It’s understandable! Juvenile iguanas can be downright adorable, with their bright green scales and inquisitive eyes.
But before you take the plunge and bring that cute little lizard home with you, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
1) Picking a healthy baby: When you select the iguana you want, it may be tempting to look for the calmest in the tank at the pet store, the one that sits still when people come near. This is a bad choice – baby iguanas should have a natural fear of large creatures coming close, or of hands swooping down on them. An iguana that just sits still and doesn’t move when the rest are racing around is probably sick.
Instead, look for a juvenile iguana that alert. It’s eyes should be bright and clear. It’s body shouldn’t have any sores, cuts or unusual marks. Check carefully for any unusual bumps or protrusions that may signify an abscess or other internal injury. It should go without saying that if the tank or cage in the pet store isn’t real clean, you shouldn’t buy an iguana there. Dirty cages are breeding grounds for bacteria and disease.
2) Have a cage ready before you bring the baby iguana home: If you haven’t thought about housing for your iguana, the time to do it is BEFORE you bring it into your home. For a baby iguana, a large (40-50 gallon or more) fish tank will do nicely, but there are a few things that will need to be in it. Make sure that it has a substrate (floor covering) that is easy to clean but that won’t make your iguana sick. You’ll need to have heat lamps and UV lamps to keep your iguana healthy. Have places for the iguana to hide, and appropriately sized branches to climb and bask on. Finally, remember that this tank isn’t going to be a permanent home for your iguana. As it grows, it’s going to need a much, much larger home. Click here to see more on setting up your tank.
3) Iguanas are a true commitment: As hinted at above, iguanas grow very large. Within 3-4 years, they can reach lengths of up to six feet. A healthy, well cared for iguana can also live for as many as twenty years. So we’re talking about a pet that will need a very large space to live in and will need it for a very long time. If you’re an adult who owns a home, this isn’t a big deal. If you’re a junior high or high school student, it’s a whole new situation.
What’s going to happen when your iguana outgrows it’s cage? Will your parents let you take over a guest room as a home for your iguana? And what happens if you leave for college, or the military, or move into your own apartment that doesn’t allow pets? What are you going to do with your 5 foot long, eight or ten year old lizard when that happens?
Finally – before you rush off to buy a little baby iguana from the local pet shop, remember that the iguana importation trade is a very rough life for these critters. Even if they pet store claims that their lizards are captive bred, this isn’t always completely true; they often capture pregnant females and hold them until they lay the eggs, then sell the hatchlings. You’re still looking at baby iguanas that could have picked up illnesses or parasites from their mother.
Look for a reputable reptile breeder in your area. Odds are you’ll find a much healthier iguana baby, and you’ll also have someone who can give you valuable information on raising and caring for your new pet.
Or, adopt an iguana. As mentioned, iguanas get big and live a long time – that means that frequently, people have to get rid of a beloved pet. One word of caution: make sure when adopting a “previously owned” pet that it is healthy and has actually been well taken care of. You don’t want to adopt a pet and then find yourself immediately having to spend hundreds of dollars on veterinary care.