How to care for your pet lizard
We welcome lizards at our veterinary surgery and offer a range of services for all species. At Molesey Vets, we offer lizard walk in Vet consultations, weight and health checks, as well as specifically tailored nutritional advice. A lizard Vet from our experienced team will take great care of your pet throughout the process, including initial consultation, diagnosis and treatment. Read about the types of consultations we can offer your lizard.
Types of lizards we care for include the Iguana, Bearded Dragon, Leopard Gecko, Veiled Chameleon, Moroccan Uromastyx (Spiny-tailed Lizard), Green Basilisk, Spiny-tailed Monitor, Mountain Horned Dragon, Blue-tongued Skink and many more.
Also, don’t forget to collect your Molesey Card – our free loyalty card which gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! The Molesey Card lets you collect points that can be redeemed against our services. We even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Remember, it’s completely free to join, so ask at reception for more details when you arrive – learn more.
We would always advise an initial health check for your newly acquired lizard and, from then on, yearly health checks.
These lizard health check consultations aim to create awareness of correct feeding and home care, as well as the diagnose and treatment of any existing health problems that are in the early stages.
All our health consultations include a full physical examination from nose to tail. Your vet will examine your lizards for outward signs of disease. For an additional cost you do have the option to run further tests including;
- Faeces examination – This will examine for signs for internal parasites. If possible, bring a fresh sample into the consultation.
- Blood work – A blood sample will be taken to check the current health condition of your lizard.
- Internal imaging such as x-ray and ultrasound.
You will be asked a series of important questions about your lizard including:
- Where it originated from (breeder, pet shop, wild caught).
- It’s current living conditions (aquarium tank, desert or tree dwelling set up etc).
- In a group or kept on it’s own. Have any new lizards been introduced recently?
- Did you have any quarantine procedures in place (e.g. kept separate from other lizards for a period of time).
- Details of any bedding or substrate used (e.g. Sand, wood chips).
- Environmental conditions within it’s cage, including temperature variations (high and low measurements, day and night) and the type of lighting used (brand and spectrum provided).
- Whether a water source has been provided for drinking and soaking.
- Details of your lizards diet, including feeding frequency and status of food. Live prey? Frozen? Stunned?
- When did it last shed.
It is a good idea for you to have thought about these issues and checked that you know as many details as possible before your visit.
Each species of lizard has very specific diet needs and it is essential that you know these requirements.
We work with insect eating geckos, omnivorous bearded dragons, and leaf eating iguana. There are even lizards that eat other lizards and Komodo dragons will even eat people!
Obviously this subject is very species dependent; as we’ve already explained, you must know the species of your lizard before starting them on a new diet.
Never under any circumstances take the advice given to you from the pet shop owner or online forums, do the research yourself.
It is important not to take the easy route and just feed one or two items that you know are acceptable and your pet likes. Wild lizards have access to a variety of food sources, and the diet you feed them should reflect this.
We often see owners who explain that their iguana only likes romaine lettuce, or their gecko only likes crickets. It the wild the animal would not have this luxury, and this form of ‘spoiling’ is not good for their health.
Captive diets often need supplementation to provide balanced nutrition (for example, calcium and vitamin D3). During the consultation we can go through this in more detail with you. It is important to understand that, whilst supplementation is often necessary, it needs to be done under veterinary guidance, as overdoses are possible and potentially very serious.
The food items you feed your lizard need to be suitable for the size and species of your lizard. They need to be of good quality, free from disease and fed on healthy food.
We usually do not recommend feeding of live prey for many reasons. One of the mains reasons is the potential for harm to your pet lizard, especially with live mice. At the same time as this, there is also welfare considerations for the poor prey!
Husbandry is essentially the ‘care’ that you provide for your pet and includes housing, bedding (substrate), hides (caves, plants etc.), humidity, heating and lighting.
The husbandry your lizard receives is affected by their sex, so it’s important to know your lizard’s gender – see information below on Sex Determination.
With approximately 5,600 species of lizard in the world, you’ll soon understand that each has its very specific husbandry needs, and if you plan on having a pet lizard, it is essential that you know these requirements.
We see vegetarian iguanas, insect eating chameleons, sun loving bearded dragons and nocturnal geckoes. All species have totally different living environments, each with their own unique conditions.
Worried? Don’t be. That’s where Molesey Vets comes in!
