The Paw Report, Episode 405 – Living with Lizards

[music plays]
[no dialogue]>>Kelly Runyon:
When you think of pets, dogs and cats probably come to mind.
But on this episode of the Paw Report, we’re talking about living with lizards.
Ever thought about bringing a bearded dragon or leopard gecko into your home?
Believe it or not, Kyle Thompson, the reptile guy from PetSmart in Mattoon, says both make
good pets. Stay with us for this episode of the Paw Report.
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Well, this episode of the Paw Report is not for the squeamish.
We’re talking about, well, lizards are pets, too.
And Kyle Thompson, the reptile guy from PetSmart in Mattoon, is joining us with the two of,
couple of his two friends, Drogo, the big guy, the iguana, and Francesca, the little
bearded dragon that’s climbing up his arm. So, Kyle, thank you so much for joining us.
I must tell everyone out there, Kyle wanted me to hold one of these, and I said, Kyle,
I’m not going to be able to ask questions and focus if I have either of these two little
guys on me. So, thank you for bringing them.
And I’m real excited to talk about lizards as pet, too, being part of the family.
So, thank you for joining us. Now, Drogo here is an iguana.
How big is he?>>Kyle Thompson:
If I had to estimate, he’s about three and a half, possibly four feet.
>>Kelly Runyon: And how old is he?
>>Kyle Thompson: About five or six years old now.
>>Kelly Runyon: And little Francesca there?
>>Kyle Thompson: I want to say she’s about six or seven.
>>Kelly Runyon: Six, and that’s as big as she’s probably going
to get at this stage of the game? We’ll talk more about that a little bit later
in the interview. But first, before a person even decides, you
know, if they’re deciding to bring a pet into their home, before they even decide to get
a reptile, what should they consider before making the commitment?
>>Kyle Thompson: You definitely want to do your research on
them. Bearded dragons here are pretty notorious
for developing symptoms along the lines of rubber jaw without proper lighting.
Without the proper environment, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for disaster.
Not only that, you definitely want to know what kind of animal you’re getting yourself
into beforehand, whether it’s going to be a large tropical animal, something that needs
a lot of climbing room, or even a burrowing lizard.
But it’s all key points to know about setting up an environment for them.
>>Kelly Runyon: So, it’s about doing some research.
And there are probably a lot of different varieties of lizards or reptiles out there
that you can investigate.>>Kyle Thompson:
Mmhmm, absolutely. We’ve got a pretty good example of diversity
here. The iguanas are entirely an arboreal species,
which means you’re going to want them to have climbing room, lots and lots of open air.
And likewise, these guys here are semi-arboreal, so they’ll like to climb, but it’s much, much
more vital for them to have open expanses of running room, as opposed to climbing.
>>Kelly Runyon: You can tell by their eyes, they’re very inquisitive.
And I even asked when the interview started, I said, can they hear?
And you said, absolutely. So, they have senses.
They’re very keen on what’s going on in the room here.
>>Kyle Thompson: They’ve got highly developed senses.
The iguana here has what’s called pineal eye above him.
There’s a little indentation on the top of his skull that is essentially the leftover
remnants of a third eye. That being said, it actually doesn’t see.
It’s more of a light aperture.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm. Same with the bearded dragon, or no?
>>Kyle Thompson: Nope, the beardies don’t have that.
>>Kelly Runyon: But she’s keen.
She’s looking around at all the cameras and all the movement going on here.
Now, there are several species, as we just mentioned, of lizards that can make good pets.
Name some of the species, especially the ones that might be good for the beginner, somebody
like me. I have dogs.
I’m not a reptile gal. But you know, what could you suggest for those
just starting out?>>Kyle Thompson:
For those starting out, you want something that’s not as high octane as maybe Drogo here.
Something like a leopard gecko or even crested geckos make excellent starting points.
Typically, they’ve got a pretty docile attitude. Not too in-depth care requirements.
Both are nocturnal species, so that really helps out with your specialized lighting and
stuff like that. Bearded dragons don’t make a bad start either.
They’re really, really placid animals, really, really, agreeable.
>>Kelly Runyon: And you said that’s about as big as she’ll
get? Now, what about Drogo?
>>Kyle Thompson: He has potential with the right diet and the
extra space to reach up to about six, maybe even seven, feet long.
>>Kelly Runyon: Wow.
So, he needs a lot of running room.>>Kyle Thompson:
Mmhmm.>>Kelly Runyon:
What about, you mentioned the iguana, Drogo here, for the more experienced reptile person
like yourself. What about, there goes Francesca.
