Why the Tegu Is the Best Pet Lizard

Updated on December 9, 2017
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

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, 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?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This little guy hatched in 2012. They eat a lot and grow fast the first year.Notice my dog in the background? You can tell she is stressed out around Tegus, which is why she is sleeping.
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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      Tricia Black 2 weeks ago

      That's pretty awesome. I had not heard of such a lizard! Looks like a great pet! I have dogs and cats, they might now appreciate a lizard. I wonder what those animals think? I was given Dobie Houson's book Devotion which is about communication with our pets. I would love to know what that lizard thinks!!

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      Unknow 4 months ago


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      brittany 4 months ago

      Is a tegus a beginner , I don't want a gecko because I find them boring I want something I can hold I know people say go for a beardie but I love seeing and looking a tegus and researching them

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 6 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Lily, I keep the collar around his waist because the neck is too thick and he would just slip it off of his snake-like head. They dig a lot, so no need to clip nails. Also you will not need to brush teeth.

      I took care of a pair when I was about 13, during breaks from school, and they do okay. They were classroom pets so were used to a lot of noisy kids coming into the class and looking at them every hour.

      Handle as much as possible, No problems with the rain, just make sure he has a large cage and somewhere to dig under to get away from it all.

      If I take my Tegu out in the yard (for a walk), he gets worked up because of the sun. I would not recommend that, just give lots of freedom at home.

      Good luck.

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      Lily 6 months ago

      I have researched several reptiles, but the tegu is the one that has caught my attention the most. I am just wondering: is the tegu an ideal starter pet? I am very inquisitive, so be prepared for a lot of questions:

      •Are baby tegus to be handled?

      •Is a tegu able to adjust to a different environment tenporarily (holidays, for example).

      •Do baby tegus take a while to get adjusted to their environment (for example: you can't handle them for the first few weeks)?

      •If well-researched, can tegus make good first pets for beginners?

      •Do you have to cut tegus nails/brush their teeth/mist bath them?

      •Do tegus panic when it starts to rain (I live in England, so this is a major issue)?

      •Are tegus Agressive towards dogs generally, or can a bond be formed from a young age?

      •I have noticed your tegu wears a collar around it's waist - is it dangerous for a tegu to have a collar around it's neck?

      •If a tegu is taken on a walk in an area with lots of hiding spaces, will it be happier, more likely to escape or just grateful for the freedom?

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 8 months ago from Texas

      This was an interesting read Dr Mark. I'm a reptile lover my self, have a Burmese Python and a Horned Lizard. I've seen a couple of animal shows on Tegu's in Miami and they are portrayed as being very aggressive and will bite off fingers. Guess I should do a little more research on them.

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      Tegus should not be kept as pets in warm climates 8 months ago

      When they escape out into the wild, they breed and become invasive species. See: Florida.

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      Mark 8 months ago

      My son has a black and white tegu he got at a trade show over a year ago that was almost full grown. He keeps it in his room in a 6 by 3 foot cage. The smell is overwhelming when I open the door. I am constantly on him about cleaning the cage. It must be unhealthy to live with that smell in the room. To make matters worse he tells me he has a hard time handling it because it is so aggressive. I'm almost at the point of forcing him to give it up. Is there anything that can be done at this point to calm the tegu down so he can handle and enjoy having it and not be afraid of it every time he opens the door to feed it? The smell is the biggest concern for me and if there is a health hazard for my son in sharing a room with it. Is it a bad idea to keep it in his room? Even with the smell and not being able to handle it my son is adamant about keeping the lizard.

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      Dr Mark 11 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Ethan, as long as you have plenty of wood shavings or leaves he will dig down and feel secure and happy. A normal cage will do for that.

      I am not sure if there are any laws against Tegus in Canada, but I doubt it. As far as him doing well in your house, as long as he has supplemental heat he will do fine there.

