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Green Iguana Pet Care

Updated on June 18, 2013

Iguanas are one of the most popular reptiles among the pet trade. Because of availability and the low cost to purchase, iguanas are the most deceptive reptiles. Iguanas can grow to be six feet long and can have horrible temperaments. However, iguanas can make excellent pets.

Iguanas originate from Central and South America. They are large, herbivore lizards that are amazing creatures to be husbanded. They range from greens and browns to specialty morphs such as blue, albino, snow, and red. They have long claws, a powerful tail, and a wicked bite. They are excellent tricksters at playing dead.

The following information is from what I have personally found to be effective when keeping Green Iguanas. I have kept reptiles and exotics for over 12 years. I have husbanded everything from scorpions and spiders to blue-tongue skinks and giant leaf tailed geckos. The following information is for anyone wanting to know about iguanas and the proper care they need.

Before I start, I want to clarify that the following information is what I raise my iguanas by. There are too many websites with false information and too many reptile enthusiasts who claim iguanas are hard to care for due to their supposed extensive care requirements. I am going to be completely truthful and bold with my information.

Iguana Habitat

Iguanas will grow to be very large animals. Most iguanas will reach four to six feet in length. If you do not have the room to create a habitat that is at minimum six feet long by six feet tall by three feet wide, stop reading now. If you keep an iguana in an inadequate cage they can develop dwarfism. The iguana will stunt his growth and can cause other health problems or longevity problems. Iguanas come from tropical environments, so try to mimic that environment in their habitats. As you can see from my picture of my own iguana's cage, I have vines, plants, and shrubbery that allow the iguana to feel it is still a part of nature. Once the iguana has the space it needs and the details of nature, it will feel secure and at home.

Iguana Lighting

Iguanas come from tropical environments. However, trying to keep a cage as large as that required for an iguana is ridiculous. I keep my iguana's room and my entire home at 70 degrees. Most websites will say that the cage temperatures should not dip below 75 or even 80 degrees. This is not true. Iguanas are extremely hardy lizards and can live in some of the most stressful conditions. I am not saying to keep your iguanas in the refrigerator, but I am validating that typical home temperatures of 68-70 degrees at night are fine for iguanas. Iguanas require heat lamps and UVB lights. As you can see in my photo, my iguana has a 24 inch UVB bulb, 10.0, and has a 100 watt halogen heat lamp. The UVB helps the iguana regulate his cycle and absorb his nutrients. The heat lamp provides adequate warmth and allows the iguana to actually digest his food. The heat lamp location, the area under the lamp, should give your iguana a basking temperature of about 90-95 degrees. I am horrified to see websites that claim they need temperatures of 100+ to properly digest their food. Most iguanas and reptiles for that matter will overheat at temperatures of excess of 100+ degrees. Mid 90's are excellent temperatures to aim for. If you like to allow your home to dip below 65 degrees at night, I do recommend a night light bulb for your iguana to maintain some warmth at night. Again, shoot for a 70 degree basking spot at night when using a night bulb.

Iguana Humidity and Water Needs

Keep fresh water in the cage at all times. I keep a large Tupperware, three feet by a foot and a half, filled with an inch of water for the iguana to poop in. It makes cleaning the cage a lot easier. I also have another Tupperware, about one foot squared, which I keep filled with water also. This water source is available in case one source has poop in it. Many websites will state that iguanas need elaborate humidity and ventilation systems to keep an iguana healthy. This, again, not so. Make sure the iguana has enough FRESH water to hydrate himself. Spray him with a water mist two or three times a day to force him to lap water from his body and cage. Lastly, a bath once a week will help maintain hydration. My rule of thumb is this: take your iguanas back leg. Find the fattest part of the leg. Give the leg a gentle pinch and watch to see how the skin reacts. If the skin snaps right back into place, your iguana is perfectly hydrated. If the skin moves awkwardly slow back into place, your iguana is dehydrated. Some place in the middle could mean more misting or baths in that iguana's future.

Iguana Diet

Iguanas are strict herbivores. Any animal proteins are not good for them. Most iguanas will eat anything that is offered to them: cheetos, lunch meat, pizza, rats, string, and even wires. None of these are good for an iguana, but most will at least attempt these once, twice or always. Eggs are animals proteins. Cheese is also not good for them. The following is a list of food that can ALWAYS be offered to iguanas: collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, green beans, snap peas, okra, and parsnip. These foods can be fed all the time. These are the proper essentials to an iguana's diet. You can add prickly pear, apple, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, raspberries or even blueberries as treats. Fruit only needs to make up 10% of an iguanas diet, but fruits are not essential to their well being. Leafy greens and vegetables are most important. I want to make a quick mention of about watermelon, iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce. Watermelon is mostly water. If you had a dehydrated iguana, it is a quick and tasty way to improve their hydration. However, watermelon contains very little nutrition. If you are looking for a more nutritious treat, look at the list of other fruits. Iceberg and Romaine lettuce contain NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE for your iguana. DO NOT feed iguanas this food. Iguanas get hooked to these tasty lettuces and can refuse to eat anything but. Play it safe and do not feed them this garbage.

Iguana Temperament

Iguanas do not trust humans from birth. It is innate to them. However, with proper handling and trust building techniques, iguanas can grow to trust humans. Males will go through a breeding season that can happen once, every year. They get extremely territorial, aggressive, and dangerous. During this time, your once docile male will try to eat your face. He will lose interest in food and will be focused on killing anything that comes near him. Keep offering him food in smaller amounts of course to maintain his health. Female iguanas, as long as they are not gravid (pregnant), remain docile for the year.

Iguana Handling

Iguanas dislike humans from birth as I have said before. Here is a quick guide to build trust with your iguana. Starting from when the iguana is young, under a foot and a half, start showing that your hands are not predators. First start by just putting your hands in the iguana's cage. Change the water bowl, take out old food; show the iguana that your hands are nothing but providers. Next start by touching your iguana. Touch the sides of the iguana's body. Approach from the side if possible. If your hand comes from above, most iguanas decipher this as a predatory approach. Once the iguana seems calm with touching, as in it does not run away when being touched, try to hold the iguana. Gently place one hand under the belly of the iguana, supporting the entire body, and lift the iguana into your hand. Keep the iguana in your hand inside the cage. Do this until the iguana does not fight or run from this exercise. Once the iguana is comfortable being held in the cage, slowly remove the iguana from his cage while continually supporting his body. It is common for most iguanas to climb to the top of human heads. This is normal. Iguanas feel safest at the highest vantage point. An easy way to break an iguana from this habit is to do the following. Have your iguana's body fully supported. Use two hands. One hand to support the front legs and the other hand to support the back end. As the iguana is twitching and squirming to escape, hold the iguana's back to your chest. Keep the iguana's face pointing in the same direction as yours. The stability of your hands and the safety of your chest pressure calms most iguanas down immediately. I have used this technique on male iguanas in breeding season and they become like melted butter in my hands. A quick tip: do not let a squirmy iguana discourage you from holding it. If you put an iguana back into his cage when he squirmy, or biting, or scratching, or tail-whipping, it only encourages the iguana to repeat this behavior to get what it wants. The best thing to do is wait for the iguana to stop squirming for a few moments. Once the iguana has returned to a calm state, place him back into his cage. This method will only encourage the iguana to realize that a calm behavior will get him to be left alone.

Iguana Warnings

I want to add this section to completely inform my readers. I did not want to leave this at the end in the attempt to trick you into feeling like you can handle an iguana. I put this warning here to show you that these warnings are atypical, but serious threats. Iguana bites hurt like the worst burn you have ever felt. Most bites will tear skin, draw blood, and can require surgery in extreme cases. The iguana's claws will scratch you. Most of the time you will end up with markings and even a few blood drops. Wearing long gloves or wrapping your arms in a towel will help. You can clip and file your iguana's nails, but you do usually end up with scratches unless you are wearing gloves or taking other precautionary measures. The iguana also has a powerful tail. The tail is used as a whip and it hurts. I have been whipped in the face, back, and arm by an aggressive iguana. It hurts and it leaves marks. The whips can draw blood too.

