GENERAL CARE OF LIZARDS
Each species of lizard has their own differences in husbandry. We have separate handouts for geckos, iguanas, snakes, turtles and other reptile species. This handout is a source of information for the average lizard. We recommend that you purchase a book for the species you have, as each type of lizard has different requirements for heat, etc. We have more information within our library, which you may read at the clinic. In Colorado it is illegal to catch wildlife of any species and house them as pets.
We feel the radiant heat source is the best. The tropical lizards like it at 80-95 degrees, while the temperate species prefer 75-85 degrees. Reptiles cannot regulate their own body heat. A thermometer is a must to test the air temperature in the cage. Reptiles are exothermic and rely on the surrounding air temperature to keep them warm. When using radiant heat we recommend that you heat only one end of the cage, so the lizard can find a temperature it prefers. A 75-150 watt (maximum) heat lamp can be used to heat one end of a large habitat, while leaving the other end cooler. The heated end of the cage should be at least 75 degrees, preferably 85 degrees. There are also the non-light, ceramic heat sources that can be placed above the habitat. All lighting should be on a timer, to allow a period of darkness for sleep. We recommend that if in doubt all lizards be on an ultraviolet light with the UVB spectrum; even the nocturnal lizards should have one hour of UVB light. We recommend the full spectrum lighting for reptiles placed 24″ or less above the habitat, with the bulbs changed every 6 months. The light bulb should be open towards the lizard. Plastic (i.e. acrylic) and glass covers will filter out the proper wavelength of light (290-320 nm) needed to make vitamin D3 in reptiles. With some reptile species, such as iguanas, we recommend taking their cage outside in the warm weather–but this is not usually needed or recommended for small lizards, especially if they can easily escape. Unlike iguanas, geckos do not have problems with light spectrum deficiencies (geckoes do not need an UV light). The vitamin light and a heat rock may be adequate for some habitats in warm rooms and/or for temperate climate lizard species. Hot rocks may be adequate, yet some may become faulty and burn the lizard. A hot rock alone is not an adequate source of heat. We do not recommend heating pads at all.
A 50-70% humidity may be needed with tropical species. Spray misting, providing wet sponges (in a water bowl) and warm water baths should help alleviate the low humidity problem in our area for the needs of the tropical species of lizards. Even though geckos are lizards from a desert, they do need some dampness. The habitat to house lizards should be escape proof, ventilated, warm and be able to be easily cleaned. Aquariums, wood, fiberglass or plastics are the most common materials used. Wood can be harder to clean and disinfect. Branches and similar items should be provided for climbing. Lizards also need a place to hide and feel visually safe in their environment, such as hollow log or inverted box.
Adequate ventilation is very important. Should any mold be growing within the habitat you need to provide more air and/or periodic cleaning of the cage. When disinfecting the cage we recommend mild products such as 1/30 Clorox or 1/10 chlorahexadine. Always allow the cage to dry and smell free of fumes before reintroducing the lizard back into the cage. On the other hand if there is not enough moisture, the lizards may have trouble shedding their skin. We prefer paper as the litter of choice, as it is easily changeable. Moist organic materials and moist gravel can lead to problems.
The water bowl should be changed daily; non-chlorinate water or water that has set out in an open container for a few days is recommended. Chameleons, geckos and anoles prefer to lap water from the leaves of plants, thus a misting daily is recommended and/or a drip system in a larger habitat. Dirty water and a wet litter environment are frequently the sources of infections and parasites that affect reptiles. We recommend periodic fecal exams on all lizards. If you are not aware that salmonella can live in the intestinal tract normally in all reptiles, please ask for our handout(s) on salmonella. Wash your hands always after handling reptiles.
Lizard breeding should be left to the experts. If you do not plan to breed reptiles, we recommend you keep one lizard per habitat to reduce aggression and fighting wounds, especially the larger lizards. As a general rule no more than one male lizard per habitat, and never house multiple species of reptiles together. Some lizards, such as geckos, can be sexed after they mature, or by 10 months of age. Females have no visible femoral pores or hemipenes
The most common problem we see in exotic animal care, including lizards, is malnutrition. What may be easy to feed the lizard may not be the most nutritious. Crickets are low in protein and low in calcium. Less than 1/4 of a lizard’s diet should be crickets. Lizards should be fed a variety of foods. Newly hatched mealworms, earthworms, cockroaches, and other insects can be fed. There are some lizards that may eat the pelleted diets, which we recommend trying for the species you have. If they eat the complete pelleted diets this can be fed as 2/3 of their diet. The iguana should not be fed animal or insect protein. With insects and worms you can provide supplements by placing the insect in a bag or vial with the vitamin/mineral powder and shaking before feeding to the lizard. We recommend a vitamin-mineral supplement periodically for all reptiles, even if it is given by mixing the powder with Nutrical and placing it on the prey. The mineral-vitamin powders can be used 2x a week. Calcium powders should not have a high level of phosphorus. Some species of lizards can be fed 3-4x a week, while the chameleons need to be fed daily. Geckos eat insects and are not vegetarians. We recommend that reptiles be fed within a bowl, or similar container, within their habitat. If you are having problems with your lizard eating, try supplying only insects that are less than 1/2 the size of their head; this is especially so with anoles.
We do not recommend keeping any poisonous animals. The Gila Monster is the only poisonous lizard, and it also is a carnivorous lizard. The Gila monster poison is more toxic than the rattlesnake, yet fortunately most people do not get a fatal bite. As with rattlesnakes the Gila monsters are immune to their own poison, and bites from other Gila monsters.
Signs of sickness in lizards can be trouble breathing, constipation or egg binding, diarrhea, ear infections, swollen eyes, lumps, mouth rot, skin rot, a softening shell, swollen eyes, increased thirst and/or not eating for a week or longer. Humidity over 60% may cause skin infections and blisters to form.
With proper care anoles can live up to 5 years, bearded dragons 10 years, a chameleon up to 5 years, geckos can live up to 20 years, iguanas 10-15 years, swifts for 5 years, and skinks can live 10 years on the average. The range can be 2x more for many of the above.
The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic
We have many specific species handouts for other lizards: anoles, bearded dragons, chameleons, chuckwalla, geckos, Gila monsters, glass lizards, iguanas, skinks, spiny tailed lizards, uromastyx, etc. There are bedding, care of live prey, changing the diet of a reptile from a single source to a complete diet, habitat and ultraviolet light handouts, etc.