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Iguana Care Guide
Iguana Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know About Your Pet Iguana
The lifespan of an iguana is on average 12-15 years. When well-cared for, a healthy iguana can easily supercede that and live more than 20 years.
The Natural History of Iguanas
The most common species of iguana, the green iguana (Iguana iguana) is native to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It was first discovered in 1758 by a botanist named Carl Linnaeus. Today, the green iguana is an invasive species in both Puerto Rico and southern Florida, where it has made itself at home due to the warm and sunny climate of both areas. There are many different morphs or colors of green iguanas—some more rare than others— but all have the same husbandry and diet requirements.
Iguanas from the Cyclura family also make good pets, when properly cared for. The rhinoceros iguana (C. cornuta), the grand cayman iguana—also known as the blue iguana (C. lewisi)—and the cuban rock iguana (C. nubila), are well known for their size, fascinating temperament and herbivorous diet. These species will require more room and heat than their more commonly found cousins, the green iguana.
Common Breeds of Iguanas
Iguanas from different countries can be different colors.They are commonly found in colors like blue, purple, red, pink, orange and yellow. Confusing as it is, these are all considered types of green iguanas.
How to Care for Your Pet Iguana
Your Iguana Tank or Cage
Wondering About the Ideal Iguana Cage Set Up?
Ideally, most iguana owners would live in an area that could support an outdoor iguana enclosure, since iguanas need lots of exposure to UVB rays to thrive. If you can’t keep your iguana outdoors, you still want to give your pet lots of space.
Most iguanas need a small room in order to be comfortable and your iguana’s enclosure should give your pet enough space to climb up and turn fully. For a baby or young iguana (up to around 18-inches long), a 20-gallon aquarium is adequate. An adult iguana, however (which can grow to 6-feet in length and weigh 11 or more pounds), requires much more room. An adult iguana tank should be at least 12-feet long by 8-feet high.
Different material, such as wood, mesh, plexiglass, can be used to build a custom made tank. A glass tank should not be used, due to the lack of ventilation. Glass tanks are extremely humid and can quickly lead to an overgrowth of mold or fungus without proper ventilation and daily cleaning.
Once you’ve set up your iguana’s cage, you want to fill it with lots of “enrichment” toys. Choose a selection of live, safe-for-iguana plants to create hiding spots. You can also put in some different shaped branches with varying widths and lengths. Make sure they have been checked in advance for any ectoparasites.
What Substrate Should I Use in My Iguana Tank?
While loose substrate may make the enclosure look more “realistic,” it can increase the risk of disease, GI tract impaction, molding and more. Without consistent changes, loose substrate can be very dangerous for iguanas. We recommend putting Repticarpet or paper towels on the bottom of your iguana’s enclosure.
Does My Iguana Like to Play?
Iguanas are generally sedentary beings. Given proper basking and cooling areas, many iguanas will be more than happy to rest for large portions of the day. Do not let their calm nature fool you; when stressed or threatened, a full-grown iguana is extremely fast and can cause serious damage.
It is very important to tame and train your pet iguana when he or she is young to make sure that they behave more appropriately when they are much stronger. An iguana that is scared can very easily break the arm of their owner. With proper training and care, however, many iguanas become docile and would never do such a thing!
Do Iguanas Need to Bathe?
Some iguanas do enjoy soaking in water, and if yours is one of them—go for it! You can offer them a bath weekly ensuring that the water does not go above your iguana’s stomach. As long as this activity isn’t stressful, it should be added to your pet iguana’s life as a form of enrichment. An iguana shows that they are stressed by breathing more heavily, opening their mouths, thrashing their tail, and generally trying to escape from the activity.
Baths are more important during shedding periods. Like other reptiles, iguanas periodically shed their skin. When they are about to shed, you want to mist and soak them regularly. Many iguanas will shed in pieces, so it’s important to keep an eye on what has been shed and ensure that no small pieces of skin are still attached to your pet iguana. If some skin is still stuck, contact your local reptile vet to avoid complications from improper blood circulation.
