While lizards make fun, fascinating pets, caring for one is nothing like caring for a cat or a dog. If you’re looking to add a reptilian friend to your family, it’s important to learn how to take care of a lizard in order to offer it a safe home. With over 4,500 species of lizards in the world, there are a lot of nuances to caring for each one. Lizards are an incredibly diverse group of animals. In the wild, they live in a wide range of habitats, from the driest deserts to the steamiest rain forests. Some lizards are herbivores, some are omnivores, and some eat only insects. Have a conversation with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles and/or lizards to help fill in any blanks you may have when it comes to interacting with or caring for your lizards, and make sure you learn about your potential lizard’s diet, size, life span, temperature and humidity requirements and how to handle your lizard before taking it home. There may be a lot to learn, but that’s just part of the adventure! Here are some general guidelines to help you care for your pet lizard.

What Your Lizard Cage Must Provide

Security. Heating. Humidity. Lighting. Space. These are the five key factors you must keep in mind when choosing a lizard cage for your new pet. So let’s talk about these five considerations: Security Requirements
The cage must be able to keep your pet from escaping. Likewise, it must also protect your pet lizard from intruders, such as the household dog or cat. Some lizards are very good at escaping, so it’s best to choose a professional cage designed specifically for the type of pet you want to keep. It is not recommended to build your own lizard cage unless (A) you start with a good plan and (B) you have the right skills for the job. Heat Control
First, you need to research the temperature requirements for the lizard species you plan to keep. Then you must choose a type of cage that allows you to maintain those temperatures. You can heat a reptile enclosure in several ways, but the cage must be able to hold the heat in some way. Humidity Control
Some lizards have higher moisture requirements. Some are desert dwellers and need a dry cage, while others are tropical Certain types of lizards have high humidity requirements. Tropical species, for example, need to be kept in a cage or tank that maintains a higher level of humidity than a desert-dwelling species. Sufficient Lighting
Most lizards are sun lovers. A few species spend a lot of time burrowing underground. But for the most part, lizards need frequent exposure to sunlight. In captivity, you can’t always duplicate this. So you have to do the next best thing. You have to use full-spectrum lights to duplicate the benefits of the sun (as much as possible). Remember this when choosing a lizard cage for your pet. It must allow the use of special lighting, as needed for your chosen species. Space and Orientation
Sure, that baby iguana is cute. And it’s so tiny! But a full-grown green iguana could be nearly six feet in length and will require plenty of cage space. On the other hand, certain species like the geckos can be housed in much smaller enclosures. You will need to research the space requirement for your pet lizard, and make sure you can meet those requirements before you bring the animal home. You also need to choose a cage that is oriented properly for your particular pet, depending on whether it spends most of its time on the ground or in trees.

What to Feed Your Lizard

There are many species of lizards and each has different dietary requirements, but generally speaking, lizards eat an omnivorous diet. This means your lizard will be healthiest when eating a mix of plants and insects or rodents, depending on his breed. Many lizards fill the carnivorous side of their diet with crickets, worms or certain species of roaches. Larger, carnivorous lizards, such as monitor lizards, will do best eating rodents — specifically, mice. It’s important to remember that lizards often prefer eating the meat portion of their diet alive. You should be able to find any of these insects or rodents for sale in your local pet store or online. When it comes to eating plants, lizards enjoy a mixture of leafy greens and fruit, which you can purchase at your local grocery store. Generally speaking, romaine lettuce, yellow squash, blueberries and collard greens offer nutritional value to lizards. However, some fruits and vegetables can be harmful to lizards, so be sure to research which ones are ideal for your pet before you feed him.

