Health Concerns

By Jeff Judd

Stress is the number one cause for decline of Horned Lizards in captivity. Many people have difficulty keeping HLs because they were wild caught, and couldn’t adjust to captive conditions. While captive born Horned Lizards are still subject to stress, they fair much better. It usually takes one or two days for a captive born Horned Lizard to adjust to a new environment. Stressed Horned Lizards will continually try to escape, refuse food, and rapidly decline in health. Some methods that can better help Horned Lizards to adjust to a new environment are:

Keeping them in a large terrarium.
Keeping the Horned Lizard isolated.
Limited handling and disturbance.
Covering sides of tank with paper.

Values of Cleanliness:

Cleanliness is an important aspect in preventing illness. The enclosure should always be kept sanitary. Likewise, the food and water that is provided to your HLs should come from fresh sources. Droppings must be scooped out as soon as possible, on a daily basis. HLs can carry internal pests. Eggs may be excreted with feces and can be picked up again by ants you feed your lizards. It is a good idea to take some of the sand along with the droppings you clean from the cage. Feces consist of a large mass of insect bodies, and a small, white uric acid component which is solid. Both parts should be removed promptly to prevent parasites.

Recognizing Symptoms:

Once Horned Lizards have adapted to a specific environment, health problems seem to be uncommon with the proper husbandry. Recognizing when the Horned Lizard is sick, quickly, is crucial to successfully treating it, but this can be difficult. Usually a combination of behaviors enable the sickness to be recognized. For instance, a Horned Lizard that has nostril deposits can be well because HLs excrete salt through the nostrils to help with hydration. However, a Horned Lizard with nostril deposits accompanied by labored breathing and sleeping for long hours under the heat lamp with its eyes closed, probably has a respiratory infection.

When a sickness is recognized, taking your Horned Lizard immediately to a good reptile veterinarian is almost always mandatory. The illnesses outlined below are meant to give you an idea of what to watch for, and an idea of the cause and possible treatment, but the information is not a substitute for professional care.


The main symptoms of starvation in Phrynosoma are greatly protruding hip bones, and significant loss in fat reserves, most noticeable in the tail and limbs. Stress or internal parasites are likely causes. Treatment includes isolating the individual from other HLs, and increasing terrarium size. Treat for parasites, if they are suspected. If an individual refuses to eat, give it Ensure until it eats on its own.


The main symptom of dehydration in Phrynosoma is sunken eyes. The cause could be improper watering methods. Treatment involves raising the humidity in the enclosure, and immediately giving the individual Pedialyte as well as extra water.

External Parasites:

The main symptom of external parasites in Phrynosoma are visible mite pockets located on the neck or behind the rear legs. The most likely cause is it being spread from a wild-caught reptile. Treat the affected areas with a mite spray.