Savannah Monitor

a Savannah Monitor standing on orange soil

Normally the format we use for a pet introduction is why an animal is a great family pet. For Savannah Monitors we need to deviate from that, because for most families they are not great pets. The sad reality is that most families that will get a Savannah Monitor will give it up at some point in the first few years of their life. 

These pets are not good with kids, they don’t like being handled and they really don’t care what you want, they have their own plans. We strongly encourage people interested in this animal to read this article, and then watch some YouTube videos on how they are with their owners. We cannot stress this enough that this is NOT a reptile you should consider unless you have a lot of experience with reptiles and fully understand what you are getting into.

The reality is that 99% of the people who will read this article will not be ready for this animal as a pet. We want to provide you with all the information we can on all of the pet options you have, but we also want to be fully honest. We want your pets to be just as happy as you are, and most people will be just as unhappy as your Monitor is after a few months or a year. There are a lot better reptiles that you can bring home to your family, and we hope for your sake and theirs that you pick them and not a Savannah Monitor.

Savannah Monitor Information

  • Average Length: 3.5 to 5 feet
  • Average Weight: 11 to 13 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Thick with scales and dark spots
  • Skin Colors: Brown, Gray or Tan
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Once every 4 to 6 weeks
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: Sometimes
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Pet: Absolutely not
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: High
  • Health Concerns: Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease; Respiratory Infections; Internal and External Parasites; and Metabolic Bone Diseases (MBD)
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 10 to 15 years

Physical Appearance of Savannah Monitors

a Savannah Monitor looking for food

Savannah Monitors are medium size monitor lizards. They have a stocky body with short legs and short toes with sharp claws. Their legs are strong and muscular and help them dig and burrow.

They have powerful jaws with blunt teeth that let them crush prey. They have a fork-shaped tongue that lets them sniff the air and find prey in the wild. Their tongue has a special organ similar to snakes that lets them detect chemicals in the air. Savannah Monitors have a tail that has a triangle shape and tapers to a point.

The skin color of the Savannah Monitor can vary because there are 5 subspecies. The color of their skin depends on the local substrate in their environment. The most common colors they’ll have are brown, tan or gray, and their bellies will usually be a lighter shade of their body color. Savannah Monitors have tough thick skin with scales that look like flat pebbles.

Temperament of Savannah Monitors

Savannah Monitors are ground-dwelling lizards that are active during the day and sleep at night. Many families report that they are not very active lizards and spend most of their time basking in the sun, burrowing in the ground or eating. Others report that if they are kept warm enough that they are very active and will move around their enclosure quite a bit. What everyone can agree on is that they like to climb and are excellent at digging.

Savannah Monitors are territorial and solitary lizards but with the proper handling, usually become docile pets in captivity. Baby Savannah Monitors can be defensive in the beginning but they will get used to human handling the more time you spend with them. When they are first brought home, allow the Monitor to get used to their new enclosure before anyone starts handling them.

Regular handling from a young age will help build trust with their owners. This is not a short process, and some Monitors will never be comfortable being handled.

a close up of a Savannah Monitor's head laying on the soil as they bask in the sun

While they are not generally aggressive, Savannah Monitors can sometimes bite or whip owners with their tail. Their sharp teeth and strong tail can hurt their owners. Fortunately they don’t tend to attack unless they’re afraid or really angry. To avoid being bitten try not to make any sudden movements near them and try to handle them while they are feeding. Sudden movements are the easiest way to cause them to feel threatened and defend themselves.

Their Compatibility with Children

Children should not be allowed to handle Savannah Monitors even with adult supervision. They can hurt or injure children with their sharp teeth and powerful tail. These animals are difficult to control, even for adults. Even with older children there is a good chance that your Monitor will be too much for your children to handle. We don’t recommend doing anything beyond the ability of your children or your pet or someone could get hurt.

Anyone handling or touching Savannah Monitors should always wash their hands after being around them. Most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your monitor lizard.

Living Space for Savannah Monitors

Savannah Monitors should be kept in a large enclosure with plenty of space to move around. Since they need a large area, a custom-built enclosure is recommended for them.

