Archive for May, 2010

Bearded Dragon Care

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Shawn Finch, DVM and Angela Bucher, LVT

This is the second in my exotic pet care series, after “Taking Care of Your Exotic Pet, For Example, Your Guinea Pig, Which is Not Really All That Exotic.” Angela Bucher read that and said,  “You sure do take a long time to get to your point!”  As the first improvement, notice how short the title of this one is.  More importantly, Angela is a Licenced Veterinary Technician and experienced Bearded Dragon owner.  She provided all the information for this article.  She is as obsessed with preventative care as I am, and very knowledgeable on reptile (and normal pet) care.  So we teamed up to bring you this information on Bearded Dragons.


  • Someone who is obsessed with learning about Bearded Dragons and their care
  • Someone willing to dedicate the next decade or longer to having a Bearded Dragon in their family
  • Someone able to protect their people (especially kids and immunocompromised friends and family) from potential salmonella exposure
  • Someone who is dedicated to a new pet veterinary visit and regular veterinary visits for the sole purpose of preventative care, though their Bearded Dragon will not have vaccines that force a visit.  Even though their Bearded Dragon will never have severe end-stage metabolic bone disease* because of their excellent care at home, they will still visit faithfully for wellness exams

*the reason many lizard owners bring their pet in to the vet for the first visit, but not you!

Still here?  Good!  You are going to do awesome, future Bearded Dragon owner.


In our opinion, the best cages for reptiles are made by Cages By Design.  They come with water bowls, lighting and branches.  Make sure that you have a habitat that is at least forty gallons.  Your full-grown Bearded Dragon is going to be about two feet long, and will need some leg-stretching room.  If you can afford a larger habitat, bigger is generally better.


The best reptile lights, in our opinion, are made by Exo-terra.  You will need lights for heat, ultraviolet lights (UVA and UVB) and an infrared light for nighttime.  In a forty gallon tank, an ideal temperature gradient will be created with a 150 watt basking light at one end, a 100 watt general heat light at the other, and a 75 watt infrared light for night.  In a larger tank (and to assure consistantly proper temperatures in a forty gallon tank), place thermometers at either end of the tank.

Lights need to be changed every three months.  They will not have burned out by then, but their ultraviolet capacity wanes after about three months, and will no longer provide the UV rays in high enough amounts to metabolize their Vitamin D and calcium, which is a big deal for reptiles.

Bearded Dragons need a moderately humid habitat for optimum health and shedding.  An aquarium with a screened top will hold moisture in well while providing some air circulation.  Mist the habitat (and your Bearded Dragon if he or she likes it) every few days.

No heat rocks! But you knew that right?  They are so 1980’s.  And they cause the worst burns I have ever seen.  Lizards are cold-blooded.  They are not good judges of when they are getting too hot, and will unwittingly sit on heated rocks until they are very badly burned.  I am so glad I became a veterinarian after these evil things were no longer popular.  But they are still out there, in older, hand-me-down habitats.  So if you see them, throw them out.  Yes, even if they are not yours!  Your friend will thank you after you explain why you just did what you did.


The ideal bedding substrate is comfortable and easy to keep clean.  Calcisand is ideal.  If a Bearded Dragon happened to eat it, it could be passed without obstruction.  However, excessive ingestion can cause obstruction.  Do not use regular sand, even if it is from a pet store.  Use a litter scoop to clean the habitat daily and clean it completely once a week.


Infant Bearded Dragons should have a couple of very small crickets (smaller than their head) daily.  Bigger juvenilles should also have crickets.  Suppliment with calcium powder every other day.  A Bearded Dragon’s diet may be supplimented with commercial pellets, but pellets should not be the main diet.  At least half of a Bearded Dragon’s diet should be plant-based.


  • leafy greens, such as romaine and chard (no spinach)
  • bell peppers
  • strawberries
  • dandilion leaves
  • hibiscus


  • baby food
  • yogurt


Bring your Bearded Dragon in for a veterinary visit and examination when you first adopt him or her and then every six months.  Do not have your first veterinary visit be when they are sick if you can help it.  At every visit, we will do a thorough examination and weigh your pet.  We will discuss husbandry, normal baselines, preventing problems and answer all of your questions.


