Pet Lizards: Caring, Cost, Lizard Cages and Health Tips

Pet Lizards – Different Yet Engaging Creatures

Different Yet Engaging Creatures

Lizards are generally low maintenance pets while being entertaining and even sociable pets. A few points apply to creating good environment and care for them as pets. With well over 3,000 species of lizard, although only some are suitable as pets they have a wide range of characteristics and provide at least as much if not more entertainment and enjoyment as more conventional types of pet. Most types of pet lizard are surprisingly sociable with people if tamed from young.

Lizard Cages

The size of terrarium for keeping a pet lizard will vary depending on the size and type of the lizard. The large lizards, like Bearded Dragon, grow to around six feet in length and will normally be kept as single occupants. Smaller lizards, like Madagascar Day Gecko, are usually best kept in groups though often with no more than one male in a group due to their often territorial nature about food, shelter and females. Even in a suitable group of a male with two or more females, giving them as much space as possible is advisable. Most lizard cages are best having height in them to allow the occupants to climb and scamper around on branches, strong plants or shelves.

A benefit of keeping pet lizards is that their terrariums can be used to create small landscapes, usually resembling desert or forest which can make an attractive feature in itself in the keeper’s home. Given that heat, often administered by spotlights, is a key requirement for keeping pet lizards, this can also be used to enhance the appearance of the lizard cage. With the appropriate environment prepared and their behavior understood, most pet lizards are low maintenance pets.

Pet lizards are best tamed from young as an adult lizard not used to its keeper is likely to be unsociable. Some adult lizards, especially the larger species, can actually be aggressive in any case as they grow older, so familiarizing suitable types with handling from young is highly advisable to try to circumvent the problem.

Small lizards should generally be very active and alert and move easily. Difficulties in movement often indicate a possible problem in their skeleton which might be best checked by a vet. More brightly colored skin is often a sign of good health in many species. Lizards usually shed their skin in sections, will re-ingest it and generally are very clean and odor-free, especially the smaller species.

Most importantly, before buying a lizard, research should be carried out about their lifepspan, feeding, breeding and general care and habitat requirements. It can be surprising how easily many types of pet lizard can be kept and enjoyed if cared for properly from the outset.

Caring for large pet lizards

Caring for large pet lizards

Caring for large pet lizards is a challenge unto itself. Here are some important things you should know before bringing one into your home.

  • Your home needs to be able to support a large enough habitat for the lizard and the required furnishings.
  • You need to be aware of what kind of food your new lizard will need.
  • You need to know how to properly handle a large lizard.

Habitat size and furnishing for large pet lizards

Larger lizards like Tegus and Monitors can grow to over four feet in size. Before picking out a lizard of this size, make sure you will be able to house is properly. An infant Tegu or Monitor can be kept in a locked, secure aquarium, but it will eventually outgrow this setting. At that point, you will need a larger habitat for it, at least six feet by three feet by two feet tall. But the larger the better. Some people actually have full rooms dedicated to their lizards. Not cages, but literally the entire room.

Regardless of the size of your habitat for your large lizard, there are certain elements that must be included. A shallow water dish can allow your lizard to soak and should be maintained regularly with fresh water. The base of the habitat should be covered in an appropriate substrate, or material lining the bottom of the cage. Cypress or eucalyptus mulch can be ideal for large lizards, as it will prevent them from ingesting the substrate while giving the opportunity to dig. These are also very absorbent, making them much easier to clean.

The temperature of the habitat is critically important. As lizards are cold blooded, there is far less tolerance for temperature extremes. Keeping the temperature around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit (27-30 C) during the day with a basking spot (a rock or similar spot where the lizard can enjoy the higher temperature as needed) kept around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit (38-43 C). If you want to maintain cooler temperatures in the evening. I definitely do not recommend using hot rocks, but instead focusing on heat lamps or heat maps.

Feeding large pet lizards

It is important to feed your pet lizard properly, and young Tegus or Monitors will eat crickets dusted with a vitamin supplement that includes calcium. As your lizard grows older and larger, it will begin eating pinky mice, followed by adult mice. These should be pre-killed. Additionally, adult lizards enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables to increase their vitamin intake and vary their diet. It is possible to occasionally use canned dog food or eggs as a special treat, but avoid using these too much as in the long run they are very unhealthy for a lizard.

Handling large pet lizards

If you want a large lizard, I highly recommend starting with the Argentinian Black and White Tegu (Tupinambus merianae). They grow to a large size, but if you purchase one while it is young you can teach it to be extremely docile and easy to handle. They live for approximately 10-12 years, allowing for a long and rewarding relationship with your own lizard.

You must never forget that handling a large lizard and snakes comes with inherint risks involved. Even small lizards can leave you with a nasty bite but something like an Iguana or a Monitor can do some serious damage. Even going so far as to break bone and severe tendons. For this reason I highly recommend handling these animals with leather gloves, long sleeves and pants. At least initially as you form a bond with them.

