How To Care For An Iguana

Are you thinking about purchasing a pet iguana?

Or maybe you already have one but need some tips on how to care for it?

Iguanas are amazing creatures, and although they can make great pets if you know how to care for them, they require much time and attention and have very specific dietary and environmental needs, so they’re not the pet for everyone.

In this article, we’ll show you how to care for an iguana and hopefully help you determine if an iguana is the right pet for you.

While iguanas are one of the most difficult reptiles to keep as pets since they have very specific needs, you don’t need to have a Ph.D. to care for them! With the right habitat, food, water, and handling your iguana will thrive in its new home. 

how to care for an iguana

An Introduction to Iguanas

Native to both Central and South America, iguanas (often known as green iguanas), are one of the most popular lizards in the pet trade today with almost one million baby green iguanas imported to the U.S. annually.

Though they may be cute and little as babies, adult male iguanas can grow to be as long as 7′ feet in length (although females rarely grow longer than 5 ft) and weigh up to 20 pounds.

Adult iguanas are strong creatures, with the capacity to break a human bone with just their tale.

In captivity, iguanas can live to be 10 to 20 years old.

Though some iguanas are tame and friendly with their owners, they are sometimes aggressive and difficult to tame if not regularly handled.

How to Care for an Iguana 

Now you’ll learn how to care for an iguana by discovering its various dietary and environmental needs.

Keep in mind we’ve divided many of the sections below into guidance on how to care for a baby iguana and instructions on how to care for adult iguanas, as green iguanas often have varying needs based on their stage of life. 

Housing 

One of the essential needs a pet iguana has is proper housing.

The cage size is extremely important and varies depending on the age and size of the iguana (more on this in a minute).

Since iguanas traditionally live in heavily wooded areas and spend most of their time in the canopy of trees, they need things like tall branches, smooth rocks, and specially designed platforms to climb on in their cage or habitat.

Iguanas also need a hiding area where they can go when they feel scared or threatened, so providing a box or other cave-like space within its habitat is usually a good idea.

Baby Iguana Housing 

Baby iguanas don’t need a large cage like adult iguanas do, and while some owners may be tempted to forgo purchasing two cages and jump to the larger size right at the start, this is not typically a good plan.

Why? Sometimes newly acquired baby iguanas feel lost in a huge cage and have trouble finding their food and water.

They will feel scared and threatened by your presence in a large cage, so it’s typically safer to start with a smaller cage and upgrade later when it grows.

If your baby iguana is 18″ inches long or less, a large, 20-gallon-long aquarium will provide adequate habitat, but it will outgrow this cage quickly and require something much larger.

A good rule to follow is to provide a cage with a length at least twice as long as your iguana and a width at least as wide as the iguana’s length.

Adult Iguana Housing 

Adult green iguanas require an enclosure of at least 12′ feet long by 6′ feet wide by 6′ feet high.

The height of their cage is equally as important as the length since iguanas are arboreous creatures (meaning they live in trees) and need tall branches to climb on.

Typically, commercial reptile cages and aquariums do not meet the needs of adult iguanas, so iguana pet owners often purchase or build specially constructed wood and mesh enclosures.

Be sure the top of the cage is covered in metal mesh (not a flammable substance since your heating and lighting devices will be fastened to the top of the cage) and securely fastened, as iguanas often try to escape their cages.

This does NOT mean iguanas should be given the freedom to roam about the house, as free-roaming iguanas have a much harder time getting the heat and UVB light they need to survive and are often harder to keep tame.

If your iguana’s cage is indoors, you will need to cover the floor of the cage with a substrate or bedding like cypress mulch, shredded aspen, newspaper, or paper towels.

The cage floor needs to be cleaned daily to remove any soiled substrate, feces, and uneaten food, and the entire enclosure should be cleaned once a week, including scrubbing all surfaces and decorations with a pet-safe cleaner. 

Feeding 

Iguanas are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants.

Providing your iguana with plenty of fresh vegetables is key to keeping it healthy and happy.

Supplement the diet of its fresh food with commercially formulated iguana food (this does not replace its need for raw, fresh vegetables), and give it raw fruits weekly as treats.

Baby Iguana Feeding

Baby iguanas need a diet richer in protein than adult iguanas.

However, they will still rely heavily on vegetables and fruits, and they may consume some insects and spiders as well.

One important thing to note is iguanas cannot chew their food.

Rather, they swallow it in one piece.

So baby iguanas’ food will need to be cut up in small, bite-size pieces.

Also, if you are supplementing with a commercial food source like Mazuri Tortoise Chow or Zoo Med pellets, you’ll need to moisten it first so your young iguana can eat the pellets.

Zoo Med Laboratories Szmzm80 Iguana Juvenile...
  • For Proper Bone Development In Young Iguanas
  • Contains Apples And Carrots With Higher Protein Level
  • Added Vitamins And Minerals.

Adult Iguana Feeding

Your adult iguana will thrive off a diet of leafy greens and chopped vegetables (remember, they can’t chew!), some fruit, and a calcium supplement like this one.

Greens appropriate for an iguana’s diet include mustard, collard, dandelion, and turnip greens, while good choices for chopped veggies include squash, broccoli, green beans, and bok choy.

Though fruit should not be consumed as often as vegetables since iguanas can develop diarrhea from a diet high in fruits, they enjoy eating fruit and should have access to some fruits at least once a week.

Good fruits to feed your iguana include berries and melons, bananas, and apples.

Iguanas spend a lot of time eating fresh vegetables, so make sure they have plenty of fresh, raw foods every day and remove uneaten food daily.

