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Taming of New Iguana

      Congratulations on your new iguana! Hopefully you have your new iguana set up correctly in a spacious enclosure and you are providing the proper temperatures, lighting and diet for it. Please read Iguana Care- Basics 101 to make sure that you are doing all of the right things for your iguana.

      With any luck at all, you have brought home a healthy iguana who is green in colour, active, alert and already eating well for you. Hopefully your iguana is reacting to you to some degree when you enter the room or approach the enclosure, by standing up, or looking at you, or even by sticking it's dewlap (the flap of skin under its throat) out a bit as you come near. An iguana that doesn't react, or who seems extremely docile, lies still or hides could be a sick iguana or a very stressed and scared iguana.

      Any new iguana should be taken to the vet for a check up shortly after bringing it home. Whether it's acting ill or not. You want to make sure it really is healthy. You should try to bring a fresh stool sample with you to the vets and have the stool tested for parasites. Parasite infections are very easy to cure with the right medications, but a parasite infection left untreated could ultimately make your iguana very sick, dehydrated, not have an appetite and could eventually be it's cause of death. Please DO bring your iguana to a reptile vet for a check up within the first week or two of having him as a pet.

      So, you would like to start interacting with your iguana and taming him. It can take some time to develop a trust and bond between yourself and the iguana, and it's best to start shortly after the iguana arrives in your home- provided that it is indeed healthy. If your iguana is young it's best to tame him before he gets larger and harder to handle.

      If your iguana has already progressed to sticking it's dewlap out at you as you near the cage, it is a sign that the iguana is either a bit afraid but standing it's ground, might be trying to tell you to back off, or yes it could be being aggressive. Aggressive acts are often accompanied by head bobs, white head, and sometimes open mouth, the tail might flick as well. If you are only seeing the dewlap extend and no other signs of aggression then I think it would be safe to try to pet or pick up the iguana.

      Instead of picking the ig up right from the beginning you might try getting it used to you by slowly moving your hand into the cage ... not swooping your hand down from above ... bring your hand in on the far side of the cage and bring it level with the ig then move it across the cage towards the ig. If your hand swoops down from above the ig is more likely to think it's being attacked by a predator (i.e. bird) and you don't want that. If the ig sees your hand coming it might still be nervous but hopefully it will understand that you are not attacking. Talk to your ig in a gentle voice, maybe just pet your ig in the cage, or offer it a nice leafy green like a collard leave or a dandelion green ... Do this for a few days to a couple of weeks depending upon the iguanas reaction, and hopefully the ig will come to realize that your hand entering the cage is not meant as a threat. As the ig comes to trust you, you should try to pick it up- daily.

      You DO want to eventually try picking it up. It might struggle, it might put out it's dewlap, but if you never pick it up or let it scare you off it will quickly learn what kinds of things to do to intimidate you- i.e. what works to keep you away ... and the ig could potentially become more aggressive towards you. So you do want to start taming it as soon as possible and I believe interacting with it, feeding it healthy treats like collard leaves, and holding the iguana at least once a day is the best way to get it used to you and to get it to become much tamer.

      Remember if this ig is new to your home it has no bond with you yet, no trust has developed, and it's still trying to get used to it's new home, treat it nicely and interact with it as much as you can. It takes time for the ig to realize that you don't mean it harm, but once it does start to realize that you are safe and won't hurt it, it will be easier to pick him up and interact with him even more. Talk in a soft or normal voice to your iguana. Don't yell at him if you can help it. If you must talk in a harsher voice simply use a different tone for the words No or Bad, I've found the word "Owwww" works too. :) They do learn quickly and I believe they come to recognize words that we use frequently and the tone of voice that we use around them, they probably recognize our body language too. Iguana's are both visual and auditory creatures and it is best to use both voice and physical signs to communicate with them.

      If your iguana is a foot or so in length he really can't do you much harm. Please don't be afraid of him. You might get some scratches from his claws if he struggles, he might even whip his tail at you, but for the most part the iguana's struggles or defensive mechanisms such as a tail whip will be ineffective or barely noticeable if the iguana is small. Please be careful handling the iguana if he is struggling though. You don't want to cause undue stress and you do not want to injure your iguana by holding him too hard or squeezing him.

