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What Are The Best Ways To Care For Exotic Pets?

Audio

Aired 4/7/10

For this month's pet segment, we are focusing on exotic animals: birds, reptiles, small mammals, amphibians, etc. We talk to Dr. Jeff Jenkins about how to properly care for exotic pets, from nutrition to cage cleaning.

A veiled chameleon with green spots perches on its owners hand.
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Above: A veiled chameleon with green spots perches on its owners hand.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. When we talk about pets on These Days, we're usually talking about dogs and cats, but not today. The number of companion animals called exotic pets have been booming in recent years. Some of the animals classified as exotic really aren't because the term includes birds and rabbits and fish. But some of them, like reptiles, spiders and zoo animals are definitely not your usual sort of pet pal. So for the rest of the hour, we'll be talking about some of the unusual animals people keep as pets, what their specific needs are and why exotic pets are becoming more popular. I’d like to welcome my guest. Dr. Jeff Jenkins is a veterinarian who is board certified in avian medicine, and owner of the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in San Diego. Dr. Jenkins, welcome to These Days.

DR. JEFF JENKINS (Veterinarian): Well, thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And I’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you have a question about the health or behavior of your bird, your fish, your rabbit, hamster, guinea pig, lizard or monkey? Or do you know someone who has an unusual pet? Tell us about it. Give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. I wonder, Dr. Jenkins, what’s the veterinarian’s definition of an exotic pet?

DR. JENKINS: Well, the veterinarians think exotic is things that are not dogs and cats, not farm animals, so goats, sheep, cows, pigs, horses, so that’s pretty much everything else. So it includes some domestic animals like guinea pigs, who have been domesticated for literally thousands of years, or domestic rats but it also includes parrots and snakes and lizards, Johnny’s hamster. You know, a whole host of things.

CAVANAUGH: Now why do you think exotics pets are becoming more popular with people?

DR. JENKINS: Well, I think there was a big turn around the early eighties especially in urban areas. So one of the reasons I came to California was because the exotic animals were here. And – But a big explosion then. But I think a lot of it is because people are more crowded, they live in smaller places, they live places where they can’t have a dog or a cat but they usually can have a hamster or a chinchilla or a parrot if it doesn’t make too much noise.

CAVANAUGH: A chinchilla. Now that’s interesting. I hadn’t heard much about people keeping chinchillas. Do you treat them?

DR. JENKINS: Oh, yeah, and they’re marvelous animals. And they live a remarkably long life span, sometimes over 20 years.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. So what do you feed a chinchilla?

DR. JENKINS: Oh, you know, mostly they eat hay.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

DR. JENKINS: So a lot of these herbivorous mammals, you know, the rodents and rabbits and things, eat hay which kind of adds a little complexity to keeping them. But most of them eat hay and they eat leafy greens. Some of them eat pellets or a prepared diet.

CAVANAUGH: I – I – is it true that chinchillas can’t go into the water?

DR. JENKINS: Well, you really don’t want to bathe them. We – Because that beautiful…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

DR. JENKINS: …dense fur really turns into a big old knot when you try to wash them sometimes.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.

DR. JENKINS: But, you know, they bathe in volcanic dust and they come from these volcanic islands – or, I mean, mountains in the Andes and in the wild as well, they roll around in the dust and that’s what keeps their fur perfectly conditioned and clean.

CAVANAUGH: Now that – This is an interesting idea because would you say that a chinchilla was a domesticated animal?

DR. JENKINS: It is today, the ones that we keep. As a matter of fact, you know, supposedly they all came from a very small number of animals who were imported in the early part of the 19th century by a man who was working for the copper mining industry in the Andes and was shown these chinchillas. The Spaniards discovered them when they, you know, got into South America and they named them after the Chincha Indians who were a group of Andean Indians who were absorbed by the Incas. And so chinchilla means ‘little chincha.’

