The Scaly on Having a Lizard as a Pet

By Helen Ravenel Hammond

Leapin’ Lizards! So, you think you want to get a small reptile as a pet? Dr. Katie Rainwater from Exotic Vet Care says that there quite a few things to consider before bringing a scaly companion home.

Lizards are not different breeds, like dogs and cats, but wholly genetically different species of animals. They are as different from each other as cardinals are from pelicans, she says. “Green iguanas and some species of chameleons are different kinds of lizards commonly seen in the pet trade; also popular in the pet trade are bearded dragons, leopard geckos, crested geckos, blue-tongued skinks, monitor lizards and Chinese water dragons to name a few,” she explains.

Interested owners must consider quite a few things before investing in one, Dr. Rainwater warns, advising anyone considering a reptile pet to read at least five sources of information (online care sheets, books, etc.) beforehand. The cost is highly variable depending on the species and whether it was wild caught or captive bred. Your new friend will cost anywhere from $35 to hundreds or more depending on the species.

According to Dr. Rainwater, most lizards are fairly long lived. Chameleons are on the shorter end of the spectrum at 6-8 years; leopard geckos and iguanas can make it to their 20’s. It’s important to note, they can be carriers of salmonella bacteria, so any child owning one needs to be responsible for using good hygiene practices.

Darby Cameron, mother of three, gave in to her daughter’s birthday wish for a gecko in March 2015. Mollie had researched for months about how to care for it, and serendipitously, a father of a student at her school was a breeder. After the breeder gave some materials and instructions, two geckos made their way home.

“We now have one tank with Sharkey, the original male, one tank with Izzy, the original female, plus one offspring, one tank with two siblings on one side and one older sibling on the other side,” she notes. “Riley, my son, has built walls and structures with Legos. They feed them Meal Worms. Riley is trying to ‘raise’ meal worms too because it is expensive to buy them all the time.”

The bigger geckos eat 3-6 mealworms every few days; the smaller ones eat 3-4. The setup is expensive at first because you need a large enough tank, shelter, somewhere moist to go for shedding, a heat mat and/or lamp and a thermometer.

The Cameron children are obviously responsible pet owners, but Dr. Rainwater warns that lizards are not recommended as pets for children unless the children are very responsible or the parents are willing to take the pets on as their own when the children go away to college.

Etta Simons remembers loving her iguana, Siegfried, which she bought at a pet store when she was in high school. With green and bluish coloring around his neck, Siegfried would lie in the sun and snooze in his aquarium in front of the windows in her room. She had a Ficus tree in her room, which she fed him. “He was just a chilled out lizard and watching him eat and climb in the tree was just fun,” she said of her unusual pet.

Dr. Rainwater concludes, “Good veterinary care is important. Making sure they are not carrying parasites, discussing husbandry details, and addressing current or potential health problems are all part of the veterinary care we provide to reptiles and their owners,” she says. “The vast majority of problems we see in captive lizards were preventable with appropriate care, so we strongly recommend to have new lizards seen early so that we can get them off on the right footing and help give them the best chance for a long and healthy life.”

Scales up to that!