You don't need to work hard to care for a bearded dragon
If you want a friendly reptilian pet who's easy to care for, your choice is an easy one: You want a bearded dragon.
Beardeds are not only tame when handled, but many also seem to enjoy the contact. Even better, they're suitable for almost any pet lover or family situation -- and a great pet for a responsible child.
Bearded dragons enjoy exploring, whether crawling 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 -- a behavior that adds to their appeal.
Beardeds live to be about 10 years old and will measure 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 used only 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.
Beardeds are quite happy to live alone in the wild, 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, due to territorial aggression.
Beardeds need human help to maintain their temperature in captivity, using heat lamps or warming pads. They do well in tanks where some areas are cooler and some are warmer -- a range of 85 to 105 degrees by day, dipping 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.
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. They eat 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.
Veterinary care is minimal for pets who are being properly cared for. After purchase, your bearded should 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.
needs to be slow
Q: What's the best way to introduce a new cat to my current cat? -- via email
A: Having more than one cat is a popular option for many people, though not always for cats.
But living with more than one cat doesn't have to be contentious. The trick to domestic harmony for co-habiting felines is to introduce -- or reintroduce -- them slowly and carefully.
Since the worst territorial spats are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful co-existence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned.
Prepare a room for your new cat with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's presence.
Take your new cat to your veterinarian first, to be checked for parasites such as ear mites, and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia. When you're sure your new pet is healthy, the introductions can begin.
Bring the cat home in a carrier and set him in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. When the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and let him out of the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Just leave the carrier door open and the cat alone.
Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Above all: Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Happier trips mean
cleaner car rides
-- Dogs get carsick for many reasons, including anxiety, full bellies and a lack of experience. But most puppies can outgrow car sickness if taken out regularly in the car. If you want your dog to enjoy car rides, take him to dog parks and other fun destinations. Otherwise, if all trips seem to end at the veterinary hospital, he may never think car rides are fun. Talk to your veterinarian about medications (over-the-counter or prescription) that can help if your puppy doesn't outgrow carsickness. And make sure when your pet is on the road that he's safely secured in a crate or with a harness.
-- 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. Probably more fun, too.
-- Every healthy dog has a reflex reaction to any passing skin irritation, whether it's an insect crawling between the hairs or a fingernail giving a scratch. If nerve endings detect something that's annoying the skin, the dog's leg will automatically come up to scratch off the pest -- even if there's no pest there. The response is most pronounced if you scratch a dog on the rump near the base of the tail, along the upper part of the flanks or on the belly -- not coincidentally, places where fleas like to congregate. The "scratch reflex" is so predictable that veterinarians will use it to help with their neurological exam when spinal damage is suspected. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
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 Vetstreet.com 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 Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.