Iguana Care & FAQs
We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on Iguanas. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your Iguana’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:
Before Getting an Iguana
Are you Prepared to Own an Iguana?
By: Green Iguana Society
If you are thinking about getting an iguana, it’s very important that you know what it’s going to involve on your part. The following is a list of questions that you should ask yourself before you go get that iguana, to see if you have the “credentials” to own one….
Credentials needed to be an iguana owner
Are you loving? Iguanas need love, just like a dog or a cat would. They are not creatures happy to be stuck in a cage, fed, cleaned and ignored. They need contact, interaction, and yeah, love.
Are you patient? The average iguana can take a VERY long time to tame, and the iguana will need consistant guidance and interaction to become tame.
Are you committed? An iguana in ideal circumstances can live to be 20+ years old! Are you ready to see that committment all the way through until the end, or would you prefer to think that you can sell or adopt out the iguana with no negative consequences? It’s not true; I have personally seen broken hearted iguanas.
Are you stable? Are you going to take off constantly, leaving the iguana to fend for him/herself? Are you a traveling sort? Will you be moving a lot? Iguanas should have as stable and consistent of a life as possible.
Are you financially secure? Raising a healthy iguana costs a lot of money! For an adult iguana, you’ll need to buy fresh food every few days, provide a HUMONGOUS cage (or an entire room), and buy other necessary supplies. Vet trips – iguanas need to see a qualified vet regularly. Are you prepared for that expense? Are you prepared for emergencies? Are you prepared to drive a distance to find a suitable herp vet?
Are you willing to work to find good, correct information, and to continue learning? Learning how to care for iguanas properly is a job that is never done. Information is always changing. There is a lot of research that must be done before you even bring an iguana home! Are you willing to wade through many good websites and read a few books, or will you be content with what the pet store tells you? Will you take the first website or book you find as the be all, end all of iguana care? Or you will continue to research and learn?
Do you have time for your iguana? Not just time to feed it, clean it and give it water. Do you have time to talk to your iguana, pet your iguana, play with him/her? They need it! They can’t be stuck in a cage and ignored!
Are you empathetic? Will you do your best to put yourself in your iguanas shoes? Can you comprehend that an iguana is trying hard to be a part of your world, despite the massive differences? If your iguana is grouchy about something, can you put yourself in his/her place and try to understand what the problem is?
Are you consistent? Iguanas need routines, stablilty, regular feedings, regular potty times, regular play times, etc. Do you have the sort of lifestyle in which you can do that? Are you even willing to?
If you can honestly answer yes to all of those questions, then, perhaps, you have the “credentials” to be owned by an iguana. Now, before you go and get that iguana, you need to learn as much as you can about iguanas and what you’ll need to do before you bring one home. The following is a list of things you should learn about, decide upon and do before you get an iguana….
What to do and learn before you get an iguana
Learn all you can about iguanas and iguana care. You can start by reading all about iguana care here on the Green Iguana Society website. But don’t stop there…keep reading and learning all you can before you make the committment!
Where are you going to get your iguana? There are hundreds to even thousands of iguanas that are in need of a good home. Adopting or rescuing an iguana can be a very interesting and rewarding experience. Visit our Rescues & Adoptions page for more information on adopting an iguana. Buying or “rescuing” an iguana from a pet store may be an easy place to getting an iguana, but it’s not the best place. Make sure you visit our Before you adopt an iguana page to find out why pet stores aren’t the best place to get an iguana.
Is your home ready for an iguana? It’s very important to be ready before you bring a new iguana home. You must have a habitat (cage or enclosure) that is set up properly. Visit our Habitat page for more information on providing a suitable habitat for a pet iguana. You will also need to make sure your family is prepared to live with an iguana as well! Some states, counties and cities have laws and ordinances against keeping iguanas as pets. Also, many apartments and townhomes do not allow pets or they may only allow certain pets. Make sure it’s legal and that you have permission to own an iguana where you live.
Find a vet in your area that treats iguanas It’s very important that you have a good herp vet before you get your iguana. Finding an experienced vet that treats iguanas can be difficult, so while you’re looking for the right iguana, you can be looking for the right vet as well!
Do you have everything else you need? Along with all the proper habitat supplies (UV lights, heat sources, etc.) you’ll need some other things such as food and water bowls, spray bottles (for misting), a first aid kit, something to trim claws with, a reliable source for fresh vegetables and fruit that you’ll be feeding your iguana, and many other things that you’ll know after you learn more about iguana care.
Buy a reliable book on iguana care. Although there is much to learn on our website and other reliable sites, having a reliable iguana care book on-hand will be very helpful. There are many unreliable iguana care books available. We recommend Green Iguana: The Ultimate Owner’s Manual by James W. Hatfield III. It can be found many places online for about $25-$30 (U.S.), is well worth the price, and will be an invaluable item to have around!
As you can probably tell, there is a lot that needs to be done and learned before you get an iguana…and these are just the basics! So many people jump into the committment of iguana ownership and then they find out that it was more than they can truly handle. We aren’t trying to talk people out of owning iguanas, we just hope to teach people more about iguanas before they go and get one. Now, after all that we’ve told you about what it takes, we hope you have the answer to the question, “Are you prepared to own an iguana?” Good luck!
Should I Get an Iguana?
By: Green Iguana Society
Although iguanas have become one of the most popular pets, they are still very misunderstood. Many people are still caring for their iguanas based on a large number of myths and misconceptions. These so-called facts have been spread through outdated books, and various people that are not informed on the latest in iguana husbandry. Below is a list of many of the most common myths and misconceptions about iguanas…
Iguanas are great pets for kids?! Since iguanas can be difficult to care for, they may not be appropriate for kids to care for, even though many kids still own iguanas. Many kids buy iguanas or they convince their parents to buy them one. This can lead to various different outcomes. Some kids may well be responsible enough to provide their iguana with quality care, but what usually happens is that many kids end up neglecting their iguanas. When this happens, either the kid’s parents end up caring for it, it ends up being given to another home, or often times the iguana ends up dying. We don’t necessarily want to say that they are not appropriate pets for kids, but they do require a lot of care and should only be cared for by responsible kids under adult supervision.
Iguanas have no personality?! Every iguana is different and every one of them is different in its own unique way. Some are very personable, and most act differently when around their primary owner. Basically, once someone owns an iguana, it will be completely clear that iguanas are full of personality.
Iguanas don’t need to see a veterinarian?! Many people think that iguanas are not normal pets, so they do not need special care from a veterinarian. This is a myth, and in fact, vet checkups and yearly exams should be done. Just as with any other pet, a quality herp vet can find early warning signs of serious problems as well as determine any problems with its diet and habitat.
Iguanas are low maintenance pets?! Although many experienced iguana owners claim that they are easy to care for and do not take a whole lot of time and care compared to some other pets, iguanas are still not low maintenance pets. Feeding an iguana should be a constant process of change and variety. Although with timers and environment controls, an iguana habitat can be relatively easy to maintain. Getting it set up and functioning properly can be very time consuming and should involve a lot of thought. Spending quality time with an iguana and acclimating it to the life of a human’s pet, is another part of iguana husbandry that takes a lot of time and patience. Cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing the habitat also involves a lot of maintenance. Once an iguana owner gets used to doing all the daily and weekly chores, it can be easy, but they are still not low maintenance pets.
Iguanas only grow to the size of their cages?! Many people think that if an iguana is kept in a small cage, it will remain small, but this is untrue. Iguanas, if cared for properly, will usually grow to reach lengths of five to six feet.
So, do you think an Iguana is the right pet for you? Carefully consider life with an Iguana and make sure you are prepared to care for this unique animal the best way you possible can. Get educated!
Bringing Your Iguana Home
By: Green Iguana Society
Once you’ve got a basic enclosure or free roaming area designed and put together, you will need several additional items to make your iguana’s habitat complete.
Substrates: People often wonder about what type of substrate they should use in their iguana’s enclosure. There are many options, but it is important that you not use any particulate substrates such as wood chips, dirt or sand. Iguanas constantly tongue-flick their environment. This behavior allows them to gather and analyze information about their surroundings. Anything that sticks to the tongue will most likely be ingested, including indigestible substances that can cause impaction of the digestive tract. Acceptable substrate materials include newspaper with non-toxic ink, plain butcher paper, paper towels and pieces of indoor/outdoor carpet. If you use carpet, be sure to fold and tape the edges under to prevent them from unraveling. Loose threads can get caught around your iguana’s toes and can cut off circulation. Also, be sure to have a few extra pieces handy so you can replace soiled pieces during routine cage cleaning. Be wary of particulate substrate products that claim to be “reptile-safe” and digestible if ingested. If your iguana ingests enough of something, or a large enough piece, impaction can result. It’s safer to simply avoid particulate substrates altogether.
One additional thing to consider is protecting the wood floors in large enclosures from spills and other accidents that may soak through carpet or other substrates. One easy way to protect wood floors from moisture and provide a surface that is easy to clean and disinfect is to cover the enclosure floor with vinyl. Vinyl sheets the size of small rooms can be purchased fairly cheaply at many home improvement stores. These can be cut to fit, and either tacked down or glued in place. Non-toxic silicon sealant, such as would be used to seal aquaria, can be used to seal around the edge of the floor, to prevent moisture from getting underneath the vinyl. An even easier way to seal the edges is with rolls of caulkstrip, which is made to go along tubs. Using vinyl on the floor of the enclosure is an easy way to protect wood and provide an easy- to-clean surface.
Covering the shelves and climbing materials in your iguana’s enclosure with indoor/outdoor carpet provides a material for the iguana to get a grip on. Carpets tend to unravel and produce dangerous hanging threads, so it is recommended that you fold the edges under and duct tape them to prevent shredding. Another option is to wrap thick, strong rope around the branches or shelves and glue it in place. This will provide your iguana with a gripping surface to aid in climbing. Keep in mind that you must be able to easily clean the shelves, so materials that can be removed and washed work best.
Gauges: You will need to carefully monitor the conditions in your iguana’s habitat. It is important that you have several well-placed and accurate thermometers to measure temperatures in basking areas and in other areas, as well as gauges to measure humidity.
Food and Water Dishes: You will also need sturdy, easily cleaned food and water dishes that are shallow and easy for your iguana to use. Even though iguanas do not drink often, it is important to always provide them with fresh drinking water.
In addition, you may want to provide your iguana with a shallow tub of water in which it can soak. Many iguanas enjoy soaking, and it not only encourages them to drink, but also aids in shedding. There are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to provide a water tub. First of all, you want something that is large enough for your iguana to climb into and out of without tipping over, but at the same time you do not want something that is so big that your iguana cannot get in and out easily. The tub should be large enough for your iguana to sit comfortably in. Secondly, be sure not to fill the tub too full. Iguanas can drown, even in shallow water. It is recommended that small iguanas not be left unsupervised in a large tub of water. Thirdly, iguanas are predisposed to defecating in water, and, after soaking, will often use their water tub as a toilet. Be prepared for this, and have the means to properly clean and disinfect the tub. this, and have the means to properly clean and disinfect the tub. You must also be prepared to clean the tub as soon as possible after you see that it is soiled.
