Reptile experts are determined to raise awareness about the dangers of not caring for your pets properly.
Grace Dickinson, 33, is a consulting head of herpetology at a zoological collection, previously helping Wrigglies Exotic Pets of High Street, Dunstable, to rehome reptiles.
The caring businesswoman is hoping to educate Dunstable residents about the dangers of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), caused by a poor diet and not providing your pet with the correct amount of ultraviolet light.
She said: “MBD is a serious condition basically caused by malnutrition, characterised by weakness, lethargy, poor skin condition, bone breakage, wobbly legs, thickening of the lower jaw, and neurological problems.
“Dave, a reptile specialist at Wrigglies, told me a horror story about an iguana called Neil that had lived outside in a rabbit hutch and was fed cornflakes! Neil’s eye had a huge abcess on it.
“We managed to rehome him at a zoo I was working for at the time - Dave is one of the most friendly, selfless and knowledgable reptile guys working in the hobby that I know.”
The minimum elements looked at in reptile diets are vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and sugars , while owners should feed their species the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio (Ca:P).
The ideal ratio of Ca:P in your bearded dragon, tortoise or iguana diet is between 1.1 and 2.1. Lists for different species are online or you can visit a reptile specialist .
Grace said: “You should ‘gut load’ your feeder bugs. This means giving them a good diet, thereby improving their nutritional quality when your reptile eats them. The absolute best diet you can provide for herbivores and omnivores - and your feeder bugs - is wild greens. But avoid ones covered in pesticides and herbicides!”
UV is also highly important, as without it, your pet cannot absorb calcium.
The wattage of the bulb you select for your vivarium will need to be relevant/compatible with the size of the animal’s enclosure. Aim for “full spectrum UVA UVB” and remember that different species need different strengths of UV , so check the packaging.
What are the best wild greens?
Dandelions and flowers, clover, chickweed, groundsel, milk thistle, sow thistle, plantain, flowering nettles, and rose flowers.
Check that you can identify toxic plants, such as buttercup.
Try vitamin and mineral supplements such as nutrobal on their greens and/or bugs.
Always read labels carefully and seek advice from a local reptile expert.
A note about bearded dragons:
Grace said: “Lots of beardies get fed a bug only diet because their owners think their ‘beardies’ wont eat or don’t like greens- a bug only diet is too much protein for them (their gut system has actually evolved for a herbivorous diet) and causes gout and liver failure.
“If your beardie won’t eat bugs, stop feeding it bugs for a week or two but provide lots of different greens every day, and it will soon switch over to a healthier diet.”
Grace said: “ You can buy different strengths of UV for different species.
“Usually the packaging will have some information on whether the strength is best suited for a tortoise, basking reptile, gecko, frog etc.
“If your species is thermophillic, meaning it loves the sun, such as a bearded dragon, it will need a much higher percentage than a crested gecko that hides among leaves and naturally isn’t exposed to such higher strengths.
“Also the wattage (power) of the bulb you select will need to be relevant/compatible with the size of the animals enclosure, so that you can be sure that your animal actually gets some UV (isn’t too far away from the source) and doesn’t get burned (too close to a too high powered UV source).
“There are guides on the packaging, lots of info online, or if you’re really not sure, find your local reptile specialist store and go there to get advice. It’s very confusing selecting UV as there are so many different options and so many different brands.”