How to get mom to agree to a pet lizard!

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I always wanted a pet reptile as a child, but like the myriad of other exotic pets I campaigned for, I was never successful in acquiring a snake or lizard. Now as a veterinarian and Mom of two boys I get to vicariously have all kinds of wonderful pets. “The boys wanted it”; this is the story my husband gets and I’m sticking to it. Fortunately with a little research and the help of a fellow lizard lover we became the proud owners of a Leopard Gecko called “Gecky”.
Gecky, the Leopard Gecko, is a perfect pet in my eyes. He eats mealworms and crickets that are dipped in a calcium powder. He has a little container of a vitamin-mineral mixture he snacks on and a small water bowl. Room light is sufficient with a small heated pad stuck to the tank bottom providing additional heat he can move away or towards as he needs. Leopard Geckos can’t even get out of the tank if the lid is left off by small children. Gecky did have a heat lamp (unnecessary) but that was eliminated when my six-year old tried to burn the house down. This sweet little creature will happily sit on your shirt through an evening of television. A dampened tissue is placed in the corner of the tank Gecky chose to use as his bathroom so cage cleaning is a breeze. This is a fabulous low-maintenance pet for young children with minimal supervision during handling periods. It is really gross when the tail falls off and twitches around for a while but they grow back.
Why did I say fortunately we picked a Gecko earlier? A neighbor asked us to babysit their Bearded Dragon, Steve. I have treated these wonderful attractive lizards but never kept one. Theory is easier than practice!
Steve arrived in his massive aquarium equipped with under tank heater, heat lamp, and two lights on a twelve hour cycle providing full spectrum lighting. There are multiple electronic thermometers to ensure the proper temperature gradients between 85 to 100 degrees F. Not the most attractive setup. Bearded Dragons are omnivores. So in the morning I cut Steve’s veggies and fruit into pieces “smaller than the distance between his eyes”. Then there was his daily quota of mealworms and crickets. Did I mention the cricket tank with over a hundred large live SINGING crickets?
Steve poops. He poops once a day and it needs to be removed immediately. I have treated thousands of animals of many, many species and I have worked in a pathology laboratory with animals in various stages of decomposition. I have to say the stench of Bearded Dragon poops elevate their owners to martyrs. Even after disposal it lingers in your nostrils and sinuses for hours. So Steve, I did like you, especially when you charged around your cage with your tail arched over your back gobbling up crickets. I liked to cuddle you Steve, but I was glad to see you go home.
If you are considering getting an exotic pet don’t limit your research to learning about the care and needs of these creatures from books. Talk to people who actually own the exotic pet you’re considering. Try to get a look at the set-up and even babysit as we did. Join TARAS, the Alberta Reptile and Amphibian Society. We won’t be getting a Bearded Dragon but I hope the boys consider a cockatiel one day, I have always wanted one…
Jennifer L. Scott, D.V.M.

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