Looking for a pet that is hypoallergenic, quiet, and a great conversation starter? Reptiles are quickly gaining popularity as pets–but that doesn’t mean that they are a great fit for everyone. The most common reptiles we see here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, MD are bearded dragons and leopard gecko.
Bearded Dragons, or “beardies,” are desert reptiles that originate from Australia. They prefer drier climates and hot temperatures. Bearded dragons can reach 24 inches when fully grown and a healthy beardie can live up to 15 years!
Juvenile bearded dragons may be small, but they grow relatively quickly. A full-grown bearded dragon needs a 75 gallon tank! Substrate for the bottom of the tank can be newspaper, paper towels, or reptile pellets; sand is not ideal, due to the risk of impaction upon digestion.
Lighting is extremely important for the health of a bearded dragon. UVB lighting is essential and should be available to beardies 12 hours each day. Being desert animals, they thrive in 90-100 degree temperatures–use temperature gauges to be sure heat is adequate. Basking spots should be available and can be a hide, reptile corkboard, or a reptile log. Heat rocks are not safe, as a beardie that rests on one can incur painful burns on their bellies and toes! Bearded dragons should have a warm side and a cool side to their habitat. A heat mat can be used under the tank to allow the temperature to stay within range of 75-80 degrees overnight.
Beardies are omnivores and require a variety of foods. Talking with your veterinarian at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital is important to help find the correct ratio that works for a bearded dragon’s current age–growing beardies have different needs from adults. A few examples of the foods these guys enjoy include: hornworms, crickets, waxworms, collard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, and bell peppers. Juvenile beardies should eat twice daily, whereas older beardies eat about once a day. Bearded dragons may thrive in desert conditions, but water is still important for our captive beardies! Always have fresh water available in a bowl that is easily accessible for them, and it can be helpful to occasionally mist their habitat.
Leopard geckos reach a size of 10 inches, and live an average of 8-12 years in captivity. Males usually fight with one another, so only one male can live in each tank with 20 gallons being the smallest tank size advisable. Like beardies, leopard geckos need a warm environment (88-90 degrees) and a temperature gradient (the cool end should be no less than 75 degrees), and they are also prone to burns from heat rocks.
Since geckos are only active at night, they do not need UVB lighting–but they can benefit from it. Leopard geckos do need a “hide” for the daytime such as a cave or a hut, and ideally this should contain moss or another material that retains humidity. Overnight heat is important for leopard geckos too. They do well with a felt substrate, artificial turf, or newspaper flooring in their habitat, and leopard geckos will actually designate a “potty” corner of their tank all by themselves–this makes for easy cleanup. Just like bearded dragons, sand is not a good substrate because of the dangers associated with accidentally ingesting it.
Leopard geckos are strict insectivores, and thrive on a diet of live crickets and mealworms.
Insects should be “gut-loaded” (which means they are fed a high-protein and high-nutrient powder for at least 12 hours before being offered to a reptile) and can be “dusted” with a calcium/vitamin powder to ensure the gecko is getting enough of these nutrients. Geckos will also lick up a supplement on their own if it is available in their habitat. Like beardies and all animals, leopard geckos should always have fresh water available in an easily-accessible bowl.