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

College Student Speaks Out About Iguana Ownership

Written by a college student for other college students thinking about getting an iguana.

©1995 Cathy Cuddihl and Xochipilli (who already knows everything)


This was written in response to a 19-year-old college student's inquiry as to the suitability of iguanas as a pet. Cathy kindly gave me permission to use this.

Dear Joseph,

I am a college student who got a hatchling iguana when I was 19 and was living in the dorm. Now I'm 21, still at school, and still have my iguana, but live in a house.

I think that I'm in a pretty good position to offer advice on this issue. Having a pet, whether it is a dog, cat, or an iguana, is a big responsibility. It's a trade-off, though, because for all the great times you have patting and talking to your ig, you have to make sacrifices. It's definitely possible to have an ig at this point in your life, but it's probably a lot more inconvenient right now, as opposed to when you've gotten a real job and a permanent location. As long as you're aware of the basic responsibilities, and aware that it will take some extra effort for a college student, and you've determined that it's worth it for you, then I think it's possible for college students to have igs. But it's definitely not the right decision for everybody.


1. Expenses
One of the biggest sacrifices is money. Most college students don't have a lot of money to throw around, but this doesn't mean that they should neglect to take their dog/cat/ig to the vet. Igs will need vet care at least once year, and maybe much more if you run into problems. It can cost $35-$50 a year for a vet visit, or it can cost $200. I strongly believe that all ig owners should have access to at least $200 at all times (this means for the next 10+ years) for unexpected emergencies, whether it's your own money or borrowed from your parents or someone else (many colleges offer small loans for short term, like $200). Within 9 months of getting my iguana, she fractured her femur (due to metabolic bone disease) and I had to pay about $180 for vet fees (oof!). I think that people who won't be able to to bring their ig to the vet during an emergency because they only have $15 in their account at the time, shouldn't have iguana until things get more stable monetarily. I feel really strongly about this!

The other expenses are the basic set-up, and maintenance costs such as food and supplements and cleaning supplies. Starting costs for the set up can be about $400 minimum--lights and heating equipment, miscellaneous supplies like bird nail-clippers, spray-bottle, bowls, thermometers, timers, light fixtures etc. Food for the first couple years is cheap--only about $4-10 per week depending on where you live (if you make Melissa Kaplan's salad, which you should). Cleaning supplies and vitamin/mineral supplements probably only come to about $15 for a year for the first couple years. For the set-up, expect that you will eventually find out that you hadn't accounted for something--even the best setups will need modifications at some point, so set aside some money for that.

So for the first year, you're looking at paying $500-$600 on your ig provided no serious medical problems. (Figures like this have been debated on the IguanaMail List. If anyone actually thinks their first year with an ig was cheaper than this, I'd like to know about it! Florida residents excepted, of course). Once the ig is set up, and healthy, it won't cost that much on an annual basis, but keep in mind that the ig has to be either free roaming (appropriate measures taken) or have really big & tall cage after the first year. From what I have been saying, Iguanas cost MUCHO DINERO $$$!!I guaranteed. I am not exaggerating!!! If you think that you can keep up with the costs, move on to #2.


2. Time, Effort, and Commitment.
Igs require a lot of time and most of it is daily time. Unlike your papers or exams that you can put off and then stay up 24 hours the night before they're due, igs have to be maintained on a daily basis whether or not your schedule is hectic. If it's finals week and you're freaking out, you still have to come home from the library and put your ig to bed, feed him, clean up the poop painting, etc. If you were up till 3 am writing a paper or partying, you still have to get up the next morning to bathe and feed your hungry ig.

The problem with being college student is that your schedule is so variable. At certain times in the semester, you're bored, and other times, you have a lot of work (unless you are a slacker, which is quite possible). Regular adults with regular jobs ("domestic engineers" included) are more likely to have stable routines that allow them to keep up with their igs. I could have a schedule that included a Monday class at 8:30 am and my first Tuesday class at 1 pm. So on one day I'm up at 8, the next day I sleep in till noon. Wild animals, such as igs, need strict routines! if you never establish a routine, the animal will get stressed out, leading to sickness, difficult behavior, and growth and development problems.


3. Vacations/Summer Break
When spring break approaches, you can't just jump in the car with your buddies and drive to Ft. Lauderdale! You have to either find a good, reliable way to bring your ig with you with all of his necessities, or you have to find someone to take care of him. Pet stores are pretty much out of the question because your animal could very easily get reinfected with worms and other parasites, thus wasting the $15-30 you spent at the vet on deworming him when you first got him! Also, most pet stores don't have a clue when it comes to igs or have very, very little space for him. Vet boarding may be very expensive. The first break or two it's not a big deal to accommodate your ig, but after awhile, you may begin to wistfully watch all those other college students carelessly jumping into their cars with their hiking backpacks and driving off to the Grand Canyon, or whatever great place. However, these limits on your spontaneity may be worth it for you!

