Lizard Basics

Lizards can make fascinating pets, but a responsible owner should become informed about lizards in general, and the species being considered for adoption in particular, before choosing such a pet. While some lizards can be responsive to humans, many are difficult to handle. Lizards can also transmit illnesses, chiefly salmonella, to their human companions.

Types of Lizards

There are a great many varieties of lizards, all of them intriguing in their own ways, but some are much better suited to living in human households than others. Many species of lizards are relatively easy to care for. Once provided with a large enough space to make them comfortable and a nutritionally balanced diet, they do not require too much attention. They tend to be interesting to watch, docile and long-lived.

Some lizards, however, like iguanas, grow to be quite large and can be difficult to handle and even dangerous. Adult iguanas, though beautiful to watch, can grow to be five to six feet long with large teeth and can become very aggressive. Children should never be allowed to handle them.

Lizards recommended as pets include:

  • Leopard gecko
  • Crested gecko
  • Red ackie (Varanus acanthuras)
  • Bearded dragon
  • Argentine black and white tegu

Lizards not recommended as human companions, except in very special circumstances, include chameleons and iguanas.

Home Environment

As reptiles, lizards are cold-blooded and so require home environments that are temperature-controlled, often with special UVB lighting. Owners should be aware that some lizards can grow very large, so lizard cages should be designed to accommodate the full-grown animals.


Lizards' nutritional needs vary somewhat from one species to another. Most are insectivores, eating some combination of small worms, crickets and fruit flies, but some are vegetarians. Lizards can be fed prepared, well-balanced food purchased from pet stores as long as the particular food selected is designed for that particular species of lizard. Lizards, like all creatures, need to have fresh, clean water available at all times.

Live crickets and mealworms are also available in pet stores. It is best not to feed pet lizards wild insects or plants since these pay be contaminated with pesticides. Lizards may be given certain fruits as treats, but only occasionally. Owners should always check dietary restrictions with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.


Like other animals, lizards deserve to live in a clean environment, so their cages should be cleaned often and thoroughly, with excretions and uneaten food removed promptly.

While with many pets, keeping the pet itself clean is an issue, with lizards hygiene is important to preserve human health. Salmonella is commonly present in lizards' digestive tracts and on their bodies, even when the animals are not ill. Very careful hygiene has to be maintained to keep their companion humans from becoming accidentally infected.

Because the illness can be contracted from surfaces as well as from the lizard, it is necessary to thoroughly sanitize anything that comes into contact with the animal and to keep the lizard away from the kitchen. Lizards should not be in contact with babies or young children, pregnant women, elderly people or anyone with a compromised immune system.

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