We all want to take the best care of our lizards, so why not learn how? These tips will help you take good care of your reptile.

Tegu relaxes after a soak.
Photo by author

For the owners of Tegu lizards, or any popular reptile, there is a great deal of misinformation across the internet regarding their care. While Tegus certainly are not as mired in misinformation as they were, say, ten years ago; controversies still about over elements of the care of our beloved reptiles are still quite common. One such issue is that of soaking; how often is ideal for their health, what are the benefits, and are their drawbacks?

Physical Health

Closeup of Tegu Lizard
Photo by Jelle Taman on Unsplash

The first thing to address is why to soak reptiles at all. According to Dr. Laurin Hess on the site PetMD, the main reason to soak a reptile is for their hydration as well as to help loosen stuck shed(skin) from the reptile’s body. For Tegus specifically, that’s why you should soak one. But while many desert-dwelling reptiles may require only occasional soakings, sources say that tegus— being native to South America—may require more.

Chicago Exotic Animal Hospital recommends soaks twice weekly on their website. This ensures the means to keep a Tegu healthy and stimulated. They also state that humidity should primarily be maintained through having moist substrate in the Tegus enclosure for them to burrow in, as well as a large water bowl to maintain humidity. Simply put, soaking is important, but not a substitute for regular humidity in their living space.

“Large soaking basins or twice weekly soaks in a kid pool or large rubber maid offers enrichment and another way to exercise Tegus.”

Erica Mede, ExoticPetVet.com

This raises the question, then, of is it necessary for health? The simplest answer, based on published sources and the experience of keepers, is that it is not strictly mandatory; though it is often beneficial for them.

General Benefits to Soaking

A juvenile tegu suns itself on a deck after soaking
Photo by John Hanusek on Unsplash

There are a host of other reasons, in addition to purely health-related ones, that an owner may choose to soak their Tegu. Some common advice found among keepers is to soak a Tegu for a few minutes to let them relieve themselves as a form of house training. It is difficult to find veterinarians or researchers discussing this topic, as it only applies to a certain subset of Tegu owners that let them roam around their home the majority of the day. However, variants of the same advice to have a warm body of water for your lizard to go to the bathroom in can be found across multiple platforms. For instance, TeguTalk, a newsletter and forum moderated by professional breeders and keepers says:

“Mine will actually hold it in, until late in the day, in order to go in the bathtub,”

TeguTalk post from anonymous author

The simple side benefit to soaking, however often one may do it, is that it leads to an interaction between pet and owner. Reptiles often need to be acclimated or “socialized” to human contact. One method that is often suggested to do this is called “water taming”, as detailed in an article by Mariah Healey on the ReptiFiles website. This is where the lizard is put into the bath with the owner’s arm or the owner getting in the tub with them. Being the main way out of the water, it turns the owner into a source of safety for the lizard.

“If I take mine out at let her soak she will always go while soaking.”

TeguTalk post from anonymous author

Hazards to be Aware of

A Caiman lizard, a close relative of Tegus.
Photo by rigel on Unsplash

 However, there is occasionally a criticism of water taming stating that it can occasionally stress the animal out. As is the case with criticisms of this nature, it can be difficult to tell where this notion came from or how credible it is. Seeing as professional keepers and reptile veterinarians recommend soaking as a form of enrichment, it seems unlikely that Tegus being stressed out by a sort bath is a common concern. This is not to say that this is entirely unfounded, as young Tegus may be stressed by the unfamiliar change of scenery or their feet slipping around in the tub, hence why they will want to sit on your hand.

Naturally, it is often good advice not to make the situation stressful or otherwise dangerous, but that has little to do with soaking specifically. It is important to make sure that the water a Tegu soaks in is sufficiently warm, as cold water can cause any reptile to become stunned and can lead to health issues or even death. Veterinarians say soaking water should be between 80 and 90 degrees at least.

Even still, it is observed that some Tegus will try, whether their owner is present or not, to jump out of the bath at any opportunity. In these cases, forcing them to remain in the water can cause a greater degree of stress. In these cases, most owners recommend letting the Tegu leave the bath but repeating the process again later. It is worth noting that Tegus are very intelligent lizards, with may researchers saying they are the very most intelligent, so they have their reasons for this behavior.

In the end, is soaking a Tegu necessary? It certainly isn’t a must. Though there are benefits for both the Tegu and its owner, and it is recommended to soak them at least occasionally. If a vague metric could be given, it would be that the more time a Tegu spends outside of their enclosure, the more often they should soak. As a proud Tegu owner myself, mine soaks five to six days a week to give him a chance to use the bathroom and swim around a bit.