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What You Should Know About Owning and Caring for a Pet Lizard

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Fact checked by Emily Brown

Despite their somewhat exotic appearance, lizards can make great pets. While each species has its own needs and requirements, they are relatively easy to care for and usually require very little space.

If you plan to welcome a pet lizard into your family, we are here to help you prepare! We will explain what you should consider before adding a lizard to your family, the things you should know about lizard ownership, and what you will need to care for your scaly new friend!

Things You Need to Know Before You Choose a Pet Lizard

  • Despite their small size, lizards can live longer than the average pet. The lifespans of the most popular types of lizards tend to range between 10 and 30 years. You are making a long-term commitment, and you should be prepared for this before you bring a lizard home.

  • Lizards are relatively inexpensive pets, especially compared to pure-bred dogs and other larger pets; however, some of the equipment required to care for a pet reptile can be expensive. Make sure you can afford everything your new lizard will need before you make any impulse decisions. Also, do a bit of research first. Some species have specific diets that can add to your expenses. Vet bills can be surprisingly high as well, so keep an emergency fund available in case your lizard gets sick and make sure you find a local vet that can treat reptiles before you bring one home.

  • Some lizard species can get quite large, so make sure you do your research! There is a vast difference between bringing home a baby gecko and a baby iguana. Each species also has unique requirements. Choose one of the lizard species better for beginners if you have never owned a lizard before. A Blue Tongue Skink, Leopard Gecko, and Bearded Dragon are relatively low-maintenance and make great pets for beginners. That said, some have special health needs. Bearded lizards, for example, commonly develop metabolic bone disease. To prevent this, they need a diet that includes various fruits and vegetables and adequate calcium supplements. Higher-maintenance lizards for more experienced reptile owners include iguanas, chameleons, and monitor lizards.

What are Some of the Basic Things You Need for a Pet Lizard?

zoo med reptihabitat snake terrarium kit isolated on white background

While each species has unique needs, there are some essential items you will need to purchase if you want your new pet lizard to live a happy and healthy life. The following items should be on your shopping list:

  • A terrarium is an appropriate size for your particular lizard. You will want a terrarium with enough surface area that your full-grown lizard will be able to roam around and explore.
  • Housing where your lizard can hide. Aim for something that is nearly twice the size of your lizard, as this will allow it to feel cozy without any risk of getting stuck.
  • Basking light
  • Heat source
  • Full-spectrum light
  • Thermometer
  • Non-toxic plants or artificial décor
  • Misting bottle
  • Hygrometer if you have a lizard that requires a tropical environment
  • Water dish

Creating an Appropriate Environment for Your Lizard

The natural habitat for lizards ranges from rainforests to deserts, and it is crucial to create an environment suitable for the particular species you choose.

Your lizard’s health and well-being will depend on many environmental factors, such as the amount of light, heat, and humidity present in their enclosure, which is why it is so essential to research the exact type of environment your lizard requires.

As a basic rule, you should cover the base of your lizard’s terrarium with a material known as substrate. Again, the type of substrate required for your lizard will depend on the species. Ground-dwelling, desert lizards require sand, while woodland lizards need peat moss, bark, or potting soil. Finally, more tropical lizards that live in trees require moss, tree bark, inedible wood chips, and tree branches.

Essential Maintenance and Care Tips for Lizards

Your pet lizard will live a much happier and healthier life if you stay on top of cleaning their enclosure. That means spot cleaning daily and regularly removing the lizard’s droppings.

Weekly maintenance requires a more thorough cleaning. You must wipe down the interior glass, remove any large pieces of debris or waste, and thoroughly clean the lizard’s water dish, hiding places, and any other décor inside the tank. Remove any uneaten fruits and veggies after a few hours to prevent bacteria spread from rotting food. It’s not always easy to tell when your lizard is sick, so preventive care by keeping their enclosure clean is an essential part of being a responsible pet parent.

Due to their small size and skittish nature, most lizards are pretty fragile. Always handle them with care. If you have small children, they must understand that a parent should always be present when they touch their pet lizard. Avoid carrying your lizard loose on your shoulder or anywhere high on your body. A drop or jump from even a few feet can cause unexpected damage, and they can run and hide away somewhere before you get a chance to catch them.

It is also imperative that you thoroughly wash and sanitize your hands after touching your lizard or any part of their tank. Unfortunately, many types of lizards are known to carry salmonella within their intestines. They can pass this harmful bacteria to humans through their waste that can be present on their skin and anywhere the lizard has roamed.

Understand Your Lizard’s Dietary Requirements

focus of leopard gecko on bark

Each species will have unique dietary requirements. Speaking with one of our Hello Ralphie veterinarians is one of the easiest ways to develop a diet plan that meets your exact lizard’s individual needs. Here are also some basic rules you can follow.

Insectivorous lizards, such as the African Fat-Tailed Gecko or the Green Anole, prefer live insects like crickets, mealworms, and waxworms.

The green iguana and the uromastyx are herbivorous lizards and enjoy calcium-rich greens, vegetables, and fruits. Romaine lettuce, green beans, and dandelion leaves are all great choices. The more variety, the better!

Omnivorous lizards, like the desert iguana, gargoyle gecko, white tegu, and blue-tongued skink, eat a combination of both types of food, as well as some larger pieces of protein, like chopped beef heart and a raw egg.

No matter what type of lizard you choose, it is also important to give them constant access to water. However, the way you offer water will differ depending on the species. Some prefer to drink from a heavy, shallow water dish, while others lap droplets from their environment. It’s vital to check the humidity of your lizard’s environment ad mist when needed. 

Hello Ralphie vets specialize in exotic pets, including lizards, and are online to help if you have questions about dietary needs, water requirements, and more!

Final Words

An ever-growing number of people are discovering that lizards can make surprisingly friendly and fascinating pets. They can be very low-maintenance and are great starter pets for families that are new to pet ownership. If you have questions about raising a lizard or bringing a pet home for the first time, our pet experts are more than happy to answer with a quick and convenient online vet appointment.

For more information about pets that are easy to take care of, consider reading our Countdown of the Top 10 Low-Maintenance Pets.

Just because they’re scaley and reserved does not mean lizards and other reptilian pets don’t deserve love and care. Give your lizard what it needs, and it will live a happy and healthy life for many years to come!

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