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How Do I Take Care of an Iguana?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 21, 2024
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When people refer to iguanas, they are usually referring to the species Iguana iguana, commonly known as the green iguana. These large lizards have become very popular as pets throughout the Americas and in Europe in recent years; they can be found in most large pet stores. They grow up to 7 feet (2.1m) in length, including the tail, and may weigh as much as 15 pounds (7kg).

Though remarkably popular as a pet, the green iguana is by no means easy to successfully care for. Most pet store owners downplay the difficulties inherent in looking after such a fickle creature in order to sell as many as possible, resulting in disappointed owners and pets with severely truncated lifespans. Nothing is a substitute for speaking with a professional about your iguana and its specific needs; if possible, before purchasing one, ensure the store owner is knowledgeable and has insights as to the peculiarities of the particular animal you are interested in.

Unlike many other reptiles favored as pets, iguanas desperately need a large enclosure. This should be one of your top priorities. Though it may appear they are satisfied with a smaller pen, without enough space to roam and hide in, these animals become highly stressed, leading to illness and susceptibility to parasitic infection. An enclosure should be at least a few times the iguana's adult length in either width or depth, and at least one and a half times the length in height. They love to climb, and it is crucial to their emotional health, particularly once they reach full adulthood. Ideally, giving your iguana full roaming privileges for part or all of your house or apartment will ensure it has ample room — just make sure it cannot get outside or into things it may eat which will damage it!

Pay attention to your pet. They need interaction in much the same way a dog or cat needs your love and stimulus. Just because an iguana looks like a small lizard you may have found on the driveway does not mean they are the same. If it does not receive ample interaction, it will get sick and listless.

Supply the enclosure with large branches or artificial structures for your pet to climb and bask on. This is very important to the animal's psychological well-being, as well as making a much more aesthetically pleasing enclosure. On the ground of the enclosure, you may use a number of materials to collect waste, depending on the situation. In a very large enclosure, mulch may be appropriate, but in most enclosures something easy to regularly clean — such as newspaper — is ideal.

Heating the enclosure is another important and sadly often overlooked step towards looking after your iguana's health. An enclosure should not have any region below 80°F (26°C). One part of the enclosure should be set up for soaking up heat as needed, and this region should be kept at about 95°F (35°C). A full-spectrum spotlight works well for this purpose, as well as providing necessary UV lighting for your pet. Having an accurate method to measure the temperature of the enclosure is very important to retaining health in your pet; an iguana who does not remain hot enough will not be able to properly digest its food.

While a source of UV light is important to your pet's health, a steady supply of darkness is important as well. Make sure to give your iguana at least six to ten hours of darkness each night; this means shielding its enclosure from the ambient light you may have as a result of electronics or streetlights as well as turning its internal UV light off.

Taking care of an iguana is no easy task, and most pets live for only a few years. If properly looked after, however, this animal can easily pass a decade, and perhaps even two, as a valuable member of your family. First and foremost it is important to treat it as you would any complex organism; an iguana is not a frog or small lizard you have brought home in a jar, it is an ornate creature with emotional fragility and a delicate biological system.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of habitat is best for an iguana?

An iguana requires a spacious and secure enclosure, mimicking its natural habitat. This means providing a vertical space for climbing, as iguanas are arboreal. The enclosure should have a temperature gradient, with a basking area between 95-100°F and a cooler area around 80°F. Humidity levels should be maintained at 65-75%, and UVB lighting is essential for their health.

How often should I feed my iguana, and what is the ideal diet?

Iguanas are primarily herbivores and should be fed daily. An ideal diet consists of a variety of leafy greens like collard greens, turnip greens, and dandelion greens, along with other vegetables and fruits. It's crucial to avoid feeding them animal protein as it can lead to kidney failure and other health issues.

How do I ensure my iguana is getting enough calcium and vitamins?

Calcium and vitamins are vital for an iguana's health, particularly to prevent metabolic bone disease. Dust their food with a calcium supplement without vitamin D3 a few times a week and with vitamin D3 once or twice a week. Ensure they have access to UVB lighting, which helps them synthesize vitamin D3 naturally.

What are the signs of a healthy iguana versus an iguana that may be sick?