The enclosure should be tightly secured from all sides to make sure they don’t have a way to escape. Use an enclosure that comes with glass or Plexiglass sides. Avoid getting a screen-sided enclosure because Monitors can shred them with their strong claws.

a Savannah Monitor basking in the sun

Enclosure/Cage Size

For the first few months baby Savannah Monitors can be kept in a 55-gallon aquarium. 55-gallon aquariums are not exactly cheap, so most people will have a custom enclosure even for small Monitors. The custom enclosure helps avoid the unnecessary hassle of having to move your Monitor to a bigger enclosure and spending a lot of money as they grow.

Your baby Monitor will soon need a larger enclosure because they grow very fast, generally doubling in length within 4 months. Many owners like to have a large enclosure ready before they get a Monitor.

Adult Savannah Monitors will reach their full length in 3 years and will need an enclosure that is at least two times their length. Since they grow up to 5 feet an enclosure that is at least 10L’ x 6W’ is recommended. The cage should be at least 3-feet tall to keep your lizard from escaping, but 4 feet or higher is be better. Adding additional height will allow you to add several branches for them to climb on.

Decorations

Savannah Monitors like to climb and several branches should be placed inside their enclosure. The branches should be strong enough to hold the weight of your lizard without breaking. Several rocks and hides should be added to give them places to hide.

Savannah monitors are known to be destructive and can damage the decorations. Only use decorations that are strong and sturdy to keep them from getting damaged.

Substrate

a Savannah Monitor that's not in a good mood

Savannah Monitors like to burrow and will need a substrate that allows them to dig. The substrate should be deep and tightly packed to make sure they will enjoy the digging. It’s important to know that Savannah Monitors are uncontrollable eaters and might unintentionally consume substrate while they feed. The substrate used should not be something that can be compacted easily. A substrate that compacts easily could lead to your lizards digestive tract getting clogged. Good substrate options include sand, organic soil, or a mixture of both.

Ideally they’ll have 16 to 24 inches of substrate that will let them dig and be happy lizards. It is important to keep this clean and replace it every 2 to 4 weeks as it gets dirty.

Part of the hassle of owning a Savannah Monitor is regularly replacing all their substrate. You can wash it in the yard with buckets and cheese cloth to avoid buying new sand or soil each month, but it’s still going to be a huge hassle.

Water Source

A large water dish should be placed inside the cool side of their enclosure. The dish should be large enough to allow your lizard to submerge their entire body. One good option is to use a cat litter box or a water tub. A separate water bowl with fresh drinking water should be placed inside the enclosure.

Best Climate for Savannah Monitors

Creating an ideal climate inside their enclosure is important for Savannah Monitors. The ideal conditions will help them regulate their body temperature and metabolism. Separate warm and hot areas need to be created using heating and lighting equipment.

All the lighting and heating equipment should be high enough so that its out of reach of your Savannah Monitor. Coming in contact with them can cause skin burns that can be difficult to treat.

Several thermometers and hygrometers should be added to both the warm and hot sides to make sure the conditions in the enclosure are good.

Temperature

a Savannah Monitor climbing up onto a rock to bask in the sun

The average temperature of the enclosure should be kept between 95°F and 100°F with a basking spot kept between 110°F and 130 °F. Depending on how thick the substrate is an under-tank heating pad can be used to keep the warm side temperature warm enough. If you have a thick substrate in the enclosure a heating pad may not be able to generate enough warmth to provide any meaningful heating in the enclosure. Incandescent bulbs or a spotlight can be used if heating pads are not an option. Bulbs are also the best choice for the basking spot. Avoid using heating rocks because they can cause skin burns.

The nighttime temperature can be cooler and kept between 75°F and 78°F. Use ceramic emitters or a nocturnal reptile bulb instead of lights. Ceramic emitters will make sure their nocturnal cycle is not affected by unnecessary lighting at night.  

Humidity

Savannah Monitors came from parts of Africa known for being very dry and near zero humidity. Many owners have found that their lizards do better if kept in high humidity rather than the super dry of their native habitats.

A good minimum level seems to be around 50% relative humidity on the cooler parts of the habitat. Going to the hotter side the humidity levels can be increased as high as you are able to get them. 

There are several methods that can be used to keep the humidity levels high. A large container of warm water will humidify the environment as it evaporates. Mildly misting the tank regularly will help maintain the humidity. A drip system can be set up to slowly add water to the habitat and keep the humidity levels higher.

The hide areas of the Monitors should remain moist either by misting or by adding sphagnum moss. 

