How to Choose and Care for Pet Lizards
Choosing pet lizards involves understanding the level of care you
are willing to provide. Lizard care
requirements vary based on the
region that the lizard is from, the lizard diet (insects, meat,
rodents, plants), the size and type of terrarium , and how well
a particular species does in captivity. In general, Lizards caught in
the wild are not as easily held in captivity as a Lizard bred for this
purpose and are not recommended. Given care requirements, Lizards
are best left to adults or older children.
Quick Links to information on pet lizards:
Pet lizards do have several advantages over other pets. They can be
alone for several days with enough food, water and light. People also
do not have lizard allergies, making them a hypoallergenic
pet. They also do not smell.
Pet lizards are different than other pets in that they cannot regulate
their own body temperature (called ectohtermic). The body temperature
change based on the temperature of the local environment. Terrariums
need to provide areas for lizards to stay warm, such as a basking area
with a heat lamp. Conversely, the lizard will also require areas to get
cool after basking. Timers can be used to vary daytime and night time
temperatures. The type of environment varies based on where the lizard
is from. For example some are from the desert while others are
good swimmers and live in tropical or aquatic environments.
Lizards also use the lounge to smell and taste food or to determine
what type of objects are ahead of them. The tongue captures air
particles into the mouth which are then detected and translated into an
object. They can hear from the ears (in some lizards like Geckos
you can see through the ear out to the other side).
In general pet lizards do not like to be handled. Exceptions are Green
and Bearded Dragons. Others such as Chameleons become stressed
Lizard skin is delicate and consists of smooth or rough scales. Some
have spikes. All lizards shed the skin which is then eaten by most
species. The inner layer of skin (dermis) produces pigment. They
can also detach their tails when running away from prey in order to
distract the predator.
There are a number of pet lizards sold in the typical pet store.
Geckos are probably the most popular and easiest to keep due to their
small size and the
relative ease with which they can be kept in a small 10 gallon home
terrarium. Other popular pet lizard species are anoles, iguanas,
skinks, chameleons, bearded dragons and agamids.
The largest type of lizard, a Komodo Dragon can grow to 10 feet. It is
difficult to determine the sex of a lizard without the help of an
expert or veterinarian. Gila monsters, Skinks and Bearded Lizards are
Considerations when Choosing a Pet
There are several considerations when deciding whether or not you
should keep a pet lizard. These include:
- Do you have the space that matches the size terrarium required
for the type of pet lizard under consideration?
- Can you maintain the type of environment required for the type of
lizard you selected (woods, desert, Savannah, semi aquatic)?
- Can you afford a lizard, including veterinary care?
- If you intend to keep more than 1 lizard, check to see if they
can be kept in the same cage. Many adult males cannot be kept in
the same terrarium.
- Can you provide the required diet, particularly if insects
(crickets, mealworms) or live rodents are preferred?
- If the pet reptile is for a child, are they mature enough to
provide daily care?
- Will vacations interrupt your ability to care for the pet lizard?
- Lizards can live for 20 years or more, are you ready to make that
length of a commitment?
- Do you have other pets that will try and attack or be harmed by a
- Do you have the time to care for a lizard including cleaning
feces, changing the water daily, plant care, removing dead insects.
Pet Lizard Costs
Pet lizards can range in cost from $2.00 to as high as
Routine veterinary can cost $100 per visit. If the pet lizard
eats insects, live insects will need to be purchased or bred.
Lizards can be purchased in pet stores, from Reptile Expos or online
from a wholesaler. The habitat is one of the biggest expenses, with
owners needing to balance the functionality of the terrarium with the
look or beauty of the mini-zoo you are building. The cost is also
driven by the type of habitat you need to create. A small desert
lizard such as a Leopard Gecko
may be easier to care for in a small aquarium vs. a larger semi aquatic
that requires a large habitat. Habitats can range in
cost from under $50 to as much as $500.
How Long Will Lizards Live?
