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Tropical Iguana Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Tropical Iguana

Covers care for iguanas from tropical regions, including:  

  • Green iguanas (most common)
  • Blue iguanas (color morph of green iguana)
  • Red iguanas (color morph of green iguana)

 

Overview 

Iguana iguana

Iguanas are large herbivorous (vegetable-eating) reptiles found in the tropics of North, Central and South America as well as Mexico. Most tropical iguanas have bright green skin, which helps camouflage their bodies in the green leaves of the rainforest. Iguanas also have skin color variations, including less commonly found reds and blue. 

 

Typical appearance and behavior  

  • Are one of the most commonly kept pet reptiles 
  • Are intelligent and friendly once socialized 
  • Have distinct personalities 
  • May bite when startled or threatened  
  • Learn to recognize and respond to their pet parents 
  • May grow as long as 6 to 7 feet and weigh up to 20 pounds; males tend to grow longer than females 
  • Males also have large pores on the underside of their thighs and larger spikes on their heads and backs than females 
  • Have a specialized scale on top of their heads behind their eyes called the parietal eye or pineal gland that can detect light and movement and that is key in both body temperature regulation and avoidance of predators  
  • May become tame with daily handling 
  • Bob their head to each other to communicate 
  • Males may become territorial so should not be housed together 
  • Healthy iguanas sneeze to rid their bodies of excess salt 

 

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Advanced
Average Life Span 15+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 4 to 6 feet long, depending on species
Diet Herbivore
Minimum Habitat Size 20-gallon tank to start for a baby iguana; progressively larger habitats as iguana matures

 

 

Habitat 

Habitat size

An appropriately sized and shaped habitat with a secure cover is required. The iguana should be able to freely turn and move around in the habitat. They will reach adult size in two to three years under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as the reptile grows. Adults require a habitat at least 12 feet long by 6 feet wide by 6 feet high (approximately twice as long as the iguana and as tall and as wide as the iguana). Height is critical, as iguanas are arboreal (tree-climbing). 

Building your habitat

Glass tanks are fine for small, juvenile iguanas, while wire enclosures are easier to maintain for large adults.

  • Décor - Provide a hiding area and branches for basking and climbing  
  • Substrate - Commercially available paper-based pelleted bedding or alfalfa pellets are ideal, as they are digestible if ingested. Wood chips, sand, mulch and other particle-type bedding is indigestible and can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstruction if eaten. Commercially available reptile carpet also can be used as long as it is cleaned and replaced regularly 
  • Humidity - Maintain 70 to 90% humidity by misting and soaking in a shallow pan of warm water every day. Appropriate humidity is key to keeping iguanas hydrated and shedding properly 
  • Temperature – Maintain a temperature gradient of 100 to 120°F for the warm end and 80°F for the cool end so that iguanas can move around to regulate their body temperature. Use an incandescent light or ceramic heat bulb as the primary heat source as well as two thermometers (one in basking area and the other in the cool zone) or a point-and-shoot temperature gun to monitor habitat temperature. Do not use hot rocks as reptiles who sit on them for heat commonly get burned 
  • Lighting – Ultraviolet (UV)A and B rays with full-spectrum lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day is required to enable iguanas to make vitamin D in their skin, which allows them to absorb calcium from their diet. An incandescent day bulb can be used to provide heat for the basking area along with a UV bulb during daylight hours only; a ceramic heater or nocturnal or red incandescent bulb can be used to provide heat at all hours or just at night. In warm climates, direct sunlight (unfiltered by a window) is ideal for UV exposure. 

Cleaning your habitat 

Spot-clean daily to remove soiled bedding and discarded food. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week with these steps:  

  • Place the iguana in a separate, secure habitat 
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution 
  • Rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell 
  • Dry the tank and furnishings completely before replacing them in the habitat 
  • Add clean substrate and return the iguana back to their habitat 

 

What Do Tropical Iguanas Eat  

A well-balanced iguana diet consists of: 

  • 70% dark leafy greens such as collard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens and spinach; 20% bulk vegetables such as squash, green beans, cabbage, carrots and broccoli; 10% fruit such as mangoes, bananas and strawberries 
  • Iguanas may also benefit from being fed a commercially available pelleted iguana diet 

Things to remember when feeding your iguana: 

  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times 
  • If your iguana does not naturally take to a pelleted commercial diet, moisten it with water or mix it with vegetable- or fruit-flavored baby food to encourage consumption 
  • Feed once a day 
  • Remember, iguanas do not chew their food but swallow it whole; food should be chopped, shredded or grated into small, edible pieces 
  • Vitamin supplementation should be alternated every day by sprinkling food lightly with powdered calcium without vitamin D and calcium with vitamin D, plus a multivitamin supplement once a week   
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded  
  • Offer food from a shallow dish or feeding tank rather than feeding off the habitat floor to lessen accidental ingestion of substrate 
  • Never feed high-protein foods (such as meat) to your iguana, as their gastrointestinal tracts are not adapted to digest such high protein. They may develop kidney failure as a result of eating a diet high in animal protein 

 

Iguana care

  • Iguanas regularly shed their skin; ensure the humidity of the habitat is at the appropriate level to allow proper shedding. To facilitate shedding, mist iguana daily with warm water, soak in a large shallow container that allows the iguana to immerse their entire body, or provide a shed box —a hide box with sphagnum moss—that will aid in the shedding process
  • Require nail trimming regularly, depending on the substrate on which they are bedded and how quickly they wear their nails down

 

Where to buy an iguana

Iguanas are available for purchase at your local Petco Pet Care Center. Please call ahead to check availability.

 

Supplies

 

Habitat mates

Iguanas may be housed alone or in pairs, but house adult male iguanas separately, as they will fight. Males and females housed together may breed. Do not house different reptile species together.

 

Health  

Signs of a healthy iguana 

  • Active and alert 
  • Clear, bright eyes with no swelling or discharge 
  • Full, muscular tail 
  • Supple skin with no sores, swellings or discoloration 
  • Droppings are firm, not runny or bloody 
  • Eats and passes stool regularly 
  • Clear nose and vent 

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.) 

  • Weight loss or decreased appetite 
  • Discharge or bubbles from eyes, mouth or nose 
  • Lesions, swelling or discoloration of skin or retained shed  
  • Lethargy 
  • Sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing 
  • Weakness or paralysis of limbs 
  • Runny or bloody stool or lack of stool  

 

Common Iguana Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Kidney disease Symptoms or Causes Weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, swollen abdomen, neck or eyes, and frequent drinking or urinating. Can be caused by dehydration, infection, cancer, toxin or improper diet. Suggested Action Seek immediate veterinary attention.
Health Issue Metabolic bone/vitamin deficiency Symptoms or Causes Inability to absorb dietary calcium due to insufficient UVB light or inappropriate diet or improper vitamin supplementation. If untreated, can lead to skeletal deformities, soft or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, seizures and death. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements.
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or Causes Labored breathing, discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth, decreased appetite and lethargy. Can be caused by inappropriate temperature, humidity or lighting in habitat, predisposing to infection. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat has the proper temperature, humidity and lighting.

 

 

FAQs 

  • What do iguanas eat? Dark leafy greens, vegetables and small amounts of fruit, plus commercially available pelleted diets for iguanas.
  • What do green iguanas eat? Dark leafy greens, vegetables and small amounts of fruit, plus commercially available pelleted diets for iguanas.
  • How long do iguanas live? 15+ years with proper care and nutrition.
  • How big do iguanas get? 6 to 7 feet long as adults.
  • Is an iguana a reptile? Yes.
  • Where can you buy an iguana? Petco Pet Care Centers offer iguanas. It is recommended to call ahead to check availability.
  • How do you care for iguanas? Provide an appropriately sized habitat that gets progressively larger as iguanas mature, a diet of leafy greens/vegetables/small amounts of fruit/commercial pellets for iguanas, a temperature gradient (ranging from 100 to 120°F for the warm end to 80°F for the cool end) full-spectrum UV light, fresh water daily and supplemental calcium and vitamins.

 

Additional care sheets

 

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of Salmonella bacteria always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about iguanas and disease.

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.