Pet Connection

The Friendly Dragon

and Mikkel Becker Shannon

Universal Press Syndicate

Reptilian pets are intriguing and mysterious to some, intimidating and frightening to others. If there's one reptile perfect for changing the minds of those in the latter group, it's the bearded dragon.

Affectionately called "beardeds" by their fans, these lizards are not only tame around humans, but many also seem to enjoy the contact. Even better, they're relatively easy keepers, suitable for almost any pet lover or family situation.

Bearded dragons enjoy exploring, whether on their owners or around the house. They stick out their tongues to touch new surfaces to determine the temperature and makeup of the area. It just adds to their appeal.

"Beardeds also have a split tongue to give them 'stereo,' or directional, sense of smell, so they can follow a mate or prey item more accurately," says Cindy Steinle, president of Small Scale Reptile Rescue and chat leader of Kingsnake.com.

Beardeds are common in the pet trade and easy to find for sale. They live to be about 10 years old and will mature at 18 to 24 inches in length, including the tail. Hatchling beardeds are only about 3 1/2 inches in length and look more like a gecko than a giant lizard species. Common colorings of the bearded are yellow and tan, though they can be found in more vibrant yellow, orange and albino.

The bearded dragon name comes from the display the pet puts on when trying to act tough. The puffed-beard display is only used defensively to scare away potential threats. Along with puffing out, beardeds also flatten out their bellies to look wider, as well as leave their rather large mouths gaping open to intimidate the potential threat.

One bearded is all you need, since they're quite happy to live as they did in the wild, alone except when in search of mates. If you want more than one, however, there's no downside, since they seem to enjoy the companionship of another of their kind. Female beardeds can usually be housed with another female or male, but males should not be housed together because of territorial aggression.

Beardeds need human help to maintain their temperature in captivity, using heat lamps or warming pads. Beardeds do well with choices, in tanks where some areas are cooler, some warmer, a range of 85 to 105 degrees by day, dipping down into the 70s at night.

You'll also need special lighting, since these reptiles need UVB rays to properly absorb dietary calcium. A full-spectrum light should be provided 12 to 14 hours a day most of the year, and 10 to 12 hours in the winter, according to Dr. David Crum of Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Vienna, Va.

Omnivores by nature, beardeds enjoy both plants and meat in their diet. Juveniles enjoy a carnivorous diet, while adults become primarily herbivores, enjoying a diet of dark, leafy vegetables and some fruit. All food given to the bearded should be shredded into easy-to-swallow, bite-size pieces. Insects should be given to adult beardeds two to three times per week (mainly crickets), but also mealworms, wax moth larvae and pinkie mice in limited amounts.

Beardeds hit sexual maturity between 1 and 2 years of age, when females will start laying eggs regardless of whether they've been mated. They need to be watched closely for illness at this time, as they can suffer from egg binding and will need to see the vet.

Veterinary care is minimal for pets who are being properly cared for. After purchase, says Dr. Crum, the new bearded needs to be examined for health and parasites, with treatment for the latter if necessary. After that, annual examinations are recommended, to help your veterinarian understand what's "normal" for your pet, so treatment can be more targeted if there's a problem.

Q&A

Hair migration; canine mystery

Q: I have a 12-year-old border collie mix named Aspen. The hair on top of her head looks like it's thinning in the temple regions just like a man's. Also, she seems to have more hair growing between her toes. Am I imagining this? -- M.A., via e-mail

A: Losing hair on top of the head and finding more hair at lower elevations sounds like a problem most men face. But unlike thinning hair in humans, where there is usually a simple to understand explanation (male pattern baldness), canine alopecia (thinning hair) can have many different causes.

To answer your questions, we talked to Dr. Andrea Cannon, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist based in Modesto, Calif.

She noted that it would be important in this situation to rule out parasites. Mites can cause this kind of thinning, for example, and your veterinarian can scrape a little bit of skin in this area and examine microscopically for their presence. Ringworm, while unlikely, can also cause this kind of thinning. Dr. Cannon advises having your veterinarian perform the appropriate diagnostics, especially a blood panel, to look for hormonal or other dysfunctions. Most notably, thyroid problems can sometimes be a factor in these coat condition issues.