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

DR. JENKINS: And they immediately became very popular in England and were just about decimated in the Andes. So the Peruvian government and the countries where the chinchillas were all placed a ban on export and they kind of recovered a little bit and then supposedly, right around the 1920s, this mining engineer who worked for the big copper mine there got a permit to bring a small number of them out but he had to search all over to find them, and he was able to bring supposedly 19 animals, four males and the rest females. And then some of them died right away but all the chinchillas in the United States apparently are the…

CAVANAUGH: Interesting.

DR. JENKINS: …the descendants of those very few animals.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Dr. Jeff Jenkins. He’s a board certified veterinarian in avian medicine, and owner of the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in San Diego. And we are talking about your birds, your fish, your rabbits, your chinchillas, your hamsters, any kind of exotic animal that you own or you know someone else knows – owns, and you have a question about the health or behavior of your pet, give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s hear from Michelle in San Marcos. Good morning, Michelle. Welcome to These Days.

MICHELLE (Caller, San Marcos): Hi. Good morning. I just bought my son a baby bearded dragon and he – the place where I bought him told me that at night he would sleep on the other side of the cage away from the red light. And he is sleeping underneath the red light 24/7. I’m just wondering if that’s normal.

DR. JENKINS: Well, my guess is in that sort of situation is he’s probably not quite hot enough. Those little guys are real heat sinks and they want to try to maintain a core body temperature during their active part of the day up around 90 degrees, so they like to bask at a temperature over 100. And then at night they like to have a little bit of a temperature drop but if his cage is just too cold then he’ll stay there where it’s hot. So we usually like them to have a white heat light, a clear heat light for during the day and usually a heated hide box—they like to get into something at night—but we usually put a stick-on heater underneath the aquarium in that area where that hide box is to keep them up around, oh, 80, 85 during the nighttime hours.

CAVANAUGH: Now you’re going to have to forgive me because I don’t know a lot about exotic animals. A bearded dragon, is that a lizard?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, it’s a really remarkable lizard from Australia, never really legally exported out of Australia but some of them got here somehow…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

DR. JENKINS: …and they come in a wild variety of colors, bright shades of red and orange, and white like snow. They breed very well in captivity so they’re becoming a domesticated lizard because we’ve got all these genetic mutations that we’ve made by breeding them in captivity over the last 50 years, something like that.

CAVANAUGH: I’m interested, what kinds of exotic pets do you most – see most often? I would imagine it’s birds, right?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, well, we still see more birds than anything else.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

DR. JENKINS: Rabbits since the eighties had a huge explosion. Rabbits have become the third most common warm-blooded pet in the world probably…

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

DR. JENKINS: …but at least in North America and Europe. The knowledge of medicine of those animals has really exploded as well. And now, just recently, I’d say in the last two or three years, the big explosion is in guinea pigs.

CAVANAUGH: Aha.

DR. JENKINS: And guinea pigs are marvelous animals, truly a domesticated animal, domesticated by the, you know, the Peruvians thousands and thousands of years ago. Never has been a wild guinea pig. The guinea pig is a product of breeding other wild rodents, so a guinea pig is to a wild relative like a Great Dane would be to a wolf.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Dr. Jeff Jenkins. We’re talking about exotic pets, bird, rabbits, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let’s start by talking about birds because I think that’s probably, oh, I don’t know, birds and fish, probably pretty equal. But that’s where people have the most pets that aren’t dogs and cats. Are there keys to the proper care of a bird?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, the big things with birds is diet and caging because we control that for them. We have an American tradition of feeding most of the parrot species just seed, which has been a real challenge for the veterinarians who work on them to try and change. But nowadays there’s scientifically formulated pellets for those birds where they can eat a variety of healthy people foods. But well-kept parrots will live a long, long time. Even parakeets will live, you know, 13, 14, 15 years, some of the big parrots 30 to 60 years and older.

CAVANAUGH: Now in my neighborhood, there is a woman who walks around with this really giant green parrot on her shoulder. She takes him out for a walk. I wonder, is that a good idea?

