Monitor lizard care sheet

Food & Diet

Cage & Habitat

Care Sheet

Health & Illness

Monitors are opportunistic carnivores and insectivores meaning they eat whatever animals and insects are available. In the wild, monitors eat reptiles, small mammals, insects, eggs, birds, crustaceans, fish, turtles, and even dead animals. The primary food of a monitor varies based upon its habitat.

The foods you feed your pet will vary based upon his size. Smaller monitors will need smaller food than larger ones. You should also try to offer a variety of different foods to help ensure he has a well balanced diet.

  • Insects
    Live crickets, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches, and grasshoppers are a good source of protein and other nutrients for your monitor. Be sure to gut-load the insects before feeding them to your pet. Gut-loading is when you feed the insects a nutritious food which will then be passed to your reptile when the insects are eaten. There are a variety of gut-loads available.
  • Commercial Food
    There is commercially available monitor food that you can get at pet stores. The commercial food is often soft bite-sized pieces of high protein food supplemented with calcium and other nutrients. It makes a great emergency food when you are unable to make it to a store and is also a great way to add variety to your pet’s diet.
  • Mice
    Mice are readily available and can be a source of food for your companion. Be sure to get the correct size mice since you do not want to feed your reptile food that is too large. Large food can potentially get impacted in your pet’s digestive system. Luckily, mice are available as tiny pinkies, adults, and all sizes in between.
  • When possible, you should feed your monitor mice that have been pre-killed. It is safer for your pet and more humane for the mice. Even though mice are small they can bite, scratch, and possibly injure your pet. Frozen mice are a great way to supply your monitor with food. Several weeks or months worth of food can take up very little space in a freezer. Be sure to thaw frozen mice before feeding them to you companion. They can be easily and quickly thawed with warm water.
  • Other Foods
    There are other foods available at a grocery store that can add variety to your monitor’s diet. Fish, shrimp, crab meat, turkey, chicken, and eggs can all be fed raw to your pet. Make sure that any food is prepared as bite sized pieces or ground up.

Your monitor will need a source of fresh water. A water dish should be available at all times. For tropical monitors who require a bathing area with warm water, a water dish should still be supplied. Misting is another option for supplying your pet with water. A spray bottle with fresh clean water and a daily misting might be greatly enjoyed and preferred by your monitor.

  • Supplements
    Calcium and vitamin D3 and a reptile multivitamin are supplements that help make sure your pet is getting everything he needs to stay healthy. The supplements are usually a powder than can be easily sprinkled onto his food a couple times per week. Use supplements in moderation. Too much supplementation is just as bad as none at all.

Monitors are fun and exciting pets, but they can grow quite large. In order to keep your pet happy and healthy he will need a home that is big enough for him to eat, sleep, bask, and explore. Although it may take some work and a bit of money, creating an ideal home and habitat is necessary for his well being.

Depending on the type of monitor you have, you may need a very large cage. The size of the cage required varies based upon the size of the animal, but always go with the largest size possible.

A large monitor can be up to six feet long and most commercial terrariums will not be big enough to make a suitable home. A habitat can be built using 2 x 4s, wire mesh, and plywood.

For a large monitor, the cage should be at least 8 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 6 feet high. The sides of the cage can be wire, or you can have 3 sides made from plywood and the front a wire mesh door. A cage with solid walls on 3 sides maintains the habitat’s temperature better and may be preferred by those living in colder climates.

A small room or a large walk-in closet can make a nice home for a monitor. The door to the closet or room would need to be replaced with a screened door and you would need to ensure there is enough ventilation.

Your companion’s home should be located where a consistent temperature can be maintained. You want to avoid extreme heat or cold. The cage should not be near heaters, air conditioners, windows, or drafty areas.

You want to provide your reptile with a variety of places to climb, rest, and bask. Shelves or ledges at various heights and sturdy branches for climbing provide your pet with areas to explore and places to bask. Ramps and other ways to climb can also be added.