The average life span of pet lizards can be as long as 20+ years, as
is the case with a Gecko. Here are the lifespans of some popular
|5 to 10 years
|4 to 8 years
|5 to 15 years
|Old World Chameleons
|3 to 8 years
Lizards as Pets -
Diseases that can be spread to Humans
Pet lizards can spread Salmonella to humans. Salmonella in humans can
life threatening. People with a weak immune system, children under the
age of 10, older adults and pregnant women should avoid handling
reptiles. Symptoms include:
Tips for Avoiding Lizard to Human
- Upset stomach
Other diseases that can be spread from Lizards to people include
parasites, fungal diseases and protozoa. To avoid the spread of disease
practice good hygiene. This includes:
- Hand washing with a disinfectant soap after handling a
- Use disposable gloves
- disinfection of the cage
- Keep the lizard away from the mouth
- Keep the Lizard away from human food preparation or eating areas
- Always supervise children
- Disinfect any counters that come in contact with the pet Lizard
- Disinfect an broken skin that was bitten by a Lizard
- Have your Lizard checked by a Veterinarian for diseases
Questions to Ask
When Purchasing a Lizard
- Pet Lizards Bred in Captivity or
Lizards caught in the wild may be stressed from shipping and from being
held in a captive environment, not to mention the ethics of removing
any animal from its' natural habitat. Health may also be a problem for
lizards caught in the wild (parasites) vs. those raised in a hygienic
environment. Only buy from a reputable retailer as some less
scrupulous stores might sale wild lizards as being bred for captivity.
- Check the Age: Most
lizards have an ideal age for being moved to a new environment.
For example, Geckos should be 6 weeks of age.
- Healthy Appearance: The
pet lizard should look healthy. Signs of a well nourished healthy
- clear eyes (no discharge) that are not swollen or crusted
- clean nostrils (some lizard species have what looks like salt
deposits around the nostrils).
- closed mouth that is clean, pink interior (most lizards). If
you see yellow, green or white spots in to the mouth, it might be signs
of a lizard disease or health problem.
- body that is not bony
- healthy weight,
- no infection in toes and claws
- no wounds, scratches or bite marks
- no lumps or skin discoloration
- alert/active behavior
- no projected hip bones or visible tail bones
- no feces around area where it is expelled from body
- mites on the body (looks like small red, orange, brown or
black specks - can be treated, but a sign of poor conditions)
Tip: When purchasing a Lizard bring a picture of a healthy juvenile
Lizard Food and Diet
Most pet stores carry what are called "complete" diets for lizards.
Whatever you decide to feed your lizard, we suggest a variety of foods,
started early in life, to ensure that the lizard receives a range of
vitamins and protein sources. This in addition to a calcium/vitamin D
supplement for lizards that don't receive enough sunlight should keep
your pet healthy for years. The key is to understand the best diet for
the specific specie of lizard being raised.
Lizards generally fall into four dietary categories. The category
indicates the lizards primary source of food and protein.
- Carnivores (meat eaters, frozen or live)
- Herbivores (plant eaters, green leafy vegetables, fruit)
- Insectivores (insect eaters, crickets, worms, etc)
- Omnivores (meat and plant eaters)
In the wild a lizard will tend to eat from more than one food
group. They also eat a variety of foods such as rodents, insects
(worms, crickets), green leafy vegetables, plant blossoms and
fruit. In captivity, the diet might be more restricted, requiring
the owner to understand the variety of foods necessary for a particular
species of lizard. Lizards also depend on natural or UVB light for
Vitamin D, a nutrient that is required to metabolize calcium. If
the diet doesn't contain enough of a particular vitamin or if the
lizard is UVB deprived, then a multi-vitamin and calcium supplement
will b needed. Calcium is often dusted on insects.
In general, young lizards are fed every day. Older lizards are
fed 2 to 3 times per week with vitamin and calcium dusted food.
Click here for more information on lizard food
Lizard Names and Species
The Linnaean system names lizards based on how they look
Scientific names are often in 3 parts, with the first part referring to
the genus (group having similar characteristics), followed by the
species (similar organisms that can interbreed and produce offspring),
followed by the third word, which is where the race is
identified. Not all species have multiple races.