Quality Time with Your Lizard

When learning how to take care of a lizard, it’s important not to overlook how to handle him. While lizards don’t typically enjoy being handled, it’s still important to know how to do so safely. After all, you will need to safely remove your lizard from his enclosure periodically to clean it or to take him to the veterinarian. Once again, the best practices for handling lizards will vary by species, but the following is a general idea of how to go about it. When picking up your lizard, try to scoop him into your hand and gently clasp his head between your thumb and forefinger. This will keep him secure and sheltered. For larger lizards, you will likely need to use two hands. Hold your lizard’s hind legs back toward his tail with one hand, to prevent him from scratching you and grasp his body under his front legs with the other hand. Small lizards, in particular, are very fragile, so it’s best to avoid handling them unless absolutely necessary. They are vulnerable to losing their tails or being squeezed too tightly, which may cause internal damage. If you have a small lizard, make sure you handle him very gently and do not let anyone else hold him unless they are experienced with handling small reptiles. Remember, being held is stressful for lizards, as they do not see their human caretakers as friends the way a cat or dog would. Instead, they usually feel threatened in the hands of such a large being and may even bite you. Don’t take it personally if this happens; remember that they’re following their instincts. If your lizard is uncomfortable being held, it’s best to avoid doing so, if it all possible. It’s natural that you want to pick up your pet and show him off but remember, it’s best to put his comfort first.

Cautions with Owning a Lizard

There is a health risk associated with owning any reptiles. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with lizards, reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine. Owning a lizard may require more research and attention to detail than owning a different type of pet, but it’s certainly a rewarding experience. Learning the ins and outs of how to take care of a lizard is just part of the fun of owning this type of pet! Before you decide on which lizard you want to get, 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 that lizard. Be sure to remember these key things:

  • Deciding on a lizard as a pet usually means you are making a long-term commitment.
  • While a lizard may be inexpensive, the equipment needed to properly care for it may cost many times more than the lizard itself.
  • Find out how large your lizard will get as an adult. Those cute little iguanas in the pet store grow lizards that need a lot of space and a lot of care.
  • Be aware that all reptiles can carry salmonella. Read about the risks and how to minimize them.

Choosing Your Lizard

After contemplating the aforementioned issues, you are now ready to choose your lizard. Regardless of the species you decide on, be sure to get a captive bred individual from a reputable breeder whenever possible. Wild-caught lizards tend to be more stressed, prone to parasites and disease, and are more difficult to tame. There may also be concerns with wild populations being depleted if you are considering a lizard that is often wild caught.

Watch Now: Pet Lizard–Top Names and Fascinating Facts

What Kind of Lizard Should You Get?

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.

Lizards for Beginners

  • Leopard geckos — The ultimate starter lizards, these are small, easy to handle, only need a small tank, and do not need special UVB lighting. Crested geckos and fat-tailed geckos have similar needs and are good choices too. Leopard geckos also come in a variety of colors.​​
  • Bearded dragons and frill-necked lizards — These are docile and easy to handle lizards but they need a relatively large tank and full spectrum UV lighting.
  • Blue-tongued skinks — Generally docile, blue-tongued skinks make great starter lizards but need a good sized tank and full spectrum UV lighting.
  • Green anoles — Anoles are small lizards that are readily available and don’t need a huge tank but they do need full spectrum UV lighting and are not as easily handled as other beginner lizards.

Other lizards are a bit more challenging, whether it be in setting up of the proper environment, ease of handling, the size of space you will need to care for them, or a combination of these and other factors. Lizards that more experienced owners might want to consider are listed below.

Lizards for Experienced Owners

Many other kinds of pet lizards exist but do your research prior to getting one to make sure you are capable of properly caring for them. Illustration: Theresa Chiechi. © The Spruce, 2018

Caring for Pet Lizards

Now that you’ve decided where you’re getting your lizard from and what kind of lizard you want, you need to make sure you have their new enclosure properly set up for them. Lighting, habitat, heat, humidity, nutrition, and behavior all need to be taken into consideration.

    • Heat and lighting are essential to the health of your lizard for a variety of reasons. Lizards are cold-blooded and rely on heat, invisible UV rays, and the day/night cycle to function properly.
    • Reptiles don’t just need generalized heat but rather a range of temperatures so they can regulate their body temperature as needed.
    • A common health problem in captive reptiles, metabolic bone disease is related to both diet and lighting and is easily avoided.
    • Another health problem related to diet, vitamin A deficiency is a real concern.
    • All reptiles shed their skin regularly and problems shedding usually indicates that something in the lizard’s environment needs to be altered.
    • Humidity is another important environmental parameter you need to control (often a culprit in shedding problems), so get a hygrometer to measure the humidity percentage and make sure it is calibrated properly.
    • Even when lizards have similar care needs it’s not a good idea to mix them in the same terrarium.
    • Your lizard may eat insects and keeping and raising crickets or mealworms at home can cut down on trips to the pet store.

