Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Basic Iguana Cage Design Problems

Why a 10 gallon tank and a hot rock just don't cut it

©1996 Melissa Kaplan


One of the biggest problems with raising iguanas properly in captivity (singles or multiples) is that the commercially available and most custom built enclosures are too small. They are either being built like telephone booths (tall and narrow) or coffins (long and low)--and neither design is appropriate for a rapidly growing arboreal lizard who prefers to be high up above the ground and lay on the horizontal rather than clinging to vertical or diagonal surfaces. This results in stressed iguanas and increases the risk of egg-binding (a potentially fatal condition) in females to an alarming degree. Cubes are not much better - they are not tall enough to really provide much in the way of exercise and are too narrow for adequate thermoregulation, and their depth is pretty much wasted (both in the enclosure and of floor space outside).

Iguanas can easily reach 5-6 feet within 4-5 years. Iguanas need enclosures that are longer than they are and taller than their overall (snout-tail) length. Thus, an enclosure that is 6 ft tall x 3 ft wide x 3 ft deep--a telephone booth--is too narrow for an iguana over 2 years of age - certainly too small for two. By the same token, an enclosure 6 ft wide x 3 ft tall--a coffin--is too small short. While placing this on a high table will help give the iguana resident a feeling of height, they will lack the necessary height needed for regular climbing.

A third type of common iguana enclosure design generally combines the worst of both the coffin and the telephone booth: the cube. Cubes, unless they are at least 6 ft x 6 ft x 6 ft are rarely wide or tall enough.

Think of it this way: you can live in a closet that is 3 ft wide x 3 ft deep x 6 ft high, or in a box that is 5 ft wide x 3 ft deep x 3 ft high, so long as there is someone shoves food in to you and takes away wastes, who decides when the lights will go on and off, and decides (too often incorrectly) what the temperatures will be inside the box. They might even let you out to thrash around a bit before shoving you back into your living space. You might easily live for many years this way. But what kind of life would it be...? Would you get stressed? Would you lose muscle tone? Would you get sick? (For another take on this, see my visualization exercise.)

Now, picture increasing either of these two living spaces by a foot in all dimensions...and sticking a second person in. Now, you have company! Does this change improve anything? Of course not. Are these conditions cruel and inhumane? Absolutely. Is it any different keeping a human in these conditions vs. an iguana? Absolutely not.

When you do it right, iguanas get big. Fast. Igs need lots of room to be able to stretch out full length in any part of the temperature gradient they want to be in and need to have their full body and most of their tail in that part of the thermal gradient that they need to keep their core body temperature stable. At the very minimum, iguanas need an enclosure that is 1.5-2 x their snout-tail length (stl) in width (from side to side), 1-1.5 x stl in height (tall), and .5-1 x stl in depth (front to back).

It's okay to not want to live with one or more 6 ft lizards. It's okay to not have a spare room or to dedicate all or a good part of a room to an iguana's living quarters. But then you shouldn't have an iguana. There are plenty of wonderful alternatives around: bearded dragons, some of the skinks, even the smaller iguanids such as chuckawallas and desert iguanas, and agamids such as water dragons. Ideally, this is a decision that should be made before a lizard is purchased or acquired. Unfortunately, it is too often a decision that confronts someone after they have had the iguana for a while...and is suddenly finding out that what they were originally told about iguana care and keeping was largely incorrect. If you have an iguana, you must make the accommodations necessary, both financially and spatially, to raise it in as healthy an environment as can be provided in captivity.

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Imagine: A Visualization Exercise

Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension, and Lifestyle

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