DR. JENKINS: Well, they’re very intelligent. If you remember Alex the African Gray who’s been on television so many times and things. Alex had the tested level of intelligence of a normal two-year-old, used his language appropriately, was – he was a scientific subject. He was raised to study learning development and so, yeah, so these guys need to have some sort of mental stimulus. If they’re locked in that little box 24/7 they don’t do very well.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, there are some parents who get birds for their kids who want pets because they think birds are going to be easier to take care of. Are they, indeed, easier to take care of?

DR. JENKINS: Oh, they can be real easy because, you know, you just put their food in the bowl and that could be…

CAVANAUGH: But I mean kind of cleaning the cage and everything.

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, but you have to clean their cage every day or at least real regularly, and they need fresh water every day and they need some social interaction. But if they’re in the house were people spend time, they’re going to get that.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. And so what is the range of kind of – what is the most popular bird? Do people bring in their birds for an annual checkup to you?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, they still – they do that. We encourage that at the hospital. The most popular ones are still the inexpensive ones, the parakeets and cockatiels. And lots of us remember when we got our free Hartz Mountain parakeet when we bought the cage setup, and we still see birds just like that. And I will tell you that budgerigars, the little parakeet, they’re still my favorite parrot. So as much as I love all the rest of them, but budgies are intelligent and outgoing and gregarious. They learn to speak, a lot of them, so they mimic human voice, use their language appropriately. They say good morning in the morning, they say goodnight at night. It’s amazing what that little 30 grams of feathers can do.

CAVANAUGH: It is. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, about birds and exotic pets. Let’s hear from Richard in Escondido. Good morning, Richard, and welcome to These Days.

RICHARD (Caller, Escondido): Good morning. I happen to have allergies to feathers and animal hair but I love cats. And I’m wondering, is there a cat that I could get that I wouldn’t be allergic to?

CAVANAUGH: Hmm. Thank you, Richard.

DR. JENKINS: Well, I’m not sure that I’m really qualified to answer that but I’ll tell you that most people who are allergic to cats are actually allergic to their saliva. And so if you start washing your cat when it’s young, they get used to being bathed and there’s a couple of products on the market. I think it’s called Allerpet, is one of them, which when you spray it on your cat and work it into his fur, it changes the protein in the cat’s saliva and reduces the antigen and a lot of people can live with cats when they’ve been washed and sprayed with Allerpet and, you know, use air purifiers in your house and things like that.

CAVANAUGH: Now speaking of cats, the kind of cats that you deal with are usually a little bigger than the ones that roam around in the house. What about the idea of keeping a larger cat. Is that even legal?

DR. JENKINS: Well, in California you need a permit to keep a big cat but we see a lot of them. There’s a lot of hybrid cats that are popular in the country today that are crosses between some wild cat, like a serval, and a domestic cat. And so we have a number of breeders in San Diego who breed those cats so they keep domestically bred and raised sometimes multiple generation servals as the, you know, father of the pair and a female housecat as the mother, and they breed these jungle cats and a lot of these other hybrid cats.

CAVANAUGH: And how big – so how big does the offspring get?

DR. JENKINS: Well, it’s a little bigger than a – it’s as big as a big housecat, like a Maine Coon cat or some of those things. They have wonderful personalities. They’re maybe a little more one-personish than some cats but, you know, there’s a spectrum of even domestic cats how much they like the company when it comes to the house.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very true. Any special things that you have to do if you keep, you know, a cat that’s, I guess, kind of half-wild?

DR. JENKINS: Well, the hybrids, not really. I mean, I think that you probably want to let the neighbors’ dogs know. But other than that, I think that it’s probably – because I think that once they’re hybridized, they’re just considered house pets.

CAVANAUGH: We – I’m speaking with Dr. Jeff Jenkins. We’re talking about exotic pets and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Sharon is calling us from Escondido. Good morning, Sharon. Welcome to These Days.

SHARON (Caller, Escondido): Oh, good morning. Hi. I just had a question on just the actual ownership of exotic animals and what kind of complications arise from taking an animal from its natural habitat and having it as a pet and the doctor’s thoughts on that?

