Saturday, July 28, 2007

Iguana Care

A friend asked me for advice on the care of her pet iguana. It occurred to me that most people who get their first iguana don't actually know much about their needs. Iguanas are probably one of the most demanding pet lizards due to their dietary, lighting, and space requirements. There is a lot of really bad information out there, unfortunately, and it's easy to do long-term harm to a pet iguana by giving them the wrong food, lighting, and enclosure.

The first big issue is to understand that iguanas are diurnal (active during the day) and need to be exposed to sunlight for their health. There are special light bulbs that can help give the right spectrum of light, but they should be supplemental to allowing the iguana to bask in natural sunlight, if possible. If they do not get the right kinds of UV radiation (UVA and UVB), they will, over time, develop calcium deficiencies that manifest as misshapen or broken bones, neurological problems, and other problems. So, it's very important to make sure they get that lighting, and they should also be given a vitamin D3 supplement with their diet.

Also, iguanas are vegetarians. Giving them animal-based foods can be hard on their kidneys. However, it can be difficult to give them a varied diet of fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits every day, especially when you're a bit low on cash. It's expensive to keep fresh produce on hand at all times. I have just a few tips for keeping food costs down:

1. Collard greens, a great leafy vegetable for iguanas, keep very well if you chop them up and store them in a container that has a paper towel on the bottom and top. The towel absorbs excess moisture to keep the greens from getting slimy, but allows enough humidity to keep them fresh for a while.

2. Dandelion greens, probably the optimum leafy vegetable, can be grown in your own garden (whether you want to or not, even!) or purchased cheaply at the grocery store. This can keep summer and fall costs down. When using store-bought dandelions, leave them whole and only slice as much off the top of the bunch as you need. Unlike the collards, these do not fare well if they are chopped up ahead of time.

3. Frozen fruits with no sugar added are your friend. I keep at least one kind of frozen fruit on hand for my box turtle. They're cheaper, keep for a long time, and the animals don't mind them at all.

4. If you have fresh fruit that's right on the edge of going bad, freeze it. Grapes, berries, and other small stuff can be frozen whole, while larger stuff can be sliced up first. Bananas, apples, and melon do not freeze very well, but most other stuff is fine.

5. Share with your iggy! If you're having zucchini, set aside a small amount to put in your lizard's salad. Having a peach? Slice off a bit and give it to your friend. Whatever you're cooking, if you're using fresh vegetables or fruit, it can save you time when you share.

6. The grater is your friend. I shred sweet potatoes, parsnips, winter squash, and other hard vegetables to make them easier to eat. It's easier than dicing, and you can keep the bulk of the vegetable whole while you store it (especially with sweet potatoes, a favorite of my box turtle).

I very strongly recommend the book "Iguanas for Dummies" by Melissa Kaplan. She's an awesome lady, and her website has a lot of good information as well. I have linked the book below; if you use this link to purchase it, it will give me a small commission as part of the Amazon Associates program.

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