There might also be a more simple solution: Does Aspen rub her head on a couch or other object? You can look at the existing hairs: Are they broken or just gone?

Aspen's other "hairy" issue involves her paws. Dr. Cannon notes that typically, dogs with excessive hair on the paws are generally less active, but it sounds as if Aspen might not fall into this category. Besides hormonal disorders that might be a factor here, some drugs can also cause this particular side effect. But this seems unlikely, as it would also cause hair growth over her entire body, including that thinning spot on her head.

Hair-loss problems require a methodical approach to establish the correct diagnosis. Your veterinarian should be able to perform the tests that can diagnose Aspen's problem, or you may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. For more information on these specialists, visit www.acvd.org. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

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ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes.

Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Prolotherapy offers help for pet joints

-- Prolotherapy is an emerging alternative treatment for pets. The therapy can be used to treat sprains, ruptured cruciate ligaments, hip dysplasia, arthritis and degenerative disc disease, by using injections (often of dextrose) to strengthen the weld of damaged ligaments and tendons to bone. The procedure reduces pain, makes loose joints more stable and reduces lameness. Prolotherapy may require four to five monthly injections and is usually done under light sedation.

-- Would you rather work out or indulge in heavy petting? According to Prevention magazine, 67 percent of us say having a pet is better for long-term health than having a personal trainer.

-- Magpies recognize themselves in the mirror, just as do children over the age of 2. The black-and-white bird, best known for stealing shiny objects, joins a short list of mammals sharing this trait: humans, chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

-- Salaries for veterinarians continue to rank near the low end among careers within the health-care field, but animal doctors and other veterinary workers can take comfort in knowing that their job security and job-growth prospects are among the best of all occupations, based on the latest figures from the U.S. Labor Department. Veterinarians rank ninth in the top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2016, reports DVM Newsmagazine. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

PET BOOK

Behavior problem? Start with your vet

The first rule of solving any behavioral problem is to make sure it's not a medical problem. The cat who won't use the litter box may be struggling with an infection that makes urination painful. A dog who snaps when his ears are touched may be suffering from chronic infections. Situations such as these need to be accurately diagnosed and completely treated with the help of your veterinarian before any retraining begins.

When your pet is healthy, your veterinarian can still be of use. While few veterinarians have the training or knowledge to help solve behavior problems, the numbers of those who do are growing -- and your vet may be one of them. Even those veterinarians who have no interest in behavior work can refer you to someone who can help. Loosely grouped under the term "behaviorist," these specialists can help fix what ails the relationship you have with your pet.

Consulting a behaviorist can save you time, money and aggravation. Time, since someone with experience in animal behavior can quickly determine the root of the problem, without the emotional baggage that a pet owner may bring to the situation. Money, since a consultation or two is a great deal cheaper than a new sofa. And aggravation? You'll understand that one if you're living with a problem pet. -- Gina Spadafori

BY THE NUMBERS

Straight from the beak

According to a survey of bird owners, workers at pet stores were one of the primary sources of information on care. The top sources (multiple answers allowed):

Retail staff 33 percent

Books 33 percent

Internet 27 percent

Friend/relative 25 percent

Past experience 24 percent

Veterinarian 13 percent

Source: American Pet Products Association

PET TIP

Invest in bowls that last forever

Almost 30 years ago I bought a stainless steel bowl for the first dog who was "mine," not my family's. I still use that bowl every day to water the dogs I have now.

Stainless steel bowls offer lifelong quality: They're durable and chew-proof, and they sterilize wonderfully in the dishwasher. "Crock"-style bowls of high-impact plastic are another good choice, with the added benefit of offering the choice of colors.

Both stainless steel and high-impact plastic bowls come in sizes to suit pets from mice and hamsters to parrots and the largest dogs. They last longer and are easier to clean thoroughly than many other bowls on the market. They're a great investment for the life of your pet. -- Gina Spadafori

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

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