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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Making A Home For Your Reptile

Making a Home for your Reptile


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The basics

Desert reptiles such as leopard geckos and bearded dragons originally come from an environment with low humidity, high daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures.

Body heat
Reptiles can't create their own body heat, so their homes must provide a source of heat for basking, with cooler areas available to help them regulate their body temperature (this is called thermoregulation).

Feels like home
For your pet's comfort and security, you'll want to make his home as much like his natural habitat as possible.

Things to remember

In addition to the initial cost of setting up the home, remember that there will be ongoing costs for your pet's food, veterinary care, electricity and other needs.

Adult size
Choose a home that will accommodate your pet's full adult size. Some species can grow to be 3' (91 cm) long or more and it's important to have a large enough home.

Be sure your pet's home is secure with a tight-fitting lid. Allowing your pet to escape could cause serious injury.

Safety & cleanliness
Please remember that all pets may bite or scratch, and may transmit disease to humans. Keep your pet's home clean and wash your hands before and after handling your pet or cleaning his home. Infants, young children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and the infirm or elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with the pet or its habitat. Consult your doctor for more information.

Lighting & heating

Daytime lighting
Use a daytime UVA/UVB light for up to 12 hours a day to help your pet process calcium.

Daytime heating*
Create a basking area at one end of the home, for up to 12 hours each day. Use a basking spot lamp, and for some species, an under-tank heat mat with a thermostat control.

Nighttime heating
If the temperature outside the habitat is less than 65° F (18° C), use a specially-designed nighttime heat lamp to provide heat without visible light.

* Requirements vary by species. Please see your pet's custom Care Guide for specific details.

Humidity & temperatures

Maintain the humidity level inside your pet's home at 20%-35%. A hygrometer (humidity gauge) will help you keep track. For accurate readings, place the hygrometer midway between the basking area and the cool area of the habitat.

Hiding area*
Provide a hiding area lined with moist moss to help regulate humidity and aid your pet's shedding cycle. Place in the cool region of the habitat and mist the moss as needed to maintain humidity.

Provide a shallow dish with fresh water (change it daily), and mist the surfaces inside the habitat when needed to maintain humidity level.


While requirements vary by species, general temperature guidelines for desert reptiles are:

  • Day - 75-85° F (24-29° C) measured by thermometer in cooler region
  • Night - 65-75° F (18-24° C)
  • Basking - 90-115° F (32-46° C) measured by thermometer in basking region

Be sure the home is well-ventilated to help your pet with thermoregulation. Use a screen top lid on the home to encourage proper air exchange.

* Requirements vary by species. Please see your pet's custom Care Guide for specific details.

Furnishing the home

Use an appropriate size glass or screen/glass terrarium.

Calcium sand is an ideal substrate for adult desert reptiles. Line the home with up to a 3" (8 cm) layer of sand; remove waste weekly and change bedding once a month. For juveniles [less than 6" (15 cm) long] use reptile carpet or a layer of newspaper.

Hiding areas
All reptiles need hiding places like rock caves or hollow logs in the cool region of the habitat to help them feel safe and secure. If your pet doesn't use his hiding place, try another one or move it within the habitat.

Basking areas
Use smooth, flat rocks, natural or artificial hollow logs, or branches to create basking areas. These should bring your reptile closer to the basking lamp for warmth.

Artificial or appropriate live plants provide shade, shelter and add a natural look to the home. Consult a reptile book for a list of non-toxic plants to use.

Artificial or natural branches provide climbing areas. Choose branches appropriate for your reptile's safety and comfort.

* Requirements vary by species. Please see your pet's custom Care Guide for specific details.

Supply list

Here's a list of the necessities you'll need to set up your desert habitat today. Please ask a PetSmart associate to help you choose these items.

An appropriate size glass or screen/glass home
Screen top
Reptile carpet (for juveniles) or calcium sand (for adults)
Hiding areas
Moss (if needed)
Artificial or natural climbing branches
Artificial or natural plants
Spray bottle for misting
Reptile cage hygrometer
Reptile cage thermometers (2)
Food and water dishes
Lighting & heating
Daytime UVA/UVB bulb and fixture
Basking spot lamp and fixture
Under-tank heater (certain species only)
Nighttime heat lamp and fixture (if needed)
Cage cleaner and disinfectant (read and follow label instructions)
Species-specific reptile book
Species-specific Care Guide (free)

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