The Ultimate Spiny-Tailed Iguana Care Sheet

Spiny tailed Iguanas mostly originate from Mexico and Central America. There are many different types of these iguanas in the whole family and their size can range from a few inches to well over two or three feet in length! They are called spiny tail because of the unusually large scales on the tail.

They are a very active species of lizard and because of their large size, they would make good pets for only very experienced lizard handlers. They are very prone to escaping! But if you start with a relatively young lizard and are patient and handle him gently and often, then you can gradually tame your pet. The older lizards are cranky and bad tempered and do not appreciate being handled.

Spiny Tailed Iguanas do not particularly wish to climb like their green iguana counterparts, but they will climb up a little way onto a promontory or branch in order to bask in the sun. Like all lizards, they are cold blooded and need an external source to warm them up. In their natural environment, they are naturally warmed by the sun. They will spend the warm morning, almost immobile, basking in the warm sunshine after a cold night spent in the dark. This makes them more active and they start to wake up and they can go off in search of food.

What is the best Spiny-Tailed Iguana cage?

The first thing that any prospective spiny-tailed iguana owner needs is an iguana cage. This you will want set up properly before bringing an iguana home as a pet. The iguana is already going to be somewhat distressed moving from one home to another, so the last thing you want to do is cause more stress by having no place to put him while you set up your cage or build an enclosure.

How big do spiny-tailed iguana cages need to be?

Iguanas need lots of room. That’s why many older pet iguanas become roamers, being given full run of the house. In the wild, iguanas spend most of their time in trees. This gives them a defense again predators, whether in the air or on the ground.  They like trees above water and when threatened, can jump into the water and swim away. Spiny-Tailed Iguanas can also drop onto the ground and run away, from a height anywhere from twenty to forty feet. Likewise, if they are facing a predator on the ground, iguanas can climb a tree to escape danger.

One of the things this behavior reveals about an iguana cage or enclosure is that it must be very large and roomy, and have plenty of overhead climbing space. If you start out with a baby iguana who is nine to twelve inches, you can get by with something like the Zoo Med Reptibreeze IguanArium or the Exo Terra Screen Terrarium, Large. Many people believe that an iguana will not grow larger than his cage. This is simply not true. An iguana is going to grow to be between four and seven feet no matter what so you need to be prepared to upgrade his cage size as he grows.

In the beginning, you can make do with a smaller cage with some limbs for branches, a basking area, a sleeping area, an eating area, a bowl for water, a heating pad or lamp (no hot rocks–they get too hot!), UV and fluorescent lighting, and lots of greens, other veggies and fruit to make his daily salads. That’s around $25 for your spiny-tailed iguana and $250-$300 in initial equipment.

Iguanas Will Outgrow Their Cage

During the time the baby iguana is adjusting himself to you and his new home, it’s time to start planning his next iguana cage. After all, in one year your pet iguana will be around three feet long and will definitely need more than his 30-gallon aquarium. It’s best if you can buy or build him his permanent home at this time. That needs to be in the range of ten feet long and eight feet high.

Even if you decide to let your spiny-tailed iguana roam, you still have plenty of work to do. The house needs to be made iguana-proof in the same way you would make it child-proof or puppy-proof. That means getting out of his area anything that can harm or injure an iguana. It also means making sure he can’t get out of the windows. Every year, reptile rescue organizations are called out to find and save iguanas who have pushed their way out of screen windows.

Having an iguana as a pet can be a rewarding experience both for you and your iguana. Just make sure to do a little research before getting one, and have his new spiny-tailed iguana cage ready for his arrival.

What type of food do Spiny-Tailed Iguanas eat?

The pet spiny-tailed iguana diet has been cause for concern over the years. Now, just about every reptile enthusiast knows that iguanas are herbivores, but there is still an amazing amount of misinformation out there. That means that someone who knows nothing about iguanas but is interested in getting one, may still find much outdated information, including recommending feeding one canned dog or cat food.

The first thing everyone needs to know about the iguana diet is that it does not contain any kind of meat. Meat, to put it bluntly, is very bad for spiny-tailed iguanas. Animal protein is very bad for iguanas. In fact, iguanas should get very little protein at all, even from plants. That’s because protein stops them from absorbing the calcium that they need to remain healthy. Iguanas do not eat crickets, mealworms, pinkie mice, birds or any other food that is not a veggie or a fruit.

There is also a difference between healthy and unhealthy vegetables and fruit when it comes to an iguana’s diet. Lettuce has no nutritional worth to a spiny-tailed iguana. Neither do sprouts, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon, or cucumbers. Broccoli, spinach, cabbage, bok choy, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts should only be given in very small quantities. Likewise, chards, beets and rhubarb.