      Likewise if he does manage to get loose you don't want to try to grab his tail. An iguana can drop part of it's tail if it is frightened. Most often this is seen in young iguanas but adult iguanas can drop their tail too. So be careful. A healthy iguana can recover quite well if it injures or drops its tail, and the tail will most often grow back, but it will never look the same as the original tail. You will feel awful too if your iguana drops his tail .... so handle him carefully and try to handle him in a room that has been iguana proofed so that if he does get loose from you he won't be able to go and hide in the wall or in some area that will be extremely difficult to retrieve him from.

      So I wouldn't worry too much about getting bit by a young iguana. Be much more cautious around an adult iguana, they can do more harm, and that is why it's best to start taming and handling an iguana when they are young.

     Just be aware of his mood. Realize that quick vibrating head bobs, flicking tail and open mouth can be signs that the iguana is feeling threatened and that he might try to bite you. Don't necessarily let this stop you from handling him. Sometimes you have to handle your iguana no matter what- for medical care, shower or tub pooping, or to get him out of danger, so the more used to being picked you and handled your iguana is, the better for all involved.

      If he does bite be aware that their teeth are serrated and very sharp, so don't pull away, let the ig let go, if you pull away you will have a bad cut. :( If your ig is larger than a foot, maybe two or more feet in length than the bite could hurt more and be a bit worse. Either way, I'm hoping your ig is just warning you off a bit but doesn't intend to try to bite you ...

      When I first got my iguana Napoleon he was a small adult iguana. Much harder to handle than a baby iguana. He was very ill, but feisty. He did not want me to pick him up and he tail whipped and snapped at me quite a bit. I never did get bite but only because I kept my eyes open and was very aware of his moods and that he was actually attempting to bite. I was careful. However, as I said, he was ill when I got him and that necessitated him being picked up several times a day so that he could be soaked in the tub (to help heal his skin wounds and abscess) and have medication applied to his wounds, and to have fluids and liquid nutrients given to him orally. He was not a happy iguana! He had also been abused in the past, probably by his previous owners and I think he truly mistrusted humans. I had a lot of work to do with this boy.

      So, even though Napoleon did his best to warn or scare me off each time I tried to pick him up, I still had to pick him up for his own sake and give him the medical attention that he needed. I would simply get him into my arms and hold him gently but firmly against my body, not near my face, and talk to him and try to calm him down while he struggled. He would usually calm down fairly quickly once I had him in my arms. When he would calm down I would relax my hold somewhat. Sometimes he would start to struggle again right away and I would hold him a bit more firmly until he calmed again. I never put him down until he was acting calm. I didn't want to give him the message that if he struggled I would put him down. I wanted to give him the message that if he calmed down and didn't struggle he would get put down faster. It worked.

      One thing that I found that worked with Napoleon back then, and it still does if he's a bit agitated now, was to gently rock my body slowly side to side while holding him in my arms, or these days on my shoulder. He calms down very quickly when I rock slowly. I wonder if he thinks he's in a gently swaying tree branch? :)

      Eventually I started picking him up, he'd struggle than calm down, and then once he was calm I'd put him down in the room and let him explore. He didn't know what to do with this at first, and since he was somewhat aggressive I always wondered how the heck am I going to pick him up again when he's totally free, but I always retrieved him without too much difficulty. If you do let your iguana roam around a room when he's not quite tame and might still be afraid of you, it's important to not seem like you are chasing him when you try to pick him up again. This will only cause a set back in the bond that you are trying to develop with him. Just wait him out and slowly get closer to him until you can reach him without scaring the poor little guy. :) Giving him some time to walk about freely in an iguana safe room, interact with me or just observe me while moving about freely greatly increased the bond and trust between us. He really started to calm down even more once he started getting more time to explore and walk about freely.

      I also took what opportunity that I could to bribe him with healthy treats. When I'd hold him and he'd act calm, or when he'd explore the room and basically be pretty good and non aggressive I always went and got him a nice big collard green or dandelion leaf. He loves his greens. So he was rewarded for his good behaviour with healthy treats. I think this helped increase the bond between us and also helped him realize I wasn't there to harm him, only to give him yummy big green leaves. :)

      It took about 6 months for Napoleon to really calm down and to begin to become only a small portion of the lovely extremely lovable iguana that he is today. However by the 6 month time period we could handle him easily and interact with him very well, and things only continued to get better and better as time went by.