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for that.

DR. JENKINS: Well, I don’t think we advocate in very many situations taking wild animals and making them pets. The vast majority of the animals that we work on are domestically bred and have been for many, many generations. And in some cases, they’re literally the saving grace of those species. There’s a number of species where, like Blue-throated Macaws and Hyacinth Macaws, where they’re severely endangered in the wild but they’re abundant in captivity because they’ve been so successfully bred by hobbyist breeders.

CAVANAUGH: Are there some instances though where it is positively – people should not be keeping a particular kind of animal in their home because of either an endangered species or because it’s just dangerous.

DR. JENKINS: Well, I think so. I think especially like in northern California, we have rabies in the skunk population but rarely a month or two goes by where I don’t get somebody ask me if we de-scent skunks or we’ll vaccinate them or work on them. But I can tell you that wild skunks just do not make good pets, and because of that threat of rabies, we wouldn’t want people to do that. And we have people who call and want, you know, they find a rattlesnake out in the desert and they want it devenomated and there’s just too many risks involved with that. A lot of the zoos have devenomated snakes but the venom gland will recannulate and the snakes can become venomous again and so the liability to the owner is just too great. But…

CAVANAUGH: Your phone lines must be really interesting.

DR. JENKINS: They’re pretty fun.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls right now at 1-888-895-5727. We’re talking about exotic pets. Let’s hear from Donna in Encinitas. Good morning, Donna, and welcome to These Days.

DONNA (Caller, Encinitas): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I have a desert tortoise that I inherited from my aunt. She got too old to take care of him. He’s Gopherus agassizii, I think, or something like that.

DR. JENKINS: Yep.

DONNA: I would like to know how to keep him warm and his diet. He pretty much only wants to eat romaine lettuce and red hibiscus flowers.

DR. JENKINS: Ah, well, he’s probably got a long history of eating those sorts of things. You know, I have four desert tortoises in my backyard and I have five little hatchlings that hatched in October that are just the size of the bottom of your coffee cup probably right now…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

DR. JENKINS: …living in the hospital still.

CAVANAUGH: And how big do they get?

DR. JENKINS: And they get to be a little bigger than a dinner plate.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, all right.

DR. JENKINS: And they live 100, 120 years. There’s a species where probably more desert tortoises now exist in captivity in California than are left out in the Mojave Desert, mostly from encroachment but a number of other issues. We have a disease that’s gotten into them. So what we want them to eat is a variety of dark, leafy greens and we usually describe dark leafy greens as leafy and green and no lettuce in their name. So that kind of gets rid of that romaine lettuce.

CAVANAUGH: Ah.

DR. JENKINS: But they’re creatures of habit so what you’re going to have to do is make him a little chopped salad for a while. Chop up his romaine with a little bit of kale or collard greens or turnip greens, beet tops, you name it, dandelion greens, start out with more romaine than anything, and he will evolve into those other greens and then he’ll learn to eat your lawn if you put him outside. They do well in San Diego outside. They hibernate during the wintertime and you have to make sure that they’re safe during their hibernation. But they do well here as long as they have a nice sunny – sunny location to spend their days in.

CAVANAUGH: Can they have the hibiscus for dessert?

DR. JENKINS: The hibiscus is fine.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. We have to take a short break and when we return, we’ll continue to take your calls for Dr. Jeff Jenkins and talk about exotic pets. The number, 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re talking about pets that are classified as exotic. They include birds and fish and rabbits and snakes and lizards and monkeys. And we’re taking your calls about the care and feeding of those animals. 1-888-895-5727 is our number, and my guest is Dr. Jeff Jenkins. He’s a veterinarian who is board certified in avian medicine. He owns the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in San Diego. Let’s go right to the phones, and Jason is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Jason. Welcome to These Days.

