm-hmm. You know, interest in reptiles, especially
for pets, is really growing in the United States. Talk about that and why maybe it is gaining
in popularity. Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, we’ve definitely seen an increase
in trend of individuals keeping these pets, sometimes considered exotic pets. Although, and then you think a rabbit, a Guinea
pig, a budgie is an exotic pet so you’re like, “Oh I don’t know if that really fits.” So some individuals will call them nontraditional
species. In our kind of service, usually we call them
zoologic species because really there are things you could have at a zoo as well as
in your homes. And I think individuals are just realizing
that they’re fun to keep. They’re sometimes just as social and as interactive
as dogs and cats. He may not look like it, but he is definitely
a very fun and interactive pet to have. And they can be easy to take care of and long
livid pets too, for sometimes decades if you do it well. And so I think people are very interested
in pursuing those paths and we get to see them all the time, which is good. Kelly: How do you interact with Wesley? I mean obviously you hold him. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: I asked you if you let them run around
your place? And you said, “Yeah. Sometimes I do.” Sarah: Yeah, yeah. Kelly: But I think that might be what viewers
are saying. How do you interact with something like this? Sarah: Yeah, and obviously, I’m not saying
this is for all species, but especially bearded dragons and we’ll probably get into it later,
species that I definitely would recommend. Once you handle them on a regular basis, they
tame down really easily, especially if you get them from babies. And you can take them on leashed walks. You can bring them out and let them sit on
the couch with you when you’re watching TV. We were talking earlier, I have a menagerie
at home. Kelly: You do? Sarah: I have some cats, some dogs, some birds,
and they all interact with each other. But we’ve kind of set that up over the last
few years, so they’re all comfortable with that. But yeah, he comes out of his cage every single
day. He goes on walks outside when it’s warm outside. He can spend some outdoor time in the sun
in the summertime. And he’s very handleable and he takes it very,
very well. Kelly: What types of reptiles, a bearded dragon
would be one, but what types of reptiles would you say are commonly housed as pets these
days? Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, definitely barrier dragons, and I
might be a little biased towards them, they’re the best. Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sarah: But as far as lizards go, people will
keep things like iguanas, which I may or may not suggest. Leopard geckos, chameleons, things like that. People will keep a lot of turtles, so anything
from a tortoise or turtle, they’re both considered chelonians but they’re not the same. So people keep Russian tortoise’s, red footed
tortoises, things like that, as well as aquatic little guys like red eared sliders, painted
turtles. And then you go over to your snake species
and really ball pythons, corn snakes are probably going to be the two main species that you’re
going to be seeing. But with this interest in all of these pets,
you see more and more breeders and more and more species that are kept nowadays, more
so than just the common guys. Kelly: I asked you and it probably showed
my ignorance in reptiles, but I said, “Oh, is the bearded dragon part of the iguana family?” And you’re like, “No, not really. They are different, but they look alike. Sarah: Yeah. No, definitely. So they’re both obviously lizards, so similar
in that degree, basically. So different than your snakes and your turtles,
but they are different species, they’re in different families. Like I said before, bearded dragons are from
Australia. You’re iguanas are found, usually Central,
South America, unless they’re encroaching on Florida and Southern US and all sorts of
things like that. But yeah, similar in that they’re both lizards,
but very different in their habitats and what they like to do and live and all sorts of
things. Kelly: How should I know what to choose? If I’m thinking about bringing a reptile into
my family, how do I know what I should get? Sarah: Yeah, and I think there’s a good and
bad about the internet. So there is a lot of good information out
there. But sometimes it’s hard to distinguish that
from not so good information. And so usually what I tell people when they’re
thinking about choosing a pet, and honestly this is the same for dogs and cats, is I tell
them to reach out to their veterinarian or at least find a veterinarian that’s comfortable
treating these species and asking them. Because they’re going to give you a good representation
of who needs medical care all the time or who is actually easier to house, all sorts
of things. I’d rather individuals be asking those individuals
instead of the people selling them in pet stores or something like that. But they can be great resources for letting
individuals know what is good to keep, what is not, what is easier to keep, what is a
little harder to keep. Maybe where to start versus if you’ve already
worked with a starter or beginner reptile, maybe where to advance from there. Kelly: Speaking of where to start. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: I think, probably the first thing is
homework. Don’t just rush out to some place or get online
and order something. I think you need to start with your homework. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: There’s a lot of things we should go
through. Sarah: Oh, yes. Kelly: First of all is, maybe once you pick
your species, you need to look at habitat. Sarah: Oh yes. Kelly: So let’s start with, you pick your