      So you can see that taming an iguana does take some time. I started with a sickly but feisty aggressive adult and it took about 6 months to start to see some very good results. We've had Napoleon for over three years now and I think he's one of the sweetest calmest igs that ever lived. So it is possible to tame an iguana. Just remember that all iguana's have different personalities and some will tame better than others. You should be able to get your iguana tame enough that you can handle him or her when you must- at the very least. Someone trying to tame a young healthy iguana should hopefully have even faster results than I did, but I would count on it taking at least 3 months to have an iguana that you can pretty trust most of the time. Just follow some of the basics that I have outlined here and you should be able to tame and handle your iguana easily in the near future. :)

Iguana proofing a room:

      Iguana proofing a room is quite easy to do.

      It is preferable that the room have a door that can be closed to keep other pets and people out of the room, and to prevent the animal from escaping into other areas of the house. If the door has a gape under it that might be large enough for your iguana to slip through please place a towel or blanket at the foot of the door.

      If the room contains heavy furniture that may be difficult to move should the iguana crawl under it- or if the furniture is so heavy that it might injure the iguana when you move it to retrieve him or her, please block off access to that piece of furniture as well by placing a towel at the foot of it. If you happen to have any holes or cracks in the walls, radiators or water heaters that can possibly be climbed into- please block off access to those areas as well. It might be a wise idea to place tape over the openings of power outlets and cords with unused sockets.

      Take a good look around the room and try to think of where your iguana might hide if it got loose or were to run away from you. Is that area a place that you can easily rescue your iguana from? Look both high and low as frightened iguana will take off fast and may seek out a low refuge under some furniture, usually where it is dark and cool for some reason, or it may climb a curtain or something and try to go to the highest area in the room.

      Make sure their are no toxic plants, or objects that could easily fall over and hurt your iguana if he or she were to run into them. Likewise make sure that you don't have valuable irreplaceable items in an area that a iguana may knock them over and damage them.

      If you plan to take your iguana out and let it roam around one room on a regular basis you might think about purchasing a tree for your iguana to climb on. Hibiscus or Ficus trees are ideal and safe for this purpose and your iguana will just love either one. If you do have a tree and loose track of your iguana, looking in the tree might also be a good first place to look. :)

      If your iguana is going to be out for several hours at a time then you must make sure that the room temperature is more than adequate. If you need to, please purchase a portable room heater (electric or oil) and use it to heat the room to at least 80F while the iguana(s) is out and about. Human heating pads set on low in favourite iguana hang outs, basking lights and even UVB fluorescent lights in places that your iguana spends the most time while out are also a very good idea.

      Here are some useful iguana related links:

Finding a reptile vet:

      If your iguana is sick- PLEASE TAKE IT TO A REPTILE VET, no answer from me or anyone else that you might email, is going to cure it. It is too hard to tell what might be wrong with an animal when someone writes ... and most often what the person describes sounds serious and sounds like it needs medication to cure it. Save time- If your animal is sick, don't wait for a reply- because anyone answering your letter is probably only going to tell you to take your iguana to a vet.

      It's also ALWAYS a good idea to know of a reptile vet in your area - BEFORE- you really need a reptile vet, but then, it's also a good idea to take your animal to a vet shortly after purchase for a general check up too:

Important Iguana Links

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     By Melissa Kaplan!!!! 384 pages of in depth iguana care information. So, you wanna iguana. Or you already have one. Now what? This fun and friendly guide gives you expert advice on selecting an iguana and taking care of your fascinating pet throughout its life. It provides valuable tips on diet, habitat, health, and other important iguana issues.

Hatfield's Ultimate Iguana Owners manual Green Iguana; The Ultimate Owner's Manual by James W., III Hatfield

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     The best book on green iguanas to come along in years. Information on diet, housing, and health, wonderful insights into iguana psychology and iguana-human interaction. The definitive work on management, care and personality traits of green iguanas in captivity. If you own a green iguana or if you are thinking of getting one, you should buy this book.

Green Iguana Manual The Green Iguana Manual by Philippe De Vosjoli

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     Basic information about the care of the Green Iguana. Outdated nutritional information.

Iguana- Owners Guide The Iguana : An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet by Karen Rosenthal

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     Up-to-date reptile information and ownership instruction. The Iguana covers everything from selecting an ectotherm and understanding its environmental needs to discussions on behaviour and a glossary of relevant terminology.

Iguana Iguana : Guide for Successful Captive Care by Fredric L. Frye

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     A new and expanded edition, devoted exclusively to the green iguana, based on the author's previous publication, Iguanas: A Guide to their Biology and Captive Care. Includes b&w; illustrations and 24 pages of colour plates. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.

National Iguana Awareness Day!  Napoleon is the logo!

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