How to Keep a Lizard for a Pet

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The cute little lizard intently peering at you from behind the pet-shop glass isn't an impulse purchase, as he'll come with a pricey setup and distinct needs for his species. Some lizards are content with being handled while others shouldn't be grabbed, and some will balloon to a heft much larger than their purchase size. Know what's required for the pet lizard of your choice to decide if you can give him the best home.

The Right Pet

The perfect pet lizard begins with choosing the right species for your situation. Monitors and iguanas require lots of room, while lifespans for many species reach well beyond a decade. Some, such as a bearded dragon or a blue-tongued skink, are willing to be handled, while others, such as chameleons, dislike being picked up by people. Let any new lizard adapt to his habitat for a week before regular handling, and follow handling guidelines to safely support your lizard when out of his enclosure.

Reach out through local reptile societies, animal shelters and classifieds as well as pet stores when shopping for a lizard. Adopting as opposed to purchasing from a pet shop may give you greater insight into the individual personality of the reptile.

Warning

  • Because of salmonella risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children under 5 or anyone with a weak immune system not handle reptiles. Avoid cross-contamination by always washing hands after handling reptiles and washing supplies in a room where food is not prepared.

Proper Accommodations

One of the higher costs associated with keeping a lizard is the initial setup. A tank, substrate and decorations should be finely tuned to the needs of the species and recreate as much as possible its natural environmental conditions, whether a ground or climbing lizard. You can find some practical, creative tank decorations at your local home-improvement store, including wide pieces of PVC pipe that serve as easy-to-wash play tunnels and stones for the basking end of the habitat.

Larger is better when picking a secure tank, so your lizard has room to explore and select a warmer or cooler end. Some species require regular warm-water soaks, which can be accomplished with a dish or plastic container placed in the tank or a soak outside the tank in a tub or sink, depending on the lizard's size.

Most lizards are solitary creatures that should be housed alone. Spot-clean the enclosure as you see waste, and change substrate weekly.

Tip

  • If you have a lizard that burrows in substrate, place a heavy water dish on a brick or two to keep him from tipping the container from below. A brick can also make a tip-proof platform for a substrate-level food dish.

Lighting and Heat

If you take a cold-blooded animal into your home and heart, you'll need to replicate some features of his natural environment -- desert, rain forest, steppe, etc. -- as much as possible to keep him happy and healthy. This means providing a UVB light for diurnal species to replicate sunshine on a 12-hour cycle and a basking spot with a heat lamp so your pet can choose to venture into higher temperatures.

Keep a heat and humidity gauge in the enclosure to ensure that you're within range for your particular species.

Warning

  • Set up your reptile's enclosure in an area that takes fire safety into account. You don't want heat lamps getting knocked over by a child or a cat or an entanglement of electrical cords.

Time to Eat

Some lizards eat live food while others are happy with a garden harvest, but some reptile enthusiasts don't feel comfortable feeding insects or live or frozen animals. Some species are carnivores that need insect protein to survive, while some are omnivores that do best on a mix of greens and fruits with a bit of protein thrown in. Some will accept commercially prepared diets but be sure to supplement these with fresh food. Canned insects can provide diet variety for those squeamish about feeding live bugs; keep tabs on opened cans in the refrigerator and throw out if you see mold or the smell or texture seems odd.

Ask your veterinarian which feeding plan is best for your reptile. The proper time to feed a lizard, as well as how much or how often, varies by species; you may also see a lizard telling you he's hungry by perking up and getting your attention when you pass his enclosure.

Tip

  • If it's your first time keeping a particular species of reptile, make an appointment with an exotics veterinarian for a wellness check. The vet can answer your questions about care, show you how to handle your new pet, and more.

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