species and then where you go from there, habitat, food, medical, that sort of thing? Sarah: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. And I can use bearded dragons as kind of our
example if you will. Kelly: Sure. Sarah: But it is extremely important to go
through, excuse me, to go through habitat and housing and all sorts of things with these
guys because truthfully a lot of their issues, why they’re presenting to say, a veterinary
practice, all stems from issues with their husbandry, which is housing, diet enrichment,
all sorts of things. So basically when you get one of these guys,
things to consider are one, what age you’re getting them at? So I got Wesley when he was a baby, so he
was about six, seven inches long. And he is obviously not anymore. And so the sizes, even of just his tank size,
have gone up exponentially during that timeframe. And originally he may have been in a 20 gallon
tank, but now he’s in a 75 gallon tank. And so you have to kind of recognize that
there are costs associated with, kind of a starter cost for these guys. But if they’re going to get much larger than
the size you got them at, you have to think about that. Kelly: You have to grow with them. Sarah: You have to grow with them. Exactly. And that’s actually one of the main reasons
why we may see these guys presenting to a shelter or a rescue group or something like
that is that they have kind of outlived the size of their container or enclosure and individuals
either can’t or won’t increase those opportunities for them. And so they would just surrender them and
it can get quite expensive for some of your larger reptiles. And so, it is something you need to think
about in the beginning when you’re buying them maybe a year or two, three years before
even needing to make those decisions. So yeah. So enclosure is a really big one. Most of our reptiles often do well in things
like tanks and things like that, so something that may look like an aquarium, but some of
our species don’t. Some of our species need open mesh areas,
some of our chameleons and our climbing species. Tortoises and turtles, especially tortoises,
may just need a large open area. They probably won’t do well in a tank but
give them a four by four pen or stick them outside or something like that and they can
do really, really well. So really need to think about the species
you’re working with and kind of where they would live in the wild. How they would live in the wild and trying
to recreate that as best as possible is going to be kind of that first big step. Kelly: What about nutrition, and each species
will be different I understand that. Sarah: Yeah. Yes. Kelly: But we can use Wesley as a starting
point and maybe some other species you can talk about. And some of what they eat may be live in nature
and pet owners may be squeamish. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: Feeding a snake a live animal of sorts. Sarah: Definitely, definitely. And I think people need to definitely recognize
what the ideal diet is for these guys and recognize if you’re able to provide that. Because yeah, if you’re not interested in
providing rodents and we’ll get to that a little bit later, maybe get an herbivore,
maybe get one that’s actually going to be interested in veggies and fruits and things
like that. So bearded dragons are actually a really good
example because when they’re babies, when they’re juveniles, they actually need a higher
protein diet, which usually means insects, sometimes small rodents, things like that. But you’re introducing fruits and veggies
into their lives. But as they get older, that kind of switches
and so they become more herbivorous, so they eat more of a salad, veggies, fruits. And so like I said, this guy has a little
bit raspberry face going on this morning, but he primarily eats fruits and veggies and
he only gets insects and protein sources maybe once a week or once every other week because
that’s kind of what his body needs. And that’s what he would eat in the wild. People don’t recognize that and some of our
bigger problems with these guys is that they’re overfed protein, they’re overfed insects,
mice, especially when they should transition over. Or maybe they’re not even a species that eats
those things on a regular basis and people don’t recognize that they are an herbivore,
which actually happens in our iguana species a lot. And then they can get some problems with that. But as far as snakes go, so true carnivores,
so only eating your rodents and your mammals and things like that. And I think one thing people need to recognize
is that you don’t need to be feeding live, pray. And it’s something that I actually recommend
not doing because it’s not the most humane for the rodent that you’re feeding. It’s not natural just to stick a mouse into
a cage and have the snake have a tiny little space to eat it. And also sometimes those rodents fight back,
especially if that snake isn’t interested at that moment or can’t catch them immediately. Rodents are going to fight back because they’re
a prey species and they’re going to try to defend themselves. And so we generally recommend for those species
that are feeding on a rodent based food to get prefrozen ones basically. And most, if not all snakes, will transition
over to a frozen based diet. And we truly recommend that because once you’ve
seen some of the injuries that a rodent can cause to some of our snakes, you never want
to look back from that. Kelly: Right. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: You need to think about safety too,
not just for your pet, but also for your family when you’re thinking about bringing one in. Sarah: Yeah, yeah. Kelly: You can probably address that too. Sarah: Yeah, definitely. I think that goes to the thought process of