Once you have everything set up for your lizard, you can finally go pick out a healthy lizard and knowing that you can give it a good life. By Cheryl Lock As far as reptiles go, owning a pet lizard can be a very worthwhile and unique experience, but there are many things to consider before taking one home. “Lizards can be rewarding to keep but they always require more care than snakes, and attention to detail is important,” said Leo Spinner, herpetologist and founder and owner of The Spotted Turtle Herpetological Institute. “A new lizard keeper must be prepared to make the commitment to care for the lizard’s daily needs. It is not advisable for someone to obtain a lizard as a pet when that person has no former pet care experience, or is not responsible enough to manage the lizard’s daily care.” So, what do those daily needs actually look like? Here are a few things to consider as you consider purchasing a pet lizard.

What do Lizards Eat?

All lizards feed every day, and some species do well on non-living commercial food, while others will require live prey as part of their diet. Some lizards even have specialized diets that may be difficult to acquire. “Horned lizards, for example, mostly eat ants in the wild,” said Mike Wines, Lead Reptile Keeper at the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey. “Make sure you have researched your pet’s needs thoroughly and have access to the proper diet for your particular lizard.”

What Should My Lizard’s Habitat Be?

Lizards require a specific amount of space to thrive and it’s important to figure out what yours will need before bringing him home. “Find out what the size of your lizard will be as an adult, and start from there,” Wines said. “Some lizards get very large — like iguanas and several monitor species. These lizards need a lot of space and room to move and they often even need a place to swim.” Some types of lizards can even outgrow their captive environment over time, so the lizard owner will have to be able to keep up with these needs as time goes by, Spinner said. Here are some additional set-up questions to consider:

  • Does my lizard need an ultraviolet light? Many advertised products say they provide a good source of ultraviolet light, but in reality they may not put off enough light for your particular lizard. Get a recommendation from your veterinarian for a good product.
  • What are the heating requirements for this type of lizard? Some lizards require heating gradients with more than one temperature zone in the tank, as well as hygrometers to measure humidity.
  • How does my lizard drink? Will a bowl filled with water suffice or would he prefer a drip system?
  • How does this species of lizard deal with the stress of handling? How often should I be playing with him?

While there is no single answer to all of the different requirements and needs your pet will have, thorough research into the species of lizard you’re interested in can help answer many of them. Then, once you have your lizard, avoid common mistakes made by inexperienced lizard keepers, like putting off cleaning a water bowl, removing uneaten food from the tank or forgetting to turn lights in the tank on and off. Your lizard will be his happiest and healthiest when you pay attention to all the details.

Can Lizards Live Together?

Lizard care is very detailed, and because lizards are all so different from each other, it’s not a given that yours will want to share its habitat with another lizard. “Some animals do better in groups, while others do best alone,” Spinner said. Research your particular species ahead of time for details about its personality and ask about your potential pet’s behavior from where you purchase it to get a handle of whether or not you think it will be okay with playmates at all times.

How Should I Interact with My Lizard?