Hiding Places: Iguanas, especially young ones, need to be able to get away to a place where they feel safe, secure and undisturbed. For small iguanas, a hide log or some other type of hiding place should be provided. There are many different styles of hiding structures available, so you need to choose something that will work well for your iguana in its habitat. Adult iguanas not only have less of a need to hide, but they obviously won’t fit in your average hide box. However, they too occasionally need to “get away” – particularly if their habitat is in a busy spot of the house where activity and noise are frequent. It is sometimes helpful to design a habitat that includes a hiding spot or two, and allows the iguana to relax unobserved.
Should you build or buy a habitat? If you are planning on getting a new habitat for your iguana, then this is going to be a big decision to make…to buy or build. We would like to suggest that building your own is the best way to go. If you have experience with carpentry, electrical work and building things, then this should be a very easy decision. If you have little or no experience, we suggest that you find a friend that does have some experience and tools to help you. Whatever you decide, we can not stress it enough…. learn all you can about what your iguana needs, make sure you provide a LARGE habitat, and if at all possible, try to do it right the first time so you don’t end up building or buying several habitats throughout the life of your iguana.
Size is critical – Most importantly, size will be the most important factor when choosing a habitat. Unfortunately, there are many types of cages and enclosures that are sold as “iguana cages” and chances are, they are far too small to be a permanent home for your iguana. Not only are these cages too small for an adult iguana, they are usually quite affordable. This is yet another form of misinformation about iguana care that leads to many iguanas being kept in inadequate habitats, which will most definitely lead to unhealthy and unhappy iguanas. You may be able to “get by” with a smaller cage, but ultimately, the health and happiness of the iguana will suffer. An iguana in a habitat that is too small will be stressed, which can lead to restlessness, nose rubbing and other injuries that are caused by the iguana trying to get out of a small enclosure. You can also get by with a smaller habitat while the iguana is a juvenile and still growing. Going through several habitats throughout the life of the iguana is normal for most iguana owners. If you do it right the first time and buy or build a habitat that is large enough for an adult iguana, you may spend more money now, but the habitat should last your iguana’s lifetime.
Cost of a good habitat – It will cost a good amount of money for a suitable habitat. Going through several habitats, either built or bought, will become even more expensive than building or buying a LARGE habitat as early as possible. If you’re buying a habitat, be prepared to spend a great deal of money on one that is large enough for an adult iguana. You’ll probably have a very hard time even finding one large enough, and if you do find one that’s big enough, it will be very expensive. Also, most habitats that you buy do not come with light fixtures, switches, dimmers, and other accessories you may need. If you can’t afford to buy a habitat that is large enough for your iguana, then we definitely recommend that you build your own. Building your own can be much more affordable, but it will still be expensive. Depending on the materials you use, you’ll probably end up spending at least $150 (U.S.) building your own. Chances are, you’ll spend more than that, but it will usually cost much less than a pre-built one of the same size and quality.
Building your own habitat – The best part of building your own habitat is that not only will your iguana have what it needs, you can build it exactly how you want it. Once again, you can usually build your own for much less than a pre-built one. Of course, you can also build one that costs much more, but chances are, it will be very nice and well worth the money in the long run. With building your own, you can also make use of exactly the amount of space in your home you’d like to give to your iguana. Many pre-built habitats come in a variety of sizes and colors, but if you build your own, you can make it exactly the size you want, as well as build it to become a decorative and attractive addition to your home.
By: Green Iguana Society
Humidity: Iguanas require high humidity as well as high temperatures in their environments. One of the most common problems seen in captive iguanas is dehydration. Iguanas don’t seem to be programmed to drink very much, perhaps because in their native rainforests there is sufficient humidity in the air and moisture in their food to keep them hydrated. Captive environments tend to be much drier, and with a lack of desire to drink, even if water is made available, many iguanas spend much of their time at least mildly dehydrated. Chronic dehydration taxes the kidneys, and can contribute to kidney failure at fairly young ages. For this reason, it is important to provide your iguana with a humid environment. High humidity also helps loosen shedding skin, which makes the shedding process easier and helps prevent retained shed. Humidity levels in your iguana’s environment should be 65-75%.
It can be difficult to keep the humidity levels in the enclosure at proper levels (between 65-75%). Ways to increase humidity include spritzing the cage and iguana with water several times a day, placing a humidifier in the room where the cage is located, and placing large tubs of water in the enclosure. You can also give your iguana a shower or bath every day to help with moisture availability. This is encouraged for a variety of reasons, including hygiene. An enclosure with plexiglass doors rather than screen would be superior in keeping humidity up, but precautions must be taken to ensure proper ventilation. Humidity levels that are too high can lead to mildew and fungus growth in the enclosure and on your iguana. Be sure not to spray the enclosure too close to the time the lights will turn off at night, because the moisture may sit for too long without the heat to evaporate it.
Another more sophisticated way of providing a humid habitat is to invest in a misting system or ultrasonic fogger. These products can and usually will be very expensive, but if used properly, they can create perfect humidity levels in your iguana’s habitat. Most misting systems are equipped with timers that will allow it to briefly mist the habitat several times per day. Note: Although a misting system or ultrasonic fogger can create perfect humidity in your iguana’s habitat, it can also create too much humidity which can lead to various problems. Such problems may include health risks for your iguana, an increase in bacteria, as well as quickly deteriorating an untreated habitat. Always monitor the humidity levels and always use these products according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Conclusion – There are a variety of enclosure designs that will be equally successful at providing your iguana with what it needs – proper heating, lighting, and humidity. What materials, design and heating/lighting devices you choose to use will depend upon the size of the enclosure or habitat, the placement of the enclosure, the surrounding room temperatures, and so on. As you can see, providing your iguana with the appropriate habitat conditions is quite a challenge. However, it is important to realize that it is necessary to do so. The items discussed above are not just what your iguana wants – they are what it needs to be healthy and happy. Once you are familiar with the conditions you need to provide, the next step is figuring out just how to do that. You’ll need to decide on what type of climbing materials to provide, what type of floor covering, or substrate, to use, and what types of lighting and heating devices will work best for you. There are many options available, and not all are good choices. Some work well for some folks, but won’t be compatible with your enclosure design.
By: Green Iguana Society
One thing that you will hear, over and over again, as you research iguana care, is that “iguanas are not easy care pets”. Why is that? After all, other popular pets, such as dogs, cats, and fish, aren’t nearly so difficult. What is it about iguanas that makes caring for them such hard work? Well, the biggest factor is this: iguanas, like other reptiles and amphibians, are dependent upon their environment for a wide variety of things that easier care pets such as mammals can get from other sources. They get heat from their environment. Their bodies use certain wavelengths of light in the environment to aid in their metabolism and body chemistry. They are very well adapted to their natural environment (warm, fairly humid places), which is usually extremely different from the captive environment in which they find themselves. What this means is that, unless you can create an environment for them that provides these things that they need, they will suffer, become ill, and maybe even die. Understanding your iguana’s needs before you create a habitat for it is very important. Having said that, just what are an iguana’s basic habitat needs?
It is important for new iguana owners to realize that a properly cared for adult iguana will be LARGE – up to 6 feet long! Contrary to the common misconception, they are not limited in size by the size of their enclosure. They will continue to grow throughout their lifetimes – quickly at first, and then slowly as they age. A young iguana will outgrow a 55 gallon aquarium in its first year. Before purchasing an iguana, you must be sure you have the resources and space for a large enclosure, or the ability to provide your iguana with free roaming space that still provides all the habitat necessities.An iguana enclosure should be at least twice the length of the iguana and should be tall. Six feet is the minimum habitat height recommended. Iguanas are arboreal (tree climbing) and feel most comfortable up high. The width of the cage should be at least half your iguana’s length. The bigger the cage, the better off your iguana will be. Not only does an inadequately sized enclosure stress an iguana out, but iguanas that are kept in too-small cages injure themselves fighting the cage. Nose wounds and broken claws indicate that the iguana has been scratching at the cage walls or door or rubbing its nose along the glass or screen, trying to find a way out. Cages that are too small also limit the iguana’s movement and climbing ability. Weakness in the muscles often results from lack of climbing exercise. If you cannot devote a lot of space to a large cage, or provide a lot of free roam space, then you need to consider getting a smaller pet.A baby or juvenile iguana does not need a huge enclosure. In fact, a large aquarium makes a fine habitat for small iguanas. Be aware, however, that iguanas grow very quickly, and they will outgrow a large aquarium by the end of their first year. So, it is important that you plan ahead and have a large enclosure ready. In the meantime, the aquarium must have all the same things as the large enclosure: proper lighting, heating and humidity devices, and climbing materials.
Temperature and Lighting
By: Green Iguana Society
Temperature: Since they are from the tropics and are cold-blooded, iguanas need an enclosure that is kept very warm. You must provide a basking spot that is 90-95ºF, and the ambient air temperature surrounding your iguana should be no lower than 80ºF during the day. Inadequately warm temperatures prevent iguanas from properly digesting their food and absorbing nutrients. Growth is stunted and malnutrition results. In addition, an iguana that is kept too cool will be uncomfortable and inactive. Within the habitat, a range of temperatures should be provided so that your iguana can regulate its body temperature by moving back and forth between cooler and warmer areas. Like all other animals, iguanas must have a day/night cycle. This means that you must provide heat at night without the use of lights.
Lighting: Iguanas must have a source of UVA and UVB light! UVA stimulates natural behaviors by providing a component of natural sunlight. UVB is important to iguanas for another reason. Without it, their bodies cannot manufacture vitamin D3 or properly metabolize calcium. Iguanas that are deprived of proper UV lighting suffer from a disease called Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which is unfortunately very common in captive iguanas. MBD causes weak bones, jaw and bone deformities and early death.
The absolute best source of UV light is the sun. Allowing your iguana to bask in the sun on a regular basis will provide it with large amounts of natural UV light. The general rule of thumb is – the more real sun your iguana has access to, the better. One thing to be aware of is that glass and plastic filter out the UV components of sunlight. It is for this reason that you cannot just set your iguana in front of a closed window in the sun. The window glass filters out most of the UV light, so your iguana will not benefit from such sunbathing in terms of vitamin D3 production (although he might enjoy this (in)activity immensely).
An additional source of UV light is special fluorescent UV bulbs available in pet stores that sell reptile supplies. Some people feel that if daily doses of real, unfiltered sunlight can be obtained on most days, then the use of artificial UV light bulbs in the iguana’s enclosure is not necessary. However, The Green Iguana Society strongly recommends the use of artificial UV in addition to as much basking time in the sun as possible, to ensure that your iguana gets adequate amounts of UV. The effectiveness of real sunlight to stimulate iguanas to produce vitamin D3 varies with the time of year and latitude of your location. Therefore, the additional use of artificial UV lights acts as a safety net – especially in cool, cloudy and/or northern climates.