what you’re going to get, kind of thing. So bearded dragons are very tameable once
you’re handling them a lot. A lot of your snake species, ball pythons
are very tamable when you’re handling them a lot. But if you’re not handling them on a regular
basis or you’re getting some of the species that may be a little bit more jumpy, a little
bit more territorial, like maybe an iguana or something like that. You do need to recognize that especially an
adult can cause some damage and so you need to prepare for that beforehand and really
handle them on a daily basis so they’re comfortable with you. They’re comfortable with other individuals
handling them. Because worst case scenario would be that
they lash out, usually out of fear or hunger or what have you. And have those animals be surrendered only
because they’re just not comfortable around people yet. So yeah, handling is the number one thing
you can do to avoid that. And most of our species do beautifully with
it. Kelly: But they aren’t dogs. Sarah: No, no. Kelly: You don’t want to kiss them and snuggle
with them and sleep with them. Correct? Sarah: No. Yeah. I guess we could take a nap together, he’s
like, “Fine.” But yeah, no. Some of our species do carry risks of certain
diseases. So the big thing that people think about,
especially for our aquatic species, is like salmonella and all sorts of things like that. Kelly: Sure. Sarah: And obviously you don’t want to stick
that in your mouth or your hands in your mouth after your handling these guys. So usually I recommend for individuals to
wash their hands after every single time you’re handling these guys. To keep their habitats as clean as possible
so if they do poop in their cage, you want to clean that up as soon as possible. Kelly: Right. Sarah: Not only for your health but also for
these guys because you don’t want them walking through that. But yeah, you’re usually not going to be snuggling
these guys. You’re usually not going to be kissing them
on the nose or anything like that, but you can still handle them, walk them, interact
with them, all sorts of things. Kelly: You’re an expert. Well you are, you direct a wildlife center,
but somebody like me, I’m not. So there are probably some reptiles, I would
say, I could probably do okay with a bearded dragon. Sarah: Definitely. Kelly: But there are some reptiles… as you
very openly admitted that you probably wouldn’t have just because they’re hard to take care
of. Sarah: Yeah, definitely. So I think two species come to mind when I
think about reptiles that I generally don’t recommend and I personally wouldn’t have. Are going to be an iguana and a chameleon
for different reasons. So iguanas can be beautiful pets and they’re
gorgeous animals. They become quite large, but one, they become
quite large and so they can be very powerful animals and if they are not hand trained and
very approachable, they can cause a lot of damage and they both bite and will slap with
their tails and it can cause some damage. And this can only worsen as they age, as they
mature, as they get into that kind of territorial mode, they can be quite dangerous animals. And then also again, they get quite large
so they need the space to kind of encourage that growth. And so individuals that I’ve seen who have
had iguanas and done them appropriately have whole rooms of their house just for those
iguanas so they can have trees to climb on and branches and mister setups and all sorts
of things like that to give them basically a tropical environment, in an entire room
of the house. And so they’re harder to handle. They’re harder to upkeep. So it’s not an animal that I would recommend
for most people. And they’re one of the most commonly surrendered
or rescued animals because they get to a certain size and then people can’t have them anymore. And then as far as chameleons go, they stay
small. So we see usually a few species of chameleons,
veiled chameleons, panther chameleons, Jacksons, and they’re beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, they are some of the most
gorgeous species of reptiles you can have, but they are very sensitive to environmental
changes. They’re very sensitive to diet changes. You need the most accurate set up for these
guys, diet, humidity, caging, all sorts of things like that. And if things are not on point, they don’t
do well. And they usually decrease in function very,
very quickly and so they can drop weight, they stop eating, they don’t bask under their
lights, all sorts of things like that and they can pass away really, really quickly. And it’s just one of those things where we
know a fair amount about their environment, but sometimes it can be hard to recreate it
even though we have all of these options commercially, that they’re just not a species that I recommend,
at least for a beginner. All righty? If you have gone through all of your reptiles
and you’re like, “Yeah I can do this on point, I can provide for them the appropriate housing,
vet care.” All sorts of things like that and you’re like,
“I want a challenge.” Great, awesome. But if you’re looking for a beginner species,
bearded dragons, ball pythons- Kelly: That’s the way. Sarah: … leopard geckos, which stay nice
and small, those are probably going to be the ways to go because they’re just hardy
species. Kelly: When you have somebody bring in a reptile
to the clinic for treatment, what is most commonly the biggest problem with reptiles
as far as health wise? Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So obviously, different in our wild patients
versus our domestic patients. So when we get wild patients coming to our
Wildlife Medical Clinic, I’d say the majority of those guys are trauma based, unfortunately. Kelly: Hit by cars. Sarah: Hit by cars, grabbed by dogs, all sorts
of things like that. And then a few cases of infectious disease,