The most common disease by far from which Bearded Dragons suffer is metabolic bone disease.  If Bearded Dragons (and other lizards) do not obtain enough calcium from their diets, or cannot process the calcium they do get because of inadequate ultraviolet light, their bodies take the needed calcium from that stored in their bones.  This weakens their bones, causing swelling and pathologic fractures.  Almost one hundred percent of fractures in Bearded Dragons are due at least in part to metabolic bone disease.

Next most common is gastrointestinal obstruction, often from eating sand or other habitat substrate.  Medications to treat obstruction are available, and have been used with moderate success.  Because of the small size of Bearded Dragons, surgery for gastrointestinal obstruction is rarely an option, and the condition may be fatal.

Bearded Dragons are vulnerable to injury and many other illnesses.  They hide symptoms of illness well, so if you suspect anything is wrong, bring them in for a veterinary examination as soon as possible.  Better a false alarm than a serious condition not caught.


Most reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella (a bacteria that can make humans and some animals ill) in their gastrointestinal tract as normal flora and shed it in their feces intermittantly.  It is transmitted by a fecal-oral pathway, meaning that one would have to ingest feces to become infected with salmonella.  As gross as that is, it is not as difficult to become infected as it may seem.  It may take as little as petting your Bearded Dragon then eating a sandwich.  Or letting the area around the habitat become messy, having a child crawl through it then putting his hand in his mouth.

If you are going to have a pet reptile or amphibian of any type, including a Bearded Dragon, make sure you take the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe.  Keep immunocompromised people away from your pet.  This includes anyone on chemotherapy medications, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune-compromising conditions, very young children and elderly people.  Everyone, even those with healthy immune systems, should wash their hands after handling the Bearded Dragon or the habitat, and before eating.


After you have been a Bearded Dragon owner for several years, and if you would like to learn about breeding them, we will help you learn and find resources to prepare you for success.  Most owners are not equipped for all of the work and intense care that goes with breeding Bearded Dragons.  It is difficult to meet the nutritional, and especially the calcium needs of a breeding female Bearded Dragon.  Dystocia is a significant risk, either mechanical dystocia, if the female’s hips are not properly conformed to lay eggs, or medical dystocia (uterine inertia).  Either form can lead to egg binding, which can become a medical emergency.


Bearded Dragons do well as solitary pets.  They should not be housed with pets of other species, even other lizards.  The sex of a Bearded Dragon can be determined by probing, which should only be done by an experienced veterinarian, and is usually not necessary unless you wish to house two Bearded Dragons together.  Two females usually will do well in the same habitat.  A male-female pair can do well together if you intend to breed them.  Again, make sure you are ready for all that is entailed in breeding, if you choose to house a male and female together.  Two males will not usually do well together in the same habitat.  A glass partition can be placed between Bearded Dragons if you wish to house two in the same habitat but seperate from each other.

Bearded Dragons are gentle and intelligent.  They are excellent pets and companions for adults and children.  May you have many wonderful years with your beautiful lizard, and call or e-mail us if you have any questions!

Tell Angela Happy Birthday by donating to the

“Angela Wants A Bull Python” fund,

which doesn’t actually exist.  But you could start it!

(Happy Birthday Angela!  Thank you for everything!)

How I Got My Groove Back*

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

*My Freezer Meal-Preparing Groove, not anything risqué or even movie-worthy, which is why this is a blog post, not a two hour cinematic production.  It is, however, filled with passion and beautiful people.

Last spring I quit.  “Medical and ethical differences.”  There it is, without all my whining and with all of the expletives taken out.

I cried.  I vented.  “Sorry I stayed pissed off for so long.”  I tried to take it back.  “Sorry I said ‘pissed.'”  Things got worse.  I leaned on Russ.  I called Mom.  I e-mailed Dad, “He’s yelling again.  What do I do?”  We changed our phone number.

I have the most amazing parents and brothers in the world.  I dated little before Russ, and when I did, I was generally treated well.  And of course, Russ is wonderful.  All that to say, being mistreated shook me to the core.  I had never been treated so poorly, and did not know how to react.  I know, poor me, right?  But I had no tools with which to fight back.  I felt as though I had been sucker punched.  Over and over.

I stayed with Banfield.  I knew the company, when sticking to its written ideals, could thrive.  And look.  It works.  I needed to prove that, to myself?  To him?  I don’t know.  More than that, though, I needed to be where my values matched that of my team and my boss, and where I could be healthy.

I threw myself into writing, into facebook, into  twitter.  I found friends. One of my dearest friends is a wife of a veterinarian.  God has an amazing sense of humor, but I would bet most of His humor is over our heads and we usually miss it.

I drank.  A lot.  Fortunately, I drink Diet Coke.  I know the aspartame will get me, but if I were drinking alcohol at this rate, we’d all be in trouble.

I set out to prove men and women could be friends, and it didn’t have to end in a five year long horrible career mismatch that explodes in my face and scars me forever.  I probably overstepped in trying so hard to prove that.  If I did, I am sorry.  But thank you for being there for me.  And yup, it’s true, huh?  Things can be good.  Relationships can be healthy.

With my God and my friends and my family and my protected phone line surrounding me like a shield, I decided to no longer be frightened.

My fear had been conquered, well, if he isn’t around.  Otherwise, I still shake.  I moved on to the sadness.  I mourned the lost relationships in every crisscross pattern in which they had been tied.  Our kids had been friends.  We vacationed together.  We said things like Aunt and Uncle, boss, friend, brother and sister in Christ.  In that respect, we’re stuck with each other.  But I suppose God Himself can straighten that out later.

I went to church.  I came home and cried and slept till evening.  I did it again the next week.  I had no sympathy for people who had wandered off from Westwood this year.  Then I wished I were more sympathetic, like I used to be.  And is this really healthy?  But I go back again.

My garden last year was random and wild.  I think, “that matches the turmoil in my soul” then laugh and realize it is just untamed because I have been moping around and neglecting it.  It feels good to laugh.  This year’s garden is not as wonderful as in years past, but it is again beautiful and orderly, and it feels good to play in the dirt.

So here I am a year later.  I have a dream job.  I am free, even mandated, to treat people ethically and treat patients to the best of my medical ability.  I have what I hope is the start of a writing career.  I have my awesome family and friends.  I held on to my church with a closed fist – I know, you’re not supposed to hold anything with a closed fist, but I need it.

I went grocery shopping today.  I rarely do that anymore.  I used to do it weekly.  Now Russ has to pick stuff up every other day or so, because I just can’t.  Tonight, I am preparing freezer meals for the month, like my ex-boss’ wife and I used to do together every month.  And I will be with former coworkers.  And our leader had to postpone it once before because of a Terrible Sadness in her family.

I have perspective.  I don’t have enough perspective to say “It’s just freezer meals.”  But I do have enough perspective to say “Things could be worse, a lot worse.”  And looking around, things are actually pretty wonderful.  It’s been quite a year.

Artists for Hope

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

This article was quite a departure from the pet-themed stuff I usually write.  But it was really fun to write.  And Roberta VanderZwaag is one of my favorite people, so it was a good excuse to spend time with her, and learn more about two things that are very dear to her, art and the children of Haiti.

So check it out when you have time.  It is in at  I think they didn’t know where else to put it!  I said Wuzzy Rat would be honored to be associated with such a wonderful group as Artists for Hope!


Ever wonder how good nutritional supplements taste to kids? One artist makes a crucial discovery and forms “Artists for Hope” to help combat malnutrition in Haiti. Learn about their work, see pictures of the cutest children you’re ever likely see.

I Love You Obie

Monday, May 10th, 2010

It was almost ten years ago I accidently killed my own dog while anesthetizing him for a routine dental cleaning.  I have not lost a dog to anesthesia before or since.  I have lost two cats and a kitten to anesthetic deaths, all prior to Obie.  I have anesthetized thousands of patients with no complications.  Statistics don’t matter when your pet is 100% dead.

