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Best Foods to Feed Your Iguana

By: Dr. Margaret Wissman

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Properly feeding pet reptiles is a very important facet of being a responsible owner. Some herps are like children, meaning that they'll choose food items they like, and not necessarily what's good for them. The green iguana is notorious for being a picky eater.

The green iguana should be fed a completely vegetarian diet consisting of about 95 percent vegetable matter and 5 percent fruits, prepared so that even a picky iguana can't eat only their preferred food items. Small amounts of commercially prepared iguana diet can also be offered.

Exasperated iguana owners often complain they are unable to get their pets to consume more than one or two favorite food items. If your iguana is in this group, don't despair. There are several simple methods to convert your lizard over to a more balanced diet.

Chopped Food

If food items are coarsely chopped, the iguana can pick out favorite foods, leaving important nutrients uneaten. An easy remedy to this is to finely chop or grate foods, or even running foods briefly through a food processor. Preparing the diet this way doesn't allow selection of the individual food items, so your iguana will consume a better balance of nutrients.

Feeding of the Young

Baby iguanas should be fed daily; mist them in the morning to increase their appetite. Young iguanas grow rapidly during their first year of life, so it is critical they consume a varied and balanced diet to prevent skeletal deformities. At 2 years of age, they can be fed every other day. Proper diet is very important, but to absorb calcium properly, your iguana should have access to natural sunlight, unfiltered through glass or plastic. For iguanas who are restricted to indoors because of weather, a full-spectrum vitamin-D source light is the next best thing.

Say "No" to Unusual Snacks

Iguanas are herbivores, or animals that naturally consume diets consisting entirely of plant material. Specifically, they're folivores (they eat foliage). While a pet iguana may develop unusual food choices (hot dogs, cat food and jelly beans come to mind), he should only be fed vegetables and fruits, even if he seems to relish other foods.

Iguanas should not be fed prepared foods for other animals. A major portion of the diet, approximately 95 percent, should consist of vegetables, mostly dark green, leafy vegetables rich in calcium.

Greens

Recommended greens include collard, mustard, turnip tops and greens, bok choy, pak choi, broccoli rabe or rapina (the leaves, not flowerets, from the broccoli plant), clover and dandelions. Swiss chard, beet greens, escarole, parsley and watercress are also good choices. Lettuce tends to be mineral-poor, though romaine is more nutritious than other types. The outer, darker leaves have a higher mineral content than the inner, lighter leaves, so always try to feed the outer leaves. Spinach has been implicated in causing calcium oxalate stones and, for this reason, some iguana keepers avoid this green. However, some iguana owners offer small amounts with no problem. If you choose to offer spinach, do so in small amounts.

Flowers

Flowers such as roses, nasturtiums, carnations and hibiscus are excellent; however, beware of artificial colors and chemicals that might be found in floral arrangements. Nutritious vegetables include: radish, clover, bean sprouts, peppers (red, yellow and green), squash, carrots, fresh corn, green beans, pea pods, okra, cooked sweet potato, shredded parsnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumber and mixed, thawed, frozen vegetables. You can also feed your iguana prickly pear cactus pads (no spines or stubble), as well as soaked alfalfa pellets. Though the reason is unclear, iguanas tend to prefer red and orange foods.

Calcium-fortified Fruits

High-calcium fruits should make up the remaining 5 percent of the diet. The best fruits to offer include:

  • Grapes
  • Papayas
  • Mangos
  • Raspberries
  • Figs

    Other fruits that can occasionally be offered include:

  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Melons
  • Pears
  • Cranberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Kiwi
  • Guavas
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

    Commercial Diets

    You may have noticed that there are now commercial iguana diets available in most pet stores. A portion of the vegetables in your iguana's diet may be substituted with these commercial iguana diets.

    Supplements

    Consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptile care about the necessity of providing a vitamin and mineral supplement for your iguana. Your veterinarian can assess your iguana's diet and make recommendations accordingly. To prevent nutritional problems, vary the diet among a base of at least 10 to 15 different items.

    Food Warning

    Why can't an iguana eat monkey biscuits or dog or cat kibble? There's a good chance that the biscuits are high in vitamin D3, which can be extremely dangerous to iguanas. This vitamin in high levels can cause the iguana's internal organs to develop dangerous calcium deposits (called mineralization) that compromise function and can result in death.

    Dog and cat foods usually contain animal proteins and fat, as well as high levels of nutrients, including some vitamins that iguanas shouldn't consume. Over time, the nutrients found in dog and cat food can also damage internal organs. While an iguana may find these items yummy, they're best avoided in the diet.

    Water Intake

    The majority of iguanas acquire most of their required water through their food, so make sure that you provide fresh, juicy produce regularly. Iguanas may not drink from a bowl of water, but one should nevertheless be provided. Iguanas should be placed in a large receptacle of warm water several times weekly to allow swimming, drinking and exercise time (it's normal for iguanas to defecate during exercise sessions). Don't allow your iguana to swim in a bathtub used by humans, if possible. If you must, disinfect it thoroughly after your iguana has his swim.

    Proper Temperature

    To digest nutrients properly, the iguana must be maintained within a certain temperature range. During the day, the cage temperature should have a range of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with a hot spot for basking that's maintained between 95 and 100 F. At night, the cage temperature shouldn't drop below 70 F. It's best to place several digital thermometers throughout the cage in order to monitor temperatures.

    The tank should also be kept humid. One way to do this is to spray it with a fine mist of water two or three times a day.

    It may take perseverance and a watchful eye to ensure that your iguana consumes a healthy diet. They can be picky and strong-willed, but with your guidance, it's possible to see that the diet being offered is actually being eaten. Since young iguanas grow rapidly, proper nutrition is vital for them to remain healthy.

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