A question I’m frequently asked by new iguana owners is how do you tame an iguana? After all, iguanas are wild creatures, exotic animals that have the natural instincts of the prey animal that they are. Yes, iguanas are a prey animal – they eat vegetation and are in turn eaten by larger animals like monkeys, wild cats and… humans. So how do you convince your iguana that it doesn’t need to panic when you pick it up – it doesn’t need to run, bite, scratch or whip its tail because you don’t plan on eating it?
You probably already know that the two big ingredients are time and patience. It’s important to start when your iguana is a baby – bigger iguanas are much more difficult and dangerous to work with if not tamed. From day one, you need to treat your iguana with tender loving care. Always work slowly and be gentle – make sure you don’t do anything that would teach your iggy to associate people with danger or discomfort. It really takes a LOT of patience, because baby iguanas can be real wigglers! Until your iguana is very comfortable with being handled, you’ll want to make sure that you only take it out in an escape proof location. Make sure all the exits are blocked – even the space under the door could be a possible escape route, so block it with a towel if you need to.
The best time to work with your iguana is early in the morning, when it’s still a little cool and drowsy. Approach your baby iguana slowly and quietly – avoid the temptation to grab it quickly! In fact, for the first few days, don’t pick it up at all! Just put your hand inside the enclosure while talking quietly to your iguana. Once it seems to accept your hand near it, you can start gently touching its body, then up to the head. You can also offer a little bit of food as you stroke your iguana – this way it will associate you with good things going on!
When your iguana accepts your touch without any sign of distress – which may take from a day to a couple of weeks – you can begin moving your hand underneath its body. Put one hand under the front feet, and put your other hand towards the back of the body. When you’ve got a solid grip, lift it up and out of the cage. If the iguana starts struggling or appears afraid, let back gently in the cage. Whatever you do, don’t grab it by the tail! Like most lizards, iguanas will shed their tails if they feel they’re in danger. While the tail will usually grow back, it’s pretty traumatic and not something you want to have happen.
If your iguana is very young, you’ll probably be comfortable holding it in the palm of one hand with its tail trailing up your arm. But be careful to keep the other hand cupped over it so that it doesn’t make a surprise jump and escape. As long as you’re in a room that has absolutely no escape – under doors, down the toilet, out a window, through a vent – just sit quietly and let your iguana get used to being held. This is a great time to give him a littlevtreat like a bit of grated carrot or squash – my iguana loves hibiscus petals. And of course, make sure that you always provide support for the iguana’s body – you want it to feel secure when it’s being held.