Have you ever thought, “how cool would it be if I could get an iguana for a pet?”. Well, you’re not alone. Ever since CGI-rendered dinosaurs entered the silver screen (ahem, Jurassic Park) boys 12 and under have been sharing a total fascination and passion for all things reptile. The good-looking exotic iguana, is of course, the go-to choice among many. After all, it may not be as big as a Stegosaurus, but an iguana is still a million times better than a bunny rabbit or a pet turtle.
But! Keep in mind that baby iguanas are cute as miniature baby dragons but they also mature and grow up like we do (check out our article about green iguana size).
So, still up to the task of taking an iguana as a pet? Here are some things you’ll need to consider.
Do You Have Enough Space?
The first problem you’ll encounter when raising iguanas in singles, pairs or multiples is that the current selection of pet enclosure aren’t really built for iguanas in particular. Most of the time they’ll be too small in terms of vertical or horizontal real estate; some are made to look like coffins, which are long and have low height clearances, while others look like telephone booths, tall but not enough to move around in. They may look like ideal iguana cages, but trust me when I say that it will not be healthy for your fast-growing lizard in the long run. Iguanas in particular love to be as high up as they can and prefer to rest in a horizontal alignment as compared to everyday lizards who stay immobile and stick vertically on walls.
What happens when you put your iguana in one of these generic-made enclosures? They get stressed out because they can’t relax and recline in their natural position. More stress equals more chances of egg-binding, a phenomenon that can be fatal to female iguanas.
But what if you put them on a cube? Unfortunately, a square enclosure isn’t the answer as well. The geometric designs makes vertical space a total waste for your home and your pet. The dimensions aren’t conducive for thermoregulation, and your iguana won’t be able to move around as much. Here’s the thing- your beloved iguana should have an enclosure that has the following dimensions:
- Length should be no less than 1.5 to 2 times your iguana’s whole length size from snout to tail (STL).
- Height should be 1 to 1.5 times your iguana’s STL.
- Depth should be 0.5 to 1 times your iguana’s STL.
Don’t forget that your ig will reach quite a big length soon, so plan it’s house for years to come (see this iguana size chart). Consider the cage material as well. Metal bars, meshes and other screening materials are a no-no as they keep your iguana from reaching its optimal temperature (in other words – it’s practically impossible to heat those enclosures). Have in mind that you’ll need to equip that enclosure with adequate equipment to control its lighting, heating and humidity for your iguana.
Are You Well-Informed And Prepared?
Do you really know your iguana?
No, seriously. If you previously thought that it’s okay to stick your special lizard in a metal enclosure, then chances are that you don’t know how to care for iguanas properly. It’s okay if you can’t dedicate a whole room in the house for your pet or that you may not have known that iguanas can grow up to be about 6 ft in size. Here’s the thing- you should be 100% prepared to take an iguana in even before you buy one.
You see kids loading up their carts with 10-gallon tanks, heat rocks and mesh tops along with the littlest green iguana you’ve ever seen. Sure, the good intentions are there but chances are they don’t have a clue on how to properly take care of an iguana. Soon, these kids will realize that they bought the wrong enclosure, the wrong accessories and that they’ve been given the wrong idea on caring for these reptiles. Future iguana owners, you should prepare well in advance on spatial and financial aspects and make sure you get the right information on how you can raise your pet in a healthy, responsible environment.
Let’s start with one of the most important facts about iguanas- their size. Iguanas are pocket-sized when they are young, but grown adult males can reach up to 5 and a half feet up to 6 and a half feet in length, with the females not falling far behind in range. There are 3 vital elements that make up a happy, healthy iguana- diet, heating and humidity. With that being said, a fully-grown green iguana will require a dedicated room or a combination of both indoor/outdoor space of the appropriate size. Leaving your iguana free to roam about isn’t a recommended option- all your precious furniture will have scratches, all the fragile items will eventually break and you risk all possible home dangers, i.e., getting electrocuted, burned by stoves and hit by ceiling fans as well. Plus, you’ll have to transform your home’s environment to the optimal humidity and temperature, which is both expensive and uncomfortable at the same time.
The Costs Of Owning An Iguana
Iguana itself is not pricey, expect to pay up to 20$ for a baby, but keeping iguana is. Enclosure (don’t expect to find proper ready-made cage for iguana in pet shop. There aren’t any!), heating, lighting, food, vet care … expect to invest around 10k$ for 10+ years of hanging out with this reptile.
Iguana owners can finally ask their bosses, their spouses and those who would need them to spend a few days or weeks for business trips and excursions this question- “Who will feed my iguana when I’m gone?”.
It’s one of the responsibilities you should think about. Will you have someone you can entrust the care and feeding of your iguana with? The costs of owning a green iguana doesn’t just involve housing and food. You’ll also need to consider health care expenses, i.e., trips to the vet when they fall ill or experience accidents. Though you may have brushed up on how to properly take care of your iguana and prevent common iguana sickness and malaise, sometimes unexpected things happen. You’ll need to know if there are any vets who specialize in the reptilian variety. If you’re lucky to find one, then get into the details and find out where they are located. Call up the vet office and ask the following questions- how much does the vet charge for visits? Would you pay more if you have a full-sized adult iguana? Does the veterinarian’s office have competent staff who’s knowledgeable in handling and caring for iguanas? How many years of reptilian experience have they had all in all? Then, take a quick tour of the facilities for a closer look. Meet the vet on duty before you take your iguana in for a visit. And while you’re there, why not ask around for anyone (staff, previous clients) if they are willing or know someone who’s willing to babysit your beloved pet?
What will you give your iguana for food? Oh yes, there are pre-made green iguana food diets already circulating around pet shops and online stores. The only problem is that they’re a bit on the expensive side. Oh, another problem – they’ll, in some cases, often be more harmful to your pet then being beneficial. Just because a can of food has iguana’s image on it, it doesn’t mean that it’s good for your ig. Keep an eye out for artificial coloring and the inclusion of animal proteins in the ingredient list. Don’t fall for diets that claim they provide 100% complete nutrition because there’s really no hard facts about what constitutes a complete meal for these arboreal lizards. If you’d watch animal shows and green iguana documentaries then you’d know that an iguana primarily eats mostly leaves and petals from trees and flowers growing in the wild.
In short, you’ll have to prepare food yourself in order to provide proper diet to your pet (we have an article to help you learn what does iguana eat). Suffice to say, this natural diet will be very difficult to emulate. In your quest to find the right diet, you should focus on 2 key nutrients, which are phosphorus and calcium.
Iguanas and humans are similar in that we don’t need to consume all our dietary needs in a single meal. You’d be mostly fine if you ate hamburgers and fries during lunch and then go green and healthy the following day, and the same goes for your green iguana. But, some general diet rules must be respected, otherwise your iguana will face illness and death at young age.
As said, generally, it’s the best option to prepare food for your ig by yourself. Do you have time and will for that? For the more discerning owner who has the extra time, you can mix a few nutritious food into one bowl, i.e., a salad made of greens, veggies and fruits. Cabbage and lettuce are no-nos because they don’t give any nutrition and your iguana will have bad gas problems.
The Mating Habits and Temperament Of Male Iguanas
Iguanas are undeniably cute when they’re still in early infancy. Packing just a few inches in total length and size, with their colors flashing brilliantly green and blue, they look like the perfect pets for dinosaur lovers. Iguanas that arrive from Central America and Mexico are usually 6 to 8 months old and are still considered as babies. But you’d better be prepared when they hit their adolescent stage at the age of 2, or you’re in trouble (get ready for some iguana bite). Male iguanas are some of the most aggressive lizards when they reach sexual age. They are so attuned to their internal reproductive habits that they can sense the minutest hormonal change even in human females (!) when they start having their periods, which drive them quite insane.
That about sums it up for the care and maintenance of a green iguana. Does it sound like a ton of responsibilities? It does, and these things you shouldn’t take lightly. Give them proper care and housing and your pet iguana can outlast the typical house cat or dog. Iguanas are expected to have a lifespan of about 10 to 15 years, but it’s not unusual for them to live far longer than that. Try to envision your life 10, 20 years from now- can it accommodate having a pet iguana? If not, then it’s a safe bet to get another kind of pet because you’ll have trouble finding a second home for your iguana.
Parting With Your Iguana
You may have cared for your iguana to the best of your abilities, but sometimes life changes and you’re forced to let go. Keep in mind that simply releasing your green iguana into the wild is unacceptable- there are (law) guidelines you should follow!
Your first option is to call the pet store where you initially bought your iguana from and asking them if they’d be interested in having it back. Don’t expect your money back and be grateful for the fact that they’re offering your iguana a safe second home. If the pet store refuses then it’s up to you to find your iguana a suitable second home. Put up adoption listings online. Post fliers around your neighborhood. Let the local animal shelter and pet stores know about your situation. Nature centers and schools may be looking for a classroom pet. Last but not the least, you can call your State Fish and Wildlife Agency. If they aren’t willing to take your pet, you can at least ask them for tips instead of just unleashing your pet and possibly breaking a few wildlife laws in the process.
Euthanasia is another possible option if you’re stuck with nowhere else to go. You can opt for a humane euthanasia process by a qualified vet instead of releasing your green iguana into the wild.
Though it may seem harmless, releasing your iguana to the mercies of nature will have profound effects on the creature, our environment and the ecological system. First, it’s against state laws for owners to do these acts because the creatures will likely die quickly when out on their own. Second, an iguana can cause harm to the surrounding flora and fauna and cause an imbalance via a ripple effect. They can reproduce, spread and cause other species to go extinct. The bottom line is that releasing will not be an option no matter the situation.
Surprisingly, iguanas are difficult pets when it comes to feeding, care, housing and maintenance. But that shouldn’t stop you from considering one. You’ll need to take the right approach from the start. Learning how big they can grow up to, the space required, their lifespan and feeding habits is important if you want to have a healthy, happy iguana. Lastly, think about whether or not an iguana is the right pet in your current situation and years down the line. These should be enough to give you an idea for choosing the perfect pet. If you still want an iguana, consider reading some good manuals (like this or this one) to prepare yourself.