Caring for a reptile is not the same as caring for a guinea pig, rabbit, cat, or dog. I know…since I have all of those pets in my family. Back in June, I decided to add two iguanas to my family (you can see my posts about my journey back into reptile care here). I figured that since I had an iguana as a child, it would be easy for me to jump back into caring for an iguana again as an adult. I was way off-base.
There is SO much to learn about proper reptile ownership. Every reptile has its’ own needs for proper health. These special requirements include proper habitat, diet, and taming/interaction. Before acquiring my new iguanas, I spent a lot of time researching Iguanas on the Reptile Care Center on petMD®, and I am still continuing with my research even today.
This post is going to share the tips I have found that will help you succeed in caring for an iguana in the three categories of habitat, diet, and taming.
An iguana habitat is fairly simple when it is young. You can find a wonderful cage online at the Reptile Purchase Center on PetSmart.com. I chose a ReptiBreeze cage in the largest size and decorated the interior with branches and self-made shelving for them to climb and bask. The mesh paneling is also on the top of the cage allowing for their UVB and basking lights to be placed at the top on the exterior of the cage which is helpful for regulating temperature and avoiding burns.
The disadvantage to a ReptiBreeze cage is the mesh paneling. While iguanas like the mesh for climbing (iguanas prefer to spend most of their time hanging out in trees in their natural environment), the mesh allows the enclosure to lose humidity too quickly. In order to counter-balance this, I apply coconut oil daily to the full-length of my iguanas (as recommended by my veterinarian). I also mist them and placed a large pan in the bottom of the ReptiBreeze cage that I keep at least one inch of water in at all times. This helps them stay hydrated and shed easily.
This has easily been the most complicated part of proper iguana care. Before access to great resources such as the Reptile Care Center on petMD®, it was commonly thought that iguanas had a diet similar to other lizards, and thus they were fed insects, fruit, and vegetables. As it turns out, iguanas actually should not have a diet that consists of insects at all! Too much protein in an iguana diet will cause kidney failure. Because iguanas are strict herbavores, they also do not need a calcium supplement that includes phosphorus (so, be sure to purchase a phosphorus-free calcium supplement from the Reptile Purchase Center on PetSmart.com). Here is a quick guide to a proper iguana diet:
Some reptiles are the type of pet you just look at…iguanas are not those kind of reptiles. Iguanas grow to be five feet or larger and weigh upwards of twenty pounds, so it is important to raise a friendly, well-socialized iguana. The taming process starts when they are young. However, when you first bring your iguana home, you will want to give him some time to adjust to his new environment before adding in the stress of handling. During the first two weeks, just feed, water, and clean your iguanas habitat. After that, the exciting process of taming begins! In having two iguanas, I have found the rumor that reptiles have individual personalities to be 100% true. My one iguana was calm from day 1. I could pet her, hold her, or pick her up without any tail whipping or other fight or flight responses.
My other iguana however, was very fearful. Her response would be to posture, run, tail whip, or open her mouth really wide to try and scare me away when I approached for bonding time. Their unique personalities required an individualized approach to taming. My more social iguana is taming easily, but my more fearful iguana is taking much more time and confidence on my part. Confidence, because I have to be able to catch, and hold, a threatening iguana until calm. Through my research, I learned that the best way to tame a fearful iguana is through letting them realize you are not going to hurt them, but also not giving in to their threats. Remember, these reptiles get very large, so if my baby learns that tail whipping makes me go away, I’m going to have a BIG problem later on. So, instead, if she tail whips when I am cleaning her cage, I then take her out and pet her until she is calm. If she is calm when I clean her cage, I talk to her, but otherwise leave her alone. I am applying positive training principles to my iguanas, and I have made a TON of progress!
My Personal Experience
In the end, I have learned so much more than I ever would have expected in my venture back into reptile ownership. Reptiles, depending on the kind you choose, can be a lot of work, so be sure to research the reptile you are most interested in to determine if they are right for your home. I chose iguanas for many reasons, and while they are a more high-maintenance reptile, I am very happy with my choice! My other pets still have not met my iguanas, as I feel this is something that comes after my iguanas have thoroughly bonded with me and trust me, but I am sure, in time, they will become a part of my household. Until then, they get bonding time with me in a quiet room by themselves, where there are not as many “scary” things. I look forward to sharing the next stage in my journey as an iguana owner with you! If you have missed any part in this series, I will be posting all the links on my Iguanas as Pets Page.