Pet Iguanas

 

Home
Up

 

Green Iguana Pet Care

(In response to many requests for information concerning the captive care of this popular pet lizard, RainForest Adventures is providing the  following suggested guidelines for the captive care of the pet Green Iguana.  We strongly suggest you obtain a book or other resource material to help you in properly maintaining your pet)

Iguanas are the most frequently kept pet reptiles in America today.  As is the case with obtaining any pet, certain requirements must be met in order for the animal to thrive in it's new environment.

We will take a look at the three basic needs you should address with your new pet Iguana, they are:

The enthusiasm one has for a new pet of any kind often wears off quickly if the animal is not in peak health, or the new owner finds themselves experiencing unexpected and potentially expensive problems.   The good news is with a little planning your new pet can have a happy, long-term home. 

Contrary to popular belief the much maligned common Green Iguana can make an excellent addition to your family.  The opportunity to teach young members of the family about the responsibility associated with pet ownership, as well as creating an interest in your child concerning nature and the challenges that face our planet today is always a good thing!  

The opportunity for the family to come together and build suitable housing, visit zoos, study on the internet or in any other way increase their knowledge about the natural world is a major benefit to owning pets of any kind.

If you have not already committed to obtaining a Green Iguana as a pet there are a few facts to keep in mind to determine if this particular animal is the right pet for you.  The longevity of the animal, up to 15 years in captivity, the size of adults, and the dietary requirements are a few of the basic and important considerations.    It is also important to remember that these animals are still capable of inflicting injury on humans, especially adult Iguanas who have matured.  

 The Iguana and other more unusual pets are often the target of media hype or local condemnation when an animal injures a pet keeper.  It is important to remember that this year alone more people will be bitten by domestic dogs than there are total Iguanas in the United States!  Common sense should simply be the rule! Your new pet is a wild animal regardless of how much you think it is not.

The availability of farm raised Iguanas from Central and South America has drastically reduced the price, increased the quantity available, and generally increased the health of the babies arriving into the United States as well as other countries.   These facts make it easier than ever to obtain a healthy animal to start, or to expand your reptilian collection!

 

 

 

Choosing Your New Iguana

How and where you obtain your new Iguana varies greatly from person to person.  Most new Iguanas are purchased as babies from your local pet store.  Common sense should prevail here as you select a pet.  Look for a vibrant, active animal with no clear signs of problems. With the advent of farm raised animals coming into the county many of the Iguanas in the pet store are in very good health, but please attempt to select one that appears to be doing well. 

Asking the opinion of the pet store owner is not a bad idea, particularly if you know the individual.   Bringing along a knowledgeable person is also not a bad idea if one is available. 

Clear, bright eyes, no nasal discharge, strong feeding activity are always a good starting point.  It may be possible for you to be present when the babies are fed, if this is the case you certainly would like to pick an aggressive feeder who is not afraid to jump in a grab a meal!

The vast majority of the green iguana babies in pet shops today have been captive born and bred on large ranches in central American countries such as El Salvador. 

 

 

Housing

The subject of providing a suitable home for your pet is relative to the animals size and age.   When the Iguana is young an All-Glass aquarium or similar enclosure is an excellent choice.  Please keep in mind that your Iguana will grow fairly rapidly for the first 2-3 years of life, so what may seem like a large enclosure today will quickly be out grown.  Plan ahead and purchase the largest aquarium your budget will bear. 

Keep in mind that even the largest commercially available aquariums are not large enough for an adult Iguana.  If space and budget allows you may wish to purchase, or build, a suitably large enclosure when you first acquire you new pet, this is not however always feasible. 

Providing an eye appealing enclosure for your new pet will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the Iguana.   Also by providing climbing surfaces, rocks etc. you will enhance the Iguanas' ability to utilize all the space in his new home.  

Suitable substrate in the Iguana's new enclosure can very from artificial grass mats, which are easy to remove and wash, to cypress mulch, found in most home improvement centers, to newspaper.  Keep in mind that the ease of cleaning will become important as your Iguana grows.   While newspaper may be inexpensive and easy to maintain it is not very eye appealing and it can be difficult to control the humidity with this type of substrate vs. mulch which retains the moisture.

It is equally important to remember that the substrate should be something that your pet cannot easily ingest.  Substrates such as sand, small gravel, or aspen bedding may be

Remember that Iguanas are arboreal creatures and enjoy branches, rocks etc. to climb on.  The height of the enclosure is as important as the width and length.   A sturdy top that can support a light and allow for adequate air flow can generally be found in most pet stores.

As you Iguana grows and matures it is generally necessary to purchase or construct a suitable enclosure.  One word of advice for all potential keepers of adult Iguanas, some people are inclined to allow their pet Iguana the run of the house as if it were a domestic pet.  This type of housing is inadequate on many fronts. Under the conditions of total freedom it is difficult for you to maintain the necessary lighting, food and other nutritional requirements your pet has.  Additionally the fecal matter of all Iguanas, even very healthy ones, contains salmonella.  The salmonella bacteria can create very serious complications in humans if ingested, the young and old are at particular risk.  A free ranging pet iguana may deposit fecal matter on kitchen surfaces etc. creating a very serious health risk to humans.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found it the intestinal tract of many animals including humans.  When the body reacts to an unusually high level of salmonella the symptoms can often be flu like in the bodies reaction.  Vomiting and diarrhea are common as the body attempts to rid itself of the high volume of bacteria. 

