Keep Your Iguana in Good Health for Life

October 24, 2012

Iguana iguana (green iguana) is the most common pet iguana species. They are herbivores so their nutrients come from plant material such as fruit, vegetables, leaves, hay, and flowers. They eat mostly vegetables. A moistened chow is offered to provide protein, though the recommended types of chow may vary.

Basic Biology

The lifespan is variable, but it is not unusual for them to reach 10 years of age with proper husbandry. Adult males are much larger than females, and they live apart except at breeding times. The female lays an average of 40 eggs, and these hatch in 3 months. A nesting area needs to provide the female with a soft, deep substrate to "bury" their clutch or egg binding (retention) may occur.


The iguana is an ectothermic species, which means that they use the environmental temperature to regulate their own body temperature. The old fashioned term for this was cold-blooded, but since they can have very warm internal body (and blood) temperatures, this term has gone out of general use.

An important housing parameter is the provision of gradients of temperature within their environment so that they are not subjected to inappropriate heat or cold. They should have a choice to move about and select the preferred temperature zone. A source of warmth externally at one end of the enclosure should be provided. Special heat tape products are available that produce relatively safe sources, but for a single cage, a moisture-proof warm water circulating pad can easily be placed in a dry area. If heat bulbs (infrared) or incandescent bulbs are chosen, they must be placed outside and at a distance from the pet that will not lead to burns.

A thermometer should be mounted in the housing to check for average ambient temperature since chronic exposure to a temperature below optimum is a frequent cause of health and appetite problems. Humidity should also be maintained in an optimal range.

A glass terrarium with a screen top is useful. The provision of lots of climbing territory (e.g. tree branches or large rocks) will help them to maintain a healthy level of exercise. Various bedding substrates can be used, but a favourite for the hide box area is sphagnum moss. Wood chips are an acceptable environment substrate. Fresh water is essential, and smaller iguanids may need a drip system. Provide a large water pond as well so that they can soak as needed.

Fluorescent black lights should be provided as a source of UV light. The UV light acts to support Vitamin D production. Not providing this can lead to serious metabolic bone disease.

Handling and Behaviour

The young iguanas should be exposed to handling in a very graduated fashion, since over-handling can be stressful. Once they are adjusted to handling, they will tolerate contact well.

Health Considerations

If inadequate humidity is provided, retained shed skin on the feet can lead to toe infections.

Proper levels of Calcium intake in the diet, and regular UV ray exposure are important strategies to help prevent skeletal problems (metabolic bone disease); a fairly common, but preventable health problem.