Marty has been keeping reptiles for some time and enjoys setting up new and interesting habitats and enclosures for his pets.
Caring for a Pet Lizard
So you've decided you would like to get a pet lizard. Before you head over to your local pet shop, you will need to make a home for your new pet.
Different types of lizards have different living environment requirements. Be sure to study up on the specific needs of the lizard you wish to keep as a pet.
For the purpose of this tutorial, we are going to create a home for a fat-tail gecko. We chose a fat-tailed gecko because it's small, docile, and easy to take care of. African fat-tailed geckos may live 15 to 18 years with proper care.
Another reason for choosing the African fat-tailed gecko is because it prefers temperatures that are very close to our home temperatures (75–90 degrees F).
Of course, you may wish to choose another variety of lizard. Just be mindful that each species has different requirements concerning living conditions, humidity, diet, space and more.
Things to Do Before You Get Your Pet Lizard
Before you get your pet lizard, it is important that you make a proper home for him first. Avoid the temptation of falling in love with a particular lizard, purchasing him, and then trying to get him a home set up.
The first thing you need to do before making your home for your lizard is to study a little about the available types of lizard and decide which variety will work best for your particular situation.
- What kind of food will it eat?
- How big will it get?
- Does your lizard need to live with others?
- How big a cage does he need?
- How long will he live?
- Are there any special environmental needs that need to be considered such as humidity, heating, or vegetation?
Once you have chosen what variety of pet lizard you want, you will want to go to a reputable breeder or pet shop to get your lizard.
It's best to try to get a captive-bred lizard because wild-caught lizards tend to have more parasites and diseases. Wild-caught lizards are also harder to tame and are much easier stressed.
How to Make Your Lizard's House a Home
- Choose the Right Enclosure
- Choose a Good Substrate
- Include One or More Hides
- Select Appropriate Food and Water Dishes
- Outfit the Enclosure With Some Extra Features
1. Choosing the Proper Cage for Your Pet Lizard
Because lizards come from all parts of the world, their environments can vary considerably. It is important to get the right size enclosure as well as the proper type. Many lizards require high humidity or other specialized environmental conditions.
Fortunately, there are a large number of specialized commercial cages available for nearly every type of lizard.
Before purchasing your lizard, it's important to get the proper size and type of cage. Specialized cages have been designed to control humidity, heat, light, and other environmental conditions making them ideal for specific types of lizards.
A 10-gallon aquarium tank is adequate for our fat-tailed gecko, but a 20-gallon tank is ideal. Because the African fat-tailed gecko can't climb, a screen cover is not needed, but we purchased one anyway to keep the cats out.
2. Choosing a Substrate
Using the wrong type of substrate can be fatal for your lizard. Be sure to learn about the proper substrate for your type of lizard to prevent impaction or other problems for your new pet.
Our fat-tailed gecko will ingest its substrate to use for grit similar to the way birds do. Because of this, it is important to be very careful about which substrate is used. Never use sand as a substrate for a fat-tailed gecko.
Paper towels or unprinted newspaper is an ideal substrate for the fat-tailed gecko. Because we want something that looks a bit more natural, we have decided to go with Eco-Earth (coconut fiber). You could also use cypress mulch for a natural-looking alternative substrate.
3. Choosing a Hide
It is important that your lizard has a place where it can feel safe when it wants to sleep. A lizard hide (your lizard's house) will work well to provide a good environment for your lizard when it needs to rest.
Our fat-tailed gecko does best if provided at least two hides to choose from. The hide also provides a location where the humidity can be increased to help the gecko when it is time to shed its skin. We placed some slightly moistened substrate inside the hides to help increase the humidity.
There are some great hides available commercially or you can make your own.
Video: Great Homemade Reptile Hide
4. Choosing Food and Water Dishes for Your Lizard
To keep your pet lizard's environment healthy and clean, you will want to have a way to contain your lizard's food and water.
There are several good commercially available food and water dishes available for your pet lizard. Of course, if you feed your lizard crickets, you will want them to be able to roam freely inside your lizard's shelter. Slower, less agile foods like mealworms should be kept in a food dish.
The size of your food and water dishes depends on the size and species of your pet lizard. If your pet lizard is a vegetarian, you may wish to have a larger food dish. If your lizard only eats crickets, you may not wish to have a food dish at all.
Our fat-tailed gecko will eat mostly crickets with a vitamin supplement dusted on them. We did provide a very small food dish, however, in case we wanted to offer it a mealworm or two once in a while.
The preferred diet for the fat-tailed gecko is crickets. We can easily obtain these from our nearby pet shop.
Most lizards eat other animals or insects, but some lizards are considered vegetarians. Your lizard's diet will depend on their species and age.
There may be a commercially prepared type of food that is available to feed your lizard, but most lizards prefer live food.
Many types of lizards do well eating crickets or mealworms, while others require a more substantial diet such as live mice or fish.
As far as our fat-tailed gecko goes, he prefers crickets and an occasional mealworm. It's a good idea to sprinkle their food with commercially available mineral and vitamin supplements.
5. Other Things Your Lizard Needs
There is an endless supply of gadgets and decorations that are available for keeping lizards. You may wish to purchase additional ornaments to make the lizard habitat look more natural. Specialized screened cages made specifically for lizards are available in numerous sizes.
Basking platforms, heat lamps and heat rocks, cage covers, various gauges and thermostats are available to monitor temperature and humidity.
There are specialized light bulbs that provide UVA rays for your lizard as well as artificial moonlight to make it possible to view your lizard without interfering with its sleep patterns.
For our fat-tailed gecko, we added a few artificial plants to make the house look a little more natural.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I recently bought a baby bearded dragon. How long does it usually take before I should attempt to feed it?
Answer: I would recommend offering is some food as soon as it's settled into it's new home.
If your Bearded Dragon doesn't want to eat, check at make sure it's being kept at the proper temperature.
Question: How long have you had your pet lizard?
Answer: We still have our lizard. It's been well over 10 years and it's still happy and healthy.
Marty Andersen (author) from Salina, Utah on December 14, 2012:
We were very careful in selecting the African Fat-Tailed Gecko.
When I was a kid we went to our local K-Mart to their pet department, they had a huge tank that had hundreds of Alligators for sale...yes, Alligators for sale at K-Mart!
I really wanted one but my mother said I would be much happier with something else.
She got me an iguana. They grow so fast and the tail is really dangerous we eventually had to get rid of him because of his size and temper.
I can't imagine what would have happened if my mother would have let me have an Alligator!
Mary Craig from New York on December 14, 2012:
You have some really good advice here about keeping lizards for a pet. My daughter had two pet iguanas but they got so big and strong she had to get rid of them. Research before buying is always a good idea.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.