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Caring For Your Green Iguana-I am more than happy to answer your questions through email, but first please read my care guide below, you will probably find the answers you are looking for right here.
Any information or advice on iguanas that you follow (including mine) that is not obtained by a licensed professional, you are using at your own risk. The care guide that I have written is the guide that I have been following for the last seven or so years. I am only a reptile hobbyist, not a veterinarian, zoologist, etc. so please keep that in mind. I cannot guarantee that your iguana will live to be 20 years old and 7 ft. long if you follow my guide because I am not a trained professional and that would be unlawful. I can guarantee that I have two beautiful 5 ft. long, very healthy, happy iguanas that live comfortably under the conditions I will share with you in my other information sections. My care guide comes from a combination of information I receive from my veterinarian and numerous books and articles I have read on iguana care. Feel free to bring my information to an experienced reptile veterinarian before you follow any of it. My care guide will give you the basics on iguana care. Use it along with recently published books and a good reptile veterinarian. My links page also offers links with great information. Good Luck to you and your iguanas!
What you feed your iguana (aside from all other care it receives) will ultimately effect its life span. You could have the best cage, heat it up correctly, and love your iguana to death, but if you don't give it the right combination of foods, it will not live a long life. Calcium and Phosphorus are the key to iguana nutrition. Most vets have now come to the conclusion that iguanas do not need animal protein in their diets. If you own an iguana care book that tells you to give your iguana dog/cat food, THROW IT AWAY! Iguanas require a diet that is high in calcium, low in phosphorus, and contains Vitamin D3. Our main goal is to use the right combinations and amounts of food to give us a diet that has a calcium to phosphorus ratio of approximately 2:1. Always be sure to cut up your iguanas food into very small pieces so they will be able to digest it easily. A food processor makes this job easy.
There has been a lot of controversy on which is the "best" iguana diet on the web today. I have recently been reading pages of arguments giving reasons as to why "x" diet is better than "y" or vice versa. I am not going to give you "the perfect diet". Here is "ONE" of the diets I use most often. Sometimes I add 1/2 cup of alfalfa pellets soaked overnight in water or Zoo Meds soft pellets that do not have to be soaked. I add the pellets approximately twice a month to my food batches to add vegetable protein. I often alternate different vegetables and fruit from the list below to offer my iguana more variety. I do this for two reasons: 1) alternating different foods will better assure me that my iguanas will get a good supply of different vitamins and minerals from the different foods and 2) so that the iguanas will not get bored of eating the same meal all of the time. I sprinkle an iguana vitamin and calcium supplement of their food once a week (you can find these at the pet store). If you feed your iguanas correctly, adding supplements once a week is enough. I make this batch for my male and female (adults). I keep it in the refrigerator and it lasts a couple of days. If you have a juvenile, you should cut all amounts in half or you will have too much left over and it will spoil.
|Sample Diet - Here is one of the diets I use most often.|
|Food||Amount||Calcium (mg)||Phosphorus (mg)||Protein (mg)|
|Dandelion Greens||2 cups||205.6||72.6||3|
|Mustard Greens||1 cup||57.7||24.1||1.5|
|Spaghetti Squash||1 cup||23.2||12.1||.6|
|Green Beans||1 cup||40.7||41.8||2|
|Totals||5 1/2 cups||344.0||154.1||7.52|
|Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio = 2.23:1|
How To Prepare
Dandelion Greens and Mustard Greens--I remove any hard stems and rip up the leaves into pieces about the size of a postage stamp for juveniles and a little larger for adults
Spaghetti Squash and Green Beans--I remove the seeds, skin, and stump from the squash, cut it into small pieces and put it in the food processor with the green beans, if the green beans have the stems still on you will need to remove them first (if you do not have a food processor chop ingredients very finely)
Papaya--I cut up the papaya into small pieces on a cutting board (about the size of peas for juveniles and just a little larger for adults)
I spread out the leafy greens on a flat dish, mix up the rest and serve on top of the leafy greens.
Other Healthy Food Choices-The following information was obtained using Nutrition Analysis 2.0 from the University of Illinois website. This is a great place to look up food information for your iguana (and yourself).
|Here are some other healthy food choices with a good calcium to phosphorus ratio. If your iguana has a favorite food that doesn't have a high ratio you can still feed it to him/her as long as you combine it with foods that have a good ratio so that your overall diet will be 2:1|
|Food||Amount||Calcium||Phosphorus||Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio||Protein|
|collard greens||1 cup||52.2||3.6||14.6:1||.88|
|turnip greens||1 cup||104.5||23.1||4.5:1||.825|
|dandelion greens||1 cup||102.8||36.3||2.8:1||1.48|
|mustard greens||1 cup||57.7||24.1||2.4:1||1.5|
|spaghetti squash||1 cup||23.2||12.1||1.9:1||.6|
|butternut squash*||1 cup||67.2||46.2||1.5:1||1.4|
|green beans||1 cup||40.7||41.8||.97:1||2.0|
|winter squash*||1 cup||36.0||37.1||.97:1||1.7|
|sweet potato||1 cup||29.3||37.2||.78:1||2.2|
*some raw squashes are very hard, I recommend microwaving or steaming them and then cool before using
|Your iguana's diet should consist of approximately:|
There are many foods that can be harmful to your iguana's health. Do not feed your iguana any food on this list, use the charts above to be sure you are providing your iguana with a healthy diet.
