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Undersized Reptile



I very recently rescued a tiny baby beardie from certain death in a pet store. It was the smallest in a tank of five other beardies. He is less than 2.5 inches long. He is obviously suffering from starvation but has eaten and perked up quite a lot since we brought him home. When I first spotted him at the pet store, he was lying in a dish of vegetables all cut in pieces larger than his head and being trampled by his cagemates. His coloring was almost black, and his head was too big to be supported by his tiny body. I brought him home to a 20-gallon terrarium with UVA/UVB lighting and a basking spot with temperatures in the 93 to 95 degree Fahrenheit range.

I am currently feeding him a diet of gut-loaded crickets and fresh fruits and vegetables dusted with calcium and vitamins. He is also getting mealworms, kale, mustard greens, squash, carrots, green beans, peas and grapes. His color has now turned a sandy tan that appears to be most common to his breed, and he is lifting his head and running around.

I would like to catch any diet deficiencies he may have due to his brush with death, and also as a result of a trauma unknown, as his front leg is definitely broken. I don't know if there is anything that can be done to straighten or fix it, as at the moment his leg is not much bigger than a toothpick, and I worry that any splinting could cause further damage to the extremity. It is, however, completely bent in towards his body at the wrist and does appear to cause some small difficulty in getting around.

I was aware of the injury when I purchased him and have been trying to keep him on the ground level of his enclosure. In your opinion, is there anything that can be done for it, or will it just have to continue to heal as is? Is there anything else I should be feeding him to jump-start his recovery from his rocky start, or is the diet he is getting sufficient?

I have been making sure there are always finely chopped veggies available, and I have been feeding him live insects about one every hour or two. I have only had him about 30 hours now, and already his recovery is remarkable. I honestly didn't expect him to live through the night. I am sure he will still be a little touch and go, but I do have hopes for a full recovery for him. Anything you can suggest I would greatly appreciate.

Sarah, it was wonderful of you to adopt this poor, pitiful hatchling and rescue him from almost certain death. Because he had such a bad start, my first suggestion would be to make an appointment with a qualified herp veterinarian to get the little guy checked out.

Being the smallest in a tank of juvenile beardies and being offered food too large for him to actually eat, he has been stressed both physically and psychologically. Because he doesn’t need anything else to further wear him down physically, it would be best to ensure that he isn’t carrying a parasite load (such as coccidia, pinworms or roundworms) or that he doesn’t have any potentially dangerous bacteria (such as Salmonella). These tests can be readily performed on tiny lizards. Bringing in a fresh fecal or two would really help out the herp vet.

Your vet could also determine if the injury to his wrist is relatively fresh, in which case it might be possible to straighten out the misaligned hand. Instead of being a fracture, the injury might be dislocated, and there is a possibility that the limb could be corrected somewhat. Even if the limb isn’t perfect, it would possibly be better than leaving it as it is. From what you said, it is interfering with proper locomotion.

The little tyke might also benefit from parenteral fluids (meaning given by some route other than oral, ie. subcutaneously, intraosseously or intracoelomically) because he is probably a bit dehydrated. You’d be amazed at how a small amount of subcutaneous fluids can really perk up a sick herp. Your herp vet would determine if parenteral fluids are warranted. This is not something you can do at home.

Until you can have him evaluated by a herp vet, one thing you can do at home is to provide him with a higher focal hot spot (closer to 110 degrees Fahrenheit) and make sure his habitat has a temperature range of 85 to 95 degrees F. He will definitely benefit from the higher temperatures.

Another thing you can do to help him is to gut-load the crickets with a particular type of pelleted bird food. The Pretty Bird Company sells a product called Natural Gold, and this is full of nutritional building blocks necessary for healing, growth, detoxification and a strong immune system. By feeding this to the crickets, when your beardie eats them, he will get the benefits of the building blocks. In the near future, this company will be offering a gut load full of these necessary building blocks (called nucleotides), which will be a great advantage for sick or recovering herps. Until then, I would recommend using the bird pellets to gut-load your insects. These pellets are unique on the market for providing these special nutrients at this time.

You should also be offering one of the commercially prepared bearded dragon foods. Small pellets for hatchlings are usually readily consumed, and for your little one, I would recommend moistening them with a sports drink for added nutrients. Beardie babies usually like these pellets, and they will provide balanced nutrition for him during this critical time.

Please do make an appointment with a herp vet in your area to have him evaluated and treated, if necessary. It sounds as if you are being realistic about his chances for recovery after having such a bad start in life. My concern is this: if he started out the same size as the others in the group of hatchlings and the others quickly grew and surpassed him in size and weight, then I wonder if he has some sort of metabolic problem or even a birth defect making him fall behind in growth. The other possibility is that he was just crowded out by the others in the group, causing him to lag behind. If the leg injury came first, the little guy may not have been able to keep up with the others when it came to mealtime. If he has a birth defect or metabolic problem, then he may not survive. If he simply was crowded out by the others due to his leg injury or just because he was less aggressive, then he has a great chance of recovering and becoming a healthy, robust lizard.

Of course, the bigger issue here is why a pet store would allow a tiny hatchling bearded dragon to be housed with larger, more aggressive beardies, and why they would offer a variety of vegetables too large for it to consume. Either someone was simply not paying attention, or the store personnel just didn’t care or know any better. I hope it wasn’t that they didn’t care if one little lizard wasn’t doing well. Someone should be paying attention to the animals in the store, and obviously this little guy was overlooked.

Your new little beardie is one lucky lizard to have someone care enough to rescue him. I hope you can work with your herp vet to fix him up and get him on the road to recovery!

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.

Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.

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