How to Take Care of an Iguana
Iguanas are surely one of the most popular lizards to be kept as a pet. Iguanas were one of the more recent “fad” pets, readily available in many pet stores, often at very low prices and fairly young ages. Small and young iguanas appeared to be exotic, visually striking readily available and easy to care for – a myth often perpetuated by retailers hoping to sell the lizard in great numbers.
Of course, they are very cute but, as it happens with any reptile, iguanas have fairly strict feeding and housing requirements. And they grow (becoming very large lizards if they survive that long). They can be difficult to tame and become aggressive if not regularly handled.
This doesn’t mean that iguanas cannot make good pets, but they need the proper care right from the start and owners need to have the right expectations. Many new reptile owners do not realize how large their lizard of choice gets, how long they live and what kind of food is needed to keep them healthy. More and more people have realized that iguanas are a large and long-term commitment, since they can live 15 to 20 years.
How to Feed Iguanas
Fresh food is vital to have a healthy iguana. People used to include cat food, thinking that it would bulk up iguanas quickly, but owners found out that all that protein caused kidney failure in their pets and their life spans were greatly reduced. Iguanas are strict herbivores in the wild, so they are not evolved to eat animal protein and they don’t eat insects except by accident.
Dark leafy greens, some fruit and calcium supplements must all be provided to keep your iguana healthy. Fruit and calcium supplementation should only be added to the diet about once a week. Avoid high-protein diets. You may want to monitor your iguana’s blood chemistry to ensure that it’s getting enough calcium and other nutrients.
Iguanas need fresh water when feeding and between feedings.
Iguanas are often sold as small juveniles, which are easy to handle, but, as they get larger, they also become stronger and can be more difficult, if they aren’t trained. Iguanas will learn to recognize their caretakers and can be like puppies following them around.
They are intelligent and, if they are used to being handled, they can be quite rewarding exotic pets. Large iguanas that aren’t handled regularly can bite violently and whip their tails. Hormonal iguanas can also be unpredictable (pregnant females).
Iguanas are not recommended to those who are now beginning to pet reptiles, but they can still make great pets for the right person.
Iguanas can be seven feet long, tail included, and they will weigh about 20 pounds (much larger than most people think an iguana gets). In other words, an aquarium or a small reptile area is a very short-lived home for a green iguana. Custom-built areas, as well as bedrooms or large closets, are often used to keep pet iguanas safe and warm.
Iguanas are some of the most difficult pets to house properly. They are frequently kept in enclosures that are too small, and they have very specific habitat needs that often go unmet. The health of an iguana relies deeply on the quality of its housing. The information below will help you to set up the perfect habitat, before bringing your iguana home, to make sure that it lives a long, happy and healthy life.
How to properly house iguanas
If you have been looking for the right terrarium in pet stores, forget it. Most commercial terrariums are either too tall and narrow or too long and short. They aren’t appropriate housing for an arboreal reptile that likes to stretch out to his full length high in the enclosure. The best cages are those that you make on your own or have custom-made for you.
When taking into account cage size, you must know how large your iguana is going to grow. Iguanas can reach a length of five to six feet in just four to five years, a fact that many people don’t realize when looking at those tiny little hatchlings. Your iguana must be able to stretch out to its full length in any part of the temperature gradient throughout the cage, and this is impossible with a small cage. The minimum cage size should be:
Width: 1-1/2 to 2 times the iguana’s full length
Height: 1 to 1-1/2 times the iguana’s full length
Depth: 1/2 to 1 times the iguana’s full length
Recommended materials to make your enclosure include wood, glass, Plexiglas, hardware cloth, and plastic-coated wire mesh. Never use glass or Plexiglas if you plan on putting the cage subjected to direct sunlight, as they don’t guarantee proper air circulation and temperatures will be too high.
The enclosure must have a tight-fitting lid to prevent escape and smooth sides to prevent any harm to your iguana’s feet, nose and tail. If you are using wood, seal it with a waterproofing agent and caulk all of the joints to make sure that you can properly clean the cage. In the country’s warm areas, you may want to build a walkout enclosure to allow your iguana access to the outdoors.
Placing the Iguana Terrarium
Place your green iguana’s terrarium in a quiet place, but one where it will nonetheless interact with people. The room must be dim or dark after sunset to ensure the proper photoperiods.
Iguanas are intelligent reptiles and they will quickly get bored without anything to look at all day. Try placing the enclosure near a window so they can look out. You can even hang some bird feeders or plant a bush outside the window to give it something to look at.
Like other reptiles, green iguanas are cold-blooded, so they need external heat sources to maintain proper body temperature. They thermoregulate themselves by moving into warmer areas when they need to increase their body temperatures and cooler areas when they need to lower it. You need to provide a temperature gradient throughout the cage, both horizontally and vertically, since they will spend a good deal of time near the top of the iguana terraium.
The temperatures throughout the cage must range between 29° and 32°C, and the heating area should be around 32° and 38°C. Nighttime temperatures should be between 21° and 25°C.
Primary heat sources may include several incandescent bulbs during the day, nocturnal bulbs at night, removable heaters under the tank and ceramic infrared heat emitters or panels.
All heat sources must be placed outside of the enclosure, either under the floor or above the lid. This will prevent your iguana from accidentally burning itself. Hot rocks must be avoided.
The Correct Humidity for Iguanas
Proper humidity levels for green iguanas are relatively high, between 70% to 80%. Humidity that does not fall into the correct range can affect their long-term kidney function. Water bowls should act as a source of humidity and a soaking place.
To maintain humidity levels, always keep a water bowl with a large surface area in the enclosure. A large surface area ensures that it will vaporize more quickly. You should also mist your iguana and the inside of the habitat several times a week. Always use a hygrometer to monitor the enclosure’s humidity.
Lighting green iguanas require a photoperiod of 14 hours of light followed by 10 hours of darkness. All lights other than special nocturnal bulbs must be turned off at night and you should use a timer to maintain the proper light schedules.
There are two types of light that must be used during the day – visible light and UVB light. Sources of visible light include incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lights for all areas of the enclosure. These lights generally provide heat as well as light and the areas they cover should overlap, so that your iguana has equal access to both.
Substrate for Iguanas
When you choose a substrate, you must look for that is safe, inexpensive, absorbent, digestible (your iguana will ingest it) and easy to clean. This last point is just as important as safety, given that a hard-to-clean substrate will be an obstacle to keep the habitat pristine and will make it unsafe for your iguana.
Suitable substrates include paper towels, brown wrapping paper, Astroturf, indoor/outdoor carpet and alfalfa pellets. Linoleum can also be used, as long as it is glued down with safe glue. If you opt for Astroturf or indoor/outdoor carpet, buy extra pieces, so you can put a new one while you are cleaning and disinfecting the old.
Iguanas have quite specific housing needs, all of which must be attended if your iguana is to stay healthy and safe. Before deciding whether or not to bring a green iguana home, we recommend that you determine whether or not you can afford the time and money it takes to house them correctly.