Lizards can be ideal first pets because they do not require extensive care and required visits to a lizard veterinarian are infrequent. Simply keeping their cages clean, providing an appropriate light and heat source and feeding them correctly is the bulk of their care. Choosing the right lizard means knowing what kind of pet experience you or your child is looking for because some types of lizards thrive with human handling while other types of lizards should be regarded primarily as visual pets to be observed instead of handled regularly or played with. Most species require ultraviolet lighting fixtures and many species of small lizards eat various types of insects and worms. Others are herbivorous or carnivorous. Different pet lizard species also vary considerably in size, ranging from a few inches to more than 6 feet, with obviously different needs for the right type and size of tanks for their homes. They can be an ideal small pet for someone who wants only one, because they do not need the companionship of their own species; in fact, most lizards become stressed by having to share their environment with others and do much better in their own tanks.
Generally, the most common novice-level lizards that make good small pets and first pets include three types of Geckos (Crested, Fat-Tailed, and Leopard). Crested and Fat-Tailed Geckos both make good first lizards because they are calm and they can live comfortably in small tanks, with minimal artificial lighting requirements. Leopard Geckos have similar care requirements and may be the most interactive and friendliest of the three Geckos. They all share the same dietetic requirements of crickets, mealworms, and waxworms. Bearded Dragons are another good choice for people who want a friendly reptile that they can handle, but they are two or three times the size of the Geckos, so they need much larger tanks. They need ultraviolet lighting fixtures and a more varied diet than Geckos: in addition to crickets and worm, they also must have fresh green vegetables as a regular part of their diet. American Chameleon are a good choice for people who want to observe a small lizard without handling it too much because they are happy in captivity but too nervous to be comfortable with a lot of direct human interaction. Their diet is similar to Geckos but unlike Geckos, they do require UVB lighting sources above their tanks.
Some of the other types of lizards you might consider include Iguanas, Monitors, and Skinks. Green Iguanas are one of the most common reptilian pets and they are very smart and capable of being sociable and friendly, especially if they are handled regularly throughout their lives. Their diet consists primarily of fruits and vegetables, but they require environments with well regulated light and temperature. Perhaps the most important considerations before choosing an Iguana is that they grow very large, sometimes reaching 6 feet (including their tails) and they can live as long as the longest-lived dog, close to 20 years. They require much more time, attention, commitment, and expense than smaller lizards that can live comfortably in the same small cage for their whole lives.
Both Spiny-Tailed Monitors, often called ?Ackies? (short for Varanus acanthurus), and Savannah Monitors tolerate regular human handling quite well and thrive in captivity, but while Ackies rarely exceed 2 feet in length, Savannahs often grow to 4 feet, requiring much larger tanks as adults. Generally, Monitors can become very tame in captivity, but that is mainly dependent on how much time and attention their owners give them. The larger the lizard, the more important it is to be realistic about how much time you will devote to it because large monitors that are not handled regularly enough to be tame can become hard to handle or aggressive and they can inflict more serious bites when they feel threatened. Captive-raised lizards tend to be tamer in captivity than wild-caught lizards, and the larger the species being considered as a pet, the more important it is to make sure yours was captive-raised and handled throughout its life, especially early on.
There are so many different species of lizards that anybody who likes reptiles can probably find a lizard that would make the perfect pet. Just make sure that you understand their different characteristics and needs and that your expectations about the level of commitment involved are realistic and accurate. If you need assistance making the best choice, your local small animal veterinarian and the pet store employees should be happy to help you determine which lizard is right for your home.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.