If you don’t know the species the vet can help you identify in the consultation. If it’s a rare species, or one we haven’t seen before, we will take photographs and send them to a specialist who can help with identification.
The vast majority of problems we see are related to owners having little or no understanding of lizard husbandry.
Areas you need to consider, and which can be discussed further during your consultation are:
Housing – Where does your lizard live in it’s natural environment. Are they tree dwelling, ground dwelling or burrowing?
Substrate – this is the ‘bedding’ used. You may chose a substrate that looks good in the cage, but be careful, some are irritating or even poisonous to your lizard. We do see a lot of internal blockages, this is because the lizard has eaten inappropriate bedding.
Hides – most lizards do not like being out in the open or exposed. Captive lizards need to have a selection of hides or resting places in their cage. These could be rocks or branches, and each must have areas of appropriate temperature and humidity. Lizards will become stressed and may develop reproductive diseases if they cannot hide or rest.
Heating – Lizards are ectothermic. This means they are almost completely incapable of generating body heat, so you must provide the correct environmental temperatures for them to achieve body temperatures necessary for metabolism (movement, digestion). A range of temperatures (the preferred optimum temperature zone or POTZ) is desirable so that your pet can chose a comfortable area. Again, you need to know the right species to provide them with the optimum living conditions.
Lighting – Diurnal lizards (those active during daylight) need exposure to full spectrum UV lighting (UVA = 400-315nm, UVB= 315-280nm) to support vision and crucial physiological processes such as calcium absorption. Not all UV bulbs are created equally so we would always recommend regular replacement of UV bulbs. They should be changed every 6 months, as well as monitoring of UV output with a UV meter if possible. We do have a UV meter, so bring the bulb with you during your consultation.
Humidity – Is your lizard from a desert or rainforest environment? Lizards from drastically different locations will have entirely different humidity requirement. Inappropriate levels of humidity can leave to dehydration, poor skin health and shedding.
Knowing the sex of your new pet lizard is extremely important as it can influence their care at home. For example, a female lizard can be susceptible to developing follicular stasis or egg binding.
If you’re considering keeping two males together, don’t. Males will fight with each other, so need to be kept separate.
Many species of lizard are sexually dimorphic; this simply means that males & females have different characteristics. These differences are not immediately obvious when they are young, but will become more obvious as they age.
The males may have larger, wider heads and necks, more muscle and may have more obvious ‘pores’ on the underside of their hind legs. Some males will have bulges behind the cloaca where the two hemi-penises are (yes, lizards and snakes have two half penises!)
If the species does not have this visual difference, or you’re struggling to identify the sex of a single lizard, then our specially trained vets may be able to help.
As we have more experience in identifying the sex of your lizard, we may be able to evert or “pop out” the hemi-penises, or probe the cloaca.
DNA sex testing so far has been developed for iguanas and Komodo dragons (we hope none of our clients are keeping these!) and more species will be added as more research is done.
Please see our ‘Home Care’ section for further information on Salmonella in reptiles.
Your vet may need to hospitalise your lizard either for a short period of a day or two whilst investigations are underway or for longer periods whilst treatment is undertaken.
At Molesey Vets, have a designated room for our exotic visitors (our “hot ward”), which contains facilities designed to optimise your lizard’s environment, providing the conditions essential to recovery.
Lizards are ectothermic, or cold-blooded which means they cannot generate their own body heat. They rely entirely on environmental conditions and warmth to drive their metabolism.
Establishing the correct environment is the most influential factor in raising a healthy happy reptile.
Whilst in hospital your lizard and it’s surroundings are frequently monitored by our dedicated team, whilst treatments are provided by our team of British and Australian qualified veterinary staff.
We carry a large selection of food items. However, should your pet have any unusual dietary preferences that your vet still sees as suitable, you may be asked to bring some in for the duration of its stay.
Yes, you might not believe it but it is possible for your lizard to get fat!
In fact, it is quite common for lizards in captivity become overweight from being fed too much, too often or eating wrong type of foods – particularly when they have been fed on high fat items.
The good news is that during consultations we can give you practical advice to try and get your lizard into a more appropriate condition.
To help avoid obesity issues we recommend regular weighing and measuring of your lizard so that your vet can determine his/her BODY CONDITION SCORE – that is, a quantitative assessment of weight to size and body fat to muscling).
This can be done by our veterinarians during a physical examination.
If you would like more advice on caring for pet lizards, contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.