Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Learning About Pets

Our bearded dragon Lady Oscar woke up from brumation on Saturday.

She initially went to sleep in October, but then was up again in mid-November for an afternoon, when I gave her a bath but she didn’t have anything to eat and as soon as she was back in her viv she went back under her log and back to sleep again. Since then, she’s been in brumation. This is a kind of hibernation stage that bearded dragons go through. It’s a bit of an unpredictable thing, because not all dragons (particularly captive ones) will do it, and not all dragons do it in the same way.

From October to mid-November, I would have described Lady O as ‘yo-yo brumating’ which means that she was lethargic and asleep a large amount of time, not particularly active when she was awake, and not eating. After the mid-November bath she went under her log and stayed there, shifting occasionally to get comfortable again, but that was it. Because of the positioning of the log she was under, I could see in the end where her head was if I went up to the viv and peered in a small space, which I did every now and then to check on her, and she’d respond by half opening the eye closest to me, which was all I wanted from her so that I could confirm she was OK.

On Saturday, she was scuffling about quite a bit under her log. My mum was here, and at the time she was sitting in the front room with Jacob and myself, and as we both looked at the viv we realised Lady O had turned round under the log, and her nose was pointing out where her tail had been. Her eyes were open and she appeared to be waking up.

Now personally, I’m not particularly good when I’ve just woken up – I mean, I’m grumpy til I’ve been to the loo and had at least half a cup of tea and chance for my brain to get into gear. So I tend to assume others are like that too, whether they’re people or animals, so I left her to it for a while. I figured she’s been asleep since November – it’s probably going to take a while for her to get her bearings.

Sure enough a while later she was moving again. Where she’d curled herself round under the log to come out forwards, her tail was still curled up with her. Their tails are quite powerful for their size, and so as she pushed with her tail on the inside of the log she propelled herself over the smooth flooring so without moving her legs at all she slid out from under the log and stood in the middle of the viv looking around and blinking. It was an epic way of getting out of bed. All she needed was some grand entrance music the way she did that, it was hilarious.

Anyway, I gave her some cucumber as it was all I had at the time suitable for her (as she hasn’t been eating since being in brumation I haven’t been buying anything – the food she eats goes off too quickly to keep on buying it on the off chance that she might wake up) She had something to eat, and after she’d had some time to bask and digest it Daddy P was home, so I took Lady O upstairs for a bath while he cleaned out the viv and replaced the cucumber with a proper meal for her – some leafy spring greens and a couple of slices of radish.

In her bath, she wasn’t too impressed, but then I put some water on her nose which she licked so I did that for a while and she plumped up even more (she was a little dehydrated when she first woke up and looked quite wrinkly) She has lost a little weight in brumation, but that’s to be expected. After her bath I sat and cuddled her for a while, and J was too, and when we put her back in the viv she had more to eat and then went to bask before bedtime.

I’m so pleased she’s up again – I’ve really missed this little character – but she doesn’t seem quite as energised as I had been expecting her to be once waking up. On the Facebook page where I go for support and assistance with her care, lots of other people are reporting their beardies being quite energetic and glass surfing, black bearding, running around like crazies. Lady O has been awake and moving, but quite lethargic like she’s still struggling to wake up. She’s not eaten much and she’s not been to the loo – I’m wondering if maybe she’s yo-yo-ing again.

On the other hand, it could be that she is in desperate need of a new viv, and I’m very aware of that. Her set up is the one we inherited when we homed her, and I’ve learned so much since then that I now understand it is completely the wrong style set up. I can’t keep her temperatures right, the vivarium is too small for her, and her bulbs are wrong, so we’ve changed what we can since having her but we decided at Christmas that when she woke up from brumation we would buy her all new set up so she can kick off this year in style with everything exactly how she needs it to be happy and healthy. It’s going to set us back a fair amount of money – around £200 – but nobody ever said that owning a pet was cheap, and to me it’s money well spent because I want her to be in the best environment possible.

The trouble is, bearded dragons tend to be lumped into the reptile category by pet shops who think they need the same set up as other reptiles. The reality is they need quite personalised care.

