It’s not every day that reptiles drop in for care at St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center. In fact, up until now we have typically been called upon to treat scaly critters once, maybe twice, a year. But the word is out that associate veterinarian Dr. Robin Gibson has a special interest in reptiles, especially lizards, and is now offering wellness and sick exams for these scaly friends. Within one short week, our reptile caseload drought turned in to a baby bearded dragon monsoon!
by Dr. Robin Gibson, DVM
Reptiles have their own unique needs, especially when it comes to housing and food requirements. Sometimes if things aren’t “just right” they can come down with illnesses. They can also be curious and get themselves into trouble, or get hurt. We are here to help you figure out the right lighting, heat, food, and moisture requirements for your reptile, and to get them back on the right track if something goes wrong.
One baby bearded dragon that we saw this week was having trouble shedding. Little lizards are especially prone to retained shed. Feet and tails are the most likely places, as was the case for this little guy. If the skin on fingers and toes does not come off, it will constrict the digit and cut off blood circulation. This is a serious problem for the toe! If the blood supply is not corrected, the toe may turn black and fall off. This little lizard started chewing at his foot as it turned painful or numb, in an attempt to remove the shed. We saw him right away because some lizards bite their toes all the way off! We soaked him in warm (not hot!) water to help moisten the old skin, and then gently rubbed and worked the shed off his feet and tail. We put some antibiotic powder on each of his feet to help prevent infection. If your lizards are having trouble shedding, you can also give them a warm bath for 10-15 minutes and gently work the skin off. This will minimize their discomfort and prevent missing toes!
Another baby dragon we saw had a very serious condition. This little one had deformed bones, including a crooked spine and tail,
and a swollen toe. Her hind leg had become paralyzed, and on x-rays her bones were severely decalcified. She was also stunted in her growth. These are all signs of metabolic bone disease, a calcium deficiency. Calcium is important for bones, nerves, the immune system, and other functions. This deficiency can happen from a lack of calcium in the diet, too much phosphorus, or not enough UVB light. Our little friend was receiving great care including a calcium supplement three times a week and UVB light at her current home, but must not have had these benefits in her previous home. It is important to check out your little lizards when you first get them and monitor their bone growth in the early weeks and months, since they are more susceptible to metabolic bone disease during rapid growth. Unfortunately it was too late for this baby girl. If metabolic bone disease is caught early and aggressive calcium supplementation is performed, your lizard has a better chance of recovery. Look for these signs of metabolic bone disease so you can bring your little one in early: stunted growth, swollen bones or joints, a rubbery jaw, crooked/bowed bones or spine, weakness or paralysis.
The other little bearded dragon we saw was happy and healthy. He came in for a wellness exam, just like a puppy or kitten would. We discussed his housing and food, and made sure that everything was set up for him to live a good long life. Thankfully, many casualties can be avoided with proper care and keen eyes.
We hope you found this info helpful, and we look forward to meeting your scaly friend!