One of the reasons lizards make such great pets is that they tend to be more attentive than other reptiles and respond to their keeper’s behavior and activities. “Lizards tend to be a lot more active than other reptile pets, which makes them a little more interesting in a captive environment,” Spinner said. Just because lizards make interactive pets, however, doesn’t mean they want (or need) to be handled 24 hours a day, nor should they be left to their own devices all the time, either. “Over or under handling of lizards is a big mistake people tend to make,” said Spinner. “Too much handling can lead to stress and too little can lead to nervous behavior, which ultimately ends with stress.” Your scaly friend will also require regular veterinary visits, as well as mental and physical enrichment to stay healthy and happy. “Research on a pet lizard requires more than just a short conversation with someone at the pet store,” Wines said. “Make sure you can care for the pet for its entire life, and not just when it’s young, small and cute.” Have a conversation with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles and/or lizards to help fill in any blanks you may have when it comes to interacting with or caring for your lizards, and make sure you learn about your potential lizard’s diet, size, life span, temperature and humidity requirements and handling requirements before taking it home. “You should also make sure your lizard is eating before you bring it home,” Wines said. “Look to see if it has injuries like cuts, missing toes or a broken tail, and make sure it is a captive breed. Like snakes, you don’t want a wild-caught lizard. Besides the fact that they are taken from the wild, they often have many parasites that are exacerbated by being in captivity. Some good starter lizards are bearded dragons and leopard geckos. But always do your homework first.” Image: Michaelpuche / Shutterstock lizard on log Lizards can make great pets. However, they require a lot of unique care. They are absolutely not cats and dogs. On top of feeding them and ensuring they have enough water, you also have to design their aquarium to match their needs. Many also have special dietary requirements, which can be a bit strange for someone who isn’t used to their needs. There are many types of lizards, and most of them require specific care. Some need to eat some veggies, while others are completely carnivores. Chinese Water Dragons need water to thrive, as they live in swampy areas. However, Bearded Dragons live in the desert and need a completely different tank set up. We’ll do our best to look at these differences in this article. However, we recommend doing your own research on your particular lizard breed. divider- lizardprint

Lizard Facts

There are many different types of lizards that can be kept as pets. Bearded dragons are some of the most common. They are docile and friendly, which is why they make good pets. Their tanks are also easy to set up, and they don’t require much-specialized care. Geckos are very popular, as they don’t do much. They sleep during the day and are nocturnal. Their feeding needs are pretty simple, and they can like up to 20 years. There are a few species that are not suitable for beginners. For instance, Anoles are beautiful, breed lizards, but they aren’t as tamable as others. They will bite and drop their tails – often more than other breeds. Iguanas are a bit temperamental and can be equally as complicated to take care of. Males can be particularly aggressive. Chinese Water Dragons need specific habitat adjustments, such as very high humidity. For this reason, they are a lot more work than other lizards. bearded dragon in the woods Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Are Lizards Good Pets?

They can be. Many lizard species are pretty tamable, which means they will act friendly around humans and can be held. They are not affectionate in the traditional sense. However, they can make decent pets in some cases. You just can’t expect them to act the same as a cat or a dog, as they have a completely different behavior pattern. Some are more affectionate than others. Lizards don’t take up much space, so they can be great if you don’t have room for a cat or a dog. However, they often take a lot of care, so don’t get one if you’re expecting an easy pet. They are not easy pets by any means due to their specialized needs. Many require regular tank cleanings, a specialized diet, and careful handling.

  • Related Read: What do Baby Lizards Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

Where Can I Get a Lizard?

Lizards are available from all sorts of places. You can get them from chain pet stores. However, these don’t always take care of their lizards, and you won’t have the chance to discuss the baby with the breeder. Often, the store won’t even have the contact for the breeder. They may not even know the exact age of the lizard. Smaller pet stores often have a local supplier and may be able to provide their contact. They usually have lizards themselves, so they are quite knowledgeable. You can also find rescues that specialize in lizards. These are usually adult lizards, and sometimes they have health problems. However, this is a solid option if you’re just looking for a lizard. There are usually several rescues in every area, so you should be able to find plenty near you.

  • See Also: Do Agama Lizards Make Good Pets? All You Need To Know!

How Much Does It Cost to Own a Lizard?

Usually, the actual lizard doesn’t cost too much. Lizards are quite inexpensive – around $15 to $150. Rarer lizards cost more. The “usual” pet lizards are quite inexpensive, though. However, the things you have to purchase for your lizard can be quite expensive. The habitat itself will usually cost a few hundred dollars. Some will cost more than others, depending on the lizard’s needs. For instance, Chinese Water Dragons will require a bigger setup since they require water, climbing structures, and other items. Bearded Dragons require less stuff. They live in the desert naturally, so they usually just require sandpaper flooring (that is made for them), some bowls for food and water, and a hiding area. You can add extra climbing structures and such as they get older. white throated monitor lizard in wild_Dirk M. de Boer_Shutterstock Image Credit: Dirk M. de Boer, Shutterstock

What Kind of Home Does My Lizard Need?