- Pet shops will sell sand or bark chippings as substrate – this is entirely unsuitable for a bearded dragon, due to the chance of the dragon ingesting it, which can result in impaction which can be fatal. It’s also very unhygienic. Rough side up tiles and fake grass are far better for creating a healthy, safe environment.
- Pet shops will sell more than one dragon together, and say they need companions. They don’t. They are solitary animals and if you home more than one in the same vivarium one will dominate the other and one will end up getting injured. Keep it to a single dragon for each vivarium. You don’t want to breed them – there are already far too many unwanted dragons seeking homes, there is no need for you to breed hundreds more, so just don’t house them together.
- Pet shops will sell a small size vivarium together with unsuitable lighting and tell you that it’s the perfect starter set up for your dragon. It isn’t. Your dragon needs a space of 4ftx2ftx2ft to be comfortable, and there is no point in setting up anything smaller just because your dragon is little. It’s expensive – do it once, do it right, and you’re done.
- Pet shops will sell heat mats and heat rocks and say they are suitable for use in your vivarium. They’re not – bearded dragons can burn themselves seriously on these products because they can’t feel heat on their bellies, so they don’t know when they’re getting too hot.

I didn’t know anything about bearded dragons before I got Lady O, but I’m enjoying learning, and I’m getting a lot of support and information from the lovely admin on the BDUK page. They’re very helpful and have lots of advice and information – if you’re thinking of getting a dragon check out their page and speak to them about correct set up and how to responsibly home a dragon.

Now I do know more about them though, I know that when I walked into my local branch of a well known chain pet shop my heart broke for the bearded dragon that was in there. His vivarium was around 2ft long, and about 6ft tall. There was no way he could get close enough to the heat lamp to properly warm himself, and bask after feeding. He was dull grey in colour and dark, a sure sign of a cold dragon, and he was pancake flat on the dirty sand substrate. It looked like a whole box of locusts had simply been tipped into the vivarium and left – they were climbing all over him, he didn’t care, he wasn’t interested. Did you know locusts can bite? I certainly didn’t, but when I first got Lady O she wasn’t interested in a locust dropped in her viv and then I was advised by BDUK that I needed to remove it as it would likely attack her, biting her soft parts while she slept, and if a bite became infected that could be very nasty. So there’s this dragon with them walking all over him and looking so miserable and unhappy - He was plainly in desperate need of TLC and if I could have afforded to set him up properly myself I would have brought him home. As it is, I’m already saving for one decent set up, I can’t stretch for two right now!

I asked a staff member nearby whether he was the person who looked after the bearded dragons or if there was a member of staff who did available. He shrugged and said they just all kind of helped out with whatever needed doing. I picked up their leaflet – printed by the company – which states that in all of this well known chain stores, there was a specialist trained member of staff able to help with all your enquiries. He shrugged again and said they all just did whatever needed doing, so he could help with my questions.

I asked him a couple of things about the set up, the poor dragon, expressed my concerns, and he continually dismissed me with comments like, “Oh no, that’s the right way to do it” with no back up to his claims – which I know are wrong – and telling me that a locust can’t bite a bearded dragon because the locusts can’t break the dragons scales, telling me that they come from Australia so sand is the best substrate for them (wrong on so many levels!), telling me that as long as it’s warm enough generally in the viv there’s no need for a hot end and a cool end, no need for the dragon to have a way of basking closer to the heat source, no need for the dragon to have somewhere cooler and shady to hide etc etc. I was so upset by the time I left, that I came home and I wrote an e-mail to the well known chain store customer care department expressing my concerns for the wellbeing of this dragon and indeed any other live animals in this store if this was the level of care offered to the dragons maybe they’re doing it all wrong for all the other animals, too? I also noticed that in their official printed leaflet about bearded dragons that I picked up while in store that they state on it one of the things you need to have when creating a suitable set up is a heat lamp or heat rock. No, no, no! Even more upset, I added this into my e-mail to them.

That was around about eight weeks or so ago. I haven’t heard anything from them. I haven’t even had one of those automatically generated “Thank you for contacting” e-mails that tells me their head office address and when the e-mails are responded to. I’ve had no contact from them whatsoever to say they’ve read my e-mail, to address my concerns, anything.

I'm very disappointed with the lack of reply from such a well known retailer

At the moment at school, J is learning about pets. They had a lady from the Dogs Trust visit them the other week to discuss looking after dogs, and they got certificates for answering questions about caring for dogs correctly. J was especially pleased that the lady had asked him what kind of dogs he had at home and when he told her their breeds the lady gave him an extra point. As part of this continuation, today the children are going to visit the local branch of a well known pet shop. Oh yes. They are going to the shop where I know at least one animal has been recently kept in appalling conditions to be educated in how to care for pets.

I spoke to J. I asked him if he wanted to go, and he said he did, so that’s fine, though I did remind him about the bearded dragon we saw in there before and he did go through with me all the things that were wrong with that set up which re-enforced to me what a bright little button my boy is. I would love to be a fly on the wall when the staff try to tell him anything about the care of bearded dragons!

Anyway my little princess is in need of some breakfast, so I’m off to chop some spring greens and butternut squash!

Have a good day,


Mummy P

X x x x x

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