Iguanas have become popular pets in the last few years. Their biggest problems are a result of poor management due to lack of education. Here are some basic but very important care tips needed so your iguana can live to its normal life span of 13-15 years:
Diet: Lack of proper diet is the most common cause of death and disease in the iguana. Juvenile iguanas need two feedings per day with 1 part protein to 2 parts plant food. At one year of age 90% of the adult iguana’s diet should consist of the fruits/vegetables listed below:
Fruit and vegetable sources should include: chard, romaine lettuce, broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, squash, berries, apples, dandelions, alfalfa sprouts and rabbit pellets, kale, beet greens, escarole, parsley, watercress, green beans, cooked navy beans, turnip greens, figs, roses, nasturtiums, carnations, and hibiscus flowers.
Note 85% of the diet should be comprised of these food substances above. It must be organic–peel the foods if you are in doubt. You may also add white grapes, dried apricots, pears, cauliflower and tomatoes, but keep this to 15% of the diet as these foods do not have the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Never feed iceberg lettuce. It is a poor excuse for food as it is devoid of valuable vitamins and minerals and has barely any nutritional value.
Protein sources for young iguanas (NOT adult) should include: Purina trout chow, cooked egg (including the shell crushed with it), tofu, an occasional neonatal mouse, cooked white meat, soft meal worms, crickets (fed a good diet themselves), monkey chow or pre-prepared iguana diet. Please note that this is a minimal part of the diet and that as the iguana ages they should be totally vegetarian as feeding meats and protein really messes up their bones and kidneys by causing stone formation.
One easy way to feed is to get several of the above food items, chop fine, grate or grind them in the food processor and mix your vitamins and calcium with the mixture then freeze individual portions in ice cube trays. Once frozen, bag them to prevent freezer burn. This prevents finicky eating. Offer one thawed cube daily plus some fresh food to replace vitamins that were ruined by processing/freezing. Always use fresh food preferably less than 3 days old. Remove any uneaten food from the cage after 4-5 hours to prevent spoilage and contamination of your pet due to bacterial overgrowth.
Supply fresh water, some exercise and a place to soak daily.
A calcium and reptile vitamin source should be added to the diet. The problem is most iguanas get too much or too little. Use 1/8 teaspoon per 5# body weight. If you give too much you can ruin the kidneys and may see blood in the urine. If you give too little the bones will fracture, they won’t be able to stand on their legs or move quickly and they will not be able to have a daily bowel movement. Contact a qualified veterinarian to assist if you see these symptoms. Many vets really aren’t that interested in exotic animal medicine so you may have to look around.
Shedding/Humidity– Iguanas shed continuously in large patches starting from the head and proceeding to the tail then the process starts all over again. Supply a rough stone or tree branch for them to rub up against. Mist them daily and bathe them twice weekly for a minimum of 20 minutes each time. Humidity in the cage should be 33-66%. If this is not achieved they will not shed (<33%) or they will get bacterial infections (>66%) and die. Ask your local hardware store for a way to measure humidity in your cage. Feed stores are also a good source for a humidity reading instrument.
Lighting /Temperature: The light cycle should be 12 hours on, 12 hours off. Get an automatic timer. A Gro-light is a must as they need full spectrum light for the best health. Infrared lights provide heat but they dry out the environment, so beware. A place to bask with an incandescent light- a “point source” (regular 40-watt bulb) should be provided at least 24″ away from the Gro-light. This area should not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. A thermometer inside the cage is a must. One on each end is better. General cage temperature needs to be 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. Temperatures less than 75 degrees can lead to problems.
Bedding and cages: The bedding should be changed daily. Use newspaper or Astroturf. If using Astroturf have three available- one for the cage, one washed and drying, and one dry, ready to put in the next day. Never use corn cob or pea gravel as iguanas can ingest it and die. Corn cob also carries a fungus called Aspergillosis which grows when the cob gets wet. This can cause pneumonia. The cage should be made of glass or Plexiglas and the wood used should be sealed to prevent fatal abrasions and damage to the insecure iguana. They prefer a high vantage point. Never use Lysol to clean the cage. It is toxic.
Wash cages with warm soapy water, rinse well then disinfect with a dilute bleach solution. Use one part bleach to 25-30 parts of water. Let sit for 10 minutes then rinse the bleach off.
Healthy lizards should be luminescent green and have a filled-out appearance with plump legs and tail. They should resist being picked up and should run lifting their whole body off the ground. They should have a bowel movement once daily. There should be no lack of appetite, head tilts, sores, or swollen limbs. See a veterinarian trained in exotic medicine for any abnormalities. Iguanas usually do not do well with and accept other lizards in the same cage. They should have a place to hide within the cage. You may use plants, pots or boxes for this.
Always quarantine new animals for a minimum of two months to prevent spread of disease to your previous pets. Just one virus or contagious bacteria could cost you your entire collection of reptiles if this is not adhered to. Do not stress them out through extended periods of handling.
Miscellaneous Notes: Iguanas should grow 30-60cm/year. Final length reaches 1.8 meters and they will weigh approx. 3-5# when mature. Sexual maturity is complete at three years of age. Breeding occurs in January or February. They have no diaphragm so don’t squeeze them or they can’t breathe.
Well, those are the basics. If you take care of these critters, they will give you much pleasure for many years.
Helpful Links and resources (Thanks to Toni, an iguana owner, who supplied many of these references):
- Iguana Rescue: Iguana Rescue Organizations
- Iguana Forum: https://www.repticzone.com/forums/Iguanas/index.html
- Iguana Websites:
- Great Book on Iguanas (according to Toni): James Hatfield’s Green Iguana-The Ultimate Iguana Owners Manual