JASON (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thanks for taking my phone call. Yeah, I just had a question regarding rats. We’ve got three pet rats and we’ve had them for a couple months now. One of them’s a little over a year. We’re going to be making a move soon and it’s actually a far move to Alaska, so we’re going to have the rats shipped out there with a company and they’ll be taken care of at a facility over there. I just have a question on the resiliency of the rats. I mean, obviously a move like this, there’s going to be a lot of stress on any type of pet and these guys, you know, I just wanted to make sure that they’d be fine and if there might be anything that we can do to prepare them as far as maybe boosting their, I don’t know, immunity or whatnot so that they’ll – it’ll be less stressful for them.

DR. JENKINS: Well, rats are very adaptable. They – and, you know, I think they look forward to adventures, would be what I’d tell you. I think the thing you can do that’ll reduce their stress most of all is have them have an environment that they’re accustomed to living in, you know, their regular cage, when they get to the destination so that everything isn’t new. And if they’re living in that same, you know, cage then it probably doesn’t matter where it’s at, whether it’s in Alaska or if it’s here.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, that’s good news. Jason, thank you for the call. 1-888-895-5727. Mark is calling from North Park. Good morning, Mark, and welcome to These Days.

MARK (Caller, North Park): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I have a question about Giant Flemish rabbits.

DR. JENKINS: Ah.

MARK: I was working with a client, actually drafting his will, and he was telling me that he owned a Giant Flemish rabbit and I had no idea what it was. And when I did some investigating, I learned more about them and I’m considering getting one as a pet. What kind of space do they need and can they coexist with dogs and cats?

DR. JENKINS: Well, Flemish are the most common Giant breed of rabbit. They have big, erect ears and they’re a big rabbit. They’re maybe 18 to 20 inches in length from shoulder to rump and they can weigh as much as five, six pounds, more if they get overweight or obese. Giant rabbits are a little bit like giant breeds of dogs. They have more health problems than, you know, some of the more normal sized animals, just like a Great Dane would, and they don’t have a particularly long lifespan. Six to eight years is pretty normal for Flemish as compared to as much as 12, 13 years for some other breeds of rabbits. But they have wonderful personalities. They’re very loving. All you’d need to keep them is you need a cage large enough for him to stay in when you’re not at home. Most people keep them restrained in a cage or a exercise pen at least when they’re not at home and then usually outside of the pen when you’re home to supervise what they’re doing, hopping around your house. They eat hay as their primary diet. They eat – a big rabbit like that will eat a couple of cups of dark leafy greens a day and fresh water every day. They come pretty much from the factory litter box trained so as long as you provide them a place to use as their litter box, they’re pretty good about going back there. They make wonderful pets.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you, Dr. Jenkins, you were talking about regular rabbits and how they’ve grown in popularity as pets and we just passed Easter and I would imagine that some people have wound up with a rabbit in the family that they didn’t expect. What should people be aware of in order to prevent, you know, having just this explosion, this population explosion if they have more than one rabbit?

DR. JENKINS: Well, rabbits need to be spayed and neutered for lots of reasons. I mean, the population control is, of course, a big thing. It doesn’t take very long for a pair of rabbits to turn into, you know, you being arrested as an animal hoarder because they live up to their reputation for being able to breed. But beyond that, female rabbits get uterine cancer if they’re not spayed. So it’s this nasty little Catch-22 if you’re a girl rabbit. You get your choice of having babies on a regular basis, getting uterine cancer or getting spayed. So getting spayed is the lesser of evils. And boy rabbits have this nasty behavioral problem if they’re not neutered. So they make better pets if they’re spayed and neutered. It’s not horribly expensive. Boys, you can expect, you know, in that $150 to $200 range to neuter them. Girls, probably closer to $300, $250 to $300 range. But now the easy way around that is if you’re thinking about getting a rabbit, is if you get the rabbit from one of these rescue groups, the House Rabbit Society here in San Diego or Shelly’s Shelter, which is phenomenally successful at finding homes for rabbits, they’re going to come to you already spayed and neutered for a fraction of the cost. The adoption fees are usually much less than $100, everything’s all taken care of for you, and…

CAVANAUGH: And you know exactly how many rabbits you’re going to have.