Heat/Lighting – Iguanas need an enclosure or habitat that is kept very warm. Temperatures under basking lights should be in the low to middle 90’s (Fahrenheit), and the ambient air temperature surrounding your iguana should be no lower than 80ºF. Within the cage, a range of temperatures should be provided so that your iguana can regulate its body temperature by moving back and forth between cooler and warmer areas. Daytime heat is best provided with incandescent light bulbs.
Hot rocks are not recommended for iguanas! Not only are hot rocks inadequate in providing heat, but they are dangerous. There have been numerous cases of iguanas obtaining serious burns from hot rocks. Heat and light should come from above, since in the wild iguanas bask in the sunlight. Ordinary incandescent light bulbs work great to provide both heat and light. You do not need to purchase expensive “basking bulbs” from the pet store. These are no different than ordinary bulbs. What wattage of bulbs you will need depends upon the ambient air temperature of the room and the size of the enclosure or basking area. Do not guess when it comes to temperature! It is imperative that you install a few good, reliable thermometers at various places in the enclosure to give you an accurate temperature readout. You can also hook up dimmer switches to your lights, which will allow for minute temperature adjustment.
Hooded clamp fixtures work well for basking lights, come in a variety of sizes and can be positioned in various ways within an enclosure. Be sure to use fixtures that are designed to accommodate the bulb wattage you are using. If you are using high wattage bulbs (150-250W), you must use a fixture with a ceramic socket to prevent fire hazard. Be sure to place the fixtures in such a position that your iguana cannot climb on or touch them. If you place the fixtures inside the enclosure, it is a good idea to add a wire “bulb guard”, such as you see in the photo below, to prevent your iguana from coming into direct contact with hot bulbs. Bulb guards can be made from hardware cloth or other safe types of wire. If you have a smaller iguana that is likely to climb up on and/or cling to the light fixtures, consider placing the fixtures outside of the enclosure.
Nighttime heat – Like all other animals, iguanas must have a day/night cycle. We recommend a 12:12 or a 13:11 cycle. This means that you must shut your iguana’s lights off at night for 12 or 13 hours, or better yet, have them on a timer that turns them off at night and on again in the morning so you do not have to remember to do it. This allows the iguana to regulate behaviors and rest peacefully when necessary. Not providing a day/night light cycle can stress an iguana, causing behavioral changes such as feeding, pooping and unnecessary aggression. Iguanas can and should have cooler temperatures at night, but they still need ambient air temperatures to fall no lower than 75-78ºF. How then, do you provide heat at night, if you use light bulbs to heat the enclosure? There are a few methods of providing nighttime heat. One of the best is to use Ceramic Heat Emitters (CHEs), which screw into an incandescent light fixture and give off only heat, not light. These are available in different wattages. It is possible to have a set up where the lights come on in the morning and turn off at night, and the CHEs come on at night and turn off in the morning. Another possibility is to use a low wattage CHE 24 hours a day in addition to the daytime lights. Since iguanas can and should have cooler temperatures at night, a CHE of the appropriate wattage should provide adequate nighttime warmth.
A word of caution about CHEs – they get very hot and can be fire hazards and/or dangerous to your iguana if not used correctly. Be sure to use them only in fixtures with porcelain or ceramic sockets, and keep them away from dry wood or fabrics that are flammable. Be sure to place them in a way that will not allow your iguana to come in contact with them, because their surfaces get very hot and can cause severe burns. Use only the appropriate extension cords that can handle the amount of wattage you plan to plug into them. A CHE can be an efficient and safe source of heat for your iguana, but only if you use them properly. Be sure to read all of the directions and cautionary statements supplied by the manufacturer. Be safe, use your common sense, and above all, be careful – not only with CHEs, but with other heating and lighting devices as well.
In addition to CHEs, there are other methods of providing nighttime heat, such as letting your iguana sleep on a human heating pad wrapped in a soft towel. It can be dangerous to use heating pads for long time periods unsupervised, so CHEs are probably the better way to go.Some people use nighttime blue or red light bulbs to provide warmth at night. Some iguanas do not mind this at all, while others are bothered by the light and have trouble sleeping. You may want to watch your iguana carefully for signs of stress if you decide to try these nighttime bulbs.
In addition to these heating methods, many herp supply stores carry items such as “pig blankets”, radiant heat panels, and heat tape, which may be appropriate nighttime heat sources for your iguana’s enclosure. It is a good idea to explore all options to help you decide what will work the best for you.
UV Light – Iguanas require a source of UV radiation, specifically UVA and UVB. UVA is used by the iguana, just like humans, for a general sense of well-being. UVA is necessary to keep the Iguana happy and feeling good. UVA is easily supplied to your iguana through window glass or your standard room lighting. Providing a source of UVA like window exposure or room lighting will satisfy the UVA requirements for your iguana.
UVB is the tougher of the two to supply. There are many fallacies concerning UVB sources and it is very important that you know quite a bit about it and how it works. Being a diurnal creature (awake in the daytime), iguanas are basking reptiles that require a strong source of UVB (in a very specific range) in order to properly synthesize Vitamin-D, which allows them to absorb calcium from their digested foods. Without proper calcium metabolism, the iguana’s system will begin to use calcium from the bone structure in order to satisfy the requirements that keep their nervous system functioning properly. This leeching of calcium from the bones weakens them over time and causes a serious and often fatal set of illnesses including nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, fibrous osteodystrophy, rickets, osteomalacia, and metastatic mineralization, all relating to the common term Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
Remember – the absolute best source of UV light is the sun. When using natural sun exposure be sure to follow these guidelines:
- UVB from natural sunlight is filtered out by most window glass and significantly reduced by obstructions like screen or mesh.
- Preferably the ambient temperatures outside should be close to optimal. Do not leave your iguana outside if temperatures are lower than 80 degree and higher than 100 degrees.
- Be sure your iguana is secure in its outside basking location, preferably a basking cage. Unprotected or unsecured iguanas can fall prey to birds and other wildlife or run off and are rarely ever found again. You should supervise the iguana while outside until you are sure there is no possible way him it to get harmed, injured or escape.
- Be sure to provide plenty of shade for the iguana while outdoors. Iguanas need to thermo-regulate to protect against excessive heat. Half of the basking cage should be sunny, the other half well shaded, allowing the iguana to move from sun to shade at will.
- Be sure to provide a good source of water during the basking time. Iguanas can quickly dehydrate and will need access to clean water at all times while outdoors.
- Provided there is a shaded area, the iguana will stay at a comfortable temperature and the amount of sun exposure will be determined by the iguana. As little as an hour a day will provide the iguana with all the UVB it requires.
- The use of artificial UV bulbs or lamps in your iguana’s basking area is strongly recommended – especially if you live in an area where your iguana cannot bask in the sun every day. UVB lamps are a hotly debated topic and the better educated you are, the better off your iguana will be. It is important to remember that not all UV lamps are created equal! In this regard the old adage, “Let the Buyer Beware” is very pertinent. Many ill-advised or unscrupulous companies will advertise that their lamps provide the proper levels of UVA and UVB for basking reptiles. While these lamps can provide a source of useable UVB, they vary greatly on the amount and how long it will last.
- There are currently two types widely available of lamps that will emit enough UVB light to be beneficial to your iguana: Fluorescent tubes and Mercury Vapor lamps. Both of these types of UV lights can be purchased at pet stores.
By far the most widely used and accessible type of UV bulb or lamp is the fluorescent tube. Just like natural sunlight, these tubes need to be set up and used responsibly in order to provide your iguana with the life-sustaining amount of UVB it needs to live a long, happy and healthy life. Several brands of fluorescent UVB lights are available, but not all brands are of equal quality. The Green Iguana Society recommends the ZooMed Iguana Light 5.0 (also called Reptisun 5.0). This bulb has been on the market for some time and has been shown through studies to provide large enough amounts of UV light to keep your iguana healthy. We recommend that you mount two ZooMed 5.0 bulbs in a high-quality fluorescent fixture to get the best results. Ordinary “full-spectrum” fluorescent bulbs (such as plant-grow bulbs) do not produce adequate amounts UVB! Only bulbs especially made for reptiles do. When selecting a fluorescent lighting solution, please be sure to choose one that is specifically made for basking reptiles and all is rated for high UVB emissions.
There are several factors that are important to remember when setting up fluorescent lamps:
- The fixture should be no more than 12” from the basking spot where they iguana spends its time basking. UV wavelengths only travels up to 15″ or so from the bulb, so if your iguana sits any further away than 12-15″, it will not get the benefit of the UV light.
- Light, heat and ambient air temperatures should all be balanced and monitored to ensure a safe environment for your iguana.
- Tube output should be periodically tested using a Solarmeter 6.2 Spectral radiometer. For more information about the Solarmeter 6.2, see http://www.reptileuv.com/uvmeter62.htm.
- Without a meter, it is best to replace the tubes every six-nine months because after this time, the UV degrades to the point that it is no longer useful, although the bulb still produces visible light. One bulb changing schedule that works well is to put fresh bulbs in around the time when real sunlight basking time is becoming scarce, such as in the fall for those that live in northern climates. The bulbs are then at their full strength when your iguana is relying more heavily on the artificial UV source. Then, when the bulbs’ UV output in dwindling in the spring and summer, your iguana is getting plenty of access to real sunlight.
- Multiple tubes may be necessary to emit the proper levels of UVB.
- The ballast contained in your fixture may affect the UVB output. High-quality fixtures with an electronic ballast will get the best performance out of an UVB tube.
- There can be no obstruction of the light emitted from the fluorescent tubes. This means that no glass or plastic cover or shield should be used. The light must go directly from the tube to the iguana. Glass and plastic filter out UVB wavelengths.
MERCURY VAPOR LAMPS
Mercury Vapor lamps (bulbs) are a newer way to provide your iguana with UVB rays. Mercury Vapor (MV) bulbs screw into an ordinary light fixture like an incandescent bulb. MV reptile lighting technology has advanced by leaps and bounds recently and is now a cost-effective, viable solution for an artificial UVB source, and in some cases is even better than fluorescents. MV lamps produce up to three-times more UVB in the 290-300 nanometer range (D-UV, the most beneficial to the iguana) of the total UVB output than tube-style bulbs. There has been great debate over the safety and usefulness of this type of lighting source. As the technology continues to advance, manufacturers are beginning to address safety concerns and stability and significantly decrease the “hazards” of mercury vapor lamp use.
It is important to realize that there are two types of MV bulbs: those with an internal ballast, and those with an external ballast. Although both give off high amounts of UVB, these two types of bulbs are actually quite different in their properties. The internally-ballasted bulbs are the type more commonly sold at pet stores and include brands such as Mega-Ray, T-Rex Spots and ZooMed Powersuns. Internally-ballasted MV bulbs give off heat as well as UVB. In this way they are convenient because you can provide your iguana with both heat and UVB from one bulb in one fixture. However, the internally-ballasted bulbs have a high failure rate, regardless of the bulb brand. Because the bulb gets so hot, the fragile filament breaks easily if the bulb is jiggled while it is on. The externally-ballasted bulbs are not as easy to find, but they are sturdier and have a much lower failure rate than the internally-ballasted bulbs. This is because they do not give off much heat, so the filament does not get as hot. In this way, the externally-ballasted MV bulbs are more similar to the traditional fluorescent tube, and therefore additional, separate heat bulbs must be used in the enclosure.
