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

Moving Your Iguana

From pet store to home, taking your iguana on vacation, moving across town or across country, the time comes when we need to get our iguanas from one place to another as safely and stress-free as possible.

©1996 Melissa Kaplan


Moving an iguana from the pet store or former owner to your home can be quite stressful for the iguana. Moving it from its old enclosure to a new enclosure is equally stressful, as is moving it with you when you move from one home to another. The stress of the change will affect your iguana in one or more ways. If you are prepared for the changes, you won't be as stressed, and you will be able to help your iguana get through the change as easily as possible.


Transporting Your Iguana
Iguanas, when tamed and socialized properly, will become comfortable and at ease with many different humans and when subjected to new sights and sounds. Baby iguanas, however, and iguanas of any age who have not been tamed or socialized, need to be transported from one location to another (such as from the store to your home, or from your home to the veterinarian's office) in a manner designed to reduce stress. One way to do this is to carry them in a secured pet carrier, cardboard box, large insulated cooler, or pillow case.

Pet Carriers
Pet carriers made for cats and dogs (such as Vari-Kennels, Kennel Cabs, etc.) work well when the large holes and gated front door are covered to prevent a small iguana from escaping. If you keep in mind that iguanas, like all reptiles, are fairly squishy and can easily squeeze through openings humans think would be impossible, you are less likely to have an escape.

Using duct tape, you can tape dark cloth over the openings from the inside (it is easier to modify these carriers if you disassemble them first!). If you put the cloth outside the carrier, the iguana may shove his way through. Several layers of soft cloth, such as a bath towel or even an old pair of sweats, will do to cover the bottom and provide traction. Cover the gated front as well, leaving the door-locking mechanism free for use.

Iguanas may be shipped on some airplanes in these carriers. They do not need to have food or water packed with them. The door-locking mechanism should be securely taped to prevent accidental (and not-so-accidental) opening while in transit.

Cardboard Boxes
Sturdy cardboard boxes may be used, provided several small holes have been poked through the top and the upper sides before placing the iguana inside. As with the carrier, the bottom of the box should be lined with soft cloth to provide traction and cushioning. The top of the box may be taped shut to prevent accidental escapes.

Coolers, such as the large plastic Coleman® coolers used for food, or the Styrofoam-type boxes used to ship live fish to pet stores, or foam-lined cardboard boxes, may also be used to transport iguanas. As with the plain cardboard boxes, air holes should be punched into the foam and foam/cardboard boxes.

Ventilating a Coleman-type cooler is more difficult - if you leave the lid ajar at all, the iguana may easily escape. One way to prevent this is to first put the iguana inside a pillowcase, securely fastening the top of the pillowcase so that the iguana cannot get out.

Pillow cases are great travel bags for reptiles of all sorts. They come in a variety of sizes and can easily be secured by using rubber bands. If you transport animals frequently using pillow cases, lengths of cord may be purchased at fabric and craft stores, sewn onto the side seam of the bag, and used to tie the bag closed.

Pillowcased animals may be carried on your lap or car seat or, better yet, placed into a sturdy box. This provides some additional protection for the animal and makes it easier to secure in the car by wrapping a seat belt around it or stowing it in the cargo space (not in a car trunk!).

Whatever way you transport your iguana, remember: if you need to check on the iguana during the trip, do so only with the car doors closed! If your iguana is not tame and not happy about being closed into a box or carrier, it may come shooting out, dodging right past you and out the door if you are not careful.


To Heat or Not to Heat?
Should you provide a heat source in a carrier, box, or cooler? This can be a tough question to answer, as too much heat can just as easily kill a reptile as no heat. Many reptiles do fine when kept at the lower end of their preferred temperature gradient for several hours--even several long as they are healthy to start with and don't have a belly full of food when they are cooled down.

If you are going to be traveling with the iguana in your car, then you are better off not putting a heat source in the box, instead relying on the car's heater. You do not need to keep the car's interior at 95ºF, just warm enough to not be chilly.

If there is a chance that the car will be off for a while during the trip, you can buy adapters for your cigarette lighter that will enable you to plug in a standard electrical plug so that you can plug in a regular heating pad.

You can also use small hand, pocket, or glove warmers found in outdoors and sporting goods stores. Some of these heaters are disposable, used only one time. Others are rechargeable (by boiling or microwaving them) and may be reused many times. Make sure these heaters don't come into direct contact with the iguana--they can get quite hot.


To Ship or Drive?
Many people wonder whether they should ship their iguana or drive it to wherever they are going. The answer may depend on a number of factors, including how long the trip will take by car, whether you are moving or just going on vacation, who else and what else you are traveling with, and how organized and able to deal with stress you are.

If you are moving a household, including several kids and dogs or other pets, you may not want to have to worry about having to care for and protect an iguana in transit. If you plan on a leisurely trip by yourself or with a friend, then you may want to add the necessary paraphernalia needed to care for an iguana for several days on the road and at a vacation location.

As with the airlines, plan ahead so as to not end up having to smuggle an iguana into a hotel or motel where you plan on spending more than one night. You don't need to have the housekeeping staff run, screaming out of your room, or other guests freaking out at the monster lounging in the window of your room; it tends to give folks the wrong impression and doesn't help to pave the way for changes in attitudes on the part of hotel and motel management and staff. Generally speaking, if you assure the management when you make your reservations that the lizard doesn't make any noises, is kept enclosed when you are not around (or that it will not be left alone in your room), and is potty trained, any place that accepts dogs and cats will likely not have a problem accepting an iguana guest. I stayed at a Lake Tahoe casino/hotel with a room full of snakes, lizards, and chelonians when I did a workshop there...the staff were either quite friendly and accommodating--or stayed away from me. I got extra towels and things from housekeeping and requested that the housekeeping department just ignore my room for the duration of my stay; to ensure that there were no surprises, I left the Do Not Disturb sign on my door for the duration of my stay.

If you find that driving with the iguana is not feasible, or if you will be flying instead of driving, shipping by air is one alternative. If you will be flying, you can, with prior arrangements with the airlines, have your iguana shipped, as dogs and cats are shipped - in the pressurized cargo area - of the flight you are on. This only works if the plane you are flying on is flying into an airport where the planes are large enough to have pressurized cargo area; where I live, they do not so reptiles flown in have to be picked up at the next closest airport - an hour away.

If you are moving a household and kids and do not want to have to worry about handling kids, loads of luggage, and a crated iguana, you may wish to ship it ahead of you and have someone at the other end prepared to pick it up and house it until you arrive at your new home. Conversely, you may find that leaving your iguana in the care of friends is best, with them shipping it to you once you have had a chance to get to your new home and get the iguana's area set up.

In The Car
Many iguanas do not like being locked up in boxes or carriers, regardless of how comfy and secure they are. They want to be out and will thrash and whip and claw at their carrier. Many iguana owners do let their iguanas ride free in the car. While this is not a particularly safe thing to do, with proper accommodations and some ground rules, you can mitigate some of these problems.

Velcro terry cloth towels along the front or back dashboards to provide a place for your iguana to comfortably lie where it won't slide around every time you change lanes or turn a corner.

Do not let your iguana in to the floor area in the front seat. First, it is not safe for you, the iguana, or the other drivers on the road if the iguana is literally under the driver's feet. Second, there are several wonderful holes that you cannot see but that will be quite attractive to your iguana...and dismantling your car to extract an iguana is not exactly something you want to take a stop along the road way for.

One way to keep them in back is to set up their area in back, and to keep placing them in back whenever they try to come to the front seat. A better way is to get one of the gates made to be placed behind the front or back seat. They are often used to keep dogs out of front seats.

Ultimately, while operating a vehicle, you are responsible for not only your safety and the iguana's safety, but for the safety of others on the road as well. If you need to stop, you need to stop, and there may not be time to grab the iguana before you do so.

In The Air
The airlines generally will not allow reptiles in the passenger cabins. They often cite the FAA as the source of that rule. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn't seem to say anything on the subject. Despite the fact that far more people are allergic to cats and dogs, and despite the fact that cats and dogs make far more noise than do reptiles, you cannot legally take your iguana on board with you. One woman was recently told by more than a dozen employees of one airline that she could take her iguana with her. She boarded the plane, the flight crew ohhhhed and awwwwed over the iguana. But, at the last minute, someone boarded the plane and kicked her iguana off.

Many people smuggle their reptiles into the cabin with them. This is not only inadvisable, it is downright stupid. While you are unlikely to be kicked off in mid-flight, you are at risk of being sued by the airlines, fined by federal authorities, and sued by any passenger who was, in their own mind, terrorized or traumatized by your cute green iggy who escaped from your shirt or carry-on bag and scampered down the aisle. The way to change the regulation is not by disobeying it, but by educating the FAA and airlines.

Occasionally you will hear of individuals who did manage to get their reptiles on board. This is generally because they found an airline employee who didn't realize it was against regulations. You may also run into airline personnel who don't check to see if that is really a dog or a cat in the securely closed and covered carrier.

The bottom line is that you are not just an individual who happens to have an iguana you are smuggling on board. Ultimately, in the eyes of the non-herp owning public, you are representative of all iguana owners, and how you act, right or wrong, reflects on the rest of us.

