Free Roaming Tegus
By: Tyler Garcia
Risks and Concerns
Thanks to the internet we have several role models in the tegu world that reach out to the general public, but like with all cases you have to take the good with the bad. There has been a recent flood in the tegu market as prices drop, and availability increases and with that many have started documenting their journey with their amazing animals. This comes with problems as some put out info or ideas that could be dangerous. One such method is free roaming an apartment or house with basking spots instead of an actual cage. Although this style seems appealing at first, I mean who doesn’t want to live with a 4 foot long lizard that’s incredibly intelligent and curious about its people and surroundings, this style of keeping can be detrimental to their health. There are a large number of problems that can arise but we will only cover the main problems that may arise.
Reduced activity levels:
One of the first problems you’ll see is a reduced activity level. Ambient temps in a home just are not on par with what tegu needs to function properly. Despite what many YouTube videos show tegus are incredibly active animals, often foraging, digging, and walking for hours upon hours a day. I’ve never once seen a tegu that is heated properly want to sit still on the couch and snuggle for hours at a time. Even my most people friendly tegus will simply check in every so often for a head scratch before going on to the next adventure. This reduced activity level of tegus leads to a low muscle tone and a low caloric burn rate that can contribute to obesity in tegus.
A second problem you’ll see is sheds. A tegu should be able to shed completely without assistance from us as keepers. Air conditioners literally suck the moisture out of the air and dry out a tegu. Even in places such as southern Texas and Florida the humidity levels in a home are not adequate. Humidifiers are not a fix as to maintain proper levels your walls would be slick with moisture (along with appliances and furniture) and I’ve yet to see a human home do that. Bathing or lotion to help remove a stuck shed is not a fix either; you’re simply putting a band aid on the situation.
Obesity and Organ Damage:
Now we get to the biggest concerns. When a tegu is not kept at proper temps and humidity its body strains to work efficiently. This strain puts extra stress on organs that are already not operating at peak efficiency due to low temps and dehydration. The temps do more than just strain the tegus organs; it also causes them to gain weight. Tegus are incredibly fast and lean animals. They are bipedal runners, can jump almost 3 foot straight up, and are strong. When their core temps are low their metabolic rate drops, this coupled with a loss of energy (think of tegus as solar powered batteries) causes them to gain weight adding even more strain to them. Excessive time overweight can lead to gout, a particularly painful disease that can be fatal.
Cheating yourself out of a tegu:
One of the best things about owning a tegu is we get to interact with an exotic animal on a daily basis. We get to learn how they move, how they think, learn their body language, and experience them for what they are. When your tegu is kept at inadequate conditions they do not get to act like a real tegu and you cheat not only yourself but them. You miss out on how amazing these animals can be. I have 2 that are target trained, respond to their names and a few vocal commands, and can solve problems to get to food. We are privileged to get to work with these animals and it is our duty to do right by them not try and turn them into a scaly puppy.