Based on current research, the Green Iguana Society strongly recommends the Mega-Ray MV bulb by Westron lighting/Mac Industries. Of the different types of mercury-vapor UVB bulbs available, the Mega-ray consistently gives off high amounts of UVB and has a lower UVB decay rate than other bulb brands. In addition, externally-ballasted Mega-rays are also available.
As with any lighting solution, there are several guidelines that must be followed when using any type of MV bulbs:
- Set up your MV lamp according to manufacturer’s guidelines and instructions concerning placement and distances.
- Closely monitor the iguana and enclosure to ensure proper temps are maintained.
- Be mindful of the bulb’s direction and placement in a room so as to minimize the exposure to humans. Because they produce high UVB levels, treat a MV lamp like natural sunlight. Excessive and prolonged direct exposure by humans is not desirable.
- Monitor the UVB output using a Spectral Radiometer (UVB meter). Strong MV lamps should only be used in conjunction with a radiometer to measure UVB output on a regular basis.
- As with fluorescents, there should be no obstruction of light between the lamp and the iguana.
Taking Care of Your Iguana
Feeding Your Iguana
By: Green Iguana Society
The highly debated topic of iguana diets. With the increased popularity of pet iguanas and the fact that there is still much to be learned about them, diets as well as many other aspects will constantly be debated and discussed. Instead of providing a specific diet or listings of foods that must be fed, the Green Iguana Society would like to provide listings of foods that may be fed, foods that have been known to be dangerous, and leave it up to the iguana owner to decide which foods should be fed. We realize every iguana is different and every iguana owner is just as different, so instead of continuing a debate on diets, we would like to state that these are only our recommendations of foods that can be chosen as a part of a complete and healthy diet. Basically, we want to provide as many facts that are known about certain foods and methods, and hope that each person will plan their own iguana diet based on the information we provide.
Iguanas are strict herbivores. Although many iguana care books and a few people still recommend iguanas be fed insects and other animal protein based foods, the Green Iguana Society would like to stress that iguanas are strict herbivores (plant eating only). The myth that iguanas in the wild have been seen eating insects can be explained in a number of ways, but the fact is that they usually only eat insects in the wild by accident along with a piece of vegetable matter or by necessity when no other foods are available. Since iguana owners have complete control of their pet’s diet, the Green Iguana Society recommends that insects and other foods containing animal protein should be avoided as much as possible, if not completely.
How iguanas eat and drink.Iguanas have many small teeth which they rip and tear their food with, instead of chewing it. Usually, they will take large bites and swallow their food whole and occassionally they will just tongue-flick their food into their mouths. When they drink water, which is usually only occasionally, they will dip a large portion of their head into the water, lapping up the water under the surface or sometimes they may even lick water droplets off of plants and other misted surfaces.
The importance of providing fresh food and water. Obviously, the most important thing needed in the caring for a green iguana is providing fresh food and water. Fresh water should always be available and when feeding, only fresh food should be provided. Dirty water and/or spoiled food can lead to serious health problems, as well as provide a very unsanitary environment.
How often should an iguana be fed? Feeding an iguana daily is recommended. Many books and people recommend feeding an adult iguana every other day or every few days, but the Green Iguana Society definitely recommends that all iguanas should be fed every single day. One meal, two meals, three meals or more is fine, just as long as it’s every single day and that the iguana is being fed enough to stay healthy.
How much should an iguana be fed? Depending on the size and age of the iguana, appetites will vary. An iguana can not be overfed. Basically, it’s a good idea to feed it until it won’t eat anymore. The owner will be able to tell how much food is enough after spending some time with it, getting to know how and how much it eats. If the iguana has eaten and it’s apparent that it is done for that sitting, it’s a good idea to remove any uneaten food as soon as possible, to assure that it won’t eat any spoiled or rotten food and to maintain a clean area for it to live in. This will also help keep it on a regular feeding schedule.
What times should an iguana be fed? Usually, it’s a good idea to feed an iguana early in the morning. A half an hour to an hour after it’s awake is a good time. Providing food in the morning allows it to properly digest its food with the aid of proper daytime temperatures. Feeding more food later in the day is fine, but it’s generally not a good idea to feed an iguana the bulk of its daily food before it goes to sleep. It can also be a good practice to feed at the same times every day. An iguana that is in a routine of eating at the same time every day will also be in the routine of defecating at the same time as well. This can be important in order to establish good litter box or even toilet training.
Food and water bowls. Food should be provided in a shallow bowl of some type. Bowls or dishes that are made of ceramic, glass or plastic, if cleaned regularly, will work perfectly. Iguanas tend to dig at their food and sometimes walk or climb into the bowl. Using a bowl that will not be easily tipped over is a necessity. It can also be a good idea to use disposable food dishes. Disposable shallow dishes can be found at various stores and can be affordable and extremely clean as well. When providing food and water, it’s very important to consider the importance of where the food and water will be in the habitat. The food bowls should be placed in an area away from the bottom of the habitat (if possible), to prevent any problems with accidentally eating any substrate material as well as keeping it away from any fecal matter, which may lead to various health problems. Water bowls are best utilized when more than one is provided. Water bowls placed in the bottom of the habitat can and usually will be used as a place to defecate. If this happens on a regular basis (whether intentional or not), it’s very imporant to provide another source of clean water. The size of the water bowls that are provided to be used as drinking water should be small enough that they will not be able to climb into the bowl.
Train your iguana to drink more water! Iguanas will usually drink water from a bowl or other container. You may not see it drink the water, but most generally it is drinking some amount of water. If you want to make sure that your iguana is drinking plenty of water, you can also train your iguana to drink more. A good way of training your iguana to do this is by placing a treat or other piece of food in its drinking bowl each day. A large piece of collard or mustard greens or other food that your iguana likes should work fine. When your iguana eats the treat, it will most definitely take in a lot of water and hopefully have a drink of it. If your iguana takes to eating the treat, gradually reduce the size of the treat every day for a few weeks to even a few months. The more time you spend training it to drink the water, the more likely it will keep up the good habit of drinking lots of water. By the end of the training period, you should simply be offering a fresh bowl of water to your iguana each day. Even if you see your iguana drink water, training it to drink as much as possible each day can help your iguana stay healthy and is highly recommended.
Spraying food with water. Another very good way of making sure your iguana is getting plenty of water in its diet is by spraying its food with water. This can be done by simply spraying water on the food with a spray bottle. Spraying the food with water can be done on a regular basis or just in times when you think its not getting enough water with the types of food you’re providing in that particular feeding. Once again, make sure you remove any uneaten food as soon as possible, to assure that it won’t eat any spoiled or rotten food.
Importance of proper temperature. No matter how good the diet is, if the proper temperatures in the habitat are not reached, the iguana will not fully digest the food it eats. After the iguana eats, temperatures of at least 85° are needed to properly digest the food.
Variety, variety, variety! Providing a wide variety of good quality foods is the key to a good diet. Iguanas in the wild are known to eat a large variety of plants and fruits, and iguanas in captivity should have the same opportunity. Besides, no one likes to eat the same foods all the time, and your pet iguana should be no different. Over time, you’ll figure out its favorites and you can supply these more frequently, as long as the diet remains well balanced.
The importance of the calcium to phosphorus ratio. An iguana absolutely needs strong, healthy bones in order to stay healthy. One of the most important factors in providing a well balanced diet is maintaining a calcium to phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio of about 2 to 1. This is critical in order for the bones to properly grow and remain strong. Some foods are high in calcium and low in phosphorus, while others are low in calcium and high in phosphorus. Both types can be good additions to the diet, just as long as the total overall diet has at least a 2 to 1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. One word of caution about the calcium to phosphorus ratio: Many people get so caught up in making sure the Ca:P is 2:1, they end up feeding their iguanas the same diet with very little variety in some foods that may improve the overall diet. This is just another reminder that the most important part of feeding an iguana is to provide a wide variety of the “good foods”, while maintaining an overall calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2 to 1.
How sunlight and UV rays are needed to help with a proper diet. Along with proper diet and temperature, proper lighting and exposure to natural sunlight will most definitely help in utilizing the calcium provided in the iguanas diet. Iguanas produce vitamin D3 when they are exposed to proper amounts of UVB rays and vitamin D3 is needed in order for the calcium to be absorbed. This may sound a bit confusing, but as long as the proper amount of quality UVB lighting and sunlight is provided, vitamin D3 should be produced and the calcium in the diet will be fully utilized.
The good foods
The following is a table of good foods in six different catagories: greens, other vegetables, fruits, grain-based foods, supplemental proteins, and other occasional foods. Based on several other very popular diet recommendations, the Green Iguana Society’s recommends the following percentages. We hope that iguana owners will develop their own diets based on the information we’re providing. Once again, using a variety of these foods as the main portion of the diet, along with a variety of other vegetables on occasion and in moderation, is the key to providing a good, well-balanced, healthy diet. On occasion and in moderation means that you should only provide those foods as a small part of a meal or a group of meals, every few months. A food that is recommended only on occasion and in moderation can also be an acceptable snack or treat, but only occasionally. These are only a few of the best foods and there are many other foods that are also very good parts of a diet…
Collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens (with flowers), escarole, water cress.
Other vegetables (40-45%)
Green beans, orange-fleshed squashes (butternut, Kabocha), snap or snow peas, parsnip, asparagus, okra, alfalfa (mature, not sprouts), onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet potato, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots.
Fruits (10% or less)
Figs (raw or dried), blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, mango, melon (cantelope, honeydew, watermelon), papaya, banana, apple.
Grain-based foods (less than 5%)
Cooked rice or pasta, whole wheat bread (makes for a great treat)
Supplemental protein (less than 5%)
Alfalfa pellets (rabbit food) or recommended commercial diets (see below).
Other occasional foods (less than 5%)
See below for lists of foods that should not be fed in excess, but can still be an excellent way to provide variety and fun. Mixing in other foods on occasion is recommended.
Oxalates and phytates. Many foods contain oxalates and phytates. It has been proven that they sometimes bind to calcium, inhibiting it from being properly used by the body. It’s not a fact that this is true in iguanas, but better safe than sorry is always a good practice in iguana care. Below is a list of foods that contain oxalates or phytates and should only be fed occasionally.
Foods that contain oxalates or phytates to be fed only on occasion and in moderation:
Spinach, beets, beet greens, swiss chard, dock, sorrel, whole grains, celery stalk, kale, carrot tops.
Cruciferous foods and goitrogens. Many foods contain goitrogens. Goitrogens are substances that has been shown to bind iodine. This may lead to hypothyroidism. The foods that usually contain goitrogens are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables. These foods can be fed on occasion along with a balanced diet that will compensate for the effects of the goitrogens, but only occasionally and not in excess. The following is a list of cruciferous vegetables that contain goitrogens.
