Should I Get a Lizard?

Jocehanna is a young Savannah Monitor
Jocehanna is a young Savannah Monitor

Yes, that is one neat looking critter! Before you take the plunge and adopt one, take a moment to consider the special needs (and the cost of those needs) that lizards have.

Unlike a cat or dog, who can roam through the house and handle the varying temperatures and humidity levels that our area brings us, lizards need very specific conditions in which to thrive. They need a certain temperature at night, another during the day, and an even warmer spot to bask in. That means that you need to supply them with heat and basking lamps.

Lizards need to be kept on a circadian rhythm (regular dark and light times to simulate night and day), so you will have to control the lighting in the summer and winter when our days and nights are not equal in length. Regular lamps won’t cut it, either. They need bulbs that can provide the UVA and UVB rays that they would get from the sun if they were in their natural habitat. Though the bulbs may produce light for an extended period of time, they need to be replaced every six months as they lose their ability to provide the proper amount of UV rays.

The proper humidity level must be maintained according to the specific needs of the species. Some are originally desert dwellers who need their habitat to be dry while others hail from the tropics and need a more moist living space. This means investing in a hygrometer and being prepared to adjust their environment as needed.

Providing a terrarium that is large enough for the animal to be happy is important. This can be a major consideration as some species, like the Savannah Monitor, can average 3-4 feet in length (though some can be as long as 5 feet) and need a very large tank, about the size of a sofa. They also need places to hide in and things to climb in their habitats.

Any droppings need to be removed from the tank daily as well as any food that is not eaten. The whole tank needs to be thoroughly cleaned regularly.

Be prepared to feed your pet live prey. Crickets and mealworms are common food items. Depending on the species, cockroaches, earthworms, and even mice or chicks can be a part of the diet. This means that you need to provide a living area and quality food for the prey as well. Many also require vitamin and/or mineral supplements that can be costly.

Not all lizards appreciate being handled. Some, if socialized well and often during their early years, become tame. If that handling is not continued throughout their lives, they can revert to no longer accepting human touch and react aggressively. This can pose a real danger with some species- the adult Savannah Monitor has a bite powerful enough to break the fingers of a human.

Lizards can pose another health hazard to humans: They carry a bacteria called Salmonella that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramping. Sometimes this can even lead to a hospital visit. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that children under 5, older adults, and anyone with a compromised immune system does not touch lizards or their tank and its contents. Those who do handle these animals need to be sure to wash their hands very well afterward.

Like any other pet, lizards need to have regular physicals and can become ill or injured. Finding a veterinarian who treats these animals can be difficult, especially in a more rural area.

Many pet lizards can live 10 to 15 years. This means taking them into consideration when making future plans about finances, moving, or expanding the family.

Having a lizard as a pet can be an entertaining and rewarding experience. Before adopting one, be honest with yourself if you are able to afford the time, money, and space in your home that they need.