He will also need a place where he can feel safe and secure so a hide area should be provided. A wooded box, easily crafted from plywood, makes a suitable hide area.

If your pet is a monitor that likes to spend time in water, a large wading area will be needed. A hard plastic kiddie pool or utility tub with ramps added for easy access and exit will work.

If possible, you want to get a pool or tub with a drain for easy cleaning since the water usually needs to be changed daily. You will also need a heater for the water to keep the temperature around 80* F.

Light & Heat
Monitors need a source of UVB lighting for about 12 hours per day to remain healthy. Sunlight is the best source of UVB, but it is not always available to a pet monitor. Sunlight through a window is not a good source of UVB since the glass filters out the UVB.

Long fluorescent reptile bulbs are a good way to supply your pet with the needed UVB lighting. You want the bulbs to extend the length of the cage to make sure he gets optimal exposure. You also want to make sure he can get close enough to the bulbs to receive the full effect but not so close that he can get burned.

A monitor will also need heat to remain healthy. Some heat will come from the UVB lights, but additional heat sources may be necessary. Basking bulbs and heat emitting bulbs can be used for heat. Make sure your pet can’t get too close to a heat source and get burned.

Around 85* F is a good temperature for the habitat with a basking area around 100* F and a cooler side around 75* F to allow your reptile to regulate heat. You will want a thermometer and a way to regulate the temperature of his home to make sure it doesn’t become too hot or cold.

The bottom of the cage will need some sort of substrate. Since monitors are diggers you want to have a deep layer of substrate. A mixture of clean dirt & sand is an inexpensive option. Another choice is Eco-earth. It is a natural looking substrate available at pet stores that looks similar to dirt and is easy to clean and scoop out waste. Vinyl or tile flooring can be used under the substrate since it is easily cleaned.

Food & Water Bowls
Your reptile will need food and water bowls. Heavy bowls or bowls that can be attached to the side of the cage are best to prevent spilling. Even if your monitor has a pool for wading a water bowl should still be provided.

Food and water bowls will need to be cleaned daily with warm soapy water. Wading pools may need to be emptied and cleaned daily or every other day depending on if your pet passes waste in the water. Ledges, branches, ramps, and other decor should be cleaned as needed. Any waste and dirty substrate should be removed daily.

Once you have decided on a monitor lizard as a pet, you will want to have everything prepared before bringing him home. Your pet needs a suitable home and habitat that is safe and of adequate size. He will also need all the foods that will give him a nutritious diet.

With a little preparation you will have a happy reptile that can live a long and healthy life. Below is a list of items that you will need.


A large and tall cage where the size is determined by how large your pet will be as an adult. For a large monitor, the cage should be at least 8′ x 3′ x 6′. Always go with the biggest cage possible.

Sturdy branches, ledges, shelves, ramps, and other decor to allow your pet to climb, bask, and explore.

A hide area where your lizard can feel safe and secure.

Monitors that like to be in water will require a kiddie pool or large tub with ramps for easy entry and exit. A heater for the water will also be needed.

Long UVB fluorescent bulbs that can cover large areas.

Light fixtures that will prevent your monitor from getting to close to light and heat sources.

Basking bulbs or heat emitting bulbs to keep your pet’s home warm.

Thermometer to monitor the temperature of the cage.

A substrate for the bottom of the cage. Eco-earth or a mixture of clean dirt & sand can work as a suitable substrate.

Food and water bowls. The bowls should be heavy or be able to attach to the cage to prevent spillage.

Food & Supplements

Insects like crickets, mealworms, cockroaches, and grasshoppers.

Commercial monitor food designed to supply the correct vitamins and nutrients.

Mice of the appropriate size. Always try to feed your pet pre-killed mice.

Raw foods available at a grocery store such as ground turkey or chicken, eggs, fish, shrimp, or crab. All food should be chopped or ground into bite size pieces.

A calcium and vitamin D3 supplement.