DR. JENKINS: You’re going to have the number of rabbits that you bring home, yeah, right.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Shelly is calling from Santa Fe Hills. Good morning, Shelly, and welcome to These Days.

SHELLY (Caller, Santa Fe Hills): Thank you. Yes, Dr. Jenkins, I have a pair of parakeets.

DR. JENKINS: Uh-huh.

SHELLY: And the female’s been in her nesting box sitting on five eggs. And it was getting near the end. Is it four weeks, the gestation period?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, umm-hmm.

SHELLY: It was getting near four weeks and I thought that was about the end. And I looked in there, having looked in there a few days before and seen the five eggs. Maybe I’d looked in there a week before and seen the five eggs. And I looked in there and she had eaten them all.

DR. JENKINS: Yeah.

SHELLY: What is that about?

DR. JENKINS: Well, she can tell if they’re viable or not. Just by sitting on them, she can feel…

SHELLY: Ohh…

DR. JENKINS: …just like a pregnant lady can feel the baby move inside of her, she can feel the little embryo move in her eggs and if they’re not viable she’ll get rid of them. So she’ll probably start over and try to lay another clutch. We don’t like them to lay more than two but you, hopefully, will have another go out of it. So first of all, you want to make sure you do have a pair of parakeets. The boys have that blue cere, that tissue over their nose is usually Levi blue; the girls have the little wrinkly cere. But we know you at least have one girl.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

DR. JENKINS: And maybe they’ll try and go again. If they’re eating a purely seed diet, you may want to take that nest box out and try to convert them over to good, scientifically formulated pellet beforehand because parakeets eating nothing but seeds have babies who struggle and it’s really not a nutritionally complete enough diet for the babies to survive on.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, so many of us got a lesson in having unusual pets or seeing the behavior of animals in less domesticated circumstances recently when we – with that video, that live video of Molly the owl from San Marcos where she was giving – She laid eggs and she ate one of them, and several of them hatched. I wonder if people are surprised when they bring home pets that are not dogs and cats or goldfish, that they actually do have to learn the ways of these animals and they’re completely unfamiliar with them.

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, but we’re living in the greatest time ever for doing that because the internet is filled with information, and most of it’s good. And there’s, you know, forum groups where you can get on and people discuss those things. It’s the ultimate peer-reviewed situation, those things, because if somebody offers up information that’s not good information, the other people on the forums will comment on that. But it’s amazing how much – I had pets and bred them as a young boy back before you’re, you know, an enemy of the state for producing offspring in your animals.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

DR. JENKINS: But I remember struggling, going to the library and trying to find information and finding mentors, so I kind of miss the fact that some of these people will never have a mentor like I had in some of these animals. But there’s so much information out there that if you just take the time and go look, you’ll find all sorts of information on how to take care of animals.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I wonder, Dr. Jenkins, what do you do if somebody brings you an animal that really is not legal for them to have?

DR. JENKINS: Well, we have a lot of that, which kind of brings up the whole ferret question and stuff like that. But it’s really not my job to regulate what…

CAVANAUGH: You’re not the pet police.

DR. JENKINS: I’m not the pet police. And for the most part, a lot of that’s being ignored by the state anyway as with ferrets. But, you know, there’s a number of animals which are judged to be injurious to the state of California and are not legal here without a permit. For the most part, you can’t get a permit for those things. And we don’t ever encourage people to break the law but, on the other hand, we probably have, you know, hundreds of thousands if not more of those animals in California which need medical care…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. JENKINS: …and we’re there to provide it for them.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Emily’s calling from San Diego. Good morning, Emily, and welcome to These Days.

EMILY (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I have a two-year-old bearded dragon and I’ve heard some conflicting information about whether she needs a water source in her tank or not?

DR. JENKINS: Oh, I just think everything needs water. Having a water bowl will never hurt anything, so… Not having a water bowl potentially, yes. So I will tell you that if you provide them water, they’ll drink water. I think that they live longer and healthier if they drink water.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you, Emily, for the call. I’m wondering, one of our callers would like to know what you think about home breeding and you said you used to be a home breeder. What do you think about it now?