A healthy iguana will have clear eyes, smooth skin, a full body, and be alert and active. Signs of a sick iguana include lethargy, loss of appetite, discoloration of the skin, swollen limbs or jaw, and abnormal feces. If you notice any of these signs, consult a veterinarian experienced with reptiles.

How do I handle and socialize my iguana properly?

Handling should be done gently and with patience, as iguanas can become stressed easily. Start with short sessions, gradually increasing the time as your iguana becomes more comfortable. Support their body fully, and never grab them by the tail. Socialization is a slow process, requiring consistent and calm interaction to build trust.

How often does an iguana need to see a veterinarian?

Iguanas should have an initial veterinary check-up after you bring them home and then annual wellness exams. However, if you notice any signs of illness or changes in behavior, you should schedule a visit immediately. Regular fecal exams are also recommended to check for parasites, which are common in reptiles.

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Discussion Comments

By anon119732 — On Oct 19, 2010

I am pregnant and are considering getting an iguana for my son. Is it safe for me to handle them while I am pregnant?

By anon106807 — On Aug 27, 2010

my small dog bit the wild iguana in my garden, one tooth bite in the head and bit his tail off. I put betadine on the bite and am keeping the iguana on an outside plant. Its eyes are closed since the attack and he moves when i touch him. Any suggestions on what else I can do to make him comfortable? i am from south africa.

By anon97041 — On Jul 18, 2010

How bad is an iguana bite? I'm planning on getting one but I'm scared of it biting me.

By anon74341 — On Apr 01, 2010

Someone stated that iguanas do not have teeth. Yes, they do have small sharp teeth that point inward -- how else would they chew on their food? I have had an iguana for three years and he's never bit me. He's bitten my husband, but there was only some pressure, no teeth marks or pain.

to another question: no a UV light is not appropriate for heating. you should have a separate light for heat. And no heat rocks -- they are known to kill iguanas. Think about nature; how would an iguana get heat in the wild. He would bask on a branch under the sun, not on a hot rock. Hope this helps.

By anon62293 — On Jan 25, 2010

Iguanas need the UVA/UVB lights for their bones and good health. They should be on about 11-12 hours during the day. Get an outdoor timer, the kind with a cover. In my experience iguanas are probably as smart, or smarter than a cat, so think about this before deciding to keep one. Also properly cared for they live 10-15 years!

By anon62292 — On Jan 25, 2010

If you don't have ample space for an iguana, don't buy one. The best way to keep your iguana warm is a human electric blanket or heating pad, the sort of thing you get at Walgreens.

Interact with your pet. They are smart animals, but be gentle, and be aware, even a tame iguana can be moody. They like being stroked or petted. The best food is collard, mustard and turnip greens and melons.

Don't tease or roughhouse with an iguana; they don't understand it. By the way, trust me, iguanas do have teeth and they do bite!

By anon59562 — On Jan 09, 2010

Do not use a heating pad! They are notorious for burning iguanas. Only use a good UVA/UVB fluorescent lamp and a regular heat lamp.

By anon53943 — On Nov 25, 2009

do iguanas need a heat lamp or are they OK with a heating pad?

By anon52167 — On Nov 11, 2009

i'm wondering if it's worth getting an iguana.

By anon46688 — On Sep 28, 2009

Yes, iguanas do have teeth! Research iguana bites. it's pretty nasty.

By anon38685 — On Jul 27, 2009

No! Iguanas do not bite. They don't have teeth, but you should watch out for their claws. An iguana's claws are really sharp so if you have one, I recommend when you pick it up, you don't scare it.

By anon32669 — On May 25, 2009

do i need to put a heating pad under the sand for an iguana because my friends said i do but im not too sure?

By anon28948 — On Mar 24, 2009

Posted by: anon27526

Smoke? No! Smoking is bad for *anything that's alive*! It’s bad for *any* pet to be around smoke!

By anon27526 — On Mar 01, 2009

can they be around smock or no and how can you tell if it is healthy? because i got mine from a friend and i never had an iguana so this is my first time taking care of an iguana.

By kittycat — On Dec 18, 2008

will I've had a lot of different animals but I've never had an iguana and i was wondering if you could give me a few good tips? please?

By anon18644 — On Sep 26, 2008

will iguanas bite?

By anon846 — On May 07, 2007

hello! i have just got a green iguana as a pet. my question is, how many hours should i have the uv light on and if a uv light is also appropriate for heating? thank you in advance!!!

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