She’s on the move. What about for the experienced reptile keeper?
I mean, what other varieties would you suggest?>>Kyle Thompson:
For someone who’s got a little more experience, then you can go with someone like this guy
here. A lot of the people who get really in-depth
into reptiles are into like monitor lizards and tegus, which need quite a bit more care
than something like Francesca will.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm. Are they friendly?
You know, I mean when you think of a pet, you think of one you curl up in bed with,
you know. Most people do sleep with their pets.
I can’t imagine, you know, cuddling up with Drogo there.
>>Kyle Thompson: [laughs]
Drogo might be a little high octane to be a cuddler.
Bearded dragons like Francesca there are pretty notorious for having a friendly disposition.
There’s been several times where you could even see captor bred hatchlings that will
actively look for human interaction once they get used to it.
With iguanas, it’s all about building trust. If they don’t trust you, you’re not going
to get an animal to work with you whatsoever. He’s still kind of new to me, so he’s, as
you can see, kind of floppy and doesn’t want to work out, as well.
>>Kelly Runyon: You’ve only had him for a couple of months,
you said. And what about diet?
You know, I was kind of investigating the beardie, as you call her, or call that variety.
They can’t just survive on crickets alone. They need other nutritions.
Are their diets the same? Or, again, if somebody’s out there thinking,
oh how cute, I want to get one. But what do I feed them?
>>Kyle Thompson: That’s, the very common misconception is that
a lot of lizards eat the same diet. Francesca there will eat, when she’s younger
especially, they need a high intake of protein. So, you’re looking at crickets, roaches, a
lot of insect matter. As she gets older, she’ll lean more towards
a vegetative diet. But from start to finish, iguanas are all
purely herbivorous. They’ll never touch animal matter unless it’s
absolutely required. In a captive setting, it should almost never
be required. They should almost always be eating like broad
leafy greens, something with a lot of protein in it.
>>Kelly Runyon: He’s just staring at me.
[laughs] So, a lot of protein, a lot of leafy, leafy
greens.>>Kyle Thompson:
Yep, broad leafy greens: collard greens, mustard greens, even dandelion leaves.
>>Kelly Runyon: Now, do they, for instance the beardie, do
they hunt for their food? Is there a hunting…?
You know, like cats, they like to, they have that prey about them?
>>Kyl Thompson: Yeah, the bearded dragons will run down food
if it’s running from them. They’ll actively hunt and search for insects
if they have the ability to go for them.>>Kelly Runyon:
Oh boy. You’re on stage now.
[laughs] It’s so funny, because they’ll be real rambunctious,
and then they’ll, oh boy. I think she just saw her friend on the table,
and she’s getting excited. Getting excited there, are you?
Wowzer, she’s giving me the look like she’s going to come scurrying over here.
See, I told you. Now I’ve lost my train of thought on questioning.
Well, let’s go back to the homestead. You stay right there.
Let’s go back to the homestead. What type of containers should we…
I mean, obviously these two probably need different types of shelter.
>>Kyle Thompson: Someone like Francesca would fit really well
in about a 40 gallon tank with a proper set-up and proper heating.
>>Kelly Runyon: When you say proper set-up, what does that
mean?>>Kyle Thompson:
You want to find the right bedding for them. A lot of times, you’ll see them put down sand,
and sand can actually sit in their belly and cause what’s known as an impaction.
It just sits there and doesn’t get digested. A lot of people have been starting to switch
over to what’s, it’s basically a type of astro-turf for reptiles.
Their claws can’t get caught, and they can’t digest anything like that.
She’ll really need a lot of climbing space to bask on underneath her lights.
A lot of times, you’re wanting to look at a pretty warm tank with a basking spot in
one section for her. He needs something similar, but he needs a
lot more space. At home, we’ve got him in about a six-foot
tall enclosure, and even then, sometimes I wonder if that’s a little bit too small for
him.>>Kelly Runyon:
Now, when you say, okay so the flooring is important.
Would that be considered the bedding? She’s kissing our little friend on the table
there. Is that their bedding, so that, do they, they
don’t nest, I take it?>>Kyle Thompson:
Not necessarily. They do in certain circumstances.
Francesca here, whenever she would roll around into breeding season, you’ll definitely notice,
even if she’s never been introduced to a male, they’ll kind of get a maternal instinct to
do stuff like that.>>Kelly Runyon:
What about a water area? You know, when I think of lizards, I think,
well almost like tortoises. I envision like a pool for them, or a little
water area. Is that something that’s…
There she goes! Is that something that’s needed?
>>Kyle Thompson: Absolutely.
