Pet Lizards

Choosing a Pet Lizard and Basic Care

Pet Iguana with owner
Utah-based Photographer Ryan Houston/Getty Images

Before You Get a Pet Lizard

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.

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 - 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.

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.

  • Lighting and Heat for lizards - 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.
  • How to Provide a Thermal Gradient - Reptiles don't just need generalized heat but rather a range of temperatures so they can regulate their body temperature as needed.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles - A common health problem in captive reptiles, metabolic bone disease is related to both diet and lighting and is easily avoided.
  • Vitamin A Deficiency - Another health problem related to diet, vitamin A deficiency is a real concern.
  • Shedding Problems in Reptiles - All reptiles shed their skin regularly and problems shedding usually indicates that something in the lizard's environment needs to be altered.
  • How to Use and Calibrate a Hygrometer - 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.
  • Mixing Species - Even when lizards have similar care needs it's not a good idea to mix them in the same terrarium.
  • Feeding Lizards Insects - 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.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT