Some pet owners have been known to feed their iguana tomatoes, mostly in order to help with a variety of color within the species, however tomatoes and other acidic foods such as grapefruit, oranges, etc. should only be fed occasionally and in moderation if at all due to the fact that they are simply too acidic for the iguana to eat on a regular basis and could lead to a number of health problems.
Keeping iguanas as pets has gained popularity in recent years and many aspects such as keeping a proper diet for an iguana is something that is often a debate among owners. Of course every iguana is different just as every owner is different, but the best way to ensure that your pet iguana is getting the best nutrition, etc. in its diet is to learn as much as possible about certain foods and methods so that each owner can plan their own iguana’s diet based on this information.
One of the most important things to know right off the bat is that iguana’s are strict herbivores. Although many iguana care books and some people still recommend that they be fed insects and other foods based on animal protein, the Green Iguana Society has often stressed that these creatures are strict herbivores that eat plants only. The myth that iguanas in the wild have been eating insects can be explained in a number of ways, however the fact is that they usually only eat insects in the wild by accident along with a piece of vegetable matter or by necessity when other food sources are scarce. Since iguana owners have complete control of their pet’s diet it is recommended that insects and other foods containing animal protein should be avoided as much as possible, if not completely.
When it comes to eating and drinking, iguanas have many small teeth which they use to rip and tear food instead of chewing it. Usually, they will take large bites and swallow their food whole and occasionally they will tongue-flick their food into their mouths. When they drink water, which is usually only done every now and then on occasion, they are known to dip a large portion of their head into the water and lap it up under the surface. Sometimes they may even lick water droplets off of plants and other misted surfaces.
The importance of providing these creatures with fresh food and water simply cannot be stressed enough times. The most important thing in caring for an iguana is providing them with these two basic essential needs. Fresh water should always be available when feeding, and only fresh water should be made available. Dirty water and/or spoiled food can lead to serious health problems as they provide an unsanitary environment for the iguana. Feeding an iguana daily is what is often recommended for pet owners. Many books recommend feeding an adult iguana every other day or every few days, but it is definitely recommended by many experts on iguanas that they be fed every single day. One meal or more is just fine as long as its every single day and that the creature is being fed enough to stay healthy.
Depending on the size and age of the iguana, appetites will often vary. An iguana cannot be overfed, and this cannot be stressed enough. A basic rule of thumb to follow is to feed an iguana until it will eat no more. Owners will be able to tell how much food is enough after spending some time feeding the iguana and getting to know its dieting habits a little better. After all, practice makes perfect. If the iguana has eaten and it is apparent that it is done eating for that sitting, it is always a good idea to remove any uneaten food as soon as possible to assure that it won’t eat anything later that has spoiled and to help maintain a clean environment for it to live in. This will also help keep the iguana on a regular feeding schedule.
It is usually a good idea for an iguana to be fed early in the morning, a half an hour to an hour after its awake is a good time. Providing food in the morning allows it to digest its food properly and helps with the aid of maintaining proper daytime temperatures. Feeding more food later in the day is fine but its generally not a good idea to feed an iguana the bulk of its daily food before it goes to sleep. It is also a good habit to get into feeding your iguana around the same time everyday. Iguana’s that get into the routine of eating at the same time every day will also be in routine of defecating at the same time as well. This can be important in order to establish good toilet training.
Food should always be provided in a shallow bowl of some type and bowls that are made of ceramic of glass work best. They should also be cleaned regularly. Iguana’s tend to dig at their food and sometimes walk or climb into their food dishes. Using a bowl that will not be easily tipped over is a necessity in this case. It can also be a good idead to use disposable food dishes as an alternative method. Disposable shallow dishes can be found at various pet stores and can be affordable and help keep things clean. When providing food and water it is important to consider placement within the habitat. The food bowls should be placed in an area away from the bottom of the habitat to prevent any problems with accidentally eating any substrate material, as well as keeping it away from any fecal matter that may be laying around. Failure to do so, can result in a number of serious health problems.