but primarily trauma. For our pet species, I’d say 80%, 90% of the
time their issues are stemming from some sort of husbandry problem. So something is wrong with their housing set
up, their lighting set up, their heat, their food, their water, humidity, all sorts of
things like that. And if caught soon enough and corrected soon
enough, they can do just great. But sometimes it’s gone on for so long that
it can be a little bit harder to correct those things. Sarah: So things that we specifically see
related to that are going to be shedding problems, which is called dysecdysis. So that’s going to be if these guys aren’t
shedding appropriately. So bearded dragons are a good example of reptiles
that will shed in bits and pieces. So it’s normal for this guy, and you can actually
see his tail is a little darker on one segment than the other. Kelly: It is. Yeah. Sarah: And so he sheds bits and pieces. So he’ll shed his head and then his arms and
his body all separately. Snakes are a good example of a species that
will shed all in one, kind of like a tube. And so you have to know what they normally
shed like. So it would be normal for this guy to have
bits and pieces. But if you saw that on a snake you’re like,
“Oh no, that’s absolutely wrong.” Kelly: That’s not right. Sarah: And so dysecdysis is, like I said,
when it doesn’t come off appropriately. And so usually that’s related to husbandry
problems, humidity in particular. And so usually if humidity’s too low, they
don’t have enough moisture in their skin to actually have those extra layers separate. And so it gets stuck on to them. And so the nice thing is, once you correct
the humidity and you help them through that current shed that they’re having a problem
with, often they do just fine. But sometimes you kind of have to help it
along a little bit. And it’s not something that I’d recommend
owners trying to do because you never want to peel off the skin. Kelly: Right. Sarah: Because you can actually damage the
scales underneath. It has to be a very gentle, gradual process. Sometimes done under sedation or anesthesia
if it’s super duper bad. So we see that quite commonly. And if you think about it, winter time, it’s
so dry. Kelly: Dry. Sarah: And people don’t recognize that. And if you look at this guy, he’s from Australia,
well he’s not, he’s from here but his species is from Australia. Kelly: His ancestors. Sarah: Yeah, and so they’re used to drier
environments but that doesn’t mean they like it 10%, 20% humidity, which is what it is
in the winter time. They’re happy where we’re at in like the 40,
50 range. But your tropical species, they want it 80%,
90% humidity. And if you can’t give them misters and waterfalls
and all sorts of things like that, it can be quite common for them to have those problems. And then other issues we see are dietary related. So we see something called nutritional secondary
hyperparathyroidism. People like to call it metabolic bone disease,
but that’s kind of a simplistic term for it and they don’t always have bony changes. But usually what happens in those situations
is they’re not either getting enough appropriate lighting, so UVB light actually helps with
this process or they’re not getting the correct diet. And so usually the problem is calcium and
vitamin D regulation and something is going wrong with, again, either that lighting or
their diet where they’re not getting enough and they’ll have problems with their bones. So you can see breaks, you can see bending,
you can see decreased calcium deposition, you can see just general kind of suppression
or immunosuppression. So they’re just more likely to get infections,
CLC, upper respiratory disease, pneumonia, things like that. You’ll get shedding problems, you’ll get weight
loss. Kelly: A lot of things like we have. Sarah: Just a lot of things. Right. The whole-
Kelly: Besides shedding. Sarah: … skew of things basically. And again, if you catch those things early
enough, you can kind of halt that process. You may never change if they’re growing at
a time and they have like weird little bones, you may never change that, but you can get
them to feeling healthy again. But if it’s too late, sometimes you can’t
get them through that, which is really unfortunate because you want to know the appropriate diet
and housing and all sorts of things for these reptiles and we have that information. It’s just not always, people have that. Kelly: Great. Well, Dr. Reich, thank you so much for traveling
to Charleston, bringing Wesley, your buddy with us, and surely providing our viewers
with some very informative information about living with reptiles. Sarah: Yeah. Kelly: So for this episode of the Paw Report,
we thank Dr. Reich and we thank you, our viewers for joining us. Until next time, I’m your host, Kelly Goodwin. Rob:
Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter of the Paw Report on WEIU. Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk
Smartstrand Silk Forever Clean carpet. Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk
color center in Charleston. Rameen:
The Paw Report on WEIU is supported by Rural King, America’s farm and home store, livestock
feed, farm equipment, pet supplies and more. You can find your store and more information
regarding Rural King at Katelyn: Fetchers Pet Supply on the north
side of the Charleston square. Serving the EIU community since 1991. Fetchers welcomes all pets on a leash. Is open seven days a week and offers made
in the USA food. Pets supplies for dogs, cats, reptiles, and
fish. Fetchers Pets Supply in Charleston. Rameen: Additional support for The Paw Report
on WEIU, is brought to you by viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing]

1 thought on “The Paw Report, Episode 906 – Living with Lizards

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