Delta Dash and American Priority Parcel
Both of these airlines used to regularly ship animals through their priority cargo services. The rates were about twice those of Express Mail. Contact Delta or American to find out if they will accept your animal (see below), about flight times, when and where the animal (packed in a box or carrier as described above) must be delivered for shipping, and when and where the receiving party is to pick it up. Typically, the package clears the cargo processing within a couple of hours of the flight arrival time. Packages shipped to arrive on the weekends are generally picked up by the receiving party at the airline's ticket counter in the passenger terminal; during the week, packages may have to be picked up from the cargo office. Always call first to confirm where the pick-up should be made.

Due to problems with international shipments of reptiles, it has now become difficult for pet owners to ship their own reptiles within the U.S. Most will not accept reptiles except from "recognized shippers" - and you won't be recognized if you have never shipped with them before. You will need to do a lot of calling around to find an airline, and when you do, talk to several people on different days to make sure that they all say the same thing. If they do say yes, check with the carrier prior to making arrangements and several times before the flight to ensure that they will indeed do what they said...and be prepared with a back-up plan if you are turned away at the last minute.


 Iguanas may be shipped on airplanes as air cargo (again, keep calling around) and through the Express Mail service of the U.S. Postal Service. When shipping iguanas or any other reptiles, you want to have the animal boxed up for the least amount of time as possible. That means packing them up as close to the departure time as possible and assuring they are picked up as soon after arrival as possible.

Sturdy foam-lined cardboard boxes, foam live fish boxes, and the dog/cat carriers are all suitable for shipping iguanas. Needless to say, the tail length on older iguanas means that you need to use a really large carrier! As with packing them for transport in the car, they should be packed similarly for shipping. Iguanas packed in foam-lined boxes and foam coolers, however, should first be secured in a pillowcase and the box should be partially filled with foam peanuts (used for shipping fragile objects and available at stores that sell shipping and packing supplies) or lots of crumpled paper. As printed newspaper can smell quite strongly when in a closed, poorly ventilated area, do not use them in packing; you can get unprinted newsprint from packing stores.

Address the box clearly. On the top, clearly write your name, address, and phone number, and the recipient's name, address, and phone number. Whether you use address labels or just write directly on the box, cover the names and addresses with clear packing tape to make sure that if the box gets dripped or rained on, it will not obliterate any of this information.

On the top and sides, write LIVE HARMLESS LIZARD. Also write Keep at Room Temperature (75ºF / 23ºC) and This Side UpUpwards pointing arrow on the sides.

Express Mail
The U.S. Postal Service will take live, harmless lizards...although the counter clerk may not be particularly thrilled about accepting your package. Complete the Express Mail form before you get up to the counter (you can pick them up ahead of time and complete them at home).

Call the post office first to find out if there is overnight delivery from the zip code you are shipping from to the zip code you are shipping to. Do not assume that there is, even if there is from the other zip code to you. If you live in or are shipping to a less than major metropolitan center, "overnight" delivery may in fact take 2 days. If the post office doesn't have overnight delivery to the place you are shipping to, United Parcel may.

United Parcel Service
UPS will not knowingly accept shipments of live lizards. As with the U.S. Postal Service, there may not be overnight delivery from all UPS offices to the location you want to send a package to. If you ship this way (and I am not recommending that anyone do so), ship by overnight delivery in a box marked Fragile. Any reptile found being shipped (and freight carries do have the right to inspect any suspicious boxes) will result in its being confiscated and the carrier can file felony charges for reptiles shipped over state lines. (I got a lovely 4.5 foot male this way - his owner shipped him from Kansas to California - by surface UPS. After week in the box and he was severely dehydrated, battered, and stressed. He was discovered because the TO address was incorrect - there wasn't any such number on that street - the return address was phony, and so the box was sitting in the UPS office waiting for someone to inquire about a missing package. An employee became curious when the box rustled.)


Moving Stresses
No matter how far you move the iguana nor how long it took to get it there, the iguana will be stressed. Older iguanas are creatures of habit; disturb their daily routine, and they will suffer. Hatchling iguanas may be stressed, not only from the change, but from suddenly being the only iguana. There is safety in numbers for animals low on the food chain, and since your iguana isn't quite convinced that you are not going to eat it, the fact that it is now housed in comparative luxury with all of its needs met, doesn't really matter. Even relocating the iguana's enclosure from one side of a room to another can generate enough stress to produce the following signs.

Signs of stress common when iguanas have been moved from one place to another or from one enclosure to another include darkening, browning or graying of skin color, reduced activity, reduced appetite or complete loss of appetite, and reduced tameness (if the iguana was tame to begin with). Prolonged stress reaction may cause the suppression of the immune system, resulting in systemic bacterial infections, secondary infections such as mouth rot and abscesses on the body, limbs, and tail, or increased populations of protozoans and worms that can further weaken them.

Iguanas may spend all their time in their hide-boxes or other hidden places, or, if free roaming, hidden away behind or under furniture and tucked away in bookshelves. Their acclimation to their new home may take weeks, even months.

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