Iguanas are one of the most popular lizards to be kept as pets. However, they have different requirements for care than your furry companions.
"It is important to bring your new iguana to a veterinarian for an initial checkup and tips on proper care, including diet and housing," says Dr. Frank Lavac of Wilshire Animal Hospital in Santa Monica, California. "Your veterinarian can be an invaluable resource in dispelling common myths about caring for your iguana."
The following are some basic care tips to keep your iguana healthy and happy.
In the wild, iguanas spend most of their day basking in the sun. In captivity, unfiltered sunlight is important for vitamin D formation. Iguanas need vitamin D to process calcium in their bodies just like humans. UV lights (brands include Vita-Lite and Durotest) are beneficial as a complement to sunlight. Your iguana will benefit from a few hours of weekly natural sun exposure in addition to artificial light. A basking light (incandescent light) should provide a "spot" for heating. Placing lights on a timer can provide a 12-hour day and a 12-hour night for your pet.
Iguanas are herbivores (vegetarians). Dark green leafy vegetables such as collard, mustard, turnip and dandelion greens and small amounts of kale, chard and spinach chopped to a fine consistency in a food processor are good foods for them. Do not ever feed your iguana animal protein. Iguanas also require a calcium supplement. Check with your veterinarian for an appropriate supplement and dosage.
Inadequate ambient temperature prevents proper digestion, suppresses the immune system and leads to lethargy. The temperature in your iguana’s cage should be between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no lower than 75 degrees at night.
Newspaper or paper towels are the best lining for your iguana’s cage, since the bedding needs to be changed daily. Corncob bedding, sand, gravel, dirt, wood shavings, bark or kitty litter are not good cage liners. These are commonly eaten and could harm your pet.
Iguanas and Your Other Pets
Many iguana owners have other pets. Whether your iguana gets along with and co-exists peacefully and comfortably with other pets depends on many factors, including your iguana’s personality, the personalities of your other pets, how they are introduced and what types of living arrangements everyone has. The key to introducing iguanas to other pets and encouraging them to form comfortable relationships is to be aware of how they feel and respect that. Do not rush interactions. Gradually introduce your iguana to other pets in your household and always closely monitor their interaction.
Healthy iguanas need to visit a veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup, including shots. If your iguana becomes lethargic, develops bumps on his body or begins to limp, take him to the veterinarian immediately. These are all signs of metabolic bone disease, which is fatal unless your pet receives immediate medical attention. Often iguanas are presented to the veterinarian weeks after the onset of anorexia, poor color, lethargy or other symptoms of illness. Common health problems seen in iguanas include abscesses, disease of the toes, parasites and stomatitis.
Iguanas should not be allowed to roam around the house. Large aquariums or large polyurethane sealed wood, glass and wire cages are necessary to accommodate iguanas, which can reach five to six feet and weigh up to 18 pounds. Your iguana’s home needs to be cleaned frequently (one to three times per week). When cleaning his home, never use soap, bleach or any other chemical. The scent alone can kill an iguana. Simply use hot water and a scrub brush and soak all plants, sticks, rocks and other things in his cage in hot water as well. Iguanas often burrow under their floor covering and hide various objects (pieces of their shed, food, etc.). His floor covering should be changed daily.
Iguanas live in close association to water in the wild and clean, fresh water for drinking and bathing is important at all times. Iguanas love to bathe. Fill your bathtub about half-full of room temperature water and let him loose. Your pet will swim and play for hours. Bathing helps moisten his skin and aids in his peeling process. A bath will also help keep bacteria out from under his nails and scales. You can provide a shallow bathing pan in your iguana’s cage as well.