Water bowls are best utilized when more than one is provided. Water bowls placed in the bottom of the habit will usually be defecated into. If this happens on a regular basis it is very important to provide another source of clean water to the iguana. The size of the water bowls that are provided to be used as drinking water should be small enough that they will not be able to climb into the bowl. If you want to make sure that your iguana is drinking plenty of water you can train your iguana to drink more. A good way to do this is by placing a treat or other piece of food in its drinking bowl each day. When your iguana eats the treat it will most definitely take in a lot of water and hopefully have a drink of it. If your iguana takes to eating the treat, gradually reduce the size of the treat every day for a few weeks to a few months. The more time you spend training it to drink the water, the more likely it will keep up the good habit of drinking lots of water. Eventually the treat won’t even be needed.
Another very good way of making sure that your iguana is getting plenty of water in its diet is to spray its food with water. This can be done by spraying a little bit of water onto the food with a spray bottle. You can find spray bottles at places like the dollar store. Spraying the food with water can be done on a regular basis or just in times when you think that your iguana is not getting enough water with the types of food that you are providing in that particular feeding. Again, make sure you remove any uneaten foods as soon as possible to assure that it doesn’t eat anything that has spoiled.
Something that is also very important to take into consideration when caring for an iguana is that no matter how good of a diet it has, if the proper temperature of the habitat is not reached, the iguana will not be able to fully digest the food that it eats. After the iguana eats, temperatures of at least 85 degrees are need to properly digest its food.
Providing a wide variety of good quality foods is the key to keeping a good diet for your iguana. Iguanas in the wild are known to eat a large variety of plants and fruits and iguanas in captivity should be given the same opportunity. Iguanas are no different than humans in the fact that they do not like to eat the same kinds of food all the time. It’s a good idea to add a bit of variety to the mix and over time you will also be able to figure out what its favorite foods are so that you can supply these more frequently as long as their diet remains well balanced.
In order for an iguana to stay healthy it is important for it to have strong, healthy bones. One of the most important factors in providing a well balanced diet is maintaining a calcium to phosphorous ratio of at least 2 to 1. This is critical in order for the bones to properly grow and remain strong. Some foods are high in calcium and low in phosphorus, while others are low in calcium and high in phosphorous. Both types can be good additions to the diet as long as the total overall diet has at least a 2 to 1 calcium to phosphorous ratio. One word of caution about this ratio is that many people get so caught up in making sure that they ratio is 2 to 1 that they end up feeding their iguanas the same diet with very little variety in some foods that may improve their diet overall. As a reminder, it is important to provide these creatures with a wide variety of the “good foods” while still maintaining an overall calcium to phosphorous ratio of 2 to 1.
Along with proper diet and temperature, proper lighting and exposure to natural sunlight will most definitely help in utilizing the calcium in the iguana diet. These animals produce vitamin D3 when they are exposed to the proper amount of UVB rays and vitamin D3 is needed in order for calcium to be absorbed. As long as the proper amount of quality of UVB lighting and sunlight is provided, these vitamins should be produced and the calcium in their diet will be fully utilized.
A few good things to make sure that your iguana gets on a regular basis and that can help add variety to its diet is to follow a diet that consists of greens, other vegetables, fruits, grain-based fruits, supplemental proteins and other occasional foods. A food that is only recommended on occasion and in moderation can also be acceptable as a snack or treat but should only be offered as such.
It is good to consider the following when figuring out a good diet for your pet iguana. Greens should be fed 40-45% of the time, this category consists of foods such as collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, escarole and water cress. Other vegetables should also be fed to your iguana 40-45% of the time and consist of green beans, orange fleshed squash such as butternut or Kabocha, snap or snow peas, parsnip, asparagus, okra, alfalfa (avoid alfalfa sprouts however), onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, zucchini carrots, and yellow squash.
Fruits should be provided at least 10% of the time and consist of figs (either raw or dry are fine), blackberries, raspberries, grapes, strawberries, mango, melon (cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon) papaya, apple and banana. Grain based foods should be fed less than 5% of the time and consist of cooked rice and/or pasta. Whole wheat bread also works great as a treat. Supplemental protein should be fed to an iguana less than 5% of the time and consist of Alfalfa pellets such as rabbit food.
