Lizards make interesting and educational “pets,” although we use that term loosely. Most reptiles are not what you would call affectionate, but they do offer a glimpse of a very old form of animal life going back to the age of dinosaurs. Like any animal you keep, you should consult with your veterinarian to find out the optimal conditions and feeding for your lizard. The vet can examine the animal and, if it becomes ill, may be able to treat it. The vet may want to test sample droppings from the lizard to check for parasites, or draw some blood to test for other issues. While you can obtain a lizard for free or a very low price, expect to spend some money on creating the right habitat for your reptilian buddy.
Choose the Appropriate Lizard
If you are just starting off on your lizard adventure, you may want to stick to species that are easier to keep, including certain geckos, bearded dragons, skinks and anoles. Once you become more experienced, you might take on the challenges of keeping iguanas, tegus, monitors, chameleons, Chinese water dragons and day geckos. Whatever species you pick, research its special requirements and potential signs of illness. For example, your lizard may require extra Vitamin A in its diet. If your lizard experiences shedding problems or seems listless, consult your vet.
You can house your lizard in a terrarium or a cage, depending on its size. Lizards can vary from a few inches and ounces to almost 10 feet and a hundred pounds, so size the habitat accordingly. You have to mimic the natural environment of whatever species you obtain, which invariably includes warmth and sunlight (real or artificial, so that it receives UV light). Lizards are cold-blooded creatures that need a heat source to get their metabolisms working on all thrusters. That’s why you’ll often see lizards sunning themselves in the morning until they are sufficiently warm to start their search for food.
Typically, the lizard’s home should be kept in the 75 to 80 °F range during the day, with at least one basking spot that can reach 90 °F. This will vary depending on the species. At night, don’t let temperatures fall below 65 °F. If you keep your lizard indoors, you’ll need to equip its abode with a basking light that mimics the sun’s output and with heating strips or blocks under the tank or cage for warmth.
The lizard’s habitat should include the types of terrain it encounters in nature, including rocks, sand, plants and covered areas where it can feel secure. Make sure you frequently clean out the lizard’s enclosure, and keep an eye out for bugs or other parasites. The enclosure should be escape-proof. If you keep different types of lizards, don’t mix different habitat types in the same enclosure. If you do have multiple types that you want to keep together, first research whether they are compatible with each other.
You will also need to keep the humidity at the level that is natural for the lizard species. Your herp vet can give you insight into this, and you might need to invest in a misting system for lizards that require a lot of moisture. An automatic one is the most convenient and doesn’t require daily intervention. Misting systems can be complex, so do some fact-finding before investing in one.
The type and amount of food you provide to your lizard depends on its species. Obviously, you have to feed more to an iguana than to a gecko. In all cases, don’t overfeed your lizard — fat lizards are no more healthy than are fat humans. Understand what your lizard eats in the wild. Some interesting food sources include various live insects, worms (especially mealworms and waxworms), crickets, flies, snails, caterpillars and spiders. Large lizards may hunt for mammals in the wild, so you may have to include rodents in their diet. If your lizard is an herbivore, you’ll need to feed it the fresh leaves, berries and fruits native to its wild habitat. Your herp veterinarian will give you feeding information and may recommend some supplements to help maintain the lizard’s health. Some lizards have a fondness for special foods — a gecko might like baby food made from fruits. Avoid feeding them fireflies, which are toxic. Always have one or more dishes filled with clean water for your lizard to drink.
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.