INTRODUCTION: Over 70 species of monitor lizards are currently recognized, with many originating from Africa, Asia, and Australia. Lifespan and adult sizes vary with species, and many can get quite large, so be sure to research your prospective pet well.
HOUSING: Monitors should generally be housed singly throughout their lives.
– Cage – A 30 gallon aquarium is adequate for a single juvenile animal. An adult monitor requires a minimum enclosure size of at least twice the length of the animal. Use a secure mesh top to prevent escape and allow proper ventilation. Due to the large size of adult monitors, you may have to build an appropriate enclosure or invest in a large commercial enclosure.
– Bedding/substrate – Newspapers or paper towels are safest and easiest to replace/clean. Vinyl tile (from hardware store) or Repti-Carpet can also be used. If a paper pulp material (Carefresh) is used, you should feed your pet in a separate enclosure to prevent ingestion. Replace the bedding/substrate or clean the hard surface every 1-2 days to prevent exposure to waste. **SAND, GRAVEL, MULCH/BARK, OR OTHER NATURAL SUBSTRATES SHOULD NOT BE USED DUE TO DIFFICULTIES IN CLEANING, RISK OF GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES IF EATEN, AND PROBLEMS WITH IRRITATION OF EYES AND DELICATE TISSUE OF MOUTH.
– Cage “furniture” – Branches, driftwood, cork bark and/or large rocks can be provided for climbing. Hiding areas should also be provided. **HEATED ROCKS SHOULD NEVER BE USED DUE TO RISK OF THERMAL BURNS.
– Temperature/heating – A temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, with a warm side and a cool side. This allows the dragon to regulate its temperature by changing location. Provide a daytime focal basking area of 90-95°F (use incandescent bulb, ceramic heating element, or red/other bulb; under tank heating pad can also be used if needed) on the warm side of the enclosure. Daytime temperatures on the cooler side of the enclosure should be 75-85°F. Use multiple digital thermometers with probes to ensure appropriate temperatures are maintained. Dial thermometers are often inaccurate. Provide a nighttime temperature range of 75-85°F throughout the enclosure. If needed, a safe under tank heating pad, ceramic heating element, or red bulb can help in maintaining recommended temperatures. Due to risk of burn injuries, always use appropriate rheostats/thermostats if using the commonly available ZooMed heating pads. Heating pads with which we have had good experiences include Ultratherm Heat Pads (beanfarm.com) and Cobra T-Rex Heat Pads (available from many pet stores).
– Lighting – Provide an ultraviolet B (5.0 UVB) light over the basking area (within 18 inches; no glass/acrylic in between) for approximately 12 hours a day. UVB is necessary for vitamin D production and appropriate absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal system. Replace this bulb approximately every 6 months, as UVB production decreases with time.
FEEDING: Offer appropriately sized food items daily to several times a week. This should usually include small items, such as crickets, mealworms, pre-killed/frozen and thawed pinkies, or monitor/dog/cat food. On occasion, a larger prey item, such as a pre-killed/frozen and thawed mouse or rat (depending on your monitor’s size) can be offered. To prevent injury to your pet, never feed live rodents and remove uneaten crickets immediately.
– Water bowl – Provide clean, fresh water in a dish/bowl into which your dragon can easily climb (small/low for juveniles). It should be large enough to fit your pet’s entire body (a baking pan or low sided cat litter box work well). Change water daily.
– Humidity – Fill a dish or container large enough to fit your pet’s entire body (a baking pan or low sided cat litter box work well) with sphagnum moss, and mist this area once or twice daily with water from a spray bottle to keep it moist, creating a higher humidity micro-environment for your pet. Watch the moss closely for mold growth and waste, and replace it completely approximately every 2 weeks, or more often if needed.
– Soaking – Soak your pet 2-3 times a week in warm, shallow water for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and help with shedding.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS: We highly recommend that your pet be seen for an annual physical examination and fecal analysis with an experienced reptile veterinarian. Please consult a reptile veterinarian should you notice any of the following signs: weight loss, decreased appetite/thirst, abnormal stools, twitching/tremors/seizures, swelling of the limbs, inability to close the mouth properly, discharge from eyes and/or mouth, difficulty breathing, distension of the abdomen in non-breeding animals, masses/lumps, or wounds/cuts/scrapes.