You always want to give them a standing pool of water.
Bearded dragons aren’t necessarily adapted to drink from still pools of water.
Most of their hydration comes from plant matter and vegetation.
But it definitely does help to soak whenever they eat; it helps kind of speed up their
digestive tract. Guys like Drogo here actually like to swim.
They can hold their breath for a pretty good time underwater.
>>Kelly Runyon: Are they, now I’m assuming that you can’t
keep the two in the same container. So, do they just not play nicely with each
other, or…?>>Kyle Thompson:
It’s more of an issue of cross-species contamination. We’re talking about two different families
of lizard here. The bearded dragon’s from the Agamidae family,
and this is an iguana. And there’s diseases that can affect maybe
a lizard like Francesca a little bit differently or more severely than it would someone like
Drogo here.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm. You mentioned diseases, and I think one question
I have is: do you have to vet these animals? Much like you would a dog or cat, I would
assume. Maybe you can talk about, maybe they have
to have wellness checks, or maybe just when you’ve noticed something gone awry, or maybe
they just don’t act right or feel well. Do you have to do that?
>>Kyle Thompson: Yeah.
Both of them can have issues related to breeding, or related to… related to their husbandry,
their enclosures. And without proper ones, I’ve already touched
on metabolic bone disease. That’s one that if you ever see symptoms of,
you definitely want to get them into a vet who knows what they’re talking about pretty
soon.>>Kelly Runyon:
What is that? When you say metabolic bone disease, what
do you notice?>>Kyle Thompson:
Their bones become pretty brittle. You can see what’s called rubber jaw, where
the jaw doesn’t always fully close, and it looks like it’s actually made of rubber.
That’s from poor nutrition, poor lighting, poor enclosures.
There’s a lot of different factors that can fit into their overall health.
>>Kelly Runyon: But again, it goes back to that, one of the
first questions I asked you is when somebody is thinking about bringing a lizard or reptile
into their family, these are some things that they need to know and look out for as part
of the process before you dive right in and say, okay, I’m going to commit to this animal.
What about lighting? You mentioned that, you know, some of the
enclosures, the tanks, their habitat area does require lighting.
Is it the same, is it different, is it all day, is it all night?
>>Kyle Thompson: It’s similar, but there are some slight differences.
Tropical animals typically use a UVB rating of about 5.0, as opposed to the desert animals,
have about a 10.0 on their UVB rating. And really, it makes sense when you look at
where they come from. The bearded dragons are an Australian species.
And we’re typically dealing with the central. They’re in open expanses of land, lots of
dry, rocky area where the sun beats down on them all day.
The 5.0 makes sense for these guys here because they’re dealing with the tropical.
So, you’re dealing with a lot of sunlight filtered out by the canopy of the forest that
they live in. They do like similar heat.
This, Drogo actually steams to, actually about 110 degrees, is when he seems happiest.
Francesca I’m going to assume is right around 92 to 95 in her peak of happiness.
>>Kelly Runyon: Can you, it may seem like a strange question,
but can you train a lizard? And what species, like the Chinese water dragon
I understand is trainable. And in fact, when I was reading about them,
you could even leash train them. You could put a harness and walk them like
a dog. But you said that they can hear, they have
very good eyesight. Or, they have very good hearing and very good
eyesight. So, can you work with them and train?
>>Kyle Thompson: Iguanas are really observational.
What you can do with them is they’ll learn words based on stimuli.
I’ve had them before where you can actually tell them to go to the water, and they’ll
get into a bathtub full of water.>>Kelly Runyon:
And how do you go about that? Do you, is it just repetition?
I was just going to say, do you just go to the water, and then show them the water, or
put them in the water? Or what do you do?
>>Kyle Thompson: They’ve got a natural inclination towards
water. So, once you’ve kind of talked to them, and
they get to know their voice and trust you, they pick up pretty quick on what you want
them to do. As a matter of fact, we’ve actually gotten
him now to where you can go feed him, and he’ll usually lay down next to his food bowl
waiting for it. He won’t try to climb out anymore.
Sometimes, he’ll go lay down on the bottom shelf and wait for you to put his food in
so he can climb up to get it. And that’s not necessarily intentional training.
It was just, we would always put him on the bottom shelf so we could feed him, so he wouldn’t
be in the way. And now he’s kind of learned it.
>>Kelly Runyon: Now, they, are they aggressive?
You know, there are some breeds of dogs and cats that are a little bit more aggressive
or rambunctious or, you know, labs, you know, they don’t settle down until they’re about
three years old. But you know, if you, just like any animal,
if you hit them right, you know, not hit them, but when kids play with animals, they get
a little rambunctious. Are they aggressive, or will they, could they
bite?>>Kyle Thompson:
Bearded dragons have a natural disposition that leans towards pretty friendly.