Summers: As you already know, it can be hard to find a place for you and your ig where others don't mind. This pretty much won't just be something to think about when you go home for the summer. What about your roommate in the dorm? What about your housemates off campus? Will the landlord allow an iguana? What if the college finds out that you have an ig in the dorm room? Can you afford (and have the transportation available) to drive your iguana home and back to school during summer vacation? Since most airlines won't accept them, and it may be too hot to ship them even if you use overnight express delivery, your only option if you can't find someone to take care of your iguana is for you to drive home and back to school.

Graduation: Most college students don't know where and how they will be living after they graduate. I certainly don't, and it's my last semester! Does graduation seem too far away and unreal for you to think about yet? Well, the ig will be there when it's time to step out into the real world. (And get a $5.50/hr job with that B.A. you just earned). The iguana may limit what you do after graduation. My friend got a grant to go do research in Costa Rica for a year. It was an excellent addition to her resume, and she saw incredible plants and animals including wild iguanas. If I wanted to do a similar thing after I graduate, I would have a much more difficult time with being able to make the decision than would pet-less college students. Iguanas can limit you to staying within the US (or Canada) and prevent you from studying abroad or getting a foreign job (I don't mean a car-- "One of them foreign jobs"...I mean employment!) (more on this in a second).


4. Life After College
At this time in our lives, we are in a stage that is very much based on impermanence. We're always moving around, never knowing what will happen next. Later most of us will settle down, and keeping pets such as iguanas won't be quite as difficult. It may be worth it to have an iguana now, but it may be even more worth it to wait awhile as you take advantage of this part of your life--your college years--to be free to the fullest. This won't be possible later when you have mortgage payments and children, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's so far away, I know, but your ig should be around until you're at least 30!

Everything that I have written here has been written with the assumption that you will NOT take the attitude that you can adopt an ig now and get rid of it later, when the ig becomes inconvenient. If you think that there's a big possibility that you will have to get your ig a new home at some point, don't get one! Iguanas, as well as other pets, are not disposable and should not be obtained on a whims or a snap-decision. The idea that pets are easily disposed of is part of the reason why 4-6 million dogs and puppies are put to sleep every year in American animal shelters and pounds ("The Adoption Option", by E. Rubenstein and S.Kalina, about adopting shelter dogs...). It's also the reason that Melissa Kaplan and others are run off their feet trying to find homes for so many rescued iguanas. (What's the most MK's had at once? 49?).

It should be mentioned that college students are some of the most likely people to obtain pets on whims. Animal shelters in college towns often fill up with abandoned dogs right after commencement. I personally know 3 people who bought igs on whims at this school whose igs were then lost or killed or very poorly cared for. Two of those people don't even seem to have any regret, now that the moment has worn off. So, think hard about your decision! I understand that we college students may run into unexpected situations, like an awesome job overseas where you can't bring your ig; you may end up choosing between your pet and your career, marriage, etc. That's understandable, but if you know now that this definitely will happen, don't get an ig. The fact remains that there are far more people out there who will obtain animals on whims, then there are kind-hearted old ladies out there waiting to take the animals in once the whimsical people have run out of steam.

Yes, I know I sound like your mom, but I'm not trying to convince you not get an iguana, I'm just trying to help you make the most well-informed decision that's right for you, right now. Sometimes I think the only reason why I as a college student have stuck with my ig for so long, despite it all is because I am insanely into my iguana. Insanity is good though--I seem to have this unlimited reserve of energy for my iguana, which Jen Swofford, who is also graduating, (but is a little more sure of her future) and Heather Onutz, another college student, also seem to have. This constant reserve of energy allows me to get up even on the worstest days to take care of my lizard.

However, all in all, done right, with a lot of sacrifice, iguanas can be really great pets. Joseph, if you still think you want an iguana, try to rescue one if you can. Find out about rescue organizations/herp societies in your area and see if you can get an iguana that really needs a home (although some would argue that pet store iguanas need to be rescued as well!). If you've decided yes, good luck and stay on this mailing list! If you're not sure, there will plenty of time later on to get an ig, and for now, there's lots of other great hobbies!

Good Luck,

Cathy Cuddihy, Oberlin College, '96

Related Articles

Iguana Care, Feeding & Socialization
(includes starting equipment and supply list)

So, you think you want a reptile?

How To Kill An Iguana

The Grim Reality: Unwanted reptiles

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site