So, after reading the warnings section, why would anyone want to raise an iguana? Iguanas can become great pets and even companions with proper care and treatment. It is satisfying to raise an iguana into adulthood and become connected with the animal on a level of extreme trust. I have raised reptiles for over twelve years. I use many of the trust techniques on my animals that I have described in the above information. All my animals do not fear me and some even seem to show joy when being handled.

Iguanas can make great pets if properly raised. The information I have provided is what I follow to raise my iguanas. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I have over twelve years of experience and can answer all your iguana questions. Thank you for reading.

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    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 3 years ago from Illinois

      @Jackee: It is so nice to hear people taking care of their iguanas by giving them the biggest cages. Here is my advice. First question: Yes. You must give her a basking area. I usually pick the highest point in the cage because that is where they are going to spend most of their days. A basking spot in the 90's allows her to digest and absorb her food properly. If the room is kept in the high 80's, the two bulbs should be enough. Second question: I would place the UVA/UVB bulb in the same area as the heat lamps so she can absorb the radiation while she basks. As long as you see her under the UVA/UVB for a good portion of her day, I would not see the harm in just having one UVA/UVB lamp. If you are worried, adding an extra UVA/UVB lamp on the cool side of the tank would help to control that she is getting all the radiation she needs. Last little tidbit: You said you live in California. Have you though about creating a transportable PVC cage so she could spend some of her days outside to absorb natural UVA/UVB? The cages are relatively easy and inexpensive to make.

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      Jackee 3 years ago

      Hi I have an adult female iguana and her cage is currently 6 x 4 x 2. I am going to be purchasing a new enclosure for her that will be 6 feet tall 8 feet wide and 3 feet deep(doubling her living space). In my current habitat I have one full spectrum bulb for UVA and UVB and two ceramic heat lamps I keep on 24 hours a day. My first question is, is a basking bulb necessary in this situation? Her temperatures are normal and the area she hangs out most is in the high 80's. My second question is, in an enclosure that's 6x8x3 about how many full spectrum bulbs and heat lamps should the enclosure contain? (And/or basking bulbs if necessary?) I'm mainly worried about how many full spectrum bulbs I need because I want to make sure she gets the proper amount of UVB.

      I live in California and her enclosure is kept inside away from the sun if that makes a difference.

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 3 years ago from Illinois

      @spdstr25: Sorry for the late reply. I got so many animals at the Tinley Park show that I haven't had time to get on here. First off, do not use alcohol as it can cause irritation. Second, do not use hydrogen peroxide as it can damage healthy tissues inside. Here is what you want to do:

      Get a bottle of Iodine. You can find it at drug stores and big box stores. Mix the water and iodine together until it looks like a weak tea. You can either do this in a bathtub or small container. If you do it in the bath tub, you will have to keep an eye on your iguana to make sure it does not drink the iodine mixed water. You can use a small container and just place the foot in it to avoid this accidental ingestion. Then, place your iguana/iguana's foot in the mixture for 10-20 minutes. The iodine will help kill any infectious bacteria without hurting the healthy tissue.

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      Spdstr25 3 years ago

      Quick question: My male Iguana some how broke one of his back right toes, has an open sore on it, what can I use/do too fix it? I don't have money at this time too get him too his vet, just looking for a home remedy.. Also, with the open sore, can I use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide too clean the wound?

      Thanks

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @Myname: I would absolutely wait the 2 to 3 weeks. Give your iguana time to adjust to his new home. Allow him to regulate his body temperatures in his new enclosure and make sure he is eating regularly. Once he has a sort of schedule, then introduce the touching and handling.

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      Myname 4 years ago

      I have a quick question, I understand the handling/taming process you listed above and you said to start when they are young. I was just wondering if I should wait 2-3 weeks before I start trying to handle and tame the iguana? Or should I go ahead and start now? It's a baby and I've only been putting my hands in there to change his food and water on a daily routine and also to spray water around.