Iguanas, on the other hand, are a handful from the time they hatch until about his size
now. You don’t necessarily have to worry about
too much biting with the iguanas; it’s the tail.
They can whip it and leave some pretty nasty welts, or even cut open skin.
And likewise, there’s monitor lizards out there that are typically pretty aggressive,
unless they build a trust with the owner.>>Kelly Runyon:
And when you say aggressive, they may nip, you know, they’re fightly?
>>Kyle Thompson: Yeah.
They might nip, they might hiss, they might even just try to run away from you.
And then, you get into the whole cornered animal.
A lot of times, people don’t give them the space that they like.
They try to handle them a little too much or a little too early.
>>Kelly Runyon: You also mentioned their nails, which are
long. Do they use those as a defense mechanism?
>>Kyle Thompson: They can.
What the iguanas tend to do is they tend to swing their claws around all crazy when they
get scared which, as sharp as they are, I’m sure you can see he kind of cut me up a little
bit. A lot of times, you can actually trim arboreal
species like the iguanas’ nails to help you out more so than anything.
>>Kelly Runyon: How in the world do you trim an iguana’s nails?
>>Kyle Thompson: Very carefully.
>>Kelly Runyon: It probably takes more than one person, I
would…>>Kyle Thompson:
If you’ve got one that doesn’t like to deal with it, yeah, it might take more than one.
>>Kelly Runyon: Okay, when you get ready to do that, don’t
call me. [laughs]
>>Kyle Thompson: Duly noted.
>>Kelly Runyon: Oh yes.
You know, I think one thing that we might explain, and you said that yo’ve got some
stories to support this, is don’t buy a lizard because it’s cheap.
Because, sometimes those could be the lizards that give you the most problems.
>>Kyle Thompson: Absolutely.
We’re looking at the best example of it. A lot of pet shops will sell baby iguana hatchlings
for right around 15 dollars, which looks like a great deal when you look at it.
Btu considering that a full grown iguana needs almost a small room to itself, you’re looking
at a lot of money for upkeep, building the enclosures.
I mean, these guys can do okay in a glass tank, up until a certain size.
But they’re definitely not going to be happy in a 90 gallon, 125, probably even a 250 gallon
tank; they’re not going to be happy. These guys in the wild have a vast, vast expanse
of territory that they call their own. And you just can’t replicate that with an
aquarium.>>Kelly Runyon:
Have you had some stories yourself from people that might have gone that route, and just
not, they’ve not been ready? Talk about some of those.
>>Kyle Thompson: Absolutely.
I’ve taken in a couple monitor lizards that people got when they were nice six-inch hatchling,
and they look kind of cute and chubby then. And the monitor lizards are looking at the
same time. These were Savannah monitors, so they were
about a five-foot lizard, too. And I had these guys, I want to say back in
about 2009, when the person who had them had them in a 55 gallon tank.
There were two of them. And one was about three feet long; the other
was going on three and a half. And they were about to break the tank they
were in.>>Kelly Runyon:
Wow. And you said sometimes they don’t play nice
with each other. So, when you’re in a space like that…
>>Kyle Thompson: You’re cramped.
>>Kelly Runyon: You’re cramped, and you get cranky.
[laughs]>>Kyle Thompson:
And monitor lizards, and the same way with iguanas, command vast expanses of territory
in the wild.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm. What about their skin?
You know, when you came in, again, they just, it’s not that they’re mean.
And I think you’ve established that. They just have this look about them, like
any minute they’ll [growls]. You know, they’ll just pounce.
>>Kyle Thompson: It’s a primitive look.
>>Kelly Runyon: It is a primitive look.
But talk about their skin. Do they change color, and what exactly does
it feel like? Kyle Thompson:
A lot of lizards you’ll see change color depending on the light that they’re nearby.
A lot of times, they’ll actually darken in natural sunlight as a means of absorbing as
many of the rays that they can. And typically, they’re pretty leathery.
I mean, you can feel this guy. It kind of feels like a worn old shoe.
>>Kelly Runyon: I might pet you, Drogo, before you leave.
But I just need some time to warm up to you. What about the little spiky, the little spikes–
>>Kyle Thompson: The spines back here?
>>Kelly Runyon: Yeah, what, is that a defense mechanism, as
well, or…? Are they sharp?
>>Kyle Thompson: They’re not sharp.