Heating 

As a tropical animal, iguanas need to bask at temperatures between 95° and 120° degrees Fahrenheit (35° – 49° C) and their cage temperature should never drop below 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).

Cage temps and basking spot temps should be monitored closely, so installing thermostats is always a good idea. We like this one from Amazon

Baby Iguana Heating

Baby iguanas require a lot of heat and need to bask, just like adult iguanas.

However, since their bodies are much smaller, they may only need one quality heating bulb to keep their body temps regulated. 

Adult Iguana Heating 

Adult iguanas need plenty of heat, requiring many heat bulbs (at least a bank of six) to heat their entire bodies adequately.

The hot spot or basking spot should come from above the iguana (consider securing the heat lamp or bulbs to the top of the cage facing down), as its parietal eye (the scalelike organ behind iguana’s eyes) is the only way iguanas can recognize heat.

Place a large, flat stone or sturdy branch about a foot under the basking heat bulbs so your iguana can heat up properly.

Check the basking temps from where the iguana perches to ensure it is getting hot enough.

It may be a good idea to keep all light bulbs and heating lamps at one end of the cage so the other end will be cooler as iguanas need both hot and cool temps to thermoregulate properly.

Keep in mind, “cool temps” should not drop below 80° – 85° degrees Fahrenheit (27° – 29° C) during the day and upper 70’s degrees Fahrenheit (21° – 26° C) at night.

Lighting 

Iguanas need exposure to specific types of light to thrive in a captive environment.

UVB light is the most important; without it, iguanas suffer from vitamin D deficiencies, are unable to absorb calcium, and can develop a potentially deadly disease called metabolic bone disease.

For best results, provide your iguana with access to 10-12 hours of high-quality UVB light and quality UVA light per day.

And make sure the larger your enclosure is, the more light bulbs you have for your iguana.

Water 

While green iguanas get the majority of their water from the fresh veggies and fruits they eat, they also need plenty of drinking water.

Make sure you place several bowls of water in their enclosure to ensure they have constant access to clean, fresh water every day.

Water bowls also help maintain humidity levels in their cage (more on this later).

Baby Iguana Water Needs

Juvenile iguanas may not always be able to locate their water bowls, so it is important to mist them daily and soak them in their water dish twice a week, as well as give them constant access to their drinking water bowls.

Adult Iguana Water Needs

Adult iguanas should always have access to fresh water.

If possible, they should be provided with a water container large enough for them to get in and soak, as green iguanas live near bodies of water in the wild and are very good swimmers.

Humidity 

Green iguanas require at least 70% humidity in their habitat.

How can you ensure their cage stays at 70% humidity?

Installing an automatic mister or manually misting the cage with a spray bottle twice daily, adding a large container of water to the cage, and keeping live plants in the enclosure are all ways to keep the humidity levels up in your iguana’s environment.

Additionally, it is wise to mist your iguana’s skin twice daily to help it maintain healthy skin.

Once again, you may want to purchase a few humidity gauges like these to place around your iguana’s cage to moderate humidity levels. 

Sale
(2 Pack) Zoo Med Economy Analog Dual Thermometer...
  • Allows precise monitoring of both the temperature and humidity of your terrarium from one unit
  • Temperature and humidity levels are extremely important to the long term heath of your animals
  • Velcro backing enables easy removal for cleaning or relocation

Handling

Green iguanas are usually friendly, intelligent, and even affectionate pets.

Still, it is important to remember they are quite strong and can, at times, be aggressive, so take necessary precautions and follow these tips when handling your iguana.

Baby Iguana Handling Tips 

 When first bringing an iguana home, it may be a good idea to give it a week or two to settle in and feel comfortable in its new home before handling it.

When you decide it’s time to handle your baby iguana, scoop it up under the belly, and remember, they have sharp claws, so wear protective clothing.

Try to hold the iguana until it is calm.

This teaches it calm behavior (instead of aggressive or panicky) is rewarded.

If it gets away, don’t overreact or chase it, simply let it calm down, then, speaking calmly and quietly, approach it once more and pick it up.

While you may end up needing to chase it down, this should be avoided if at all possible. 

One important tip is to never grab for an iguanas tail (unless you want to be left standing with just a tail in your hands and a tail-less iguana roaming the house!) as one of their defense mechanisms is to break off their tail to escape.

Adult Iguana Handling Tips

You must handle your iguana often, so it remains tame and friendly.

When feeding, watering, or cleaning its cage, you might talk to it gently (make sure to use its name as iguanas learn and respond to their names) so it grows accustomed to your voice and understands you are a non-threatening presence.

When picking up your adult iguana, it’s best to approach it from the opposite side of the cage, rather than sticking your hand down from directly above it.

If your iguana makes any aggressive gestures or postures, don’t give up, simply back off a little but keep trying.

Your movements should always be slow and smooth.

Once it is calm enough, reach your hands under its lower belly and upper tail to support it.

While handling, watch for signs of aggression and stress like tail whipping and head bobbing.

Most of all, be patient and keep trying!

If handled consistently and gently, iguanas can become friendly and affectionate pets. 

If you’ve been struggling with your iguana at home or teetering on the fence about whether or not an iguana is the right pet for you, we hope the information we shared on how to care for an iguana equips you with the knowledge and confidence you need to provide this remarkable reptile with the home it needs.

Spend Less Time Figuring Out What To Do And More Time Enjoying Your Pet

You’ll save time and money right away with this easy-to-follow handbook. This is the guide you’ve been looking for everywhere.

Iguana Icon