Caitlin UltimoHealth / Wellness

Complete Guide to How to Care for a Pet Lizard

Before You Get Reptiles, Get to Know Them

Reptiles are all-around cool pets. They eat bugs, look like little dinosaurs, and can live up to 15 years or more! Each species of reptile pets has its own unique set of needs for diet, habitat and activity level, and some require more care than others.

“For beginning reptile owners, bearded dragons and leopard geckos are fairly hardy and also quite sociable,” according to Katie Malensek, DC, DVM at Ravenwood Veterinary Clinic in Port Orange, Florida. “Chameleons can be more sensitive to incorrect husbandry and diet.”

Before you add a lizard to your family, you should do your research and understand how to care for a pet lizard. It may sound a little intimidating, but the good news is all the supplies you need to keep these exotic pets healthy are available at online reptile shops like Chewy.

What Do Lizards Eat?

While each species has different nutritional requirements, most pet reptiles are either insectivores, herbivores or omnivores, but all require calcium and vitamin D3 supplements. A lack of these supplements can result in health issues for your lizard.

“The most common health problems I see in reptiles are almost always preventable by correct environment and diet,” Malensek says. “In particular, the most common problem is metabolic bone disease, which is a complex disease related to a diet deficient in calcium or vitamin D3.”

To help ensure your lizard gets maximum vitamin D absorption, Malensek says reptile owners should take their pet outside in appropriate temperatures for 10-15 minutes a day.

Bearded dragons are omnivores. You can feed them gut-loaded crickets, which are crickets fed special food to ensure your lizard gets maximum nutrition. Bearded dragon diets also consist of a variety of worms like waxworms, earthworms and silkworms, along with smaller amounts of fresh veggies and fruit.

Since they are strictly insectivores, leopard gecko diets must consist of insects like gut-loaded crickets and mealworms with the occasional, fattier waxworm or superworm as a treat.

For crested geckos, powdered foods formulated with all the nutrients they need are available, which are ideal for anyone who prefers not to deal with bugs.

Chameleon diets consist of mostly insects, but they can also have leafy greens as a treat. It is best to feed them a variety of insects, including gut-loaded crickets, hornworms, silkworms and mealworms. Chameleons also require a calcium and vitamin supplement.

Only feed insects that you purchase from a pet retailer. Do not feed your pet reptile bugs from your backyard or other outdoor areas, which may have been treated with pesticides.

While some lizards, like the crested gecko, will require a daily misting of water, all lizards need a dish of fresh water every day. Look for a sturdy dish that is not easily tipped over like the Exo Terra Reptile Water Dish.

Bearded Dragon Care

Bearded dragons as pets require a hot, dry environment that mimics their natural desert habitat. To provide that, you will need:

  • A large, rectangular tank with space for a warm and cool side and a hideout
  • A mesh or screen tank cover for ventilation
  • Tank lighting with a UVA/UVB lamp to provide your beardie with the UV light they need
  • Basking light like the Zoo Med Repti Basking Reptile Spot Lamp and platform for warmth
  • Thermometer and humidity gauge
  • Substrate for bedding and to absorb waste
  • Hideout large enough for your beardie to move around in

Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard geckos are also desert reptiles, so their environment will need to be warm and dry with a cool area and a moist hiding place for shedding. Here’s what you’ll need:

  •  A tank with a screen or mesh lid for ventilation
  • Low-wattage tank light and optional night-specific bulb for nighttime viewing
  • Thermometer and humidity gauge
  • Heat mat or under-tank heating source
  • Substrate for bedding and to absorb waste
  • Hideout

Crested Gecko Care

Crested geckos live in tropical environments and prefer cooler temperatures. Here’s what you’ll need for their habitat:

Chameleon Care

Chameleons require more care than all of the other lizards on this list. To keep their habitat at the ideal temperatures with a cool bottom and a warm top, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Tall, well-ventilated terrarium
  • Substrate like coconut fiber, reptile bark or reptile carpet
  • Rock or branches for climbing
  • UVA/UVB fluorescent lamp
  • Heat source
  • Automatic fogger, mister or drop system
  • Thermometer and humidity gauge

Cleaning the Habitat

Remove waste and soiled substrate weekly and change the entire substrate no less frequently than every month. Wipe down the sides and bottom of the tank with a cleaner safe for reptiles like Zoo Med Wipe Out Terrarium & Small Animal Cage Cleaner.

Identifying Health Issues

Without proper care, lizards can develop infections like mouth rot, abnormal shedding, intestinal parasites and respiratory infections. The best way to spot health issues is to monitor your pet and note any changes in their day-to-day activity or appetite.

“Breathing with their mouth open, twitching, lack of energy, discoloration, retained shed and swelling limbs are all signs of serious problems that are in need of immediate attention,” Malensek says.

To find a veterinarian certified in reptile care, ask local reptile breeders and other veterinary clinics.

Remember, the key to finding the right reptile for you is to do your research on how to care for a pet lizard. The most common mistake new reptile owners make is to walk into the care and feeding of reptiles blindly.

“A bearded dragon is not a gecko, and a gecko is not a chameleon,” Malensek says. “They all require diets and environments specific to their species.”

Chris Brownlow has been writing about pets for over 10 years. As a writer who believes in immersing herself in her topic, she has tasted more than 20 different flavors of dog and cat food while working on an advertising campaign for PetSmart. Prior to her pet days, Chris was a print and digital journalist at The Tampa Tribune and The Virginian-Pilot.