When people refer to iguanas, they are usually referring to the species Iguana iguana, commonly known as the green iguana. These large lizards have become very popular as pets throughout the Americas and in Europe in recent years; they can be found in most large pet stores. They grow up to 7 feet (2.1m) in length, including the tail, and may weigh as much as 15 pounds (7kg).
Though remarkably popular as a pet, the green iguana is by no means easy to successfully care for. Most pet store owners downplay the difficulties inherent in looking after such a fickle creature in order to sell as many as possible, resulting in disappointed owners and pets with severely truncated lifespans. Nothing is a substitute for speaking with a professional about your iguana and its specific needs; if possible, before purchasing one, ensure the store owner is knowledgeable and has insights as to the peculiarities of the particular animal you are interested in.
Unlike many other reptiles favored as pets, iguanas desperately need a large enclosure. This should be one of your top priorities. Though it may appear they are satisfied with a smaller pen, without enough space to roam and hide in, these animals become highly stressed, leading to illness and susceptibility to parasitic infection. An enclosure should be at least a few times the iguana's adult length in either width or depth, and at least one and a half times the length in height. They love to climb, and it is crucial to their emotional health, particularly once they reach full adulthood. Ideally, giving your iguana full roaming privileges for part or all of your house or apartment will ensure it has ample room — just make sure it cannot get outside or into things it may eat which will damage it!
Pay attention to your pet. They need interaction in much the same way a dog or cat needs your love and stimulus. Just because an iguana looks like a small lizard you may have found on the driveway does not mean they are the same. If it does not receive ample interaction, it will get sick and listless.
Supply the enclosure with large branches or artificial structures for your pet to climb and bask on. This is very important to the animal's psychological well-being, as well as making a much more aesthetically pleasing enclosure. On the ground of the enclosure, you may use a number of materials to collect waste, depending on the situation. In a very large enclosure, mulch may be appropriate, but in most enclosures something easy to regularly clean — such as newspaper — is ideal.
Heating the enclosure is another important and sadly often overlooked step towards looking after your iguana's health. An enclosure should not have any region below 80°F (26°C). One part of the enclosure should be set up for soaking up heat as needed, and this region should be kept at about 95°F (35°C). A full-spectrum spotlight works well for this purpose, as well as providing necessary UV lighting for your pet. Having an accurate method to measure the temperature of the enclosure is very important to retaining health in your pet; an iguana who does not remain hot enough will not be able to properly digest its food.
While a source of UV light is important to your pet's health, a steady supply of darkness is important as well. Make sure to give your iguana at least six to ten hours of darkness each night; this means shielding its enclosure from the ambient light you may have as a result of electronics or streetlights as well as turning its internal UV light off.
Taking care of an iguana is no easy task, and most pets live for only a few years. If properly looked after, however, this animal can easily pass a decade, and perhaps even two, as a valuable member of your family. First and foremost it is important to treat it as you would any complex organism; an iguana is not a frog or small lizard you have brought home in a jar, it is an ornate creature with emotional fragility and a delicate biological system.