All Pets Veterinary Clinic


In the past several years, green iguanas have become one of the most commonly owned
reptile species. Owning an iguana can be a very rewarding experience. However,
improper care and husbandry are the reason why well over 80% of iguanas die within
their first year of life. This article will discuss some of the basics involved in
caring for a green iguana.

Cages/enclosures. Before you choose a cage for your iguana you should realize
that green iguanas may start off as a very small lizard, often times less than 8 inches
long, but grow rapidly if cared for properly. When they are fully grown they can reach
lengths of up to 6 foot and can live for over 10 years. Thus, the cage that you choose
for your iguana should take into consideration that your cute little reptile is going to
grow quite large. It is often better to start with a cage that can comfortably hold a
3-4 foot or larger iguana than to have to replace smaller cages every few months.

Temperature. Since iguanas generally come from climates unlike our own, you must
recreate their natural environment in order to ensure optimal health. The average
daytime temperature in the enclosure should be around 85-90 degrees with one area of
the cage reaching 100-110 degrees. This will serve as a basking area. During the night,
the temperature should be around 75-80 degrees. In the best designed cages there is a
temperature gradient. Thus the entire cage is not kept at one constant temperature.
Instead, the cage provides separate temperature zones. This will allow for a variety
of different temperature ranges so that the animal can move according to his/her
preference as opposed to being forced to stay in one constant temperature.
and other heating sources should not be placed where the iguana can have direct
contact with them because of the potential for burns. In addition, "hot rocks"
can often inflict serious burns and are not recommended for use with reptiles.

Cage furnishings. Since iguanas are tree climbers by nature, it is critical
that a sturdy branch be included in the cage/enclosure. Branches should be at least
the widthof the animal and heavy enough that they will not collapse under the weight of
the iguana. Once again, planning ahead is key. A young iguana may weight less than a
pound but can grow to be well over 15 pounds. Taking this into consideration when first
designing a cage can be of great help.

A bowl or tub of warm water should be available at all times in the cage. Iguanas will
not typically use this water to drink from, but will more often soak or defecate in the
water. The bowl or tub should be cleaned and refilled at least daily to ensure that it
does not become a source of contamination.

A full spectrum UV light, such as a Vita Lite, is necessary to ensure that the iguana
can adequately produce vitamin D3. Without Vitamin D3, iguanas have cannot absorb calcium.

Nutrition. Iguanas are, for the most part, strict vegetarians. This is one of
the reasons they have become such popular reptiles. Proper nutrition is CRITICAL for the
success of your iguana. The main thing to remember when feeding an iguana is VARIETY.
An iguana maintained on the same one vegetable for long periods of time will not do very
well. By providing a wide variety of vegetables, you help to ensure that your iguana
will not become nutritionally deficient.

A minimum of 40% of the diet should include calcium rich vegetables like collards,
mustard greens, turnip greens, and beet greens. A lesser amount, approx. 20-30%, of
other vegetables such as green peppers, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, and green
beans can be included in the diet. Limited quantities of broccoli, cauliflower, brussel
sprouts, and cabbage can be fed. If these foods are fed in excess, thyroid or other
problems may result. Fresh fruits such as melon, grapes, banana, strawberries, and
peaches can be fed at a maximum of 10-15%. Citrus type fruits should be avoided.
While iguanas will generally enjoy the fruits, they are not as nutritionally packed
as are the dark green, leafy vegetables.

Lettuce should never be fed to an iguana because it contains almost no nutritional
content. An iguana maintained on a majority of lettuce, is sure to experience metabolic
bone disease, a disease that can be fatal for iguanas.

A light dusting of the vegetables with a specially formulated reptile supplement will
help to make up for any deficiencies in the diet. However, one must remember that too
much supplement can cause just as much harm as too little. Ideally, the supplement
should contain calcium and phosphorus in a ratio that enhances absorption of these
nutrients. For a specific product recommendation, please contact a veterinarian that
is familiar with green iguana care.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.

Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
14 December 2002