Owning a pet can have many benefits, from therapeutic to teaching responsibility and lessons about death. While 70 percent of American homes have a dog or a cat, many people have allergic reactions to these lovable creatures. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, approximately 10% of the population may be allergic to animals. Along with dogs and cats, the list of pets that trigger allergies include most of the common household pets: hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds. Large fish tanks can increase the humidity in a home which can also bother asthma sufferers.
If you have a household member with animal allergies, a reptile may be the pet for you. As you look into allergy-safe pet alternatives, consider buying a lizard.
Leopard geckos are one of the easiest lizards to care for and most tolerate handling, making them ideal pets. Captivity breeding has produced many color options for these desert lizards. Choose a gecko that has a tail at least as wide as its body. This is a sign of health as leopard geckos store their food in their tails. Check the eyes, nose, and mouth to make sure they are clear and free of discharge and the toes should be free of unshed skin.
The first step to any reptile purchase is set up your new pet’s home. An aquarium, at least two feet long, with a screen top makes an ideal gecko cage. Cover the bottom of the cage with reptile carpet or paper towels. The use of sand is not recommended for geckos less than 6 inches long or younger than one year. Young geckos often miss as they lunge for their food and can inadvertently eat the sand. This can cause internal damage to their digestive system.
Being cold-blooded, all reptiles need an environment that allows them to choose when they need to warm up or cool down. This can be accomplished by heating one end of the cage to approximately 850 F with a heating pad and light and leaving the other end at room temperature. Geckos are susceptible to burns if the floor of the warm end is too hot. For this reason, heat rocks are not recommended.
You will want to provide your gecko with places to hide. The warm end of the tank should have a moist hide that the gecko will use to aid in shedding. This can be made by cutting a small door into an old food container, like one from margarine or cottage cheese. Put a moist paper towel on the lid as the floor of the hide. Since geckos in the wild get their moisture from the dew of plants, some geckos will also lick the moist hide when thirsty.
Leopard geckos are insectivores and will eat mostly crickets, mealworms and occasional wax worms. What you feed your crickets, you feed your gecko. Therefore, crickets should be “gut-loaded” by feeding them vegetables and fruit. Orange peels will provide moisture as well as nutrients. Dusting the crickets lightly with calcium powder before feeding to your gecko will help prevent Metabolic Bone Disease.
Cleaning a leopard gecko’s cage is an easy task, especially if the floor is covered with paper towels. Leopard geckos choose one spot in the cage, usually a corner, to use as their bathroom facilities. As soon as evidence of such appears, remove the paper towel and replace with a clean one. Remove any dead or uneaten food as soon as the geckos are done eating. Crickets can bite your gecko if left in the cage after the feeding time.
Another common lizard choice is the bearded dragon. Although only 3-4 inches long when first born, adult bearded dragons can grow to be 16-22 inches. Choose a bearded dragon that is alert and appears curious. Because they can be very fragile as babies, choose a bearded dragon that is at least 6 inches long. Check that there is no discharge from the eyes, ears and mouth.
Because of their size, bearded dragons need a much larger cage. For an adult dragon a 50 or 55 gallon aquarium is preferred. The floor should be covered with reptile carpet or paper towels. Reptile sand or children’s play sand can be used for older dragons, but again, do not use for juveniles. Provide your dragon with places to hide and rocks and branches to climb on.
A bearded dragon’s cage should be kept at 95-1050 F at the warm end and 80-850 F at the cool end. A full spectrum light should be provided for 12-14 hours a day. The habitat should be dry with plenty of water. Misting the cage can aid the dragon in shedding.
Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and vegetables. An adult’s diet consists mostly of leafy greens and small, non-citrus fruits and a few insects a week, more often for juveniles. These insects are usually crickets, mealworms, silkworms or superworms. Larger adults may also eat chopped meat or pinky mice. Ideal vegetables include dandelion greens, mustard greens, bok choy, green beans, snow peas and cooked squash.
While leopard geckos and bearded dragons are only two of the lizard choices available as allergy-safe pet alternatives, they are fun, easy to care for pets that make great conversation starters for your guests as well.