Providing the Right Climate for Your Iguana
You want to use a heat bulb to keep your iguana’s tank at just the right temperature. Heat is very important, as it helps facilitate your reptile’s growth and digestion. Ambient temperature of an iguana enclosure should be 85-90 °F, with the hottest point of your iguana’s tank reaching 95-105 °F. It’s important that the heat source come from above, since iguanas regulate their body temperature using a “third eye” located on the top of their head.
Make sure you also have a designated cool area in your tank so that the iguana can thermoregulate itself. Depending on the size of your pet iguana’s tank, you may need two or more bulbs to maintain the right temperature.
What Temperature Should the Tank Be at Night?
At night, you can lower the temperature in the tank to 75-80 °F. We recommend using ceramic heat lights, red, or purple light at night to prevent from the disruption of your pet’s light cycle (or yours), since these fixtures only emit heat and no light. Iguanas should have a light cycle of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Keeping these times steady allows for proper hormone production and regulation. For references on our UVB lighting recommendations refer to our Lighting Guide here.
Reptiles Like it Steamy!
Humidity is also critical for any reptile and your iguana’s tank should have 70-80% humidity. This kind of humidity can be achieved with consistent misting and a high ambient enclosure temperature. To help keep a consistent humidity level, you may want to invest in a commercial misting system, such as the ones made by ZooMed and ExoTerra.
Don’t Forget Your Hygrometer!
Be sure to include a hygrometer in your tank to measure humidity. This will let you monitor the true level of humidity in your iguana’s tank. Electric fogger and monsoon systems can also be used. Gravity drip systems can also be utilized but multiple may be necessary in a larger enclosure.
An Important Note about Electricity
Reptiles and iguanas in particular require many different electrical systems to maintain their proper living conditions. When utilizing all these systems, it is crucial as an owner to monitor the systems and do the maintenance necessary to prevent any potential malfunctions. Check on your iguana and his habitat each day to ensure that your pet does not overheat, drown or fall ill due to any of these electrical systems.
Iguana Diet & Nutrition
What Do Iguanas Eat and Drink?
In the wild, iguanas live near a water source. Therefore, there should always be clean water available in the enclosure so that they can keep themselves hydrated.
What Do Iguanas Eat?
Iguanas are herbivores, meaning they eat only fresh plant matter. Their diet should be about 95% vegetables and only 5% fruit and they should never be given meat, dairy, or other human foods. Feed your reptile a wide variety of vegetables and some fruits as well. In captivity, a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus is critical. One of the best ways to achieve this is to make sure that your pet iguana gets a mixed salad sprinkled with high quality calcium powder.
When choosing greens to feed your iguana, use foods high in oxalates sparingly as these can affect calcium absorption in your pet iguana. Without proper levels of calcium an iguana can develop metabolic bone disease.
How Often Should You Feed Your Iguana?
Hatchling and young iguanas should be fed at least two times a day. Once the iguana is over 2 feet long, feedings can be done once daily. When the iguana has reached adulthood and maximum length, you can reduce feedings to every other day. Every iguana is different and may require more or less food. A large meal with variety in vegetables can be offered in the morning and in the evening.
Food should be pieced up and grated to a size that could easily be split in half by the iguana. Smaller sizes will be necessary for baby iguanas and juvenile iguanas. Iguanas have pleurodont teeth which means that the teeth are fused or ankylosed to the jaw. While they have teeth iguanas do not use them to tear or chew on food but to simply break the food down to 1-2 smaller pieces before swallow. That is why making the food a reasonable size is important to make sure that the iguana eats a full meal.
What Treats Can I Give My Pet Iguana?
Iguanas can become picky eaters, but it’s best not to give your iguana anything other than fresh vegetables and fruit. In other words, don’t go overboard with the fruits, as they can cause soft stool in your iguana. There are also a few flowers that you can give your iguana, including roses, nasturtiums, carnations and especially hibiscus. Before feeding flowers to your iguana, check to make sure they were not treated with any chemicals.