The day comes when all Iguana owners must build or purchasing a large enclosure suitable for housing your adult Iguana.   Several books are available on the construction of large enclosures.  Constructing a home-made design will work if the project is well thought out.  Keep in mind that your pet will still need as much height as possible in their enclosure.  A basking spot as well as ease of maintenance should all be considerations in planning your pets new home.    To feel very comfortable and have room to move about the minimum ideal size for your adult pet should be approximately 150 cubic feet.  Obviously more space is always better, if multiple animals are housed together you must keep this in mind. 

A basking spot in the enclosure should allow the animal to raise it's body temperature to a minimum of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  The cool side of the enclosure should not fall below 75 degrees.    A humid environment is essential to your pets health.  A constant humidity level of 75% should be maintained to avoid skin and respiratory complications.

When the weather conditions permit in your region placing your Iguana in an outdoor enclosure can have a significant impact on the health and well being of your pet.  Extreme care should be taken to ensure the enclosure is secure, an escaped Green Iguana is a very difficult creature to recapture.

Avoid stressing your pet from such sources as domestic dogs or cats that may be present outside.   Care should also be taken that no toxic plant species are growing near the enclosure, an Iguana housed outdoors will have a greater appetite and will metabolize it's food faster than in an indoor enclosure.  The increased exposure to natural UV rays will have a marked impact on the health and coloration of your pet.  Care should be taken to ensure your outdoor enclosure has adequate shade to ensure the Iguana can thermo regulate. 

It is important to remember that if you are housing multiple Iguanas together that adult males will generally become very territorial and fights among the adult males are inevitability. 

 

Diet

The area with the greatest risk for mistakes, past and present, is the area of Green Iguana diet.  The popularity of this pet has increased so much in the last few years that the subject of diet was bound to be a controversial one.   If you consult 5 different publications you will probably find 5 different suggested diets.  Always look at the publication date of any book or article concerning the common Green Iguana, the rapid increase in knowledge has followed the rise in popularity as a pet.  The subject of diet is still not without much controversy.   We will attempt to provide you with the latest diets that are being used currently at RainForest Adventures, we house and display many Iguanas whose dietary needs are met to the best of the knowledge we have available. 

Hibiscus are a favorite treat for Iguanas.

Many field studies have conclusively determined that the Green Iguana is an herbivore, period!  The common Green Iguana is actually a folivore, this is an animal that under natural circumstances eats primarily leaves.  In it's natural habitat this animal eats nothing but plant matter.  There is no evidence that Iguanas, young or old, eat insects etc.  Unlike you and I who have the ability to digest both plant and animal matter the common Green Iguana simply cannot properly metabolize anything other than plant matter.  It is therefore very important to ensure you are prepared to provide the pet with the proper diet. 


Your pet Iguana has a digestive system that is referred to as a "Hind-Gut fermenter", simply put your pet uses it's lower intestinal tract to produce vitamins and absorb it's ingested food.   Fiber is a critical component of your pets diet.  The needs change as the animal matures, but roughly speaking fiber should be no less than 16% of your pets diet.   Malnourished common Green Iguanas are an all too common sight, the basic food items your pet needs are available in virtually every grocery store in the United States. 

Body temperature plays an important role in the ability of both wild and captive animals to digest their foods.  In the wild the Iguanas will seek a sunny basking spot to raise their body temperatures to essentially that of a human, around 98 degrees Fahrenheit.   Once the animal has raised it's body temperature they will generally begin to feed, the higher body temperature actually helps the animal in digesting it's food.  Bacteria in the gut is more active at a higher temperature than a lower one, additionally the animals metabolism in general will speed up at the higher body temperature. 

In captivity the importance of a basking spot cannot be overstated, both for the UV rays provided by artificial lighting as well as the benefits to the Iguanas ability to digest it's food as described here.

The frequency that your pet eats is a function of it's environment and age.    Like our own children your pet Iguana may want to eat sweet food items more than it should.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your pet is provided with a balanced diet and not allowed to eat only what it wants to.    Junk food for our children includes Twinkies, Ice Cream and other fatty foods, junk food for your Iguana is fruit!  Believe it or not, as hard as it may be to get our own children to pick up a bowl of strawberries over an Oreo cookie, it is equally as hard to get most common Green Iguanas to eat their greens instead of cantaloupe. 

Dark leafy greens such as Mustard Greens, Collard Greens and the like should comprise the majority of your pets diet.   Caution should be used with spinach, parsley and kale, each of these greens contains an oxalate which is believed to block your Iguanas ability to absorb calcium.  It should be noted that there is still ongoing research to address this issue, but in the mean time it is probably safe to avoid these greens in any great quantity. 

Juvenile iguanas should be fed daily, in the wild these animals are essentially grazers, they feed several times per day.  As your Iguana matures the frequency of meals will decrease.   Iguanas both young and adult have no ability to chew their food, they have to bite off chunks of the greenery and swallow it whole.  It is important to chop all of the ingredients into a size that can be easily handled by your iguanas.


Older iguanas should be fed 2-3 times per week and can be offered the same items as listed above. Plant material, such as dandelions (flowers and leaves), clover, rose petals, and flowers of hibiscus, carnation and nasturtium, should be offered as well.

As a general rule we feed the following food items in roughly the percentage shown:

50%
Leafy greens, Collards, Mustard greens, Turnip greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flowers), Dandelions (leaves & flowers), Escarole, Rocket, Hibiscus leaves and flowers, Watercress, Land cress, fresh Alfalfa and Carrot tops
35%
Green beans, Zucchini, Squash, Bean sprouts, Okra, Parsley, Grated carrot Red Yellow or Green bell peppers (Sweet peppers), Leeks, Peas, Cucurbits, Parsnips alfalfa pellets, Vine leaves, Chinese greens and Celery
10-15%
Fruits, bananas, apples, berries, pears, mangos, papayas etc.
 
 

 

 

 

RainForest Adventures zoo, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge TN