Common Lizard List of
Popular small lizards include desert nigh lizards, leopard lizards,
fat-tailed geckos, skinks, lacertids. Lizards can be categorized
by what they eat or where they come from (Savannah, Desert etc.)
The most popular pet lizards are Leopard
Click below for types of
commonly kept in captivity at zoos or at home based on
dietary habits or native environment.
Lizard Lists by Diet:
lizards - Green Iguana, Chuckwalla, Spiny Tailed Agamid etc.)
- glass lizards, alligator lizards, geckos, skinks, chameleons)
(Eat Plants and Meat):
is the largest category
of lizards (bearded dragons, skinks, whiptails etc.)
Lizard Lists by Habitat Type: (click for
Lizards (also spelled Savannah, Geckos, Skinks, Glass Lizards,
Bearded Dragons etc.)
(Water Dragons, Basilisk)
Lizards (Anole Lizard, Chameleons, Day Geckos, Emerald Tree Monitors
Where to Buy Lizards
Lizards can be purchased in local pet shops and online from a
Dealers are usually located in California, Florida and New York.
Breeders also can supply lizards that are already checked by a
veterinarian and acclimated to captivity. Most dealers require that
payment and shipping costs are paid in advance or COD. Do not purchase
via shipping in cold months or very hot moths since this can affect the
health of your pet.
Reptile Cages and Habitats
Reptile cages vary based on the size and height. The specific
lizard cages required for your pet is based on the number of lizards,
lizard size, habits, and required height. For example, some lizards
require areas for basking in the heat, and cooler areas when not
basking. Others like to climb or hide. In general, most are stressed in
captivity and require hiding places.
Most lizards require the some of the following items in their habitat
- Lizard Tank (size, materials such as glass, Plexiglas)
- Substrate: this is the material used on the bottom of the
habitat. Choices include:
- Crushed walnut shells: might be too sharp if ingested by some
- Corn cobs: swells when damp, might cause intestinal blockage
if swallowed by lizard
- Vitamin infused sand: perfect for most lizards some impaction
concern in the digestive system, but rare
- Cyprus mulch: good choice
- Redwood bark: good choice
- Aspen bedding: for lizards in a low humidity environment
- Newsprint or paper: good choice
- Potting soil: perfect for some lizards
- Pine shavings
- Plants (plastic or live) and/or tree branches if appropriate
- Climbing Rocks
- Log hides
- Humidity chambers
- Drip systems to moisten plants
- Tank Cover (hiding boxcreen)
- Tank Stand
- Lizard heat lamp or reflector (ceramic or bulb)
- Tank substrate to cover bottom such as sterile dirt or sand
- UV fluorescent light (for live plants if any)
- Night viewing bulb
- Water dish (if required for your lizard, some drink droplets from
plants that are misted daily)
- Food dish
The type of environment necessary for Lizard care depends on where a
particular species is from. The cage and its contents should be
tailored to your animal. The terraria dapted from an aquarium
made for fish.
Home Made Lizard Cages
Baby lizards can be kept in a home made lizard cage (wire mesh or
silicone glass). Pieces of glass can be sealed with a silicone aquarium
sealant. The same sealant can be used to attached hinges that would
hold a wire mesh or other type or cage cover.
If you need a larger cage, two glass aquariums can be stacked, with
the bottom removed on the top tank. Tape the two tanks together
on the size not facing anyone that would be viewing the terraria.
Another approach is to purchase a shower stall that has a plastic
backing on two sides and glass on the other two sides. Any wire mesh
used to hold large lizards should be at least 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch
(12.7) mm). Lizards can get their feet caught if the mesh is too
Ask your pet shop or breeder about housing your lizard. Many
lizard species such as male iguanas, monitors and tegus cannot be kept
with another lizard in the same cage during adulthood. This is not the
case when they are young.
Small Lizard Habitats
For smaller lizards, terriaria can contain a hollowed cholla, cactus
skeletons, rocks or plastic caves. One caution with cholla is that they
can provide hiding places that will make it difficult for you to access
the lizard. Do not use cedar lizard hide boxes and go for plastic
instead, since oils in the wood version could be harmful. Rocks
are not recommended since they can result in injuries.