Iguana Behavior and More Iguana Care Tips
Is My Iguana Acting Strange?
Iguanas usually change colors when they head outdoors. Many will become shades darker than normal to absorb as much heat as possible. Iguanas enjoy basking in the sun, but if your pet is twitching, or seems to have a loss of balance, your iguana may be sick. Be sure to contact a reptile vet for a visit.
There are some other common iguana behaviors that you should be aware of, namely tail whipping and head bobbing.
Tail Whipping - When alarmed, one of iguana’s defense mechanisms is to whip their tail very quickly. The sheer movement can create a force that can be quite painful and dangerous. Early aged training is critical to make sure that an iguana is less likely to do this behavior.
Head Bobbing - Head bobbing is found in many lizards, iguanas are no exception. This behavior is primarily initiated when the iguana is trying to be the aggressor or dominant in a situation.
Iguana Biology - Important Thing to Know
Your iguana has some features that are important to understand and know about.
Your Iguana’s Third “Eye”
Iguanas have a primitive third “eye” or parietal “eye”. This organ is photoreceptive, meaning that it does not “see” clear images. It is believed, however, that iguanas can use their parietal eye to discern the absence and presence of light. The third eye helps regulate an iguana’s circadian rhythm as well as the hormones produced for thermoregulation.
The Nasal Salt Gland
All green iguanas have nasal salt glands. On rare occasions, these glands can fill up with salty fluid. This problem can be caused by diet. If your iguana has persistent nasal discharge, schedule a visit with a specialized iguana or reptile vet.
How Often do Iguanas Shed?
Baby iguanas shed every 4 - 6 weeks, while adult iguanas only shed about once a year. They may not always shed at the same time of year. If your iguana is having trouble shedding the old skin, it is sometimes helpful to gently soak the iguana in some water, or spray and moisten the enclosure.
What Medical Care Does My Pet Iguana Need?
Recommended Checkups for an Iguana
When you first buy a new iguana, we recommend having a specialized reptile vet examine your new pet. It is also a good idea to bring your new friend in on a yearly basis for a physical exam (including a fecal and blood work) to ensure a long and healthy life.
Common Iguana Health Concerns
Many iguanas have infections or parasites that they contracted in captivity before arriving at your home. These infections are commonly caused by overcrowding, travel or poor husbandry.
Any infection or parasite infestation is easier to deal with at the beginning of the presentation of illness. This is another reason that it is so important to bring your new pet iguana to an exotic vet for an initial check-up, even if they appear healthy.
Every iguana is different and blood work can determine if your pet has any underlying conditions including mineral deficiencies. Even with the proper diet, some iguanas need nutritional supplements. A yearly exams allow the doctors to get a general baseline of health for each individual iguana.
How to Tell When Your Iguana Is Sick?
The following is a list of signs or symptoms which might indicate that your iguana is sick. If you observe these in your iguana, we recommend scheduling an appointment with an iguana vet nearby.
Abnormal skin discoloration
Decreased fecal production
Loose or runny stool
Excessive open mouth breathing
Decreased use of limbs
The following is a list of iguana emergencies. If you witness these, seek medical care right away.
Overheating or burns
Falls from high surfaces
Broken bones (including the tail)
Excessive head bobbing
Seizures or head tilt
Even if you aren’t sure if you’ve got an emergency on your hands, your safest bet is to contact your reptile veterinarian for direction. At Long Island Bird & Exotics, we are on-call 24/hours a day. Contact us about your iguana emergencies if you live in the NY area!
At Long Island Birds and Exotic Pets, we provide iguana boarding services. Iguanas at LIBEVC are given large enclosures where they get daily well-diversified herbivorous meals that would make any vegan proud! Daily handling is also available if your iguana enjoys free-time.