Cruciferous vegetables and other foods that contain goitrogens to be fed only on occasion and in moderation:
Kale, brocolli, cabbage, bok-choi, turnips, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rutabaga, tofu.
Foods to Avoid
Insects, worms, mice, pinky mice
Animal protein, not a natural food.
Dairy products (milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.)
Dairy products are intended for mammals, not reptiles.
Animal protein, very high in phosphorus and fat.
Dog food, cat food, monkey biscuits, monkey chow and other pet food
Animal protein, intended for dogs, cats and monkeys. Sometimes high in fat content.
NEVER FEED! We do not recommend these because of the animal protein they contain. Some still recommend that they are okay on occasion, but we do not agree.
Meat (beef, chicken, etc.)
Animal protein, not a natural food, intended for carnivores…not herbivores.
Poisonous and should never be fed to iguanas.
Lettuce (iceberg, romaine, Boston, butter)
Lettuces are a common staple of many malnutrioned iguanas, most lettuces (especially head lettuce) are very low in nutritional value.
OCCASIONALLY is fine, but there are many better foods to provide instead. Romaine lettuce is the better of all the lettuces, but still lacks adequate amounts of nutritional value.
Wild plants and flowers
Possibility of being contaminated with herbicides and pesticides, could be a toxic plant
OCCASIONALLY is fine – ONLY if there is absolutely no chance of being contaminated or toxic. Very risky and not at all recommended.
Acidic foods (citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, limes, kiwi fruit, lemons, pineapple; and tomatoes)
Some iguanas may not like eating acidic foods and it may be likely that the iguana can not properly break down the acid in the food, not a natural food choice.
OCCASIONALLY is fine, only if the iguana doesn’t have any negative reactions to it. Some people offer these foods for more variety and color.
Although high in plant protein, tofu is very high in fat. Also contains goitrogens.
OCCASIONALLY is fine, but in excess, can lead to serious health risks.
Hand feeding. Feeding an iguana by hand can be a very good thing to help tame an iguana. It can also turn into a very bad habit. We suggest that you feed your iguana by hand from time to time, but don’t do it all the time or your iguana may not want to eat any other way. Also, it’s very important to be extremely cautious when feeding by hand, especially with large iguanas. Even iguanas that never attempt to bite their owners can have accidents and serious injury may result if you aren’t careful and paying very close attention when hand feeding your iguana.
Handling and Taming Your Iguana
By: Green Iguana Society
One of the most challenging aspects of iguana ownership is taming your iguana. Iguanas are not domesticated animals the way dogs and cats are – that is, they have not been bred in captivity for many years to breed out traits that are unsuitable in captivity. Iguanas still have all the instincts and behaviors that help them survive in the wild, and that means that you should expect it to take some time before your iguana becomes comfortable and tame. In addition, it is important that you continue to work with and handle your iguana in a positive way on a daily basis, or it will tend to revert back to its wild behaviors again. Iguanas that are not handled properly and with care will never tame down well, because they will associate handling with fear or discomfort. Therefore, it is important that you learn how to handle your iguana safely and comfortably.
Picking them up:When you handle your baby iguana, you should always remember that it will be much more squirmy than an adult iguana. Generally, a healthy baby green iguana is active and jumpy, although there are the few individuals who have always acted calmly.
It is important that you handle a baby iguana daily. Until you are certain that the iguana won’t jump off, run away, and possibly get stuck somewhere, handle the iguana in a small iguana proof room, such as a bathroom. Wedge a towel under the door so the iguana can’t squeeze under it, make sure the toilet seat is down, and if the garbage can has a plastic bag or edible things in it, place it in the vanity or put it outside the door.
Probably one of the worst things to do with a young, untamed iguana is to just reach in and grab it. Always remember to go slowly and gently. When approaching your iguana, do so calmly. Talking gently or whispering may help. Gently stroke the iguana along its body and the top of its head. Slip one hand under its front feet, and kind of scoop up the iguana with your other hand. Make sure the iguana is situated solidly in one hand before you actually lift it; with a new baby iguana don’t scoop and lift at the same time as this might frighten it. One important thing to remember is to never pick up or grab an iguana by the tail. The tail will break off as a defense mechanism. Although the tail will probably grow back, the breaking process will be traumatic for both you and your iguana.
Holding them: You can support a small iguana’s entire body, or close to it, with one hand. The front end of the iguana will be supported by your fingers, while the back end is supported by the palm of your hand. With untamed, skittish babies, you may want to keep your other hand cupped loosely over their body to prevent them from scampering away when you least expect it. Once you’ve picked up the iguana as described above and carried it to the iguana-proof room, you can allow your iguana to lay on your arm, walk up and down you, etc. As with adult iguanas, early morning or late evening can be an ideal time to handle the baby, as it may be more docile while sleepy.
Provide support, be gentle, don’t grab. Those are the three things you should remember while handling a baby iguana.
Picking them up: Bluntly put, adult iguanas can be a pain to pick up. Their instinct is to hang onto whatever they’re currently resting on as tightly as possible when they see you reaching for them. For this reason, it is important that you pick your adult up slowly and gently. Do not quickly yank it off of its perch without first loosening the grip of each of its feet. Doing so risks yanking out claws or otherwise hurting your iguana. This step can be a bit tricky. If you take too long with it, your iguana has gotten a good grip again with the first feet you loosened by the time you loosen the last one! After a bit of practice, you will be able to swiftly loosen your iguana’s grip and gently pick it up.
To actually pick your iguana up, approach it from the side so that it can see you coming. Use one hand to loosen the grip of the front feet while at the same time, use your other hand to loosen the grip of the back feet. Once your iguana’s grip is loosened, slip one hand under the front shoulders and the other under the back legs and lift your iguana off its perch. Be mindful of the long tail, and be sure you don’t bend it or whap it on something as you maneuver your iguana around.
Holding them: As is true with babies, adult iguanas must be held in a way that comfortably supports their weight. There are a couple of ways you can hold an adult, depending upon its size and temperament.
For a calm adult, you can carry and hold it by slipping your hand under the front shoulders and supporting the body with your forearm. Your hand supports the shoulders, and the front legs dangle down comfortably in between your fingers. Your iguana will probably get a good grip on your arm with its back legs. If your iguana is calm and still, you can keep your grip relaxed, but can quickly tighten your fingers around the front shoulders should the need arise.
Sometimes your iguana absolutely does not want to be held. It will “voice” its displeasure at your handling attempts in a variety of ways – quickly expelling air through its nose to make a displeased huffing noise, giving you the evil eye, swatting your hand away as you reach for it, or squirming and/or crocodile rolling when you finally get it picked up. Of course you cannot let your iguana get away with this behavior all the time, or it will “train” you to leave it alone and it will never become tame and easily handled. It is okay to occasionally decline to handle your iguana when it asks you to, but don’t make a habit of it. In addition to causing problems later, there are situation where you need to pick up and handle your iguana, whether it wants you to or not. For instance, your iguana may be out and needs to be returned to its enclosure. You may need to carry it to the tub, outside to its basking cage, or hold it at the vet’s office or while you trim its claws or administer medication. If your iguana is not being cooperative and is hard to handle, you might try the “taco iguana” method of handling. If your wrap your iguana fairly tightly in a towel, you can control scratching claws and flailing tail. This method also allows you to un-tuck one arm at a time, trim claws, tuck that arm back in the towel, and repeat the process until all the claws are trimmed, for instance.
As time goes by, you and your iguana will become comfortable with one another, and you will find the handling method that works the best for the two of you. The key is to continue to handle your iguana in a way that is, if not wonderfully pleasant for it, not unpleasant, so that it learns not to fear being picked up and held. Once you fall into a handling routine, you and your iguana will be able to enjoy each other’s company a lot more.
Why taming and training is important – Taming and training an iguana that is generally a house pet is necessary if any human contact with the iguana is planned. Unless the iguana is given a huge environment, much like its natural rainforest, human contact is inevitable and some type of training and taming should be done. Green iguanas are wild animals. They are very capable of being aggressive and sometimes extremely dangerous. Taming and training can help control some of this type of unwanted behavior. Most iguanas will respond to taming and training, but there are definitely iguanas that will not respond and remain very wild and aggressive. Iguanas that are not trained or tamed in any way may remain wild and may not be very pleasant or even safe to keep as a house pet. The Green Iguana Society recommends that all iguana owners attempt in some way to train and tame iguanas that are kept as house pets, especially in a family environment.
Acclimate – To get used to something, to feel comfortable about, to become accustomed to.
Whether you have a new baby iguana, a new older iguana, or you have had an iguana that has yet to become tame, you will need to acclimate it if you plan on keeping it as a pet. Some people prefer not to tame their iguanas. Many people have trouble with their “wild” pet iguanas, so we hope to provide some help with turning their wild iguanas into pet iguanas. There are many different approaches and methods people use to tame and train their iguanas. We’re not saying that these are the ways you must tame and train your iguana. These are only some recommendations, and other methods may be more helpful to you. We simply hope to provide you with some advice and help with dealing with many common problems that are experienced while taming an iguana.
Why acclimation is important – If you plan on keeping your iguana as a pet and plan on handling it, it’s important to let your iguana get comfortable with its habitat, your home and most importantly, you. A new iguana and one that is not properly acclimated has to deal with a great amount of stress. Too much stress not only makes acclimation more difficult, it also can put strain on your iguana’s health. Your iguana will need to slowly adjust to everything. This is the most important part of acclimating your iguana…go slow! Take your time and absolutely do not rush it. Most people that get a new pet will want to play with it, show it off, and basically, enjoy having a new pet. Sometimes with iguanas, it’s just not that easy. Take your time, make sure your iguana has properly adjusted to everything, and the days of playing with your iguana, showing it off and basically, enjoying your new pet will be here eventually. As strange as it may sound, the longer you take to acclimate your iguana, the quicker it will happen.
Dealing with stress – Stress can be high for an iguana during any type of training or taming session. Signs of stress include but are not limited to wildly running away, hiding, loss of appetite, sudden darkening of its skin, erratic defecation, signs of sickness and changes in its sleeping pattern. When an iguana owner begins to see signs of stress during a taming or training session, we recommend that the session be stopped and the iguana should immediately be given a secluded, private and safe place to hide and get away from whatever it may feel is a threat to its life. As for the stress the human may experience, taking the training or taming slow and trying to have as much patience as possible is the best way to deal with it.
Be patient – Acclimating and taming your iguana may take some time. It may take a week or it may even take up to a year before your iguana is comfortable with you and its home. There is no set time frame on how long it takes to get an iguana to become acclimated and tame. Many iguana owners have had the good fortune of practically bringing home an already very tame and well adjusted iguana. Others have struggled with the entire taming process. Every iguana is unique, all have different personalities, and some simply take longer than others.