|These foods contain high concentrations of mildly toxic chemicals including: oxalic acid/phytic acid/goitrogens/saponins. As these foods are fine for humans, they are harmful when fed to iguanas.||
|These foods have been known to cause diarrhea and have little or no nutritional value:||
|These foods are high protein foods and should not be used. An iguana living in captivity should be a vegetarian.||
Vitamin and Calcium Supplements
Be sure to add both a vitamin supplement and calcium supplement for iguanas/reptiles, available at most pet stores, once or twice a week. Usually there is a chart for how much to use according to your iguana's weight. If it confuses you, my advice is "a sprinkle" of each. Don't use it every day-too much can be TOXIC. If you know that your iguana's diet has a good calcium to phosphorus ratio then use less supplements. Try to get a calcium supplement with Vitamin D3 added.
ALWAYS make sure your iguana has clean, fresh, water available to him/her. As for a place to bathe, if you have one make sure you always keep it clean. I don't feel it is necessary to keep a bathing container available for your iguanas if they never use it. My iguanas hate baths, so I spray them with a gentle mist from a clean spray bottle daily in the morning so that they have all day to dry in their basking spot. You should provide either one to be sure they are exposed to some humidity.
If you think the 20 gallon tank you bought with your baby iguana will last, well forget that. Iguanas outgrow their cages VERY fast. Don't waste your time buying glass tanks bigger and bigger as your iguana grows, you'll just waste money. Iguanas need a lot of room, so you are better off building your own enclosure or having one built for you. Iguanas like to climb and be up high, so you will want to include a shelf or perch with easy access to it. Choose a suitable substrate which is safe for your iguana. ANY kind of wood chips, gravel, sand, corn cob, reptile bark, lizard litter, etc. are NOT SAFE for your iguana. He/she will eventually end up ingesting some of it which will cause harm to the digestive system. Safe alternatives: artificial turf or linoleum-that can be washed or wiped up with a mild soap and water and rinsed thoroughly. Or you can cut up brown paper bags or use white butcher paper. Always remove waste as soon as possible. Confused about how to set up your iguana's enclosure? Click here
Putting your iguana's enclosure in a quiet place without a lot of activity will be beneficial to its overall health. Iguanas can be made nervous easily by barking dogs, loud sounds, etc. If you want a tame iguana, then you need to make contact with it very often. Taking it out of its cage, holding it, and talking to it softly will have you on your way. (See Taming). To hold your iguana correctly, place one hand under the chest, using your forearm as a platform for its belly. Its arms and legs should dangle freely on both sides of your hand and arm. Always talk to it softly, and move slowly so as not to frighten it. Your are now on your way to developing a very special friendship.
Your main goal in setting up your iguana's heating and lighting is to provide a warm basking area (90F-94F) and a cooler area (75F-84F) so that your iguana can acclimate itself to the temperature IT chooses to be in at any given time and get the necessary UVB rays so that it can metabolize calcium. Click the name of each item for a picture. All lights must stay on for 12-14 hours and be off for 10-12 hours. Iguanas need to sleep at nighttime in darkness (black lights are available for nighttime heat but will usually disrupt your iguana's natural sleeping patterns).
UVB Fluorescent Lighting
UVB Fluorescent Lights are cool lights and give off no heat, they must be used together with basking lights. You will need to provide your iguana with a UVB light in an area of its enclosure that it spends most of its time in, preferably high up where it can climb to. It must be positioned 8-14 inches away from your iguana, shining on it with no glass or plastic cover (large holed screen is okay to shine through). Wherever you set up your basking spot is where you will also put your UVB light. This type of light gives off no heat, so other bulbs will be needed to create a basking spot that is (90F-94F) degrees. These type of lights need to be replaced every six months because they loose their effectiveness even if they don't burn out. Iguana Light, Reptisun, and Vitalite are popular ones and can be found in most pet stores in different sizes. You can save some money if you buy the fixture from a hardware store and just take off, and do not use, the plastic cover that most come with.
