1. Pet iguanas are not for beginners!
It’s a classic story: Person goes to the pet store or reptile expo. They see a big-eyed, bright green baby iguana for just $15. Swayed by a cute face and a good bargain, they hand over the cash and bring it home.
A few months to a year later, the iguana has either died or becomes a listing on the local classifieds.
Just because a pet is cheap doesn’t mean that it’s easy to care for. A pet iguana is no exception. They are large animals with complicated (and sometimes expensive) needs.
Robin Small of Ontario Iguanas has 5 pet iguanas of her own, and she has been kind enough to work with ReptiFiles on some pointers!
2. Iguanas are vegetarian.
No meat. No bugs. Not even tofu. Pet iguanas of all ages thrive when they eat a variety of vegetables and occasional fruit. Lettuce? Forget it – they need greens with actual nutrition: collard greens, dandelion, mustard greens, etc. And heads up: they eat A LOT.
3. Iguanas are hard to tame.
Baby iguanas see humans as predators, so when a new keeper wants to take their new pet iguana out for a snuggle, they run frantically around the enclosure, trying to escape. As they grow and become more confident, they start tail-whipping and biting. This is a stressful time of life that can last from a couple months to a year, depending on the iguana and its keeper’s training technique.
Minimizing stress is critical to giving iguanas a good start in life. High levels of adrenaline (a stress hormone) can stunt growth and cause other problems. Patience and persistence is the key to gaining your iguana’s trust during this time.
4. Males are crazy.
Once a year, sexually mature iguanas enter breeding season. Breeding season makes male iguanas extremely aggressive and unpredictable. They will lash out at random objects, other pets, their owners, and even their own reflection. Iguanas have lots of tiny yet razor-sharp teeth that can cause severe, ER-worthy lacerations. Breeding season can last a couple months or longer, so if you choose to keep a male iguana, you must take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and your other pets.
5. Females need to lay eggs.
You may be thinking, “Well if males are such a problem, then I’ll just get a female.” But females require special care, too — even if a female iguana hasn’t so much as seen a picture of a male, she will still lay infertile eggs every year. This is called “cycling” her eggs, and is important to her health. If an appropriate location for laying isn’t provided or she doesn’t get the right nutrition, she can become egg bound and die.
6. Iguanas are big.
Iguanas can grow up to 6’ (1.8 m) long and weigh up to 20 lbs (9 kg) of solid muscle. They need large, custom-built cages to keep them happy and healthy, and such an enclosure can be expensive. But even with a great cage, pet iguanas benefit from having time to roam and climb outside their enclosures — which means that your home needs to be iguana-proofed, too.
7. Iguanas need to go to the vet.
Although iguanas are nothing like dogs or cats in any other sense, they do need regular trips to a qualified exotics veterinarian. During an annual check-up, an exotics vet checks your pet iguana for parasites, unusual weight gain/loss, bone density, and more. If you need help finding an exotics vet in your area, check out Finding the Reptile Vet of Your Dreams.
8. Don’t trust the pet store.
You would be surprised how little pet store employees know about the animals they’re selling. All too often, they will tell customers that iguanas “eat bugs” or are “easy to handle.” The reality is that most of these people are working there for the kittens/puppies/bunnies, not the lizards (bless their hearts). Don’t be a victim of someone else’s ignorance.
9. Iguanas can be fascinating, rewarding pets.
A pet iguana is not like having dogs or cats—they need to be respected for what they are, and the above points have just scraped the surface of what it takes. But if you’re up for the challenge, take some time to research iguanas and their needs (beyond this article, I mean).