Make sure your iguana has a habitat that is set up properly – The first and probably the most important step to properly acclimating your iguana is to make sure you have a properly set up habitat. Although you should already have the habitat set up properly, it’s a good idea to go back and make sure you’ve done everything right. Some things that aren’t done properly when it comes to setting up a habitat can cause problems with acclimation. Improper temperatures can cause your iguana to be stressed. Too hot or too cold in certain areas of the habitat can also create habits where your iguana will not want go to certain areas. This can lead to an iguana that constantly hides, not to mention the health risks. Proper lighting is also very important. As always, we definitely recommend that you provide proper lighting, but not only can improper lighting cause health problems, it can also make your iguana nearly impossible to acclimate and tame. You also want to provide a place for your iguana to hide. This can be a box, an attractive looking cave (not a heated one) or any other type of place inside the habitat where your iguana can hide if needed.
Give your iguana time to adjust – Assuming that you have properly set up your iguana’s habitat, it’s now time to give your iguana time to adjust to being in the habitat. If at all possible, the habitat should be placed in an area where there is very little activity. Try to find a somewhat private place where your iguana will be able to comfortably roam around inside the habitat without fearing people walking by, people or kids trying to see the iguana, other pets, or other distractions. This doesn’t have to be the permanent location of the habitat. Having it in a secluded area of the house where there isn’t a lot of activity is definitely recommended. If possible, you can move the habitat to a more permanent location later in the acclimation process. During this adjustment period, the only contact between you and the iguana should be the very short time you spend putting fresh food and water in daily and cleaning the habitat. Make sure during the entire acclimation process that you always provide fresh food and water and continue to properly clean the habitat. When you do provide food and water and clean the habitat during this time, make sure that you move very slowly. Cleaning during this time does not have to be totally thorough, but you should make your best effort without disturbing the iguana. Removing waste as soon as possible is always recommended, and more thorough cleaning during this time can easily be done while the iguana is hiding in a hide box. During the adjustment time, you may notice some things that may concern you. Your iguana may show some loss of appetite and it may want to hide in its hide box literally all the time. At first, place the iguana’s food on the opposite side of the habitat from its hide box. This should force your iguana to come out to eat. If you notice your iguana is not eating at all or hiding in the box, not even to come out to eat, simply place the food closer to the hide box. Don’t place the food inside the hide box. You can easily place it near the entrance to the hide box and slowly move it a little further away each time. You may find that over time your iguana rarely, if ever, comes out of its hide box. This is quite normal and as long as it’s eating, defecating regularly, and remains somewhat active, you don’t need to worry too much. Basically, during this time it’s important to not disturb your iguana, have very little contact, provide fresh food and water every day, and clean it’s cage when needed. If you are new to iguana care, now that you have some time letting your iguana adjust, it is a very good time to start reading as much as you can about iguana care.
Give your iguana time to adjust without the hide box – A hide box is a very good place for your iguana to hide and be comfortable, but it can also be a place for it to hide so much that it will take longer than normal to acclimate. This is somewhat of a debatable subject as to whether or not you should remove the hide box during acclimation. It’s now time to decide whether or not you want to remove the hide box. Removing the hide box can cause more stress, but leaving it in the habitat and allowing the iguana to hide too much can make for a very long and agonizing acclimation process. So, at this time you’ll need to decide how much your iguana has relied on having that hide box. If you feel like it’s been in the hide box for more than half of the time, you may want to try to remove the box all together. You’ll then want to leave your iguana alone while it gets comfortable living without a hide box. You can also return the hide box occasionally during this time, if you feel your iguana is overly stressed without it. You can always provide a hide box later on, after it’s totally acclimated. Many people provide their iguanas with a place to hide throughout their entire lives, but other iguanas become so acclimated that they don’t really need one. An ideal iguana habitat should be large enough to allow an iguana to feel safe by simply hiding in a somewhat secluded area of the habitat. Your goal during this time is to get your iguana to feel comfortable throughout its habitat, and not just while it’s inside the hide box.
Watch your iguana watch you – Now your iguana should be fairly well adjusted to living in its habitat. Now you must get your iguana adjusted to seeing you. You’ll want to start by sitting across the room and watching your iguana. Make sure you’re close enough that your iguana can see you, but not so close that you may seem threatening. Just sit there, watch your iguana, and let your iguana watch you. You’ll learn a lot about your iguana and even more importantly, it will learn a lot about you. Don’t make any sudden movements and when you have to move, go slow. Start by watching it for a short time and work your way up to longer sessions. Also, each time, start by sitting a little closer. Pace yourself so that by the end of this step, you’re sitting next to the habitat for as long as you want, without any signs of stress from your iguana. During most of this process you want to make sure you move as slowly as possible, but during this time, you may want to occasionally move around and let your iguana see you do it. If you sense that your iguana feels threatened or acts jumpy, don’t be afraid to just take a step back or walk away for a while. During the time you’re sitting there, you may even want to read a book. Your iguana will probably watch you and it won’t seem like you’re wasting any time. While you read, turn the pages slowly, and then after a few sessions of this, you may even want to turn the pages in a quick motion to get your iguana used to unexpected movements. This is just one example of how to get your iguana accustomed to seeing people and the things they do.
Open door policy – Now that your iguana has adjusted to seeing you, you can go on to this step that will build more trust. Throughout this entire process, you’re basically building trust and with each step you’ll build a little more. Depending on the way your habitat is set up, now you’ll want to slowly approach the habitat and slowly open the door. If your habitat has a door that is on the front or side, simply open the door and sit in front of the open door and watch your iguana as you did in the previous step. If your habitat has a door on top, simply open the habitat and sit next to the habitat watching your iguana. Most of an iguana’s natural predators attack from above and your iguana will most definitely be quite leery of anything or anybody standing over it. A habitat with an opening on top, such as an aquarium, may make this step a lengthy one. Many people use aquariums for habitats, but this is yet another reason why aquariums are not at all suitable as habitats. During this step, you’re basically letting your iguana know that you’re opening the habitat and that you’re not a threat. Already your iguana has seen you open the habitat to feed him, put water in, and clean. Now, you’re telling your iguana that you’re opening the habitat for no real reason what-so-ever. There’s really nothing to this step, except for slowly working your way into the next step. It will also add onto the trust you built in the previous step. The next step involves placing your hands in the habitat, which will be quite stressful for your iguana. If your iguana is already accustomed to you opening the habitat, it will make the next step that much easier.
Hands in, hands off – The next step is one of the most important steps and should be taken as slowly as possible. This step simply involves your iguana getting accustomed to seeing your hands as a non-threat. Reaching in and grabbing your iguana is a whole lot at once. If you put yourself in the iguana’s place, it would be quite a shock for that large human that you’ve been watching to all of a sudden just grab you. Your iguana will need to adjust to seeing those big hands entering its territory. This is really simple, but it can be really hard to not touch your iguana. Fight the urge and take your time as always. Start with one hand, move as slowly as possible and place your hand in the habitat as far away from the iguana as possible. At first, simply place your hand in and let your iguana see it. Keep your distance and if at any time you see any signs of stress, back off and try again later. Do this several times per session while increasing the amount of time your hands are in the habitat. You should also, very slowly over the span of this step, place your hands a little closer to the iguana. By spending more time and getting closer each time, you should be able to move your hands around inside the habitat (very slowly of course) and be moving your hands close to (but not touching) the iguana without any signs of stress. Don’t move on to the next step (touching your iguana) until you and the iguana are comfortable with having your hands in the habitat and near the iguana.
Touching your iguana – Well, hopefully by now your iguana is totally at ease with you and your hands near it. It’s now time for your iguana to get comfortable with you touching it. It’s not time to grab your iguana or pick it up. First you should let your iguana become comfortable with you touching it. At first, you’re simply going to touch your iguana with one finger. Approach the iguana from below or from the side, move as slowly as you possibly can and simply touch the side or back of the iguana. At first avoid touching its head and definitely avoid touching its tail or anywhere near its tail. Touch it, maybe pet it a bit with your finger, and then go away. Chances are, your iguana may get upset or stressed with you touching or petting it. The trick is to pet it and then slowly move away and leave it be before it gets upset or stressed. Chances are when you leave and stop bothering it without making it upset, it will remember this as a good experience. If you overstay your welcome and cause the iguana to run, hide, bite or whip its tail, it will probably remember that a petting session is a bad thing. Simply starting slow, petting or touching with a finger or two for a few seconds will do just fine. After a while, you should have worked your way up to being able to pet your iguana with little or no incident. If not, just keep working with it. If you’re having a hard time getting your iguana to accept your petting, slow down to where you are moving as slowly as you possibly can. You may also want to back off and just do the same as you did in the previous step, without touching it. A very good time to try petting your new iguana is after the lights have been turned off and it’s started to go to sleep. Your iguana may be so tired that it won’t want to run, and chances are that your petting will even put it to sleep. Always move slowly, take your time, don’t rush it, and your iguana should eventually accept you petting it. Once you’ve gotten your iguana comfortable with you touching and petting it, continue to do so for some time before you try to pick it up. Many iguanas absolutely love to be petted by their owners. Try rubbing the top of its head, lightly and very slowly stroke your fingers across its closed eyes, and rub its dewlap and jowls. Some good signs that your iguana has become comfortable with you petting are: your iguana closes both eyes, relaxes its dewlap, raises its front legs and sticks his nose up in the air, and if you’re lucky, it will lay down and flip its front legs back, along its side. When you’ve noticed that your iguana has become comfortable and is showing some or all of these signs, you can then move on to the next step.
Holding your iguana, inside the habitat – By this time you and your iguana should be quite comfortable with petting sessions. If your iguana has shown any of the signs of being comfortable while being petted, chances are you’ll be able to pick up your iguana with little or no incident. You could have done this from the very beginning, but your iguana may have had little if any trust in you. It’s also important to hold an iguana properly. Please read our Handling Iguanas page for more information on how to hold your iguana. Never pick up an iguana by the tail. Iguanas have a defense mechanism that allows their tails to break off in order to escape predators. Although it is very important to pet and touch an iguana’s tail during taming sessions to get it accustomed to being touched. Usually, an iguana that is accustomed to humans touching its tail is less likely to try to escape when someone touches or momentarily grabs its tail. Now, you’re at a point where your iguana trusts you near it and assumes that you’re going to come in for a comfortable petting session. Pet your iguana and make sure you feel that it’s comfortable. Slowly pet its side and back and slowly try to pet its underside. With luck, your iguana will even raise up a bit so you can pet its belly. A young iguana can be picked up very easily by petting its side and sliding your fingers underneath it. You’ll then have your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other side, with the iguana resting on the base of your fingers and in the palm of your hand. While you do this, you may want to keep petting it with your thumb and fingers. If you’ve managed to pick up your iguana and you see no signs of stress, set it down and go away. If you see any signs of stress, such as your iguana trying to get away, darting its head around or whipping its tail, very slowly set it down, and slowly move away. Some people prefer to hold on and show their iguana “who’s the boss”, but this can usually be avoided by moving slowly and taking your time. If all else fails after trying to slowly pick your iguana up in this manner, you may have to use the “who’s the boss” technique (shown below). It’s suggested that you try your best to not get to that point, especially with young iguanas. If you’ve taken your time throughout this process, you should be able to avoid the “who’s the boss” technique, but all iguanas are different and some need to be handled that way to achieve results. Once you’ve managed to pick your iguana up and set it back down, you should do this several times. Don’t move it, don’t take it out of the habitat…just pick it up for a few seconds at a time, set it down, maybe pet it for a little while, maybe pick it up again, and then go away. Don’t be afraid to back off and just simply pet it occasionally instead of picking it up every time you handle the iguana.