Large Inside Lizard Habitats
For larger lizards hide boxes can
be made from an inverted cat liter
box. Cork bark is also a preferred material. Lizard cages reflect
the animals natural environment. For example, Savanna Monitors will
need a Savanna like environment, which is primarily made up of dry land.
Larger lizards such as Iguanas require a habitat as large as 8 ft x 8
ft. x 6 ft. Iguanas also need ultraviolet light and a basking area.
Outside Lizard Habitats
Outdoor lizard habitats can be decorated with buried clay, rock piles
and hollowed limbs. Limbs should be cut to the length of the glass
and secured using silicone aquarium sealant. Plants are also welcome
by lizards since they provide a sense of privacy and security. An
active iguana or monitor that is 6 feet in length should be kept in a
cage that is at least 8 feet x 10 feet.
Lizard Lighting and Heating
The light and heat requirements of lizards depends on the species.
Lizards are either sun baskers (heliotherms) where they like the
sunlight, or terrestrial heliotherms where they absorb heat from items
in the the environment. Most heliotherms need to maintain a body
temperature of between 68 to 95F (31 - 35C). Lizards found in
rainforest's need temperatures of 78 to 85F (25.6 - 29C). Check
what is required for the specific species you are caring for.
Not all lizards require water dishes. They can actually be harmful for
lizards that live in the desert and need low humidity levels. Others
need to be misted. A new approach is to make your own hydration chamber
which actually rain into the aquarium or enclosure. For example a Check
with your breeder or pet store for water requirements.
How to Handle a Lizard
In the wild lizards have learned that to be captured means that death
is near. Because of this, they have adapted traits such as speed
and other mechanisms to escape, such as biting the handler. Adult
lizards are territorial and cannot share a cage with another
lizard. Not every lizard is the same, with some accepting being
handled while others try to immediately set themselves free. Lizards
may also change impermanent depending on the time of year. For example,
if it is mating season for a lizard, they should not be handled.
Lizards are unique in that many species can break off the tail when
threatened. The tail continues to move as the lizard escapes.
This can also happen when the lizard is being handled. When handling a
lizard approach slowly and do not appear threatening.
Geckos in particular will sit in your hand while some skinks can be
slowly held onto.
: Larger lizards might be
easier to handle, but if they bite, they
can spread bacteria in to the wound. Be sure to disinfect any broken
skin areas if bitten.
Lizard Diseases and Health
There are several commonly seen lizard
problems.. In general if you do not see improvement in
one to two days, seek the advice of a veterinarian or consult an online
. For less urgent questions you can send
questions to our Vet and have them answered for free by filling out the
form on the bottom of this page.
Common lizard disease include respiratory disorders (symptoms include
lethargy, raspy breathing, sneezing) and parasitic problems. For
respiratory problems, try and keep the basking area of the terarria at
100 degrees F while keeping the rest of the enclosure at normal
temperature. If you don't see improvement after a day, consult a
Other problems include parasites. These are usually found around
the eyes. For mites, an over the counter insecticide such as DeFea
can be used. The other type of common parasite is
ticks. For these, they can be be removed with a tweezer. Make
sure that you remove any embedded mouth parts.
References on Pet Lizards:
Have a Lizard Related Question for our Vet? We Will Answer it for Free!
Do you need some pet lizard advice? Just ask a question and our Vet will answer it as soon as possible.
If your question is medical or behavior related, please include information such as species, age, diet, habitat and anything related to the medical history of your lizard.
Please upload a picture of your lizard, especially if you believe it will help the Veterinarian. Please know that we receive many questions and answer them on a first come, first served basis. If you need an immediate response, we suggest you use this online veterinary service that is available now to answer your questions.
Other questions answered by our Veterinarian
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Care from A to Z
(Best Book on Everything Lizard)
by Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, Patricia
Gecko, Your Happy, Healthy Pet
Manual for Pet Health
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