Alfalfa is a good protein source for spiny-tailed iguanas and can best be found in rabbit food. The base of an iguana diet should be leafy greens. One of the best is mustard greens. Greens should be cut up so that your iguana gets as much to eat as possible. Other vegetables that should be basic for iguanas are dandelion greens, collard greens, water cress and escarole. They should not have romaine or leaf lettuce, either red or green. Make sure that the foods you are feeding your iguana have not been treated with pesticides.

Spiny-Tailed Iguanas love to eat some house plants so be sure to get them out of the reach of your iguana unless you want them to be eaten.  They like hibiscus, nasturtium, violets, geraniums, spider plants, fichus and Wandering Jew.

Fruits are good for an iguana diet but only as additions. They should never be a high percentage of the diet. In fact, try not to give more than ten percent fruit. The favorite fruit of a spiny-tailed iguana is the banana. Be careful about feeding it too often or your iguana will get picky and not want to eat other fruits. He can eat apples, blackberries, cantaloupe, grapes, honey dew melon, kiwis, mangoes, pears and strawberries.

Occasional vegetables can include:

  • Yellow Squash
  • Swiss Chard
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Beets and Beet Greens
  • Asparagus
  • Acorn Squash.

How to identify a healthy Spiny-Tailed Iguana

How to pick a healthy spiny-tailed iguana is something you’ll need to know if you are thinking of getting an igauna as a pet for your household.

The answer is easy: conduct a touch test.

The shop owner should allow you to hold the chosen spiny-tailed iguana in your both hands. You then carefully use the fingers of one hand to inspect the different body parts of the animal.  

What things do you look out for?

In terms of its common appearance characteristics, consider the following:

  • The skin should be firm, clear, clean, and free of bites and scratches. (Bites and scratches might get infected later on.)
  • The stomach should be free of burns.  (Burns may eventually heal, but the skin would always be very sensitive to heat.This may indicate that hot rocks have been used which is a bad sign and you probably not by an igauana showing burn marks)
  • The stomach has no ground-in stool.  (A dirty stomach indicates that the animal is living in an unhygienic environment which can make it sick and weak and clearly it’s growth may have been stunted)
  • The opening is free of dried stool and urine.  (The presence of these shows that the lizard might have parasites and protozoa in its stomach.)
  • The spiny-tailed iguana resists strongly when its body parts are moved.  (Weakness and instability may be a sign that the lizard is injured or suffering from calcium deficiency.)
  • The limbs, tail, and the whole body have no lumps, bumps, or swelling. (Cysts, infections, and fractures need veterinary treatment.)
  • The rear legs and thighs are shaped normally. (A swollen leg may indicate a fracture; two legs or thighs, an insufficient supply of calcium.)
  • The limbs are sturdy and full while the body is smooth and vibrant looking. (If the limbs are very thin, the lizard may be starving or dehydrated.  If the body looks wrinkled and dull, there may be bacterial or parasite infections.)

For its head, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, you may take note of the following:

  • The eyes should be clear. (If they are bleary, crusted, or weepy, there might be an infection in the respiratory system or inflammation of the eyes.)
  • The nose has no dried or wet mucus. (Dried or bubbly mucus is an indication of infection in the respiratory system.)
  • The insides of the mouth should look healthy. (Infections would cause rotting of the insides of the mouth.)
  • The jaw is not swollen.  (If it is, then, the animal might have a metabolic disease.)
  • There are no swellings or lumps on its face, dewlap, or neck. (Swellings may indicate abscesses.)

In terms of your spiny-tailed iguana’s behavior, observe the following:

A healthy baby spiny-tailed iguana would try to get escape and be difficult to hold.

An unresponsive iguana in your hands may be extremely ill and should not be brought if you suspect ill treatment advise the authorities.

These are just some of the things you have to look out for when buying a pet iguana from a pet store or from any where else for that matter.Now that you know how to spot a healthy spiny-tailed iguana buy your cage and all that you need and start enjoying your wonderful new pet a healthy iguana.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Where are spiny-tailed iguanas from?

The young lizards eat mostly insects and are opportunistic omnivores. They will try to eat anything they come across that they can. As they grow larger, they become more herbivorous and eat mostly the plants and grasses which occur naturally with only the occasional meal of insects or small mammals. When young, they are smaller and slightly greener, they have pronounced banding across their backs. As they grow older they change color and become more gray and brown and the bands become larger. Their tails become more noticeably larger and scaly. It can be used as a very effective weapon. They have small crests along their head, smaller than a green iguana. They also have very sharp teeth and claws.

Spiny tailed iguanas are usually found in the ruins of buildings or living in stone walls and the edge of forests. Although they do look quite docile, watch out! These lizards are known to be the fastest species of reptile in the world. The fastest recorded speed achieved by one of these is over twenty one miles an hour!

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