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Lizards as Pets

Choosing a Pet Lizard and Basic Care

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leopard gecko picture

Leopard Geckos

Photo by Lianne McLeod

First Things First
Do your research: find out all you can about the type of lizard you want, then carefully consider if you can provide the care required over the entire lifespan of the lizard.

  • For many lizards, you are making a long term commitment.
  • While a lizard may be inexpensive, the equipment needed to properly care for a lizard may cost many times more than the lizard itself.
  • Find out how large your lizard will get as an adult. Those cute little hatchling iguanas grow into 5-6 foot lizards that need a lot of space and a lot of care.
  • Be aware that all reptiles can carry Salmonella bacteria. Read about the risks and how to minimize them in Salmonella - Risk from Reptiles

About Choosing Your Lizard
Get a captive bred lizard from a reputable breeder, if possible. Wild caught lizards tend to be more stressed and prone to parasites and disease, and more difficult to tame. For more about the advantages of captive bred reptiles, see Should I Get a Wild Caught or Captive Bred Reptile?

You will also want to do a cursory exam of your lizard to check for any signs of illness: see Choosing a Healthy Reptile for areas and signs to look at.

What Kind of Lizard?

Lizards for Beginners
If you are new to lizards, start with one of the easier species to care for and handle. All of the following are suitable for beginners, if you are willing to invest in the proper equipment (proper UV lighting tends to be expensive, though there are more options than there were in the past):

  • Leopard Geckos - the ultimate starter lizards: small, easy to handle, only need a small tank, and do not need special UV lighting. Crested geckos and fat tailed geckos have similar needs and are good choices too.
  • Bearded Dragons - docile and easy to handle, but need a relatively large tank and UV lighting.
  • Blue Tongued Skinks - generally docile, but need a good sized tank and UV lighting.
  • Green Anoles - smallish lizards that are readily available and don't need a huge tank, but do need UV lighting.

Lizards for Experienced Owners
Other lizards are a bit more challenging, whether it be setting up the proper environment, ease handling, the size of space you will need to care for them, or a combination of these or other factors. In this category, iguanas are the most poorly misunderstood. They can be excellent pets but require a good deal more space and care than a lot of owners expect. Tegus and monitors get quite large and sometimes have challenging temperaments. It can be quite difficult to meet the needs of chameleons, day geckos, and Chinese water dragons, so these are also better left until you have some lizard care experience. Some lizards that more experienced owners might want to consider:

General Information About Care of Pet Lizards

Before choosing a pet lizard, learn about some basic care information:
  • Reptiles - Light and Heat - why proper heating and lighting is essential to the health of your lizard.
  • How to Provide a Thermal Gradient - reptiles don't just need heat, they need a range of temperatures so they can regulate their body temperature as needed.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles - a common health problem in captive reptiles, related to both diet and lighting (for lizards active in the day that need UV lighting).
  • Vitamin A Deficiency - another health problem related to diet.
  • Shedding Problems in Reptiles - all reptiles shed their skin regularly, and problems shedding usually indicates that something in the lizard's environment needs to be altered.
  • How to Use and Calibrate a Hygrometer - humidity is another important environmental parameter you need to control (often a culprit in shedding problems), so get a hygrometer to measure humidity and make sure it is calibrated properly.
  • Mixing Species - even when lizards have similar care needs, it's not a good idea to mix them in the same terrarium.
  • Insects as food - your lizard may eat insects, and keeping and raising crickets or mealworms at home can cut down on trips to the pets store. Also, catching bugs from the wild to feed is always a bit risky because you never know if they've been exposed to pesticides, but never feed fireflies due to toxicity.

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