A reptile multivitamin.

Monitors are hardy lizards that can live long and happy lives. By supplying your monitor with proper care, food, habitat, and handling you help ensure you will have your pet for a very long time.

Unfortunately, even with the best of care an injury or illness may still arise. When an unfortunate event happens to your pet it is always recommended that you seek advice from a veterinarian. Below are some of the more common illnesses and injuries that may befall a pet monitor.

A pet can get burned if it gets too close to a light or heat source. Minor burns can be treated with soapy water and antiseptic ointment. To prevent burns make sure all light and heat sources are located out of reach of a monitor.

Calcium & Vitamin D3 Deficiency
Metabolic bone disease is caused by a diet with a lack of calcium or vitamin D3, a lack of proper UVB lighting, or too much phosphorous in the diet. Symptoms include lethargy, weight loss, swollen limbs or jaw, other deformities, softening of bones, and constipation. Supplying your pet with proper lighting, the correct foods, and supplementing with calcium and vitamin D3 can help prevent this illness.

Calcium Over-Supplementation
Your pet monitor needs calcium and vitamin D3 to be healthy, but too much of a good thing is just as bad as none at all. Excessive supplementation can lead to hypercalcemia, too much calcium in the blood, which causes many health problems and possibly death. Supplementing a monitor’s food in moderation is the best way to prevent this illness. A pinch of a calcium & vitamin D3 supplement a couple times a week is usually enough for an adult monitor.

A monitor does not pass waste at regular intervals. How often he goes may depend on temperature. A pet kept too cool will not pass waste as often and may have trouble digesting food. Making sure your pet’s home is at an appropriate temperature will aid in digestion and help prevent constipation.

A blockage or impaction can also be a cause of constipation. An impaction can be caused by a monitor eating something he shouldn’t, like small stones, sand, or other small items. It could also be caused by a lack of moisture in your pet’s digestive system. Making sure your monitor has a readily available source of fresh water will aid in keeping your pet hydrated and reduce the chances of constipation.

Monitors are tough reptiles and under normal conditions are rarely susceptible to infection. A stressed monitor or one living in a unsanitary habitat is much more likely to become ill. Symptoms of an infection can be swelling, discoloration, an abscess, and loss of appetite. Keeping your pet’s home clean and relatively stress free will help keep him healthy.

Injuries and accidents happen and sometimes cause cuts or scrapes. You can treat a minor injury with soapy water and some antiseptic ointment. If an injury doesn’t heal or there is a a possible infection further medical attention will be required.

Broken bones and other severe injuries are often the result of accidents or improper handling. A trip to a veterinarian will be necessary.

Respiratory Infection
Symptoms of respiratory infection are sneezing, lethargy and rapid or shallow breathing. A respiratory infection can be caused by a habitat being too cold and too damp. Having a habitat with the proper temperature will help keep your monitor healthy.

Respiratory problems can also be a result of parasites which are often found in wild caught monitors. Roundworms and other parasites can lower a monitor’s immune system and make him more susceptible to illness. Veterinary treatment and maintaining a clean home for your pet can help reduce problems with parasites.

Shedding is a natural occurrence as a monitor grows. Your pet may have patches of leftover shed, but it will usually fall off on its own. Sometimes shed skin will remain stuck on the toes and tail. To aid in shedding you can mist your pet with water or give him a warm bath.

A monitor may accidentally break or injure his tail. A broken tail may heal, but if there is a severe break or an infection it may have to be removed. A monitor does not have a tail that can break off as a defense mechanism and the tail will not regenerate.

Toes & Claws
Toes can sometimes get broken or injured from normal activity. Toes can get broken and nails torn out when a claw gets snagged on something. Pet monitors often have long sharp claws and trimming them can help prevent injury. The nails can be trimmed with a regular pair of nail clippers. Make sure you do not cut a nail too deep or you may hit a blood vessel and bleeding can occur. If you do cut too deep you can use a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding