The iguana is not the ideal pet for everyone – it is a strong lizard that takes up a lot of space, requires a climate-controlled environment, and is not your average fluffy, easy-to-train family pet.
While an iguana may be a good pet choice for an experienced reptile owner, proper care requires more reptile knowledge than a novice pet owner possesses.
From the amount of time and care that goes into owning this reptile to their extended lifespan and demanding diet, you should know a few things before jumping into ownership.
Do Iguanas Make Good Pets?
Iguanas can make fantastic pets for more experienced reptile lovers but require handling experience and an understanding of the unique needs of a larger-sized reptile. These lizards are labor-intensive pets and a poor pet choice for novice owners.
Pet iguanas have unique housing needs - the minimum size for an adult iguana enclosure is 6 feet by six feet by four feet, demanding feeding requirements - their diet consists of fresh greens, fruits, and leaves, and handling precautions - they can be unmanageable, and their skin often infected with salmonella.
For the experienced reptile owner, however, the iguana is a long-lived pet that is tamable with routine handling and a comfortable home environment. Iguanas are well known for trying to escape enclosures; however, and can never be fully domesticated, which can be frustrating.
What Do Iguanas Eat?
Native to South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, green iguanas are almost exclusively herbivores and feed on green plant material, flowers, seeds, and fruits - and on occasion, they will also eat insects and smaller lizards.
In captivity, iguanas do best when fed a diet of leafy greens and calcium-rich vegetables. You might mistakenly believe that the iguana eats live crickets like many other pet lizard species, but an animal-based diet is too high in protein for this reptile. Protein should only comprise approximately 5% of an iguana's daily food intake.
Many pet stores sell commercial reptile food or “iguana food,” which can be more affordable, but it is not ideal. Commercial reptile food - if fed - should only comprise a small percentage of an iguana’s diet. Fruit, vegetables, flowers, and greens are the best foods for a captive iguana as these are the foods closest to its natural diet.
How Long Do Iguanas Live?
Many factors dictate an iguana’s lifespan, including its species and whether they live in captivity. For example, the green iguana has a shorter lifespan than the Cayman Blue iguana, which can live for around forty years in the wild and seventy in captivity!
Green iguanas in the wild live for approximately ten to fifteen years, often succumbing to predators like hawks, owls, herons, vultures, crows, egrets, raccoons, cats, dogs, and wild pigs.
Green iguanas can live as long as twenty years or more in captivity. The most common cause of death in green iguanas in captivity include poor diet/malnutrition, parasites, inadequate lighting, respiratory infection, and dehydration.
How Big Do Iguanas Get?
Iguana size varies depending on the species. The green iguana is one of the most kept iguana species and the longest, exceeding five feet long and weighing nearly twenty pounds! You can see why these reptiles require such a large enclosure in captivity!
The smallest iguana species, however, is the spiny-tailed iguana, which is native to Mexico, can measure in at just under five inches long, and weigh slightly over two ounces. Spiny-tailed iguanas can make great pets for educated reptile owners!
Most iguanas – particularly those commonly kept as pets – grow exponentially, only reaching maturity at three to four years old. An iguana matures at around four years, and their growth slows significantly.
What Foods Are Toxic To Iguanas?
The complexity of feeding an iguana does not just lie in their need for fresh foods but also in avoiding toxic and tainted foods. Iguanas that ingest poisonous foods can quickly succumb to death.
One of the most significant threats to captive iguanas is the presence of pesticides. Improperly washed fresh foods can expose iguanas to pesticides like organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, and neonicotinoids.
In addition to toxins like pesticides, some foods pose a significant risk to the iguana. Foods high in protein, broccoli, brussels sprouts, soy products, parsley, leeks, kiwi, rhubarb, beetroot, avocado, kale, bok choy, apple leaf, yew, dairy, eggs, chives, and any foods high in oxalates are toxic to iguanas.