Pet Connection

Reptile Madness


By Kim Campbell Thornton

They aren't at the level of cats and dogs yet, but reptiles are scaling upward in popularity. More than 5.6 million homes in the United States keep at least one of these cold-blooded creatures as pets, and their total numbers top 11.5 million, according to a 2013 survey by the American Pet Products Association.

Reptiles have a number of advantages as pets. They're quiet, can have long life spans, require little to no exercise, usually don't need to be fed daily, and their waste is easy to remove. They even have personalities, believe it or not, and form bonds with their people. Many are active and curious, making them interesting to watch as they explore their habitat. Depending on the species, reptiles can be good choices for both children and adults.

What should you think about if you're considering a reptile companion? They need more space than you might realize. Plan to provide a reptile with plenty of room to move around. Some are arboreal, meaning they like to be up high. Species that will grow to be six feet or more, such as iguanas and some snakes, need floor-to-ceiling enclosures. Others need aquatic habitats. For instance, an adult red-eared slider turtle may need an aquarium that holds 55 to 120 gallons or more. All species need a place to hide and a heat source to keep them warm.

Other reptile-care basics include spot-cleaning cages to remove waste and uneaten food. The cage must also be disinfected regularly so your reptile doesn't develop bacterial infections of the skin or digestive tract. Some reptiles carry salmonella bacteria. It's important to always wash your hands -- and make sure your children do, too -- after handling them.

Reptile diet varies by species. Your reptile may eat daily fresh greens, crickets, mealworms or frozen mice that have been thawed. If you're tenderhearted, the good news is that you don't have to feed live prey. In fact, it's best not to because your reptile could be injured by a live mouse or rat defending itself. A reptile may also need vitamin supplements.

Good "beginner" reptiles for children and adults include ball pythons, bearded dragons, corn snakes, and small box turtles or tortoises. Whatever you choose, do your homework to make sure you understand and can meet the animal's needs.

Talk to an accredited expert before acquiring a reptile. That can be a veterinarian who specializes in exotics or a person who does reptile education for a rescue group or other organization.

"Every species has its own special requirements," says certified veterinary technician Johanna Hanlon, practice manager and head nurse at Ani-Care Animal Hospital in Dallastown, Pennsylvania. "There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, so use sources linked to veterinary professionals and herpetological societies."

She also recommends finding a reptile-savvy veterinarian who can provide the specialized care the animal will need, as well as knowing whether the reptile you're considering is regulated by local, state or federal laws.

Also consider as well whether you can care for a reptile for its lifetime, which in some cases can be 30 years or more. Herpetologist Chad Griffin of CCSB Reptile Rescue and Rehab Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says the most common reasons reptiles are surrendered to rescue groups are that a student is going to college and parents don't want to care for the animal, the reptile became larger than expected, the expense of caring for the animal became too high, or the person is moving to a place that doesn't permit exotic pets.

If you aren't sure if a particular reptile is right for you, talk to a rescue group or shelter about fostering, Hanlon says. They may be able to provide you with the resources you need to care for the animal without a long-term commitment.


Be prepared to treat

insect bites, stings

Q: My dog just got stung by a bee. He didn't have an allergic reaction, but is there anything I can do in the future to relieve the pain? -- via email

A: You were fortunate that your dog didn't have an allergic reaction to the bee sting. That can occur when a dog has been stung previously or receives many stings at once.

Bees, ants, wasps, mosquitoes and spiders can all sting or bite, causing small swollen areas that are painful or itchy. Signs of an allergic reaction include hot and swollen areas at the site of the sting. Your dog may also bite or scratch at the area.

If a bee stings your dog again, first look to see if the stinger is still in the skin. It resembles a small black sac. You can brush it off with a finger, scrape it out with a fingernail or grasp it with tweezers and pull it out.

To soothe the painful area, apply a paste made from water and baking soda. A cold compress can also help to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Take your dog to the veterinarian right away if you see signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling of the face or neck, agitation, drooling, vomiting or difficulty breathing. Dogs can die of anaphylactic shock if they don't receive treatment right away.

A bite from a venomous spider such as a black widow or brown recluse can cause severe pain at the bite site, fever, weakness, and muscle and joint pain. That also calls for a veterinary visit -- pronto -- for a shot of antivenin. Left untreated, venomous spider bites can cause seizures, send a dog into shock or even kill him, so don't delay. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Secondhand smoke

threatens pet health

-- Do you smoke around your pet? You could be threatening his health and even his life. Secondhand smoke can cause malignant lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, and respiratory problems and allergies in both species, according to studies conducted at Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine and other colleges, reports Sue Manning for The Associated Press. A 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's report also warns that animals are at risk from secondhand smoke. Other potential side effects include inflammation and pulmonary cancers. E-cigarettes aren't any safer. Pets can be poisoned if they eat the nicotine cartridges.

-- Dogs are trained to sniff out cancer, explosives, drugs and bedbugs, to name just a few of their scenting skills. Add a new target to the list: hidden memory cards, thumb drives and storage drives that contain child pornography. Rhode Island state police have the assistance of golden Labrador Thoreau to search out the contraband, which may be hidden deep inside metal boxes or in such areas as ceiling tiles or radios. Thoreau underwent 22 weeks of training at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy. He participated in his first search in June, which led to an arrest.

-- Veterinarians will soon be able to transport medications they need to anesthetize, manage pain in, or euthanize animals without fear of arrest. The U.S. Senate passed the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act in January, and the House of Representatives followed suit on July 8. Previously, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had ruled that the Controlled Substances Act barred veterinarians from carrying the drugs when making farm or house calls. Before it finally becomes law, the act must go to the Oval Office for President Obama's signature before the current congressional session ends on Dec. 12. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: Habitat needs for certain reptiles can be larger and more expensive to meet than new owners expect. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Veterinarians who make house or farm calls will soon be able to transport certain medications without fear of arrest. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3

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