Finding The Right Iguana: Green iguanas are tree-dwelling animals from Central and South America. If properly cared for, an iguana can live for 12-15 years, grow six feet long, and weigh up to 15 pounds. Iguanas are very common and are available from many sources. The new pet should come with a guarantee that gives you enough time to have its health checked by your local reptile veterinarian. The animal should be alert, active, and readily eating. Also, no external parasites (mites) or lumps or bumps (growths or abscesses) should be present. Your cage set-up should be ready before you acquire your new pet. Frequently they are available at your local shelter or local rescue organization.
Diet: Iguanas do best on a herbivorous diet (plants). These animals need foods that are low in protein and phosphorous and high in calcium. Ideally, they should eat predominantly dark leafy greens (dandelion greens, chard, kale, mustard greens, arugula, endive, etc.). Fruit is not recommended because it is high in phosphorous and is very low in calcium. Also, insects are not recommended because they high in protein and fat, and are generally low in calcium. Vitamin supplements are not needed if the reptile is on a good diet. The lizards will grow slower on this diet, but they will be healthier and will live longer. We strongly recommend doing blood tests to make sure the animal is healthy and that their pets blood calcium and phosphorous levels are normal.
Light: The right kind of light is very important to your lizard; its life depends on it. Lizards have high requirements for UV-B light. Ultra Violet B light is a component of sunlight. This type of light is absorbed by the skin and helps the body make vitamin D. This is important because the vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium from the diet. The UVB light from the sun will not travel through glass or plastic. We recommend taking your animal outside as often as possible, but always supervise and contain them. Also a UVB cage light is recommended since the pet spends most of its time inside. Many brands are available, but we have the most success with Vitalites and ZooMed Iguana Lights. These fluorescent lights need to be replaced every 6-12 months because the amount of UVB produced declines over time. The florescent tube will continue to produce visible light, but no more UVB light. The light should be on for about 12 hour per day.
Temperature: All reptiles are ectothermic, which means they obtain their body temperature from their environment. All reptiles require a temperature gradient (a hot side and a cooler side). This allows the reptile to meet its optimal body temperature for normal food digestion and a healthy immune system. This is most easily accomplished with a heating pad and an overhead heat source like an infrared ceramic heat element. You should always have a movable thermometer to check the temperature in all areas of the cage. Also, check the temperature of the cage at night. Reptiles like the heat so make sure they will not be able to burn themselves. Heat rocks are not recommended. Also, reptiles should have hide areas at both temperature ranges. The low end of the gradient should be in the mid 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high end should be in the high 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water: Water is required for all living animals. A clean source of water should always be available. Check and clean frequently since most reptiles like to defecate and urinate in the water.
Hibernation: Iguanas do not need to be hibernate.
Substrate: Use a substrate that is inexpensive and easy to clean. This is easy to accomplish with newspaper or bath towels. Clean the entire cage when the reptile defecates. Clean any urine or feces as soon as possible. Avoid using wood chips and sand. They are difficult to clean and contain bacteria and fungus. Also, sand and wood chips can cause intestinal impactions if ingested.
Cage Size: Ideally the cage will be as large as you have space. At a minimum it needs to give the animal several hide areas and room to explore and stretch out. Iguanas are arboreal (tree dwelling), and need vertical climbing areas. Iguanas grow quickly and will require are very large cage. Remember that it is more difficult to maintain the proper temperature gradient in a larger cage. The iguana should never be kept loose in the house, because it will be impossible to maintain the temperature, have the proper light, and to keep the area clean.
Cage: The cage needs to be easy to clean, and have good ventilation. Glass aquariums or plastic reptile cages work the best. Wood cages are very difficult to clean.
Cage Furniture: The reptile should have multiple hiding areas, can be accomplished with many materials. Also, vertical climbing and basking branches are needed. The furniture needs to be easy to remove and clean.
Cage Mates: Iguanas are not social animals and can be very territorial. Iguanas will fight to establish dominance. They can cause severe injury to each other. Also, the dominant iguana will constantly stress the cage mate making it more susceptible to infection.
Humidity: Iguanas come from tropical regions, which means they are used to extremely high humidity. However, make certain your cage has good ventilation so molds and mildew can not grow in the cage. Iguanas can have shedding problems if it is too dry. You can keep your iguana healthy with frequent misting or warm water bathes. Always use clean, fresh water in the spray bottle. You should not bath your iguana in the sink or bathtub because our human bacteria can be harmful to them and because they can have bacteria that are harmful to us.
Common Medical Problems: Iguanas have numerous medical problems in captivity. Bacterial infections are very common and can be due to many reasons. Usually the owner notices a decrease in activity, and decrease in appetite, or a growth (abscess) on the body.
Nutritional disorders are also very common. Diets high in protein can cause kidney failure. Diets low in calcium can cause soft bones which easily break. The lack of a UV-B light can also cause a low calcium level in the blood. In addition to soft bones, low calcium levels can lead to twitching and seizures.
Intestinal parasites are very common and can lead to many problems. Parasitic infections can be diagnosed with a microscopic fecal exam.
Female iguanas can produce eggs or follicles without mating. Frequently, they are unable to lay them and require veterinary help. Usually the owner notices the animal is digging a lot, has a decrease in appetite, and has a very large abdomen.
Always seek help from your local reptile veterinarian when there is any change in your pet's behavior. It is easier to treat and less expensive if the problem is caught early.