Why A Tegu is the Best Pet Lizard

The Tegu is the best pet lizard; here my old Tegu is sniffing for dinner.
The Tegu is the best pet lizard; here my old Tegu is sniffing for dinner. | Source

The Best Pet Lizard

If you are among the millions who climb into bed every night dreaming of the best pet lizard, I have the answer you have been looking for. I have owned iguanas, monitors, many other species of smaller lizards, and I currently own about 20 or 30 geckos. (It is hard to keep count since they run free in my kitchen.)

None of them are “the best”. I have found the best, the perfect pet lizard.

The best pet lizard is the Tegu.

Actually, I keep several of these great pets around my house. My oldest, however, lives in my front room. His cage rests on the floor and when I am eating my breakfast I flip it open so that he can crawl out and lie in the sun with my dogs. When he gets bored (or maybe just warm-he has never told me which) he goes back to his cage and checks his dish to find out what is for his breakfast.

Tegus are big, mellow, affectionate, easy to care for, and with a good diet can live about 20 years.

Can there be a better pet?

This little guy hatched in 2012. They eat a lot and grow fast the first year.
This little guy hatched in 2012. They eat a lot and grow fast the first year. | Source
Notice my dog in the background? You can tell she is stressed out around Tegus, which is why she is sleeping.
Notice my dog in the background? You can tell she is stressed out around Tegus, which is why she is sleeping. | Source

Is The Tegu As Tame As A Dog?

No, Tegus are never as tame as a dog, despite some claims. They are the one of the most intelligent of reptiles, and even seem to be interested in humans, at times. Tegus do resist training, though, just like a cat.

They can be as tame as a cat in several other ways.

According to the animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, one of the big differences between dogs and cats is the way they treat food. If a dog does not have enough, she will feed her puppies (or other dogs in the pack) and go hungry. A cat will take care of her own needs first.

Tegus are like cats in that they always think of number one. They like to eat, do not care too much about what is in their bowl, and do not really care who is doing the feeding.

Yes, many of those Tegus do like kids.
Yes, many of those Tegus do like kids. | Source

Feeding A Tegu

One of the common complaints about keeping exotic pets is how difficult it is to feed them. Dogs and cats can be fed just by going out and buying food from the pet store. What about a Tegu?

A lot of sites will recommend that the Tegu diet be composed of canned cat food, ground turkey, eggs, and calcium and vitamin supplements.

That diet is okay for a Monitor lizard, but not really needed for a Tegu.

A study of what wild Tegus eat showed that about 2/3 of their stomach contents was actually plants and only a third made up of things like snails, crabs, and other small animals. This makes sense, as in the wild Tegus can usually be found at the base of fruit trees, picking up the fruit that has fallen, and looking underneath for worms or other bugs that they might find.

Here are some suggestions for what you can feed your Tegu. Do not worry if you get things a little wrong. Tegus are forgiving, and not likely to develop nutritional diseases like Iguanas and some other lizards. If you feed your Tegu correctly, he may grow a little slower than those on a potent, high-protein, Monitor-type diet. He might also live longer.

Feeding a Tegu

Meat, only about 1/3
Ground Turkey
Canned Cat Food
Green Beans
Fresh Fish
Fresh Seafood
Greens (turnip, collard, etc)
Tropical (papaya, coconut, guava, etc)
If your Tegu has been spoiled by a meat diet, and is relucant to eat veggies,you can make a small plate each feeding and cover it with a raw egg.

Life With A Tegu

My Tegu does wear a collar (around his waist, not his neck) and I leave it on him all of the time. I only put his leash on when he is strolling around the house or outside in the front yard. The leash is not really necessary in the house, since if he climbs under my bookshelf or bed my dog will tell me where he is at (if I ask nicely), but with the leash on I can keep an eye on him if he crawls into a hiding spot.

When he climbs back into his cage I take the leash off.

Some mornings I will take him out and let him wander around my garden when I am working. I leave his leash on and tie him to a banana tree so that he´ll have some shade. He likes this since he can be out in the sun but still hide if he wants.

He does not care for the beach where it is open and he does not have somewhere to hide. In this he is very much like a cat—have you ever seen anyone take their cat to the beach?

What Are You Waiting For?

Are there bad things about sharing your house with a Tegu?

  • If you do not handle your Tegu they can become aggressive. They have teeth that will slice through flesh and wild Tegus are responsible for a lot of the dogs in our area walking around with hunks missing from their noses.
  • They need a large enclosure, or at least a decent sized cage and plenty of opportunities to get out and walk around.
  • My geese do not like him. I think it may be because of his long tail, or maybe it is that tongue flicking out every once in a while. I guess they think he looks like a snake and when he sits in the doorway they will not even try to go outside.
  • Tegus are not like a dog or cat in that they cannot be trusted with small animals. If you have a hamster, gerbil, or other small animal it must always be caged when your Tegu is strolling around the house. My parrot can handle himself in a fight but he always treads carefully when the Tegu is running around the house.

But is a Tegu the best lizard to share a house with? Definitely.

Is there anything I regret about having one of these pets? I just regret not getting a Tegu sooner. I have worked around Tegus since the mid-1970s but always thought there was another type of lizard or snake that would fit my family even better.