The first few weeks of owning a new lizard

The first few weeks of owning a new lizard
When you first get a new pet, especially something like a lizard, you’ll be inclined to spend as much time as possible with it. That works great for dogs and cats but reptiles are a little different. The less time handling a new lizard the better it will settle in.

Before getting the lizard

First make sure that everything is setup and working properly. You should make sure you setup the cage and test it for two or three days prior to bringing the lizard into your house. Make certain it is keeping the appropriate temperature gradients, and humidity levels. Also double check and make sure there is no way for a curious lizard to escape.

You will also need to determine where the lizard’s cage should go. You’ll want to make sure it is in a permanent location. That place should be free of drafts, and with as little activity as possible. In other words putting the cage right next to the front door is not a good idea.

Getting the lizard home

We will assume you picked up the lizard at a local breeder or store. They should put it in the appropriate carrying container and you should NOT take it out until you get home. When you get home place the container in the lizard’s permanent cage and let it come out at its leisure. Some lizards will come out right away and others could take a day or two. For the next five days don’t try to handle it. Just make sure it has fresh water and leave it be. After the five day adjustment period offer it food and start handling it a little bit at a time.

Take pictures

You should take some pictures of the lizard like Tokay Gecko for later reference. Front, back, both sides, and underneath. This way you have a photographic record to go by in case you need them. It can also help in identifying a lost/stolen pet if the need should arise.

Visit the vet

Try to have the lizard seen by a vet within the first week. You want it to have time to settle in and get used to things, but not so long that you miss something important. It’s always a good idea to call around to various vets and ask who on staff specializes in reptiles. Not all veterinarians do and reptiles are very specialized.

Keep records and learn

Learn when the lizard is active, when it likes to eat, how often it has a bowel movement. It’s important to keep an eye on these things so you’ll be aware of any strange behaviors. You’ll also learn what food it will or won’t eat. One of our leopard geckos for instance won’t touch crickets so we have to feed it superworms. If we hadn’t kept an eye on the animals activity and kept a record it might have gone a long time without food.

The final thing to do with your new pet is to have fun. Lizards are very interesting and even a casual keeper can learn a lot about them in a very short time.

The cost of owning a pet lizard

cost of owning a pet lizard

If you’ve done your research and decided you want a lizard as a pet you also need to take day to day cost into consideration.

Food and supplements

It depends on the type of lizard you get as to what it will eat. Some like Leopard Gecko eat are strictly carnivores and eat only meat (crickets, superworms, pinky mice, etc) some are omnivores and need both meat and vegetables for a well balanced diet, while others such as the Green Iguana are strictly vegetarians. You’ll need a fresh supply of food for your lizard. Unlike snakes feeding lizard frozen thawed food isn’t usually an option.

Lizards also need special supplementation to help prevent metabolic bone disease (MBD) which occurs in part from lack of calcium in the animal’s food. The supplements are very expensive, but the price will add up over time.

A cage and all the “features” in it

While a lizard needs regular interaction with people it is not an animal that should be allowed to run loose. You will need to provide it with an appropriately sized cage. The size of the cage will depend on the kind of lizard you have. Most people will buy a cage when they get their first lizard, but you can also make your own cage using a plastic tub. The video tells how to make a snake tank, but the general idea is the same.

You’ll also need to add features to the cage so it feels more “homey” for your lizard. A hide is an essential element as is a water bowl. You might also like to put in fake plants for the aesthetic benefit. The substrate can be as simple as paper towels or newspaper, but most people prefer something more natural like crushed coconut or cypress mulch. All of those things add up and the initial purchase can drive the price of a new lizard up significantly.

Veterinary checkup (highly recommended)

It is always a good idea to track down a local vet who specializes in reptiles and have your new lizard examined as soon as you can. Not only could it catch a potential problem early on, but the vet can also show you what signs of trouble to look for in the future. Figure on paying a normal office visit price (unless the vet discovers something that needs to be treated) which is around $60.

Heat and light sources

Your pet will also need to have heat sources to keep them at the proper temperature and for some lizards special light sources to ensure they get the right amount of UVA/B exposure. You’ll need to buy the appropriate equipment which could include:

  • Bulbs
  • Lamps
  • Stands
  • Shades
  • Cords
  • Under Tank Heater (UTH)

Ongoing costs associated with keeping a pet lizard

You should also consider the day to day costs of keeping a lizard. Here’s some things to think about:

  •  24/7 electrical usage for heating and lighting
  • Weekly cost of food
  • Supplements
  • Replacement substrate (every 2 to 4 weeks usually)

Metabolic Bone Disease in lizards

Metabolic Bone Disease in lizards

  • Fibrous osteodystrophy
  • Osteomalacia
  • Secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rickets

At one time it was believed to be the result of simple calcium deficiency but we now realize that is not usually the case.