Moving your iguana, inside the habitat – If you’ve managed to easily pick up your iguana with little or no signs of stress, this step will be the easiest step of all. Simply do as you did before, pet your iguana, pick it up and move it very slowly a very short distance and set it down. Do this a few times per session along with some petting. By the end of this step, you should be able to easily pet your iguana, pick it up and move it wherever you want inside the habitat. Don’t take the iguana out during this time, just simply move it and let it get used to you picking it up and moving it. You should also try to let your iguana walk from hand to hand while inside the habitat. This is a very good technique of getting your iguana familiar with you and your hands. You should also practice holding your iguana with a slightly firm hold. Before now, you should have held your iguana with little or no pressure. Practicing these techniques inside the habitat will get your iguana comfortable with being held firmly and should prevent your iguana from jumping away when you practice this outside the habitat in the next step.
Taking your iguana out and holding it outside the habitat – It may have taken you a while to get to this point, but you should now have an iguana that is somewhat tame and easily handled. Now it’s time to take your iguana out of its habitat. You must be very careful when you take your iguana out. If you have any doubts about how well your iguana acts when you pick it up, don’t rush into this step. An iguana that isn’t totally comfortable with you holding it can quickly get away, and the stress involved in an incident like that may set you back. At first, simply pet your iguana, pick it up and take it out for only a few seconds. You can then place it back in the habitat and pet it, hold it for a while, move it around the habitat, etc. Each time you handle it, take it out for a little while longer and then make sure you put it back before it starts acting any other way than sitting comfortably. After some time of just getting it out for a short period, you can slowly increase the amount of time outside the habitat. You can begin to hold your iguana outside the habitat, slowly move around from room while holding your iguana, and practice letting your iguana walk from hand to hand. It also can be a very good idea to sit down while you hold your iguana. You can even sit down with your iguana and watch something on television. Work your way up to doing these things. Take your time, and when any signs of stress are seen, simply put your iguana back in its habitat. It’s not at all uncommon for an iguana that has shown little or no sign of stress to suddenly show them once outside the habitat. This may include biting or more commonly, tail whipping. If your iguana suddenly starts to whip its tail or squirm, slightly tighten your grip and slowly work your way back to the habitat and let it be. This is a time when many people prefer to use the “who’s the boss” technique and either way you want to do it is fine. Many times, an agitated iguana will whip its tail or bolt out of your hands. If this happens, do not chase the iguana. Let it go, make sure you know exactly where it goes, and observe it from a distance. Take a few minutes to let your iguana calm down. Chasing your iguana at this point will usually just cause it to run – even an iguana that has acted totally tame up to this point. After a few minutes, you can begin to get down on the floor (assuming the iguana is on the floor), and crawl as slowly as you possibly can over to the iguana. Slowly try petting it. Slowly pick it up. If it runs, back off, take a few minutes and try again. Only chase your iguana if you feel that there is a very serious reason to chase it (such as a child, a dog or an open door, all of which should have been avoided before you got the iguana out). Whenever you put an agitated iguana back into its habitat, it’s a good idea to leave it alone for a few minutes and then go back and have a short petting session with it until it calms down.
Briefly setting your iguana down, outside the habitat – Now that you’ve gotten your iguana comfortable with being held outside the habitat for an extended amount of time, it’s time to try to let your iguana down outside the habitat. At first, this will be a very brief experience for your iguana. Simply pet your iguana, slowly take it out of its habitat, and let it get comfortable. Go to a chair or couch and sit down with your iguana. Sit there for a while, which should be nothing new to your iguana. Simply set it down next to you or on your leg. At first, simply start by letting it sit there for a short while. Start increasing the amount of time you let it sit there. Chances are, your iguana will want to walk around and explore. When it starts to walk away, you can now decide how well you know your iguana. If you’re lucky, you can just let it walk around without any worries about not being able to recapture it. This may take some time, but with a little practice picking up your iguana outside the habitat, it will become second nature to both you and your iguana.
Litter Box training – Now that you’ve managed to properly acclimate your iguana, you may want to take it a step further and train your iguana to be litter box trained. Iguanas are usually creatures of habit. Many of them will defecate in the same area and with some training, they can be trained to do this all of the time. Some iguana owners have trained their iguanas to use litter boxes, water tubs and even toilets. If litter boxes are used, it’s important not to use litter or any other particulate matter, because of the chance that the iguana will ingest it. Many people use tubs of water, which is very effective, but the necessary daily cleaning of the dirty water makes even more work for the owner. Toilet training is very effective, but some type of structure around the toilet is recommended so that it will be able to easily climb up and not fall into or off of the toilet. The most important part of training an iguana to be box or toilet trained is to roughly figure out what time of the day it usually does its business. There is a good chance that bathroom times will fall around the same time every day, as long as it is being fed at a specified time every day. Placing the iguana in the specified area or better yet, allowing it to go to that area at the specified time, is the best way to train it. Then, all the owner has to do is make sure the iguana stays in that area until its job is complete. Usually, this requires a lot of time and patience. You may have to place the iguana back in the same spot over and over and over again. When the iguana finally goes in the designated spot, you can let your iguana freely walk away. After many weeks of practicing this, your iguana will have learned that that is where it should go and that is what it’s supposed to do. Hopefully, by spending the time to train an iguana to be box or toilet trained, the amount of time spent cleaning up after it will be shortened dramatically, leaving more time for the owner to spend with the iguana.
Dealing with Aggression – Although most iguanas can be tamed and seem very friendly, many simply do not tame up and many can become mean and aggressive almost instantly. A friendly iguana suddenly turning aggressive or mean is usually a sign of one of two things. First of all, this change in attitude may be the sign of an unhealthy iguana. Pain and suffering may be what is causing the change in attitude, and if there are any other signs of injury or sickness, it should be taken to a veterinarian. The other more common cause for aggression is when a sexually mature iguana is in breeding season. Although some adult female iguanas have been known to show signs of aggression during breeding season, males are more commonly known for it. Male iguanas reach sexual maturity anywhere between two and five years of age. At any time after this, a male iguana can be very capable of suddenly becoming extremely aggressive. Very special care should be taken to always be ready for a sudden change in attitude, due to the fact that a full grown iguana is very capable of seriously injuring a person. The Green Iguana Society would like to seriously warn anyone with an adult iguana to always be aware that an iguana may suddenly without warning, attack, charge or bite and may even seriously injure adults, kids and other pets. We are not making this warning to make people scared of iguanas, we just hope that people will always respect the power an adult iguana has and to always expect the unexpected.
Preventing Metabolic Bone Disease
By: Green Iguana Society
The Description – Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD, is the collective name given to a number of symptoms and problems commonly seen in captive iguanas. Other names for MBD include Fibrous Osteodystrophy and Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism. The bad news is that MBD is the most common ailment seen in pet iguanas. In fact, most reptile vets would agree that it is way too common. The good news is that it is easily preventable with proper care and is treatable if it is spotted early enough.
The Causes – MBD can be caused by a variety of factors or a combination of factors, most of which are related to improper husbandry. MBD is ultimately a calcium deficiency. It can be thought of as the iguana equivalent of rickets. Some cases of MBD are caused by hormone imbalances brought on by other diseases. Most often, however, MBD is caused by one of the following factors: not enough calcium in the diet, lack of exposure to UVB light, and inadequate temperatures.
Calcium is a very important nutrient. In addition to other things, calcium is used to build bones, and it plays an important role in nerve functioning. In a healthy animal, calcium is in balance in the body. It interacts with other nutrients, such as vitamin D3 and phosphorus, and is regulated by various hormones. Too much or too little of the calcium, the other nutrients it interacts with or the hormones that regulate it will cause the delicate calcium balance in the body to be thrown off-kilter. One of the causes of MBD in iguanas is a lack of calcium in the diet. Iguanas should be given a diet that contains twice as much calcium as it does phosphorus. If the diet lacks calcium, the body will attempt to get it from some other source, and that means pulling it from the bones. MBD will result.
UVB light also plays a very large role in MBD prevention. Upon exposure to UVB, an iguana’s skin will manufacture vitamin D3. This vitamin plays an important part in regulating how the body absorbs and uses calcium. Without exposure to UVB light, either through artificial UV bulbs or, better yet, unfiltered sunlight, iguanas cannot manufacture vitamin D3. Without vitamin D3, their bodies cannot properly absorb and use calcium from the diet. Since there is little evidence at this time that iguanas can efficiently use vitamin D3 received from their food, the best way to provide your pet with it is by making sure it gets adequate exposure to UVB. This, along with providing a calcium-rich diet, is one of the most important preventative measures you can take to avoid MBD in your iguana.
Lastly, making sure you keep your iguana at the right temperature is another way to avoid MBD. Since they are cold-blooded reptiles, iguanas rely on their surroundings to provide them with the heat necessary to properly digest their food. Iguanas that are kept too cool will be unable to digest their food well, and will not adequately absorb the nutrients, including the calcium, available. This can also contribute to MBD. To learn more about proper temperatures, visit our Habitat pages.
There is another reason why an iguana may develop MBD – breeding season. This is really only a problem for females. As breeding season progresses, female iguanas develop eggs in their ovaries, even if they have not mated. As the egg shells develop, large amounts of calcium are needed. During this time, females are highly susceptible to MBD. Owners of females should be especially wary during this time of year, and should keep a close eye out for MBD symptoms. Extra calcium should be provided during this time.
The Symptoms – MBD may manifest itself in many ways. Most often, the first symptom to appear is thin, easily broken bones. Many owners do not realize that their iguana has MBD until it breaks a bone doing something that a healthy iguana would have no trouble with, such as climbing or jumping. As bones weaken, the body will attempt to strengthen them by laying down fibrous connective tissue at the points of strain. This will often result in swollen, “popeye” legs. The legs may feel bumpy to the touch. They may become bowed as the weak bones bend under the pressure of the muscles pulling on them. Breaks may result in twisted and crooked backs, toes and limbs. Spinal cord injuries from such breaks may result in permanent paralysis.
Another common symptom of MBD is a soft or spongy lower jaw bone. Like the limbs, the jawbone may swell as connective tissue is laid down to replace lost bone. Eating may become difficult or painful, resulting in lost appetite. In severe cases, the bottom jaw may recede from the top or grow at a slower rate, resulting in an overbite which contributes more to eating difficulties. The overbite may also lead to gum abrasions and other related problems.
If MBD affects the nerves, trembling or weakness in the limbs may occur. In worst cases, partial paralysis may result. Often this is evident in the back legs and tail. The iguana may drag itself along with its front legs. It will be unable to climb or get around properly.
Any of these symptoms will produce an iguana that doesn’t feel well. Iguanas suffering from MBD will often show general signs of illness, such as lethargy, weakness and lack of appetite. If you see any of these symptoms, your iguana may have MBD and should be seen by a qualified reptile vet immediately. If left unattended, MBD can permanently maim or kill your iguana. DON’T RISK IT!