DR. JENKINS: Well, I think as long as you’re thoughtful in how you do it. You know, somebody’s got to breed these things and it would be nice if the people who bred animals in our world were people who were thoughtful and educated and made decisions about what the offspring were going to be like instead of the only animals being available be the chance breedings or the breeder – animals bred by people who aren’t thoughtful, and those are the animals I think that end up at the pound, homeless, on the streets. So, you know, if everybody researched the animal before they bought it…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. JENKINS: …the breeders were thoughtful before they bred them, we wouldn’t have nearly the problem we have.

CAVANAUGH: And you’ve also talked about some of the good adoption agencies, at least for rabbits. Are there other adoption agencies for exotic animals?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, well, we have a wonderful agency here in San Diego called Wee Companions that does all sorts of little small exotic mammals run by a lady named Fenella Speece and she does a wonderful job finding homes for rats and hamsters and a number of animals like that. But we also have the San Diego Herpetological Society still adopts a lot of reptiles. There’s PEACE with a PETA Education and Adoption Center which helps find homes for parrots so, yeah, there’s a lot of that going on here in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I wonder, there – it isn’t so much, I guess, an issue for rabbits or even some kinds of birds but when people think of pets I think a lot of times they think of a cuddly pet that has a lot of personality, who’s going to recognize who you are and is going to be sort of like your buddy, the dog you can go on trips with it and, you know, has sort of a personality that a human can recognize and understand. And I wonder, how do you warm up to a bearded dragon or a snake or some really sort of a real kind of exotic pet?

DR. JENKINS: Right, well, I’d say that there’s a lot of reptiles that have huge personalities. They might not be fuzzy but the tortoises and a lot of these more intelligent lizards like beardies and Monitors, things have big, dynamic personalities. They recognize their owners. They’re interactive. Now there’s also some that are – where that’s not the case. I think snakes pretty much are reflexive. I’ve owned lots of snakes who never recognized the…

CAVANAUGH: So what do you get out of owning a pet that is reflexive and doesn’t really sort of recognize who you are?

DR. JENKINS: Well, they’re just intriguing animals and…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

DR. JENKINS: …and so to be around them and see how they, you know, evolve in their environment and things, are just intriguing. And I would tell you that two types of people are the big snake owners. There’s the kind of, you know, teenage boy, you know, that sort of group and maybe, you know, the people who do it just for the shock value. And then the other group of people who own a lot of those animals are highly intelligent, highly educated, intrigued with the taxonomy and the genetics and all those sorts of things and love these, you know, very exotic reptiles and things like that.

CAVANAUGH: Do you have to feed them mice?

DR. JENKINS: Yeah, but, you know, we buy them off the internet frozen. They’re, you know, captive raised on a scientific diet in barriers, you know, humanely euthanized, delivered on dry ice.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I really have to thank you for so much good information. Thanks, Dr. Jenkins.

DR. JENKINS: It’s my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Jenkins is a veterinarian. He’s board certified in avian medicine. He is the owner of the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in San Diego. Thanks to everyone who called, and if you didn’t get a chance to post a comment or ask your question, I’m going to ask you to go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Thanks very much for listening. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'oreke'

oreke | April 7, 2010 at 11:16 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I wold like to point out an important tangent to this topic: Exotic animal trading and smuggling is a huge problem that is causing enormous damage to the natural world. There are two recent eye-opening articles that are worth reading. One is in the January 2010 issue of National Geographic called "Asia's Wildlife Trade" (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/asian-wildlife/christy-text/1) and the other is in the December 2009 issue of the Smithsonian magazine called "Wildlife Trafficking" (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Wildlife-Trafficking.html).

While I am sure that the exotic animal owners love their pets, they may be unwittingly contributing to the destruction of some species. I applaud Dr. Jenkins for promoting education of both owners and more importantly breeders. My personal opinion is that exotic animals are better admired in their natural habitats or at worst in a zoo.

Regards.

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