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @zumTod: I would not use metal paneling because it may rust and if there is a heat source near it, it may turn into a potential burn hazard. What I use for my iguanas is an PVC pipe frame, wrapped with outdoor plastic mesh. Yes, it is not going to hold any humidity, but if you keep a room humidifier in or near the cage and mist the cage two or three times daily, you will be able to maintain the proper humidity. I have and do state that high humidity for iguanas is not extremely necessary, especially for captive bred iguanas.

      However, if you want to use wood and build a humidity trapping cage, you will just have to seal the wood with a waterproof finish. The iguana will not cause too much damage to the wood as you may think. Remember, they cannot make a fist with their claws, so a few small, weak scratches here and there will not ruin the finish on the wood. I personally would not spend the money to enclose the cage with all wood. Also, you have to seal all the seams to prevent mold growth. If you just use PVC and plastic mesh, you do not have to worry about mold growth. Hope it helps. Cheers.

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      zumTod 4 years ago

      its about time my iggy gets a bigger enclosure, and im trying to work something out that would keep the humidity in perfectly, with ventilation of course.

      i was wondering if using some sort of metal panelling for the main sides and plexiglass for the front of an enclosure would be a good or bad idea?

      i figured it would be awesome for quick cleans...

      since wood is hard to keep seal with their nails gouging it up.... and it absorbs EVERYTHING if not sealed...

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @ Spdstr25, I recommend that you leave him in his cage for your safety. When my iguana goes into breed, he is highly cage aggressive and would sometimes stalk me when I let him out. Other days, he would relax once he was out.

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      Spdstr25 4 years ago

      Thanks appreciate that advise.. Would u recommend that while he's in his breeding season too keep him in his cage or would that intensify things with him?

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @Spdstr25, it sounds like he is in breed: cage aggression, eating less, deficating wherever. Best thing to do now is monitor how long his season lasts for and prepare for it each year.

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      Spdstr25 4 years ago

      He's been an orange color since we got him last yr in April/May.. We haven't really seen him green at all, only certain parts of him are green, not fully green.. He's a light orange at this time w/ minimal green too him.. He's eating normal, at this time less then he normally eats.. Caging is still the same, nothing has changed on that.. I can't walk past his cage without him trying too whip me or try too charge me.. It seems as if the days go on he gets worse.. He's also not using his tray too go to the washroom on, instead he's going on my floor or going on my blanket..

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @Spdstr25, he may be in breeding season. Has he turned more orange in color? Is he eating a bit less than normal? Have you changed any of his caging or the size of his cage?

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      Spdstr25 4 years ago

      My Iguana (male) for the last 4 days (including today) has been extremely aggressive towards anyone and everyone. I can't feed him with out him wanting too whip me or try too bite me. He bobs his head like he has something wrong with him, arches his back and at times has chased after me. He has even gone too the extent of stalking me out while I'm trying too do work on my computer. No one has done anything too him, his diet has stayed the same. What's reasoning as too why his behavior is like this? Is there anything we can do to stop this? Any and all recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @cool2s, A bearded dragon cannot be gravid (with eggs. Pregnant is a term used for live bearing animals) without mating. If she mated once before, she may be laying infertile eggs, but it is unlikely. She may be digging because she is looking for food or she is stressed out. If you just recently moved her into this tank, she may be digging to try to escape.

    • cool2s profile image

      Sevi 4 years ago from Kewaskum, WI

      can a bearded dragon have be pregnant without a mate, and if they can how can I tell if mine is pregnant. because my dragon is tired and she occasionally runs around in her 75 gallon tank and before she sleeps she sometimes will go in the corner and try to dig into the bottom. like she wants to bury herself F.Y.I her original bottom substance was sand.

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      @zumTod076, thank you for your comment. I just transferred all my hubs to this account to match my business and website name. I am working on more hubs now.

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      zumTod076 4 years ago

      you scared me for a sec i thought you were gone! haha we need you!

    • Reptile Joe profile image
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      Reptile Joe 4 years ago from Illinois

      Yep. I changed the name so it matches my business name.

    • cool2s profile image

      Sevi 4 years ago from Kewaskum, WI

      reptile Joe, by any chance did you use to be zombie Joe?