Causes of MBD

In general terms it is caused by giving your lizard a diet that has too much phosphorus relative to the amount of calcium it eats. The normal ratio of calcium:phosphorous is 2:1 for a lizard. However due to inadequate feeding many times there is far more calcium than phosphorus and the lizards body begins to leech calcium away from other sources, e.g. the bones. When bones lose calcium they become soft. The body also deposits extra tissue around the bones in an effort to make them stronger.

While the 2:1 ratio might seem easy to accomplish there are other factors that play into it. For instance vitamin D3 plays a major role in how calcium is metabolized by the body. An insufficient amount of ultra-violet lighting, even when calcium is plentiful can lead to MBD. It is very much like rabbit starvation where men would starve to death eating rabbits to their hearts content. Having food is not in and of itself enough. There must be the proper balance and external conditions for that food to be nutritious to a lizards body.

Preventing MBD

It’s simple to prevent MBD if you do so from the beginning before it has a chance to take hold.

  1.  Make sure to feed your lizard a balanced diet. You need to know the types of food your pet can eat, but try to give it a healthy variety of those foods.
  2. If you’re lizard is not nocturnal and requires supplemental UVA/B lighting ensure it has it available. Also remember that not all lighting is created equal.
  3. There are several over the counter supplements to add to your lizards food. Zoomed makes several different ones that are worth checking out.
  4.  Also ensure you are offering a heat gradient and the proper day/night lighting cycles.

Treating MBD

If your lizard has MBD and it is just starting you can normally get the diet right, ensure the husbandry in the tank is correct; it should begin to correct itself. Cases where the disease has progressed to moderate or severe levels should be referred to a qualified reptile vet. It will take special calcium supplementation and some other more advanced treatments than most people can provide without guidance.

Metabolic bone disease in lizards does not have to be a death sentence if it is properly taken care of. The goal however should not be treatment, but prevention because with a little effort it is simple to avoid.

What to do when your lizard loses its tail

What to do when your lizard loses its tail

Many lizards have the ability to drop their tail as defensive mechanism. This is known as autotomy and literally means “self severing” or “self amputating”. Other animals also have this ability.

A tail that has been autotomized will continue to move for several minutes after the incident. This often allows the lizard time to escape while the predator is focused in on the twitching appendage.

How to prevent your pet lizard from losing its tail

Dropping of the tail is almost purely a defensive reaction when a lizard feel threatened. You can’t entirely stop the possibility of a lizard autotomizing its tail but you can minimize the likelihood.

  • If your lizard is stressed leave it alone and try again later.
  • Don’t try to grab or hold it by the tail.
  • Don’t bump or other wise traumatize your lizard.

Treatment of the wound

When the tail is dropped there is a big gaping wound left behind. There’s generally very minimal blood loss as God has given lizards a natural tourniquet; the muscles around the veins and arteries in the tail constrict and shut off the blood flow. The problem is with the possibility of infection.

  • Replace the normal substrate with clean white paper towels, or blank sheets of news paper.
  • Soak the lizard in a 50/50 mixture of warm water and betadine for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Put triple antibiotic ointment on the stump. Be sure to use the kind WITHOUT painkiller as this is toxic to reptiles.

Be certain that you keep the tail as clean as possible over the next several weeks while it is healing. You should also feed the lizard extra during this time. The tail is used to store fat and your pet will need extra nutrition to regrow its tail and rebuild the lost fat stores.

Additional information

Lizards can only regrow lost tails two or three times. After that the tail will not be replaced. Sometimes the tail will not break off cleanly. In those situations you should take it to your vet so they can determine if it needs to be amputated. When the tail is regrown the bone inside is not regrown. Instead stiff cartilage takes its place. The coloration and pattern will often be different than it was originally.

Heating a lizard tank

One of the most important things you do when taking care of a pet lizard is to make sure that the heat is at appropriate levels. We aren’t going to specify the exact temperatures you need to use as each species is different, but we are going to go over how to keep the temperature in the right range.

Why you need to keep lizards warm

You will often hear people talking about the “basking” temperature. Since lizards, like all other reptiles, are ectothermic they can’t regulate their own body temperature and rely on outside sources to do it for them. In nature this could take the form of the sun, warm rocks, trapped pockets of heated air, car exhausts and engine blocks. When they are caged they depend on you to keep the temperature in the proper ranges.

What you need to heat the tank

Since most people don’t live in a house that is constantly at 80+ degrees there’s a very good chance you’ll need a supplemental heat source for your lizards.