They are kind of bony, though. From what I’ve seen, they’re actually there
to help absorb sunlight.>>Kelly Runyon:
Now, what about letting them outside? I mean, do you let them play outside, if you
have a fenced-in yard? Can you do that, or…?
>>Kyle Thompson: You don’t with him because he can climb faster
than I can run. But a bearded dragon I definitely wouldn’t
have a problem taking outside and letting get some natural sunlight.
>>Kelly Runyon: Do you have leashes?
Have you thought, I mean is that something that you’ve ever done?
I can’t imagine, can you imagine walking down the street, and you’ve got an iguana on the
leash?>>Kyle Thompson:
I’ve never had my own iguana on a leash. I’ve had my, an uncle of mine had an iguana
that had a big leash. And I used to take him out when I was a little
guy, and I thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
>>Kelly Runyon: So, they’re trainable, like we talked about
earlier. You can…
>>Kyle Thompson: They’re not as leash friendly as say, like
a dog or cat maybe. They kind of have their own agenda.
They’ll poke around and look at things that amuse them.
They won’t necessarily walk slack-leash, like a dog would.
>>Kelly Runyon: We’ve talked about personality and different
varieties. So, once a person has done their research,
and they feel pretty confident on what they want to get, whether it’s a bearded dragon,
or whether it’s an iguana. Once you decide what lizard to bring into
your home, what are some essentials that a person out there watching would need to have
to make this transition a smooth one?>>Kyle Thompson:
Well, the first essential thing I would ever say is the knowledge of what you’re getting
yourself into. There are more species of lizards that differ
even in slight ways from one another than I can even list in the time we’ve got here.
And it is essential that you know what you’re setting up.
Whether that be with heat lights, whether that be with water bowls, fake plants, live
plants, even bedding like that matters entirely on the species that you’ve got.
>>Kelly Runyon: What about, what can you say about food?
I think that’s, you know, too, something that–>>Kyle Thompson:
Drogo eats all fresh produce. We’ll get him collard greens–
>>Kelly Runyon: How many times a day?
>>Kyle Thompson: He’s kind of a thick guy, so he likes to eat
about twice a day. We avoid fruits with them because the sugars
aren’t necessarily as good for them, that are in the fruits, as a lot of the nutrients
that are in like broad, leafy greens, such as collard greens, mustard greens.
I’ve mentioned dandelion flowers and leaves.>>Kelly Runyon:
And for the bearded dragon, just for sake of talking about a diet, besides crickets?
>>Kyle Thompson: Crickets, you’re looking at the same thing.
Broad, leafy greens with a lot of protein to them.
You can also feed them on occasion dubia roaches, meal worms, wax worms, super worms, when they’re
about Francesca’s size.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm. So, just to go over the checklist.
You need to A) research, you need to make sure that you understand the commitment.
It’s just like any animal. When you make a commitment to a dog or cat
or reptile, it is a commitment. It’s proper diet, it’s wellness and, you know,
making sure that they have a good environment. And then, you talked about the containers,
making sure that there’s bedding, possible water, lighting, climbing structures.
I would have to believe with their nails, that’s kind of their tendency, that that’s
what, that’s what they want to do.>>Kyle Thompson:
Yep. If you actually look at the feet, they’re
equipped like grappling hooks for climbing.>>Kelly Runyon:
They are! They’re very long and, yeah, graspy.
They look like they can climb. As we leave here, we have about a minute left,
advice beyond what we’ve talked about today. Advice for future reptile owners.
>>Kyle Thompson: Apart from research, definitely put the time
into your animal. A lizard like Drogo here can actually give
you a lot of problems if you’re not consistent with your upkeep on them.
Whether that be the handling or taming process, you just definitely, definitely want to make
sure you’re going to commit to the animal that you’ve got.
I can say the person who owned Drogo before I did did a really good job of it, in that
he’s not nippy, he won’t tail whip. He’s only slightly uncomfortable with being
held down for sake of the show, but–>>Kelly Thompson:
Right, I think all the lights are, I think he’s enticed by the lights.
Well Kyle, thank you so much for coming on today.
And you know, Drogo, I may pet you yet. And Francesca, she’s running around the studio
here, but she is here. She’s running around.
I think Drogo’s kind of giving her the look, so.
And also, you know, anybody out there, you can also talk to Kyle if anybody has any questions,
and you can share your knowledge with those out there maybe just starting out.
So, we appreciate you joining us on this edition of the Paw Report.
Thanks, Kyle.>>Kyle Thompson:
Glad to be here.>>Kelly Runyon:
Thanks, Drogo. If you are a veterinarian, trainer, groomer,
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