The needs of lizards differ depending on their needs. Chinese Water Dragons need a decently tall tank – preferably not made of glass. This can get quite expensive. They need an area to swim, and the air should be kept at pretty high humidity. However, Bearded Dragons need a short but long container since they don’t do much climbing. The heat each lizard needs will depend. Since they are cold-blooded, most will need a heating lamp of some sort. This can get expensive, as heating lights are a bit costly. You will need to change the bulb often. Most will need a UVB bulb as well as a heating bulb. Usually, lizards cannot see red, so most heating lights are red to prevent interrupting the lizard’s sleep. Some lizards require climbing structures, though others hardly climb at all. It just depends on the lizard’s particular needs.

What Should I Feed My Lizards?

Lizards are typically very particular about what they eat. For instance, some can only eat certain bugs. They have to be the right size to prevent choking. Many are also omnivores. They need a decent amount of plant matter, but only certain kinds. Each kind of lizard is different in its diet. Some need more meat. Others need less. It depends on the species. Lizards are a bit complicated when it comes to their food. Most need fresh food, which means you’ll be feeding them things like crickets and mealworms. Many require a very specific diet that may change as they get older. We recommend doing plenty of research on what your particular lizard needs to thrive. lizard eating a bug Image Credit: lanur, Pixabay Most lizards need to be fed daily, though some can go longer when they reach adulthood. This is because adults grow less than babies and therefore need fewer calories. You should handle your lizard frequently, but not so much that it stresses them out. Shedding is common for many lizards. However, most can do this without any assistance. Usually, their owners do not need to interfere. In some cases, the humidity needs to be high enough, or the lizard will not shed properly. If it doesn’t shed properly, their toes may end up falling off. Their habitat will often need cleaning, but most lizards don’t actually need baths themselves.

How Do I Know If My Lizard is Sick?

Lizards can be affected by all different kinds of diseases. Metabolic bone disorder is quite common in lizards and is caused by a lack of calcium. In captivity, this must be supplemented. This is a completely preventable disease with the correct supplement and diet. Sadly, many owners do not take care of their lizards properly, making this one of the most common diseases affecting most species of lizards. Mouth rot is common in some lizards. This is characterized by sores around the mouth that seem to literally rot away. This can become quite serious and has led to some lizards using a bit chunk of their jaw. Typically, this is caused by a mouth injury that becomes infected. Chinese Water Dragons are particularly prone to this problem if they are kept in a glass tank, as they tend to run into it. There are a few viruses that lizards can develop. However, since lizards are usually kept alone, this isn’t as much of a problem as it is with other animals. Newly purchased lizards should be kept alone to ensure that they are not sick before being introduced with other lizards (if they’re being introduced at all). Cleanliness is important. Don’t pick up a newly adopted lizard, and then go cuddle your other lizard. Viruses are mostly a problem for lizards kept by breeders since they usually have multiple breeding pairs at a time. Lizards at pet stores can also be affected, as they are usually kept together. Fungal infections aren’t completely unheard of, though they are more common in lizards that require damp conditions. Their skin typically becomes damp and damaged for seemingly no reason. Luckily, these conditions are generally pretty easy to treat with an anti-fungal spray. External parasites can also occur. Usually, these are mites that live on your lizard’s skin. It’s similar to fleas in dogs or lice in people. They usually appear as red or black dots. They aren’t typically dangerous, but they can be very annoying to the lizard. new bearded dragon divider

Conclusion

Lizards come in all shapes and sizes. How you care for one is not the same across all species. Some require a full-meat diet and high-humidity conditions. Others eat a large portion of vegetables and prefer drier environments. Some need a lot of tank setup and space. Some prefer very little and would rather bask on the ground than play with toys. Featured Image Credit: InspiredImages, Pixabay


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