Iguanas are semi-arboreal animals which means they spend a good portion of their time in the trees either basking, eating, sleeping or just doing their little iguana things. This means that they need a tall enclosure with branches to climb - it helps the iguanas stay healthy and fit as well as making them more comfortable in captivity.
Iguanas can grow large, up to 6 feet in length, so keep that in mind when deciding on an enclosure. The enclosure should be at least 2/3 the lenght of your iguana in width and depth (if your iguana is 3 feet long, the enclosure should be at least 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep) and at least as long as the iguana in height. Keeping in mind that your iguana will eventually be over 5 feet long, a standard minimum size enclosure will be 4 feet wide, 4 feet deep and 6 feet high.
Bedding in your enclosure is very important to take into consideration. It needs to be relatively easy to clean so you can provide your iguana with a clean habitat; however, it should not be a particulate substrate (rocks, pellets, chips) because of the danger of ingestion. Common substrates used are newspaper (with non-toxic soy ink) and artificial turf (with the edges sealed to prevent fraying). We've used both, and both are easy to clean. Newspaper is simply replaced when soiled, and artificial turf is easy to wash and disinfect.
Sealing the edges of the artificial turf is very important. A curling iron, soldering iron, wood burner or (very carefully) a match can be used to seal the edges. If the edges are not sealed, the iguana can ingest the frayed fibers which can cause an impaction. Impactions are very painful and sometimes require surgery.
Many iguana owners allow their iguanas to free-roam. This is actually very good for the iguana as long as the area in which the iguana is allowed is iguana-proof. Iguana-proofing an area is similar to child-proofing: put child-proof caps in all electrical outlets, don't leave objects hanging where the iguana can pull them down, secure all breakable objects. However, iguana-proofing also includes sealing all holes beneath cabinets, behind shelves and entertainment centers, making sure the upholstery in your couch and chairs is intact with no holes where an iguana could hide, maintaining a suitable basking site (94° Fahrenheit) and a suitable heat gradient in the area.
Our iguanas have free reign in the spare bedroom but only come into the living area under close supervision. The spare bedroom is fully iguana-proof.
Iguanas need access to clean water at all times. In the wild, iguanas use water for protection, heat regulation and defecation. The latter is what iguana keepers need to be aware of when keeping iguanas in captivity. Iguanas will use their clean water as a toilet. Iguanas can be trained to use the water as their litter box as long as the water is cleaned daily (sometimes more often!).
Though you may never see your iguana drinking, since they do get a large portion of their water from their food intake, your iguana will drink. They look rather like birds when they drink, lowering their heads to the water then lifting their heads to swallow. Clean water is necessary to keep your iguana properly hydrated.
Iguanas can also be potty trained to use alternate litters such as newspaper, linoleum, a tray, etc., but it takes a lot of patience and time.
As mentioned in the heat and light section, natural sunlight is the best source of heat and Vitamin D3 for your iguana; however, you can't just tie your iguana to the deck like you could a dog. An outdoor enclosure is highly recommended.
As is the indoor enclosure, the outdoor enclosure should be large enough to house your iguana comfortably. Since the sunlight is not regulated heat, you need to give your iguana a shady area in which to regulate their body temperature. A blanket or towel draped over one portion of the enclosure is suitable for this. Also be sure to provide your iguana plenty of clean water during its stay outside for further temperature regulation and to prevent dehydration.
The outdoor enclosure should be well ventilated. Glass tanks should NEVER be used for outdoor enclosures because the heat will rise within the enclosure and cause unnecessary trauma or death. Latex-coated hardware cloth would be suitable on at least three sides of the enclosure - make sure the mesh is large enough so the iguana cannot damage their toes and small enough so the iguana cannot escape. The frame of such an enclosure could be made of 2x4 non-treated pine.
The top and bottom should be enclosed because iguanas are both excellent climbers and diggers. We've used hardware cloth all around for our enclosures - it makes them transportable if necessary and well ventilated. However, even though the sunlight is shining, the temperature of the enclosure should still be checked regularly. If your iguana gets too cold, it can go into shock and suffer undue damage and stress. Even on warm days, the temperature at ground level can be pretty cool, so check your iguana regularly.
Also, as in the indoor enclosure, your outdoor iguana enclosure should have climbing branches. The iguana will feel safer if it is not on the ground - iguanas are most comfortable at human eye-level or above. The branches should span both the warm and shaded sides of the enclosure to give your iguana the sense of security while providing a choice of temperatures.
If you have questions about enclosures, feel free to contact us.