Lighting

Your lizard will need a UVB light to help them absorb calcium from their diet. The UVB bulb should emit a high-percentage output of 8 to 10 percent. There is a wide variety of bulbs available that are at 10 percent and help keep your Monitor from getting MBD. The bulbs should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours every day. The UVB bulbs need to be changed every 6 months because they will lose their efficiency over time.

a Savannah Monitor looking for food

The Attention a Savannah Monitor Needs

Savannah Monitors can grow up to become receptive to human handling, but most will tolerate it, and a bunch will hate it. They are not very demanding when it comes to getting attention from their owners. Their attention needs mostly involve keeping the climate conditions inside their enclosure and feeding them.

Though they are regarded as a popular reptile pet in the United States they generally don’t thrive for long in captivity. The reason for this is Savannah Monitors need specialized care that only experienced reptile owners can give. They’re also not easy pets to care for, and many owners neglect them because of their difficulty.

These monitor lizards need a lot of space and will need a large enclosure of at least 6 feet long, but in most cases 10 feet long. Their enclosure will take up a lot of space in your home or in your yard. If that is too much for you, this is another reason to rethink getting one as a pet.

Health Issues

Common health issues are:

Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease

This is the most common health issue that Savannah Monitors have. They are compulsive eaters and will eat almost everything that they are fed. They will become obese if they eat too much.

If your Monitor is gaining weight, make sure that they are being fed the right foods, and possibly reduce the amount that they are fed. Avoid giving them fatty foods. They should be encouraged to exercise by adding rocks and branches to their enclosure. If possible they can be taken out of the cage and allowed to exercise. It is important to look after their diet and weight because an obese Savannah Monitor will have a reduced live.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Internal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Grooming and Care

Savannah Monitors shed their skin every 4 to 6 weeks. The shedding is in patches and not all at once. To make their shedding easier your Savannah Monitor will immerse their body in water. If your Savannah Monitor seems to have problems shedding, increase the humidity slightly.

Sphagnum moss can be added inside their hide boxes because it will keep the hide moist and make shedding easier.

Decorations like rocks and branches should help naturally wear down their nails. If their nails don’t wear down naturally, use a reptile nail clipper to trim them. Check their eyes, ears and skin once a week for any signs of infection.

You’ll want to spot clean the enclosure at least every other day. A full cleaning should be done to the entire enclosure every 4 to 6 weeks and replace the substrate completely. Remove your Monitor and decorations before you begin cleaning the enclosure. Your lizard should be kept in a secured and escape-proof area. Scrub the sides of the enclosure thoroughly and clean the decorations using a mild 3% bleach solution. Let the enclosure and decorations dry out completely before placing everything and your lizard back inside.

Feeding A Savannah Monitor

Savannah Monitors love eating crickets and other insects

Savannah Monitors are carnivores and should be fed a high protein diet. The majority of their diet should be made up of gut-loaded insects like crickets, silkworms, king mealworms, super worms, grasshoppers, and cockroaches. Gut-loading involves feeding the prey insects with nutritious food. These nutrients are then passed on to your lizard when they feed on them.

Savannah Monitors can be given crayfish and low-fat foods like egg whites. Waxworms or pre-killed mice can be offered but only occasionally because these are high in fat. If they eat these foods regularly it can cause them to gain weight.

The amount and frequency of feeding will vary based on the size of your lizard. Young Monitors up to 3 feet long can be fed a small mouse with some insects or 2-4 mice, three times a week. Adult Savannah Monitors can be fed 2 to 3 mice along with insects, once a week. Avoid overfeeding because it can make them gain weight.

Dust the food of your Savannah Monitors with calcium supplements before each feeding. The extra calcium should help them avoid diseases like metabolic bone disease.

If you get nervous when you feed them you can feed them with the help of feeding tongs. Avoid using your hands because your lizard may mistake your hand for food and possibly bite you.

Their enclosure should have a water bowl with fresh drinking water at all times. Remove uneaten food and replace the water bowl with fresh drinking water daily.

Related Questions:

Can Two Savannah Monitors be Kept Together?

A male and female or two female Savannah monitors can be housed together. Two male Savannah Monitors should not be kept together because they will fight. To keep more than one Savannah Monitor a very large enclosure will be needed and they can be difficult to create. Because of the large size requirements we recommend keeping them alone.