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      Ethan Cross 11 months ago

      Hi I was wondering if you meant he actually had to be able to go down/dig in his cage and I was also wondering if it is discouraged to own one of these in southern canada

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      Dr Mark 12 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi jk1987 the size really depends on how often you are going to let him out to run. An adult needs at least a meter wide, a meter deep, and about 1.5 length, but you can get by with a cage that small only if it is open and your Tegu gets out to exercise. Most of the enlcosures recommended are larger, so even if you get a baby remember that these guys get really big, and if you do not have the space a small lizard is better.

      I live in the tropics so do not worry about humidity, but if you are in a drier region you need to get a humidity guage and keep the cage at about 80% humidity. The bedding needs to be sprayed to stay moist, and Tegus like to get in the water when they can (just like Iguanas and Basilisks).

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      Jk1987 12 months ago

      Hello just held a tegu for the first time and it was an amazing experience what would you recommend size wise would suite a tegu for an inclosure/ home and what humidity level what you have for a tegu. Like your artical very much . Thank you

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      Benjamin 12 months ago

      Hey, so I really want a tegu for obvious reason but I want a baby one so it can grow up with me so I was wondering when do baby tegus hatch, so I can know when to keep my eye out on the web.

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      Dr Mark 13 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Justin,

      Calcium supplementation can be dangerous. If you are giving calcium supplement make sure it is only sprinkled onto his food. What kind of diet is he on? If he is on a good Tegu diet, and is eating whole food like mice, newly hatched chicks, and guppies or other small tropical fish, calcium supplementation is not needed. In any case, it should not be more than 1% of his diet.

      We humans are likely to give too much, not too little, and if you give too much calcium supplement he is likely to have kidney stones and hardening (calcification) of his internal organs. Sometimes it can cause constipation also.

      Does he have a sunny spot he can sit in when he does come out? I hope you have changed his diet so he can heal naturally. Good luck.

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      justin crosswhite 13 months ago

      Hi, ive recently adopted a rescued argentian black and white tegu. His feet have grown weird due to a calcium deficiency and he obviously hasnt been handled much. Im giving him calcium powder daily and calcium/d3 supplement 2x weekly. Would you have any advice on nursing him back to health?

      Hes a little skiddish in his enclosure but once hes out and about hes a sweet heart. Hes already part of the family and i want to get him back healthy. Thanks!

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      Dr Mark 13 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Steven, not sure what you meant about height. As far as width, it does not need to be much as long as he can get out and walk around your room. Leave the cage open all the time with plenty of wood shavings as bedding and when he feels the need he can just go in there, burrow down, and escape from it all.

      These guys are a lot easier and cheaper to feed than a snake. You can buy a dozen eggs and feed him cheaply, mix it up with some fruit, veggies, and a cheap canned cat food. The cheaper the better since there are more fillers!

      Have fun.

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      Steven Engelhardt 13 months ago

      I have a small room and my parents are divorced if i could fit a 8 by 2 by 2 cage in there and let it free roam in my room would that be okay? Also what is the best cheapest diet for these guys because i have 3 snakes and 2 dogs so the food prices are a little high

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      Dr Mark 14 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      To ??, I deleted your comment because of your use of nasty language. If you are not able to leave a comment without swearing then I am not going to post it.

      Just in case you were not aware, there are good and responsible people out there who have never owned a Tegu before.

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      Dr Mark 16 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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.

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      Heather 16 months 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.

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      Dr Mark 16 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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?

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      Izzy 16 months 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!

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      Rick 16 months 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?

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      Reilly 18 months ago

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

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      Dr Mark 20 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      New breeder: Good luck to both of you!

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      New Breeder 20 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

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      Jean DAndrea 2 years 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.

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      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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

      Jean DAndrea 2 years 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.....

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      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

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

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      Teresa Tanasi 3 years 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.

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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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

      Kevin W 4 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.

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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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!!!!

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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 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.

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      Bob Bamberg 4 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.

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      Elizabeth Parker 4 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!

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      WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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