The Treatment – Thankfully, MBD can be reversed if it is treated early enough. There are many courses of action that may be taken to treat MBD, depending upon the severity and particulars of the case. Broken bones will be set and allowed to mend. Extra calcium and exposure to UVB light will be given. Any other necessary changes in husbandry will be recommended. Physical therapy may be applied to weakened muscles and paralyzed limbs. Many of the symptoms can be reversed. Trembling, weakness and partial paralysis will often go away once treatment is begun. Bones will become strong again, and appetite will return.
Some things, however, will be there forever, even long after the iguana has recovered from MBD. Distorted jaws, toes, backs and limbs will remain. Normal movement and climbing activities may still be restricted. Pain may continue. Females may be unable to lay eggs due to twisted spines. Devo eventually became healthy enough to develop eggs, but was unable to lay them due to her twisted spine. As a result, she had to undergo an emergency spay. Problems with defecation may occur for the same reason. And, of course, any spinal cord injuries obtained from broken backs will result in permanent paralysis.
Conclusion – Many iguanas have recovered from MBD and lived fulfilling lives, despite permanent physical deformities. But why put your iguana through such a terrible experience when MBD is so easily preventable? It is extremely telling that wild iguanas do not suffer from MBD. This disease is completely the result of improper care in captivity. You are your iguana’s caretaker. It relies on you for everything it needs. Do not let it down, for it will surely suffer for it.
By: Green Iguana Society
About the shedding process – Iguanas will shed their skin much like other reptiles, except that it sheds in pieces instead of in one piece. Basically, they will shed everything on the outside of their bodies except for their eyeballs. Dealing with shedding is a regular event with iguana owners. Shedding is completely normal and it’s usually a sign of good health and proper care.
How often they shed – Depending on the age and size of the iguana, it will shed anywhere from many times a year to only once a year. Sometimes they may even seem to be shedding constantly year round. Different areas of the its body will shed at different rates as well. Usually, the faster an iguana is growing or even a particular body part, the more often it will need to shed its skin.
How to tell when an iguana is ready to shed – An iguana’s skin will begin to turn dull in appearance before it’s ready to shed. The color will usually be a hazy shade of the normal color of that area. Fresh, new skin is usually shiny and brightly colored.
Soaking to help shedding – Regular soaking, bathing, misting and proper humidity will aid in the shedding process. If it seems to be ready to shed an area of skin, a long soak or can sometimes trigger it to start shedding.
Picking and pulling off skin. There are many ways to help an iguana shed. Picking any loose skin off is a good idea and it is sometimes necessary. When picking or pulling off loose skin, it’s important to be very careful and not pull or tear any skin that is being stubborn. If it doesn’t come off with little or no effort, it’s not ready to be shed. Some areas of skin, such as the spines, toes, eyelids and other areas may need help, and aiding in the removal of these areas can be helpful as well as healthy.
Lubricants can be helpful in aiding the shedding process. Applying a small amount approved lubricant and rubbing it on any stubborn areas of skin is very effective. This can be done once to a few times a day until the stubborn area sloughs off. Lubricants that work well include KY jelly and mineral oil.
Problem Areas – Owners should keep a close eye on their iguana’s spikes, toes, and tail tip during each shedding cycle. These areas often have difficulty shedding, and layers of old skin can build up if left unattended. These layers of old skin will eventually constrict and cut off the circulation to these areas of the body, cause the death of tissue and loss of the spike, toe or tail tip. In addition, once this type of tissue death sets in (dry gangrene), it can travel up the tail or foot and move into healthy tissue. It is important to inspect these areas of your iguana carefully on a regular basis and remove any remaning dead skin after each shed. Rings of dead skin on the toes, especially on baby iguanas, can be tricky to spot, but because they can do a lot of harm, it is worth taking a close look.
Vitamins and Supplements
By: Green Iguana Society
Along with providing mineral rich, quality foods, it may also be a very good idea to supplement the diet with additional vitamins and supplements. No matter how well you plan a diet for your iguana, there still may be a chance of vitamin deficiencies. While supplementing is a good idea, over supplementing certain vitamins can be very dangerous. Before deciding to supplement your iguana’s diet, it’s a very good idea to ask your vet about the necessary needs of vitamins and supplements. Please visit our Veterinarians & Societies page for more information on how to find a qualified vet. It’s still unsure as to whether or not vitamin supplements are necessary. Some experienced iguana owners claim that it is a necessary part of feeding, while others claim that it is not needed if a high quality diet of mineral rich foods is provided. The Green Iguana Society would like to state that although there are many people on both sides of this debate, we still feel vitamins and supplements, if used properly, can be a good practice and that it’s important to always use extreme caution when supplementing.
Commercial reptile vitamins – There are many different brands of vitamin supplements available, but many of the more popular varieties are inadequate or unsafe for your iguana. Many contain added phosphorus and D3. It’s still unsure whether or not iguanas need additional dietary vitamin D3, and too much vitamin D3 may lead to serious health problems. Rep-Cal Herptivite™ is an all natural vitamin supplement. It was the first herp supplement to be made with only beta carotene and not vitamin A, therefore preventing vitamin A toxicity. It’s also made with a natural sea vegetation base instead of with artificial fillers. HerpCare Calcium Supplement™ is a powdered calcium supplement that contains only Calcium Carbonate, without D3 or phosphorus. Rep-Cal Calcium (without D3)™ is another excellent calcium supplement, as long as you buy it without D3. Those are the only vitamin supplements made specifically for reptiles that we recommend.
Other ways to supplement – Most experienced iguana owners who supplement their iguana’s diet prefer to use other types of vitamins, rather than buying the usually more expensive commercial reptile varieties. A good way of doing this is buying human vitamins and supplements, easily found in most pharmacies. If the supplements you buy are in tablet form, you’ll need to crush them into a powder, and you may consider buying a mortar and pestle (as shown in the first photo below) to make crushing the tablets much easier. Also, some containers to put the crushed powder in makes adding the supplements a very simple chore. Shakers (as shown in the second photo below) used for cooking (for example, sugar containers, large salt and pepper shakers, grated cheese shakers, etc.) are ideal and can be found in most stores such as Walmart. Be sure to use the shakers just for the iguana’s supplements and make absolutely sure they won’t be mistaken for human use. Clearly labeling the containers as “Iguana Vitamins” will prevent any accidents.
Calcium supplements – The best way to provide extra calcium is by using Calcium Carbonate. It can be found in tablet or powder form in most pharmacies. If you can’t find it, you may have to ask the pharmacist for it. Another popular source for calcium supplementation is using crushed Tums™ tablets which can be purchased almost anywhere.
Multi-vitamins – Many iguana owners supplement their iguana’s diet with human multi-vitamins such as Centrum™ or a generic equivalent. These are in tablet form, so you will have to crush them into a powder before you use them. Multi-vitamins made specifically for women can be a good choice as well because of the higher calcium content than regular multi-vitamins.
Protein supplements – Since some vegetables don’t contain a great deal of protein, it can be a very good idea to boost the protein in your iguana’s diet. This can be done with adding shredded mature alfalfa or high quality rabbit food to the food, but the best way is with crushed alfalfa tablets (as shown on the left in the photo above) that can be found in most pharmacies. Crushed alfalfa tablets should be added to the food just before feeding and not stored with the food.
How to, how much, how often
Since it is still unsure as to exactly how much of what vitamins are needed, finding the correct dosage of vitamin supplements can be a difficult thing to determine. Most problems occur due to lack of vitamins and problems with over supplementing is rarely seen in iguanas. Vitamin supplements can be added after you prepare the food or just before serving. If you’re using shakers to apply the powder, then it’s recommended that you apply it just before serving. Juvenile iguanas have a faster growth rate, so most believe they should be given more. It is usually recommended that juveniles be given a small pinch of vitamins or a light dusting about every other feeding and adults once or twice a week. The pinch should be a small one and it’s not necessary to coat the entire meal with the vitamin powder. It’s also a very good idea to provide extra calcium for gravid females.
Supplements for frozen food
If you are feeding your iguana food that has been frozen, it’s recommended that you supplement it with crushed thiamin (vitamin B1) tablets or brewer’s yeast. Freezing can break down the thiamin (vitamin B1) so frozen food should be always be supplemented with a very light sprinkling before feeding which should be enough to replace the lost thiamin.
What you need to know about Salmonella
By: Green Iguana Society
What is it? – There are about 2000 different forms of bacteria in the genus Salmonella, all of which are considered pathogenic, or disease causing. This genus includes S. typhi (which causes typhoid fever), S. choleraesius, and S. enteritidis, which are the most frequent causes of salmonellosis, or Salmonella gastroenteritis. About 45,000-50,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported each year, but the disease is thought to be underreported. An estimated 2-4 million cases likely occur each year, resulting in about 500 deaths.*
What does Salmonella have to do with my iguana? – Many animals, including some reptiles, can carry Salmonella. In pet reptiles, the carriage rate is as high as 90%.* In some iguanas, Salmonella bacteria live in the intestine. These bacteria are shed with the feces and can be picked up by humans. A disease that can spread from animals to humans is called a zoonosis. Thankfully, your iguana can’t give you typhoid fever. That strain of Salmonella is transmitted only from person to person. However, your iguana may carry other forms of Salmonella that could cause you to experience salmonellosis.
How can I tell if my iguana carries Salmonella? – Unfortunately, you can’t. Many iguanas infected with Salmonella are not sick themselves. You cannot see the bacteria in the feces, and therefore have no way of telling if they are present or not. You can have your iguana tested for Salmonella by having your vet culture the bacteria from your iguana’s feces, but these results may not be reliable. Salmonella may be shed on and off periodically, which means that an iguana that tests negative at one time may be infectious sometime later. The best way to deal with Salmonella in your iguana is to assume that it is there, and act accordingly.
How can I get Salmonella from my iguana? – The most common mode of transmission from iguana to human occurs something like this: The iguana defecates and gets minute amounts of feces on itself – perhaps on the tail or foot. This problem is compounded if the iguana’s habitat is not kept clean. The owner handles the iguana, or cleans up objects the iguana has climbed on or touched, and unknowingly gets the feces on his or her hands. The owner then proceeds to touch his or her mouth or prepare food without washing hands first.
What are the symptoms of salmonellosis? – Usually, an infected person experiences a moderate fever, nausea, abdominal pains and cramps, and diarrhea. Most healthy adults will recover in a few days without lasting effects. Thankfully, the overall death rate from salmonellosis is very low, probably less than 1%.* Salmonellosis can be deadly, however, in infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
How can I prevent the spread of Salmonella from my iguana? – The easiest thing you can do to prevent the spread of Salmonella is to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands after handling your iguana or anything your iguana has come into contact with. Keep your iguana and its habitat clean. Avoid allowing your iguana to come into contact with those who may be especially at risk, such as young children. If you are careful and use common sense, you can easily avoid getting Salmonella from your pet.