  • Heat Lamp

A heat lamp is a specially designed light that puts off heat (and light) for reptiles. Most bulbs that are designed for use with lizards give off UVA/B lighting. They need that specialized light for their bone health. In other words use the right lights, even though they cost more to buy and run instead of trying to get away with generic light bulbs.

  • Ceramic heat bulbs

Special bulbs that give off no light, only heat. These are good for night since your lizard won’t require 24/7 UVA/B lighting. They require a special lamp that will dissipate the heat properly.

  • Ceramic heat tiles

These are basically a larger version of the ceramic heat bulbs designed for larger enclosures.

  • Room/Space heater

Depending on your needs you might also (or instead of) use a space heater. It won’t provide the UVA/B lighting that is necessary for most lizards, but it does allow for keeping the temperatures raised. Particularly in a smaller room.

Ambient (background) and basking temperature

There are two different temperatures you’ll need to keep track of when you have a pet lizard. The first one we are going to talk about is background, or ambient temperature. It is the general temperature inside the cage. Every species of lizard requires a different ambient temperature and it is beyond the scope of this particular article to list them all. Many people have great success by keeping the ambient temperature around 82 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

You need to be aware of what is commonly referred to as the “basking temperature”. This is an area of the lizard’s tank which is kept at a higher temperature than anywhere else. When they need extra heat (such as when they are digesting their meal) they will go and bask in this area. As with the ambient temperature each lizard species is different as to how warm they need it. Often times it will be well over 100 degrees. The basking area is localized to a fairly small area. The goal is to get it as warm as needed and the further you move away from that area the lower the temperature goes until it reaches the lower end of the gradient.

Temperature Gradient

This is the change in temperature in different areas of the lizard’s cage. One end should have the basking area and as you move towards the other end of the enclosure the temperature should drop until it reaches the lower ambient range. This way the lizard can better thermoregulate its own body temperature by moving around in the cage.

Thermometers and hygrometers

You can get a good digital thermometer with built in hygrometer and a remote probe from almost any store that carries those kind of items. It doesn’t need to be a specialized for pets as long as it is accurate. A great one can be found at Wal-Mart for about $15.

Set the body of the thermometer on the cool side, and run the probe over to the basking area. This way you can watch both temperatures and it will also keep track of the humidity levels.

Temperature guns

Another method that will allow you to keep track of the temperatures is to use a little device that allows you to “read” the temperature of a surface by pointing towards it. A good temp. gun is very accurate.

Does My Reptile Need a Calcium Supplement?

Does My Reptile Need a Calcium Supplement?

Dusting the Food of a Reptile with Supplements May Save Its LIfe

Reptiles often do not get the nutrients they need from the diets they are fed in captivity. Without supplementation, reptiles may succumb to Metabolic Bone Disease.

Many reptiles will benefit from a calcium and/or vitamin D3 supplement to their diet, as insects often do not contain enough calcium. Reptiles need proper UVA and UVB florescent lighting to turn calcium into vitamin D3. Without this, the reptile may get Metabolic Bone Disease, or MDB.

Metabolic Bone Disease or MDB

Metabolic bone disease is not one specific disease, but a host of health issues caused by problems with reptile calcium metabolism. There should be a ratio of calcium to phosphorus of 2:1 in a reptile’s diet. If there is not enough calcium in the diet, the metabolism of the animal will begin to take it from the bones. Signs of the disease include bumps on the bones of the legs, curvature of the spine, receding lower jaw, lethargy, and lameness of the legs.

If enough calcium is supplemented into the diet, the reptile may recover, but often, not fully. This disease is completely preventable through proper husbandry. Make sure you know the lighting, heating, and feeding requirements of a reptile before you purchase one, as insufficiencies in these areas are what causes MDB.

Which Reptiles Need Calcium Supplementation?

Snakes and nocturnal reptiles, such as leopard geckos, do not need calcium supplementation. Any reptile that basks in the sun (or under a heat lamp) should have a calcium supplement added to its diet. Reptiles that bask in desert environments, such as the Bearded Dragon, will benefit from a vitamin D3 supplement as well.

Types of Calcium Supplementation

There are many types of calcium supplementation on the market. The most common way is to dust the insects fed with a calcium powder. You simply shake the powder onto the crickets before feeding them to your reptile.

Another method is by gutloading the insects fed to your pet lizard. This involves feeding the crickets a food that contains a high amount of calcium. These foods usually come in gel form, often in cubes, and can be purchased from any reputable pet store.

There are also prepared diets you can feed to your reptile that contain proper amounts of calcium. Turtle, Gecko, and Bearded Dragon foods often contain calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. It may be difficult to get a reptile to eat a prepared diet, but these diets are often more nutritious than just feeding them crickets all the time.

As with any pet, research is needed before purchasing a pet lizard or turtle. If the owner makes sure they have the proper setup, and feed the right foods with proper supplementation, the animal will stay happy and healthy.

More from ZooEarth