I was wrong. Tegus are the best pet lizard!

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Comments 20 comments

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 5 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Heather, potentially all reptile pets can carry salmonella, but it is not really an issue unless you are immunocomprimised, like to give your Tegu open mouth kisses, or are used to sharing a feeding dish with your Tegu. Seriously, it is not something to worry about. Use common sense by washing your hands after handling your herps and you will be fine.

Heather 5 weeks ago

Great article! I'm just curious to know, do Tegu lizards carry samonella? I know some lizard species do carry it, but I've heard it's more prevalent in amphibians. Having a hard time finding that information.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 6 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Izzy, we have a dog problem all over the world because inexperienced and irresponsible people get dogs and let them loose when they become large and less fun to handle. Does that mean that only experienced people should get dogs?

Izzy 6 weeks ago

We have a Tegu problem in the Everglades because of inexperienced and irresponsible owners that let this animals loose when they get too big. Please don't get this as a pet thinking it's like a cat or a dog, this is a large lizard and if you are not experienced with it, it will be too much for you to handle!

Rick 6 weeks ago

What are your thoughts on how irresponsible exotic pet enthusiasts are allowing non-native species such as the Tegu to get loose and harm native wildlife stocks?

Reilly 3 months ago

HELP! i live in oregon and im not sure where to get a Tegu! anyone know where i can?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 5 months ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

New breeder: Good luck to both of you!

New Breeder 5 months ago

Okay I'm convinced that I will be getting a Tegu Monitor! I have 3 redtail boas and 1 Brazilian rbw board and was thinking about getting a Retic or a Burmese python then I seen someone trying to get rid of a Tegu witch was spoken for but started reading up on these and makes want one better temperment not as expensive to feed, and I have cats and dogs too! Just seems to be a great pet! Thank you

Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 10 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Hi again, Yes, I'll certainly check out Pinterest for your tegu pics. I don't think I've ever seen one in any of the Australian zoos I've visited.

You're right - often the response to telling people I have pet snakes is "Eww, gross" or an expression of pure horror. Reptiles are fascinating, not gross.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 10 months ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Oh, they do well without the worms or cat food! That is the best part of the beasts, as they will eat about anything--guinea eggs from my incubator, hot dogs, etc. I have offered mine several types of seafood but he does not like that, for some reason.

They are native here to South America or would probably be banned here too. I know you guys have a lot of great Monitors in your part of the world, but I am happy we have the Tegu over here and would not trade them for any other Reptile.

Check my Pinterest page when you get a chance. I have a group board about Tegus and there are some really good pictures on it--a lot better than the ones on here.

It is nice that someone from HP read this without saying "Ewww, gross." I imagine you get that a lot when other hubbers read about your snakes.

Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 10 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Now you've made me want to get a Tegu! Don't think they are permitted here in Australia though. Your guy sounds like a really great pet. Most of his diet sounds good to me as well. :-) Not the worms and cat food though.....

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 22 months ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thanks so much for that nice comment, Teresa. Hearing from people like you makes all of this effort worthwhile.

Teresa Tanasi 22 months ago

great stuff!!! I too think you should write a book. I would lobs to hear your story. In the meantime, the info you offer about animals is great. You keep me company a lot.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Tegus seem to have a "live and let live" attitude, Alphadogg, so if my dogs don't mess with them they never mess back. There are some hunting dogs around here missing chunks out of their noses, however.

Burmese Pythons are getting a lot of bad press. I expect to see more laws against them in the future, and legislators up your way telling us how they are the Pit Bull of the reptile world. Take care of Buster and keep him under wraps.

Alphadogg16 profile image

Alphadogg16 2 years ago from Texas

Great hub Doc, I am also a reptile lover, I have a 9 ft Burmese Python named Buster that I absolutely love. I don't have a lot of knowledge/experience with the Tegu. I did watch a documentary about how they (along with the Burmese & African Rock Pythons) were a problem in Florida. The showed perceived them as extremely aggressive, & with those teeth, I would want my kids/dogs losing a limb.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thanks grand old lady! Even if you are not a reptile person (is there such a thing?) I hope you liked their pictures. Despite Bob´s comment on their being "underwhelming", I think they are pretty fantastic.

If you are into that sort of thing, of course!!!!

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

I don't really like reptiles, but I was interested in learning about tegus and why they are great pets. You certainly have a lot of animals in your house! Wonder if I'll end up seeing your home in a TV show or something...

The article is very interesting, and your home sounds most intriguing.

Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

Interesting read. I was a zoo docent in the 90's and we had a tegu as one of our education animals. My knowledge of them was limited to bullet points (range, habitat, diet, reproduction, etc.). Had I known they were as much fun as you indicate, I'd have worked with our's more.

I preferred to work with our ball python, emperor scorpion, or red phase screech owl because they elicited a greater response from the public. The tegu, unfortunately, seemed to underwhelm people. Voted up and interesting.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

I never heard of them, so thank you for sharing! I think my house is currently capped with three dogs, and I don't know much about caring for a lizard, but for someone who does, this is a very educational hub. Voted up!

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

You need to put all of this in a book, Doc!

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