What to Know About Iguanas

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 19, 2022
5 min read

Iguanas are a popular reptilian pet, but there's an epidemic of released pet iguanas because many owners aren't prepared for the responsibility. Preparation for iguana ownership is vital. 

Iguanas, sometimes called green iguanas, are reptiles that vary in shades of green and brown. They have many notable traits, including spines along their back, a long tail, and a dewlap. 

Size. Iguanas get much bigger than other pet reptiles. Mature iguanas can weigh up to 13 pounds and grow to 6.5 feet long. 

Because of their size, caring for iguanas is different from other reptilian pets. They're more like a small dog than an enclosed reptile.

Iguanas prefer environments that are at least 80°F during the day and around 70°F at night. Some live in tropical habitats, but others live in drier areas or near saltwater.

Origin. You may find captive-bred iguanas that are suitable for captivity. Iguanas originate from Central and South America but have found their way to tropical areas of the U.S.

Habitat. Iguanas are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in trees. They do it to soak up sunlight and eat vegetation that grows in the trees.

Green iguana. The green iguana is the most common iguana kept as a pet. But there are eight genera of iguanas and many more species.

Spiny-tailed/black iguanas. Native to Central America, these iguanas are available and affordable in the U.S.

Chuckwalla. This iguana is native to desert regions. It looks like a chunkier, browner version of the green iguana.

Rhinoceros/rock iguanas. These large iguanas have many variations. They're appealing to reptile enthusiasts but expensive and hard to come by.

Keeping iguanas as pets is a controversial topic. As the iguana pet trade has grown, unethical farming practices have too. 

Most people also need to prepare more to raise an iguana. Improper care of pet iguanas has led to a rise in released iguanas and iguanas given up to rescues.

If you decide to get an iguana, get a captive-bred iguana, not wild-caught. Iguanas born in the wild don't do well transitioning to captivity or being handled. 

Iguanas are not beginner-friendly pets. You must have experience with reptiles and prepare for the challenges of raising an iguana.

The make-or-break factor for having a pet iguana is appropriate care. Most people aren't ready for the lifestyle of an iguana owner.

You need a lot of equipment before bringing home an iguana. You also should know what equipment you'll need throughout your iguana's life.

Your iguana needs a place to explore, hide, and rest. When the iguana is smaller, a 30-gallon glass vivarium is fine. 

Iguanas need a much larger enclosure as they get bigger, preferably a cage or pen. A 4-foot iguana needs a cage with a 6-foot by 6-foot base and at least 30 inches deep. 

Even though they're the size of a dog or cat, you shouldn't let them roam free in your house or outside.

The stuff at the bottom of the tank or cage is the substrate. A good rule is to avoid loose substrates because an iguana may swallow it and choke or become impacted.

Avoid reptile carpets. Many sources recommend it, but it harbors bacteria easily unless you thoroughly wash and clean it daily. 

Easily cleanable or disposable substrates like unprinted newspapers or paper towels are ideal. Synthetic turf is easy to clean and reusable since it's often made of plastic.

As reptiles from warmer climates, iguanas have specific heating and lighting needs. If your local temperatures resemble those of Central and South America, you may not need additional heat and light. 

The two ways you can maintain heat for your iguana are through incandescent lamps and under-tank heating (UTH). You should leave the light on all day and turn it off at night to simulate day-night cycles. 

Your iguana needs ultraviolet (UV) rays to stay healthy. They need direct sunlight throughout the day or artificial UV light.

Since iguanas are arboreal, they need plenty of objects to climb in their enclosure. You should also include boxes or caves for them to hide in and flat rocks to bask on.

In their natural habitat, they climb trees to soak in the sunlight. Replicate this in their enclosure and have plenty of natural or artificial foliage so they can retreat under shade.

Start a varied diet early in their life that consists of leafy greens, vegetables (peas, carrots, or green beans), and a small amount of fruit (pears, peaches, or strawberries). If you don't start them on a varied diet early, they may be too stubborn to change later.

Feeding schedule. Young iguanas typically need to eat every day. Adults only need to eat every two days. 

Water. You should have a fresh, clean water dish in their enclosure. The dish should be large enough to soak in if they wish.

Enclosure maintenance. Your iguana's enclosure needs regular maintenance. Replace their drinking water and remove any spoiled food daily. 

Clean out the enclosure and remove any soiled substrate weekly. If you use a sandbox for the iguana to use the bathroom, replace its contents. 

Iguana grooming. Your iguana needs regular grooming to keep it healthy. You need to:

  • Clip its claws as needed
  • Give it a bath weekly
  • Mist the enclosure daily
  • Help remove stuck skin when it sheds 

Vet visits.Find a vet near you that specializes in reptiles and other exotic pets. They can help you in an emergency and promote healthy decisions for your iguana. 

Common health problems. Most health problems in iguanas are the result of inadequate care. Some of the most common health problems include:

  • Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
  • Kidney disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Respiratory problems

Many people believe that iguanas shouldn't be kept as pets. Keeping an iguana may support unethical farming practices.

If you want to raise an iguana, adopt a rescue. Do thorough research to prepare for the long haul and end the epidemic of abandoned iguanas.