Something to keep in mind when considering your pet’s diet is that many foods contain oxalates and phytates. It has been proven that these types of food sometimes bind to calcium and inhibit it from being properly used by the body. It is not a fact that this is necessarily true in iguanas but its better to be safe than sorry. Some foods that contain oxalates and phytates and should best only be fed occasionally and in moderation include: spinach, beets, beet greens, dock, sorrel, whole grains, celery stalk, kale, swiss chard and carrot tops.
Many foods also contain goitogens. Goitrogens are substances that have been shown to bind iodine. This may lead to hypothyroidism. The foods that usually contain this substance are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables. These foods can be fed on occasion along with a well balanced diet that will compensate for the effects of goitrogens but again should also only be fed on occasion and in moderation rather than in excess. The following are considered cruciferous vegetables that are known to contain goitrogens: broccoli, bok-choi, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, tofu, rutabaga and cauliflower.
In addition, there are many foods that should never be fed to any iguana. Many of these foods are known to contain animal protein. However, should your iguana eat any of these foods by accident you need not worry too much about the effects it may have, rather, it is important to stress how harmful feeding these foods to an iguana on a regular or semi regular basis would be. Foods such as these that should be avoided include insects, works, mice and pinky mice, dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and milk, eggs, dog food, cat food, monkey chow and/or other types of pet food, meat, beef, chicken, lettuce rather it is iceburg, romain, boston or butter. (All of which are very low in nutritional value when considering iguanas.) Wild plants, flowers and rhubarb should all also be avoided as they are toxic to iguanas. Acidic fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, limes, kiwi, lemons, pineapple and tomato should all be avoided as well.
It should be noted that occasionally feeding your iguana some of these acidic foods is fine as long as it doesn’t seem to show any negative reactions to it. Some owners have been known to feed their iguanas these types of food for more variety and color in their pet.
So now, that you know what types of food are safe and best to feed your iguana, you must now figure out where to bu them. Most commercial grocery stores and markets will carry a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. In small towns and rural areas it is even quite common for many owners to take a weekly trip to another town which are often known for carrying more of a variety. Although smaller towns may lack in variety, there may be farms or farmer’s markets in the area that can also be an excellent source for picking up fresh food for your iguana. Many foods are seasonal and can only be found during certain times of the year, so you may have to adjust the diet during these times. If you are having trouble finding certain foods in your area, the best thing to do is talk to other owners to find out where they may be shopping. Many markets and/or grocery stores do not carry all of the foods that you will be looking for but can often perhaps help point you in the right direction.
Bags of frozen vegetables can also be thawed and fed from time to time. These can serve as excellent emergency food whenever fresh food is gone or scarce, or if you don’t have time to run to the market to pick something up. It is not a good idea to rely on these commercial foods as part of a regular diet but on occasion they will substitute just fine. Remembering to add crushed vitamin B1 tablets or brewers yeast can also help ensure health and proper dieting.
Some iguanas will prefer certain foods and may not want to eat other foods. However owners should try their best to avoid letting their iguana train you to food it only the foods that it wants. Mixing foods that it doesn’t necessarily like or want with other foods it does like is a good way to avoid the problem with sufficing to an iguana with a picky appetite. Eventually this method should help an iguana’s appetite change over time. Grating and chopping up the food you provide in a mixture can also be quite effective in eliminating picky eating habits. Do not give up on trying to get your iguana to eat the correct foods or you may end up with an iguana that has a very unhealthy diet which can result in a number of health issues. It is not uncommon for an iguana to constantly change its taste and desire for certain foods however allowing these creatures to train you, the owner into feeding it only the foods it desires should be avoided at all costs.
Feeding iguanas by hand can be a very good way to help tame an iguana. However it can also turn into a very bad habit. It it suggested that owners only feed their iguana by hand from time to time, otherwise your iguana may learn to not want to eat any other way. It is also very important to be extremely cautious when feeding these creatures by hand, especially when dealing with larger iguanas as accidents and serious injuries can occur, even with iguanas that are not usually prone to biting.
One good idea that also helps from an economical standpoint is for iguana owners to grow their own vegetables to feed to their pet. Not only is this more cost effective, it is also a great way to ensure that your vegetables are fresh and free of any harmful substances. Planning and growing vegetables for your iguana to eat can be fun and enjoyable.