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How to Care for Your Pet Tegu

How to Care for Your Pet Tegu

Contrary to the belief that they are highly aggressive and furious, tegus are in fact calm, mellow, and docile, and make very good pets when they are properly cared for. If you are thinking of keeping a tegu as a pet, then this PetPonder write-up is for you. It explains how to take care of it.
Leena Palande
Did You Know?

A gold tegu (also known as common tegu or Colombian tegu) may look attractive because of its golden color, but as an adult, the Argentine black and white tegu is likely to be more docile than the golden one.

Lizards that belong to the Teiidae family are called tegus. Although known for their large size and predatory habits, some types of tegus like the 'Argentine giant tegu' (Salvator merianae) can make an excellent pet provided you have plenty of space. The Argentine black and white tegu rarely bites.
Tegus need 'a lot' of food and frequent handling. Although smart and intelligent, Tegus are not naturally tame. If you want to tame them, you should spend a significant amount of time with them. If a tegu is not handled regularly, it will become aggressive. Frequent handling and early socialization ensure proper adjustment to human presence.
Tegu Care

The Argentine black and white tegu care involves provision of a very large space, as it is the largest of all tegu lizards. In general, tegus can grow to over one meter in length. So, you need to provide them enough space to wander, hide, and relax. Tegus like to hide in dark, tight areas. Although black and white tegus spend most of their time on dry land, they enjoy swimming. They can stay under water for a long period of time. So, you may arrange a water tank for them. They may dig in dirt with their powerful claws and may enjoy soaking in warm baths. You may have to remove carpets from your rooms, as the tegu may tear them apart in an attempt of digging, and its toes or nails may get entangled in the threads. You should buy a large cage for your tegu.

Cage Setup

The size of the cage may vary according to the species. The cage should be at least 6 feet long, 2 feet broad, and 3 feet tall. Being larger in size, Argentinian black and white tegus would need larger secure enclosures. You may keep a pair in a slightly larger enclosure (6 feet by 4 feet). Single females require relatively less space than an adult male. Hatchlings of a black and white tegu are about 7-8 inches in length. You may keep the juveniles in a large aquarium (a 30-gallon terrarium), but make sure that it has a locking lid. It is better to get a custom-built cage for an adult tegu. And don't forget to provide a hiding place and a basking spot for your pet. A tegu may require a damp place when shedding. Tegus shed regularly. They may like to immerse themselves in the tank. Cypress mulch, orchid bark, coconut husk products, or eucalyptus mulch can be used as substrates, as they are good absorbents and easy to clean. Cypress mulch looks nice, smells great, and is inexpensive too. Avoid spreading layers of papers, as this won't allow the tegu to dig. Tegus like to burrow too. With proper arrangements, they should find the cage comfortable for their lifestyle. The enclosure should be regularly cleaned. You should remove feces daily. You may scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution, and rinse it thoroughly with water, at least once in a week. You can replace the dirty cypress mulch by new mulch. Housing a tegu outdoors is comparatively easier than keeping it indoors.

Light and Temperature

As tegus are active during the day, they need a source of heat and a source of ultraviolet light (which they usually get after basking in the sun). They need exposure to full spectrum UVA and UVB lighting. You can get these lights at any pet store. Exposure to these lights promotes the production of vitamin D3. The day temperatures within the cage can be between 80 and 90 degrees F. At night, the temperatures can be about 70 - 75 degrees F. The daytime temperature of the basking spot can be between 100 and 110 degrees F. If you are going to keep your tegu indoors, you should take it out often and let it roam around.


You may install a ceramic heat emitter. It will heat the cage without any dispersal of light. If you want, you may use under-tank heat pads or standard and nocturnal (red) heat bulbs to heat the cage. Regularly check the temperatures at both ends of the enclosure. A self-ballasted mercury vapor bulb can serve as a source of both heat and ultraviolet light.

What to Feed and How Often

Tegus are omnivorous, and in the wild, they eat insects, spiders, small mammals, birds, amphibians, eggs of birds and reptiles, vegetables, fruits, and seeds. Tegus are voracious eaters. You should feed them everyday. You may incorporate chicken, ground turkey, eggs (all raw or cooked), insects, cat or dog food (avoid high fat food), or small lizards and rodents in their diet. You may have to feed 2-4 small rodents (should not be wider than the jaw of the tegu) a week. Some pet tegus may refuse to eat fruit. You may feed them a mixture of crickets, mealworms, and locusts. They are prone to overeating. By providing wax worm as an occasional treat, you can keep your pet happy and satiated. Avoid hand feeding, as a hungry tegu is likely to consider a part of your body as food. Although tegus love eggs, do not feed them too many of them. Excessive consumption of eggs can cause biotin deficiency. The diet should consist of a variety of foods. Dust the food with calcium powder and vitamin D3 everyday. Provide a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement once or twice a week. It is better to feed the tegu outside its cage. Do not forget to fill a large dish with water every day. Tegus are thirsty animals. They should be provided fresh and clean drinking water.

Common Health Problems

Tegus may suffer from gastrointestinal problems. If you notice runny stools or loss of appetite, you should consult your vet. Insufficient exposure to UVB light can cause vitamin and mineral deficiency. The condition can lead to bone loss, as the tegu will not be able to absorb sufficient amount of calcium. If you notice any deformities, swollen limbs, or lethargy, you should consult your vet. Too low temperature can lead to runny nose and respiratory problems. Here again, it is best to consult a vet.

How Much does a Tegu Cost?

The price of a tegu lizard varies according to the species and its age. The cost of an Argentine black and white tegu can be $100-$150, while that of a Colombian black and white tegu can be around $70. A red tegu can cost about $170, while a gold tegu can cost $30-$50.

With some training, your tegu will respond to its name. Call it by name, and it will come to you. It can even be taught to use a toilet. With a nutritious diet and good care, tegus can live for more than 20 years. Due to the varied sizes and their individualized needs, you should consult a qualified reptile veterinarian before and after bringing home a tegu.