It is important to keep in mind that most veterinary problems with iguanas are a direct result of poor husbandry. The following is the basic information you will need to keep your iguana happy and healthy.
Iguanas are large, egg laying, semi-arboreal lizards. In the wild, they can be found from Mexico into Brazil, and generally, live within 50 meters of a water source. Iguanas typically reach adult sized at 2-3 years of age, and they can live between 10 and 15 years of age if they are properly cared for.
Diets for captive green iguanas are just beginning to be understood. It is recommended to feed as wide a variety of foods as possible, not relying on any one food for the bulk of your iguana’s diet.
Iguanas are foliovores (leaf eaters) in the wild, so be sure to feed a lot of leafy greens that have a dark green color. This includes collard, mustard, turnip tops or greens, alfalfa, timothy hay, broccoli rabe, and dandelions (flower, stems, and leaves). Other dark, leafy greens include swiss chard, clover, kale, beet greens, escarole, parsley, spinach, watercress, savoy, and kohlrabi. Spinach, beets, and swiss chard should be fed in moderation. Overall, iguana rations should include 97% vegetables and 3% fruits.
Fruit does not have as much nutritional value for iguanas, yet they will eat them preferentially over more nutritious foods. Think of fruit products as more of a treat that can be given from time to time. Figs are one of the few fruits that are rich in calcium, which is good for your iguana. Apples, apricots, dates, grapes, kiwi, melon, mangoes, peaches, papayas, pears, plums, prunes, raisins, strawberries, tomatoes, and raspberries are all fine in small amounts.
Protein is an important part of an iguana’s diet, but they derive most of their protein from their vegetable intake. If you must give a form of protein, give an occasional boiled egg or tofu. No dog food or meat should ever be fed.
Calcium and multivitamin supplementation are an important part of the iguana diet. At every feeding sprinkle a light dusting of calcium carbonate, lactate or gluconate on their food. Iguana diets tend to contain excess phosphorus, so calcium supplements with phosphorus are not recommended. Omitting calcium from the diet will eventually cause metabolic bone disease. Multivitamins should be given no more than 2-4 times per month. If multivitamins are given more frequently, vitamin D toxicity could become a concern.
Owners should invest in a larger aquarium initially or be prepared to buy a large one later. A 20-gallon aquarium is adequate for juveniles, but within a few years most owners must build larger glass, plywood, and screen cages. Provide as much vertical space as is practical to accommodate their arboreal lifestyle. Hardwood driftwood branches for climbing and basking are appreciated, however, make sure they are not too high in the cage as iguanas can fall off and break limbs. It is not advisable to allow iguanas free roam of the house because of the numerous hazards they can encounter.
The bottom of the cage should be lined with newspaper, or large wood chips (large enough that they cannot be eaten) mixed with peat moss, sphagnum moss, orchard bark or alfalfa pellets. Avoid sand, gravel, dirt, kitty litter, bark mulch, crushed corn cobs or crushed walnut shells as substrates because they can cause numerous problems and are difficult to clean.
A water bowl big enough for the iguana to enter and soak also is needed and should be cleaned whenever dirty or at least twice a week. Iguanas need access to water at all times.
Cage temperature should not drop below 75ºF at night and gradually rise to between 85º and 90ºF during the day with a localized hot spot or basking area of 95º to 100ºF. Assuring your iguana a basking area is important for proper digestion. Make sure that there are not any heating sources hot enough to burn the iguana present inside the cage. A heating source that is too hot to rest a hand on or under for several minutes will eventually burn your iguana. Additionally, a heat source that feels normal to the human hand can cause a burn if an iguana sits on it for a long period of time, which is why heating sources outside of the cage are much safer. Keep the cage humid by spraying it several times per week or using a humidifier. Iguanas live in the tropics and enjoy the humidity, it also helps them to shed.
Ultraviolet light is essential for the photochemical production of vitamin D-3. Black lights have more UV irradiance than other fluorescent lights, but produce dim purple visible light. Combine a black light with a vitalite© in a two bulb fixture (less than two feet from the animal) and it will produce brighter visible light. Lighting should be kept on a timer for 12 to 14 hours, so the iguana gets an adequate amount of daylight. Current studies also show sun lamps to be an excellent source of UV lighting.
Purchasing an Iguana
Always remember to buy your iguana from a reputable pet store with a knowledgeable staff, preferably one that specializes in reptiles. Avoid iguanas with missing toe nails or toes, thin, listless or nervous iguanas, dark brown or black coloring on the body, nasal discharge or abnormal jaw alignment or white cheese-like paste in the mouth. Missing tails will grow back. Look for iguanas that are alert and active, climbing on branches, eating at food bowl, have bright coloring and are not over excitable. Ask the clerk to trim the iguana’s nails prior to going home, this will help you to avoid getting scratched when you begin handling. Consult with All Creatures Veterinary Hospital as to the best way of handling your iguana as well as for advice on taming.