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Posted on 02-19-2016

Blog Spotlight:  Exotic Pets

Exotic pets, such as reptiles, amphibians and birds can be a fascinating addition to any home, but they do come with a few special requirements.  Pet shop employees may not be the best source of information about these pets because, although they sell them, they may not be thoroughly trained in each species special needs.  Not all veterinarians treat exotic pets, but the vets at Animal Care have years of experience that they would love to share with current or prospective exotic pet owners.   This month’s Blog Spotlight is on Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.


Bearded Dragons have become very popular among reptile fanciers in recent years due to their docile nature and minimal space requirements. “Beardies” are native to Australia and, like most lizards, prefer a warm, dry environment. 

An aquarium with a tight fitting lid makes a good home for Bearded Dragons.  Adult Beardies can reach nearly two feet in length, so a 50-gallon aquarium should be the minimum size to consider.  Wire cages do not make good homes for these lizards because they do not retain heat, and the lizard’s nose and feet can be injured by the wire.  The floor of the aquarium should be covered with a material that is absorbent, easy to clean or replace, and digestible if consumed.  Any type of loose material, such as wood shavings, gravel, kitty litter, sand, or corn cob bedding should NOT be used because, if consumed, they can cause intestinal obstruction.  Good choices are reptile carpet, newspaper, brown wrapping paper, or even paper towels. 

Bearded Dragons require supplemental heat to be able to properly digest their food.  The enclosure should be kept at 78-88 degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and no lower than 70 degrees at night.  It is best to provide two sources of heat so the Beardie can move from a warm spot to a cooler one as they choose.  Heat lamps should be mounted on the outside of the cage where the lizard cannot touch them.  Thermometers should be placed in different areas of the cage to ensure the temperature is evenly maintained.

In addition to heat, Bearded Dragons need certain types of light to maintain good health.  Incandescent light provides illumination while UVB light is necessary for the production of Vitamin D.

Bearded Dragons are omnivorous as adults, but the diet of baby and juvenile Beardies consists mostly of insects.  A very important aspect of feeding insects to lizards is making sure the insects themselves have been properly fed to have a desirable ratio of phosphorus and calcium.  Crickets are often the mainstay of a captive lizard’s diet, but other choices include mealworms and roaches.  It is very important for a Beardie’s health to ensure it is being fed nutritious insects.  “Gut loading” is the practice of feeding prey insects good quality food for a few hours to a few days before offering them to the lizard.  Suggested foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, and baby rice cereal.  Insects should always be dusted with calcium and vitamin powder immediately before feeding.  The importance of properly feeding a captive lizard cannot be overstated.  Without proper nutrition, a lizard is prone to crippling metabolic diseases. Vitamin and mineral powders can be purchased at pet stores, veterinary offices, and online. 

Adult Bearded Dragons need a diet that includes leafy greens and vegetables and may only need an insect meal once a week.   Fresh water should be available at all times in a shallow dish that will not tip over. 

Humidity is necessary for proper shedding, so it is a good idea to mist the enclosure with water several times a week, making sure the enclosure dries between misting.  Bearded Dragons also enjoy soaking, but may urinate and defecate in the water so the soaking tub and water will need to be cleaned regularly.  Cleaning is best accomplished with one part regular household bleach to 10 parts water.  Remove the lizard from the enclosure before cleaning!  Dishes and any “furniture” should be washed and dried thoroughly.


Leopard Geckoes are one of the most popular pet lizards due to their attractive variety of colors and willingness to breed in captivity.  Leopard Geckoes have a docile nature and are easy to care for.

Geckoes will not grow as large as some lizards, and one or two adults can be comfortably housed in a 10-gallon aquarium.  A screened top is not strictly necessary because Leopard Geckoes do not have the toe pads that allow them to cling to glass.  However, a secure top is recommended, especially if there are cats or small children present in the home.  Males and female Geckoes can be housed together after they reach maturity; females can be housed together at any age.

Adult Geckoes can be kept on sand, as long as the sand is clean, fine-grained, and free of sharp objects or debris.  A good option is Play Sand which can be purchased at Home Depot or Lowe’s stores.  Young Geckoes should be raised on paper to prevent impaction from accidentally ingesting sand.  Once they reach 5-6 inches in length if is safe to put them on sand. 

Leopard Geckoes need supplemental heat to maintain body temperature and properly digest their food.  Heat lamps can be used, but the best way to provide heat is with an under-the-tank heater.  This can be placed under one side of the tank to allow the lizard a warm area and a cooler area.  The sand surface on the warm side of the cage should be maintained at 90 degrees (Fahrenheit).   Leopard Geckoes are nocturnal and do not require a basking light or UV bulbs.  They prefer to have a dark hiding place during the day, which can be as simple as a small cardboard box or as elaborate as the owner’s budget allows.  If a heat lamp must be used in place of an under-tank heater, a red bulb should be used.  Red light is invisible to most reptiles, and bright light may stress Geckoes to the point of refusing food and water.

Crickets are the mainstay of a captive Geckoes diet.  Two important factors to keep in mind when feeding are the size and nutrition status of the crickets.  Small geckoes cannot easily swallow or digest large crickets.  A good rule of thumb is to choose insects that are no larger than the space between the gecko’s eyes.  Prey crickets should be gut-loaded for optimal nutrition and dusted with vitamin/calcium powder before they are fed to the gecko.  Only feed as many crickets as the gecko/geckoes can consume at one time and do not leave uneaten crickets “for later.” 

Leopard Geckoes will pick one spot in the cage for defecation, and usually only need a once-weekly cage cleaning.  Feces and any dead crickets can be removed as necessary.  The entire cage should be cleaned with bleach at least every two months.

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Welcome to Animal Care Associates Inc.

Your Veterinarian in Charleston, WV
Call us at 304-344-2244

Animal Care Associates will no longer be seeing patients on Saturdays. 

Beginning on  May 19th Animal Care Associates will no longer have doctor hours on Saturday.  We will remain open  for boarders only. Unfortunately we will no longer have veterinarians available to see patients on that day.   

We apologize for any inconvenience.  If you have any questions please call our office at 304-344-2244

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Doctor's Hours

Day Open Closed
Monday 9:00am to 1:00pm 3:00pm to 6:30pm
Tuesday 9:00am to 1:00pm 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Wednesday 9:00am to 1:00pm 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Thursday 9:00am to 1:00pm 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Friday 9:00am to 1:00pm 3:00pm to 6:30pm
Saturday No doctor hours
Sunday No doctor hours