Iguanas are one of the most popular reptiles purchased from pet shops today. This animal can grow anywhere from 4-6 feet in length, reaching a weight of 10-15 pounds. On average, they live 12-15 years in captivity, however they can live over 20 years if care for properly. Iguanas come from a hot and humid environment, and are active during daylight hours. As adults they are aggressive and territorial and will not hesitate to use their strong and powerful jaws, nails, or tail.
A juvenile iguana can reside in a 30-50 gallon aquarium, however, their rapid growth will cause them to outgrow this enclosure within several months. Enclosures come in many different sizes, shapes, and styles and may be made out of wood, glass, or plexiglass. The substrate should be easy to keep clean and hygienic. Newspaper works well and is most cost efficient, however, artificial grass, indoor-outdoor carpeting, or linoleum are excellent choices as well. Avoid sand, soil, and bark, as these substrates can lead to obstruction or impaction if your pet ingests them. Shallow food and water dishes should be provided, and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. It is important to provide your iguana with climbing materials such as branches, bark, rocks, broad limbs, or drift wood.
Iguanas need water to survive and should have it readily available. Iguanas obtain most of their water intake through the plant matter they consume, however, some iguanas enjoy drinking out of water dishes, or lapping water off leaves or other objects in the enclosure. Misting your iguana and it’s environment daily will help keep it hydrated and provide it water droplets to drink. Iguanas pass urine and stool in water and will use a large water dish as a litter pan. If used, the litter pan must be regularly and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to prevent infections.
Bathing your iguana is another good way for your iguana to receive water, and is a good habit for your lizard. Bathing should be offered in shallow, lukewarm (100 degrees Fahrenheit) water, 2-3 times weekly. Always supervise your iguana to prevent accidents. Remember, not all iguanas bathing. Some will swim around and enjoy it, others will panic.
Iguanas need to be provided with exposure to natural sunlight for at least 5-10 hours per week. When temperatures are over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, iguanas should spend daylight hours outside in a sunny location. Your outdoor enclosure must protect your iguana from wild animals and neighborhood cats and dogs, and your pet should not be able to escape. A wire mesh enclosure with a sturdy frame works well. Glass terrariums or enclosures should not be used as temperatures may climb to lethal temperatures even on cool days. Of course, don’t forget to provide food and water in the outdoor enclosure.
IGUANAS ARE AGGRESSIVE BY NATURE. ALWAYS USE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN HANDLING ANY IGUANA. Iguanas are wild animals and you must always treat them in a manner that respects the fact that they may be dangerous. Wear protective clothing (long sleeved shirts, etc.) Frequent and regular handling will help tame them. Iguanas can learn to accept those who handle them frequently. Hold juveniles 2-3 times daily for approximately fifteen minutes. Stroke the back and neck while holding, keeping finger tips away from sharp teeth and claws. This will help your iguana become accustomed to being picked up and handled
Iguanas are herbivores and should be offered a variety of dark leafy green vegetables, supplemented with a small amount of sweet and vegetable fruits and flowers. The bulk of the diet should be compromised of leafy green vegetables, such as, collard greens, mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens, beet and turnip greens, escarole, spinach, and kale. Lettuces should be avoided as they offers little nutritional value. Other vegetables that include: green beans, snap peas, sweet peppers, and grated squash. Fruits, such as, bananas, apples, mangos, papaya are healthy but should be treated as a treat or supplement fo the greens. Iguanas should be fed daily. Offer food after heat lights have been turned on and the iguana has had a chance to warm up. Iguanas must not be fed animal proteins (meat, dog or cat food, monkey biscuits, etc.).
Lighting and Heating
Temperature plays an important role to your iguana’s long term and overall health. Iguanas are cold blooded and cannot regulate their temperature metabolically. They rely on their environment and the behavior of “basking” to regulate their temperature and hence their metabolism. Iguanas regulate their body temperature by basking in temperatures above 85 degrees, sometimes as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Daytime temperatures should range between 85-95 degrees with a basking site of 110-115 degrees. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 70-75 degrees and a “hide box” in at 80-85 degrees for growing hatchlings. Iguanas should be provided fourteen hours of daylight, and ten hours of night light.
Heat for the basking site should be provided by a125-250 watt infrared “heat” light bulb. These are available at home and hardware stores. Plug the heat light into a lamp dimmer switch which will allow you to adjust the temperature in the basking site to the desired temperature. These too are available at hardware stores.
Use a florescent ultra-violet (UV) light source, such as the ZooMed Repti-Sun 10.0, available at your local pet store, to suppliment sunlight for the conversion of vitamin D. Under tank heaters or heating tape, sold at most pet shops, may be used to heat hide spots. They must only be used as a supplimental heat source and their temperature must be monitored. The use of a dimmer switch on these heat sources is encouraged as well.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Metabolic bone disease describes most disorders that cause a weakening of the bones or impaired functioning of the body’s organs. It is caused by an imbalance of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D3. Proper diet and temperature ranges will help prevent MBD. Symptoms of this disease include swelling of the lower jaw, curvature in the tail or back (‘S’ shaped), the lower jaw may be shorter than the upper jaw. Radiographs will show thin, low density, curved bones. Metabolic bone disease is best avoided with proper diet and correct temperature ranges in the iguanas environment.
Kidney (Renal) Disease / Failure
Kidney disease is common in captive iguanas due to improper diet and lack of water or humidity. External signs are anorexia, weight loss, swollen abdomen, dehydration, loss of muscle tone, and eventually lack of elimination. However, some iguanas may not show any signs, and act healthy even two weeks before their kidneys fail. Your veterinarian can check blood levels of the phosphorous and calcium in your iguana to try to prevent kidney failure. If caught early enough, treatment would consist of diet and environment improvements. A plant-based diet, access to water and frequent misting helps prevent kidney failure.
Iguanas are susceptible to both internal and external parasites. A parasite is an organisms that lives in or on another living thing. Internal parasites are more difficult to diagnose. They produce microscopic eggs which pass through your iguanas feces. Fecal parasite exams should be performed routinely for newly acquired reptiles. The specimen provided should be fresh, within 24 hours, and needs to be refrigerated or kept in a cooler on ice. A negative finding on a fecal exam means, NO PARASITES DETECTED IN THE SAMPLE SUBMITTED. It does not necessarily mean your reptile is free of parasites. It is a good idea to test a few times with negative results in order to ensure your iguana is without parasites.
External Parasites, most often mites may be found on iguanas. These mites suck blood and may appear as bright red, black or dried blood in Gcolor. They are often found roaming the body, tucked under the edges of scale around the eyes, ears, or other skin folds. Mites are difficult to eliminate. Treatments sold at pet shops are generally ineffective. Dilute solutions of 1% – 2.5% carbaryl are effective as are some permethrin products used for scabies in people (Elimite). These products should be only used under the guidance of a veterinarian. The environment must be treated as well or the mite infestation will recur. Remove all organic substrate and treat all items in the enclosure. Boil rocks, bake wood, and bleach bowls and the enclosure.