Obie was brought into the hospital I worked at in Littleton with his friend Herbie Dog.  Their owner had passed away and their caretaker did not know what to do with them.  We had Benji Dog at home.  Obie came with the name “Benji” so we renamed him Obie (O.B.) for “Other Benji.”  For ten months, it was really fun to have three goofy old Poodles to walk with and play with and just hang out with.  You will have to get Max the Cat’s side of the story from him.

Obie died first, suddenly and tragically.  I don’t remember how long our team performed CPR, I just remember we didn’t hold back with anything we had, and were exhausted and shocked when we finally quit.

Benji died also suddenly and tragically five months later, but with none of the horrible heart-clawing guilt to go with the sorrow.  And Herbie, Herbie was the best of all I suppose.  We had him euthanized at sixteen and a half years of age when he could no longer function due to the severity of his arthritis.  Less than two years after we adopted Benji, our first dog, and all three were gone.  My grieving for Benji and Herbie, if the strands can be seperated, which of course they can’t be completely, was sad and straight-forward and almost complete.  My grieving for Obie was jagged and painful, stilted and at times abandoned, an open wound that I did not know how to treat.

I have always struggled with depression, but the struggle has been multiplied since losing Obie.  Struggling is better than not struggling I suppose.  I was seven months pregnant with my first baby, Amanda, when Obie died.  I really wanted my Grandma Amanda to meet my daughter Amanda.  My Grandma Amanda died the same month as Obie did.  I warn clients that when two horrible things happen in a short span of time, the grief is not added, it is multiplied.  And I hover to make sure they are ok.  But I let them assume that I know because I am a veterinarian, not because I still cry when I try to revisit September 2000.

Obie was our blind dog.  I am not sure he even realized it, as he was very well adapted.  We called Obie our Swiffer Puppy, because he was soft and fuzzy and white and his fur collected everything.  He had two surgeries to attempt to restore his sight.  Neither restored his sight, but he came through both surgeries without a hitch, which I did not even think to thank God for at the time.  After each surgery, he wore an e-collar to assure he would not paw at his eyes while they healed.  Obie was the only pet I ever knew who LOVED his e-collar.  He would stand in the middle of the living room listening for Max the Cat or Herbie Dog, then run at them full speed, picking their hind end up in his e-collar and make them play “wheelbarrow” with him across the room.  Then Max would scowl, or Herbie would stand confused, and Obie would smile a big blank-eyed smile with his tongue hanging out.  He had the best smile, as beautiful as any Greyhound’s smile.  He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

When Obie died, Mom and Dad sent us a TCBY gift certificate and a card that I still have.  I realized recently that I have not been back to TCBY, my favorite yogurt place ever, since we used that gift certificate.  How could I have not realized that sooner?  It has been almost ten years.  That’s a weird thing not to notice.  Now that I have, I probably still won’t go back.

Stephanie gave me a very sweet card too and a bag of Hershey Hugs, and a real one.  I have also not eaten Hugs since I ate that entire bag in one day.  Also weird.  I love chocolate.I miss you Obie.  I love you.  I’m so sorry buddy.

I have told myself all these years that I have not written about Obie or discussed his death much because I don’t want people to think anesthesia isn’t safe.  It is.  I also probably do not want people to think leaving their pets in my care isn’t safe.  Who knows why I waited?  I didn’t even know I had frozen yogurt and chocolate issues until recently.

But also, I probably haven’t said much because I didn’t want to go through this.  What was I thinking writing this when I am alone?  It has been in my head so long, I guess I just figured it was a rainy, depressing day anyways, so why not?  This is horrible.  But maybe it will be better later.  Most days are.  Some are still pretty rough though.  Guess I just made this one of them.

Guest Post – Noel Olson

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010





For all dog lovers

I’m Noel and my most favorite animal is dogs. I personally like all dogs, but my favorite kind is the Labrador Retrievers, or labs for short.

My two dogs Coco and Chanel are labs. Coco is a black lab, and Chanel is a yellow lab.

If you get a dog you must give it food twice a day and give it plenty of water and exercise. Don’t ever pull the dog’s ears or tail, that will hurt your dog very bad. Train your dog very well and when you are done you are in a world of laughter and happiness. By Noel Olson