Basking Lights are responsible for heating your iguana and MUST be used with UVB fluorescent lights. In setting up your basking area (90F-94F) you can use any of a number of basking lights available. However, there has been some controversy as to whether these special lights do anything special at all. Using regular white incandescent lightbulbs like the ones you use in your lamps will do the trick just as well. Use round bulbs (not spot or reflector lights) in a silver dome fixture. If you do decide to use spot or reflector lights, use them in a fixture without a dome, otherwise the light may get too hot. The silver backing on spot/reflector lights take the place of a dome. Do not make your iguana's entire cage 90-94 F. The basking area should be at that temperature and your iguana should be able to escape to a cooler area of the enclosure any time it chooses. The cooler area that you set up in your cage should be about (75F-84F) degrees. Your basking area should be the highest area in your cage, a place where your iguana can climb up to like a branch or shelf.
Instead of using basking lightbulbs, you may use a ceramic heater. Be sure you use these in special porcelain light fixtures that are specially made to withstand the high heat that the base of the ceramic heaters give off. If you decide to use a ceramic heater be very careful to monitor the temperatures in your cage and basking area. Ceramic heaters can get VERY HOT!
Heating Your Iguana At Night
For juvenile iguanas (about up to two years old), the enclosure should be about 78-84F degrees at night. Adult iguanas can tolerate nighttime temperatures of 74-82 and even prefer it a little cooler than juveniles. This can be accomplished by using either ceramic heaters or black night lights. You can also find red ones available for night. I personally believe that blue or red light disturbs the natural sleeping patterns of the iguana, therefore I will only use ceramic heaters. When the weather is warm, an adult iguana can safely stay without any heaters on at night if your house temperature is around 74. Never position your iguanas nighttime heating device to aim directly at your iguana, it should always be off to the side of it, so as not to cause burns. Your nighttime goal is not to create a basking area, but to create a warm (not hot) climate according to the above nighttime temperatures. Ceramic bulbs are hotter than light bulbs according to wattage, so you will need to experiment with different wattages and a good thermometer.
I have only one thing to say about heat rocks. HEATROCKS BURN IGUANAS. Iguanas in their natural habitat are heated from above by the sun. And you should be able to create a properly heated basking area for your iguana to bask in, therefore not needing a heat rock. If you absolutely feel that your iguana wants to get belly warmth, or maybe you have been using a heat rock successfully for a long time and your iguana loves it, then get Zoo Med's heat pad and rheostat so that you can regulate how hot the pad gets. And never put your heat pad directly under your lights. It makes the pad much too hot.
To make sure your temperatures are correct use a thermometer. It is a bit difficult to get an accurate reading by just sticking a thermometer in your iguana's cage. Here are some tricks I use: First of all you should have at least two thermometers in your iguana's enclosure. One should be in the cooler area and one in the basking spot. When I test the temperature I try not to face the thermometer in the basking spot directly in the ray of the light or ceramic heater because it can give a false reading (so my vet has told me). I try putting it in upside down or covered with a piece of paper or move it all around while my iguanas are roaming the house(supervised of course!). After I read it I take it out. I do have one attached to the wall besides the one I test with. In closing this section let me take the time to say, please make sure your iguana is heated correctly because this is one of the main things people do wrong. Check, double check, and triple check, then check again. Don't only trust thermometers, watch your iguana's behavior. Does try to get closer and closer to the heat source? (and I don't mean fluorescent-they give off almost NO heat) then it's probably too cool. Are they running away from the heat source? Staying far away in the other corner? Then it's probably too hot. Use your judgment.
Unless you enjoy pain and scarring, you will need to trim your iguanas nails. This will probably need to be done a couple times a year depending on how fast your iguana's nails grow. There is really no time schedule. When I get scratched, it's time. First, make sure your iguana is as relaxed as you are going to get him/her to be. Having two people work on this task is helpful, but one can do it alone if need be. If you have a partner, one person should hold the lizard with both hands, one around the neck and front area, and the other in front of the hind legs. The other person, using a clean reptile (cat, rabbit, etc.) claw clipper (found in most pet stores) then clips off the sharp pointed TIP on the claw. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO CUT INTO THE BLOOD VESSEL!!!! Using a bright light behind your iguana allows you to look through the nail and show you where the blood vessel starts. Don't cut all the way up to it, leave a little bit of room from where it becomes visible to where you cut. Cutting into the blood vessel will hurt your iguana and upset him, which could result in injury to the both of you.
If you ever see little red, brown, or white dots on your iguana, they are probably mites. Mites will ultimately kill your iguana if left untreated. Pet store owners are usually CLUELESS to mites, and many reptiles bought in petstores are infested. People buy them, don't take time to research their pets, and end up with a sick or dead reptile. If you find mites you should call your reptile vet immediately. Click here for treatment options I have personally used for killing mites. Please be aware that self treating your iguana for mites comes with a risk.
A Final Note: There are two ways to owning a happy and healthy iguana: a) research your pet, b) find a "reptile" veterinarian with experience and a good reputation.
*Now available in Spanish - El Cuidar Para Su Iguana Verde