what do iguanas eat – Can they eat meat? Risks and benefits for this reptile – Iguanas are a reptile now quite widespread as a pet. But can the iguana eat meat or does it have an exclusively vegetarian diet?
Iguanas, cute reptiles now very common in the houses of less traditional owners, are pets with special needs that must follow a specific diet – a bit like all the other animals, after all. And one of the most common questions that many iguana owners have is: can iguanas eat meat? This is a spontaneous question, as the basic diet of many other lizards revolves around eating insects. Additionally, there are some old myths that iguanas may need some of these foods integrated into their diet to stay healthy. What’s the answer?
Can the iguana eat meat?
Iguanas should not eat meat. This includes insects, meats like beef and chicken, or other food sources such as cat and dog food. All of these foods contain animal proteins that can make iguanas sick, and potentially even cause premature death if you eat regularly. The diet of an iguana should consist of leaves, flowers and fruits.
It is perhaps natural to wonder why iguanas don’t eat a wider range of foods, particularly why some similar lizards, such as geckos, appear to be eating such a broad spectrum of types of food. But the iguana must necessarily stay away from the meats, and there are also other foods that the iguanas should not eat at all.
Risks and benefits of meat
Meat contains animal protein, which causes organ damage in iguanas. Eating meat can make our iguana sick, and consuming it for a long period of time can have many negative effects. It will reduce growth and generally make the size of the iguana smaller, but above all it will make it less healthy and happy. It can also lead to premature death.
At this point we may be concerned that the iguana sometimes incorrectly eats a meat-based food. This will probably not harm the reptile and there is nothing to worry about. In fact, there is evidence that the iguana can eat meat occasionally in the wild, probably when other foods are in short supply. Considering that an occasional incorrect bite will not hurt, any intentional feeding of meat products is absolutely not recommended.
What meats can’t eat?
When people think of lizards and reptiles, they often imagine the basic diet of crickets and worms. This is not the case with iguanas. They cannot eat any of the following foods: crickets, cockroaches, house flies, flour moths, other types of larvae.
Although conscientious owners will probably never think this is a good idea, we should never give the iguana types of meat that are regularly eaten by humans. Foods like chicken, beef, pork or ham are definitely not suitable for iguanas. Using leftovers is also not a great idea for reptiles, and any residue containing even small amounts of these foods could be harmful.
What should iguanas eat?
Fortunately, the iguana diet is much more restricted than most lizards, and this helps to provide them with only a few well-chosen foods. Iguanas live mainly in the rain forests of Mexico, Central America, Brazil and the Caribbean. They live sheltered from the heat, in places where leaves are in abundance.
Therefore, in nature, iguanas eat hundreds of different types of plant matter. Most of their diet will consist of leaves, supplementing these main foods with some flowers and also eating berries. In captivity, it is a good idea to stick to this basic formula of leaves, fruits and vegetables.
Some great examples of leafy vegetables that the iguana can eat include:
- Turnip greens
- Black cabbage
- Romaine lettuce
Let’s avoid iceberg lettuce, if possible, as it has very little nutritional value. Leafy vegetables should make up about 70-80% of the iguana diet.
In addition to leafy vegetables, other types of vegetables that your iguana can eat include:
- Pumpkin pie
- Sweet potatoes (cooked)
We must remember, however, we have to cut these foods into pieces until they are bite-sized. Iguanas have about 120 razor-sharp teeth. However, they don’t actually chew with them, their teeth are used to rip and tear food, which they then swallow. There are various types of lizards that eat this way. To prevent the iguana from being suffocated, it is therefore a good idea to cut the food into small pieces that are ready for swallowing. For younger iguanas we will need to cut their smaller food, or maybe even grate it. This will avoid any problems.
Some fruits that are excellent for iguanas:
We can also buy commercial food for iguanas in pet stores. It is a food in small dry pellets, which can be an excellent complement to the diet of our iguana. However, we should not think that this food can be the main source of nutrition for our pet. The basic diet should always be made up of leaves, fruits and vegetables, with some food for iguanas, to supplement this mix. These pellets can be a little dry, so if the iguana isn’t too interested in eating them, we can mix them in water first to make them moist.
A bit of variety is often a good idea for all lizards, because it makes them curious and interested in food, and prevents them from getting bored with what is provided to them. Some good healthy treats for iguanas can include: cooked rice, cooked pasta, whole wheat bread (always reduced to pieces small enough for our green friend).
Myths and legends
There are some common misconceptions about whether the iguana can eat meat or not, and it is good to clarify any misconceptions immediately.
Iguana cubs are insectivorous. There seems to be a myth about adult iguanas being herbivores, but they start life as an insectivore and slowly transform their diet. This is absolutely not true. Puppy iguanas should eat the same plant-based diet as adult specimens. The best choices for puppies include mustard and cabbage.
Iguanas can eat cat and dog food. Again, this is absolutely not true. These foods contain animal proteins and are dangerous for iguanas.
Iguanas need extra protein in their diet by eating insects. Again it’s not true: iguanas don’t need a lot of protein, and what they need comes from their regular vegetable diet. Too much protein can actually have negative consequences for our iguana, but just stick to its basic diet and it will be all right.
Other prohibited foods for iguanas
There are other foods that can be very dangerous for iguanas and should be avoided. These foods are also banned for many other types of lizards, such as bearded dragons. Some contain oxalic acid: this substance cannot be digested by iguanas and can also lead to serious complications such as bone problems. In fact, it prevents the iguana from processing calcium: if our reptilian friend eats only a little by mistake, it won’t be a big problem. But in large quantities it can have serious consequences.
Foods that contain oxalic acid and should therefore be avoided are rhubarb, beetroot (its tops), spinach, chard. In addition, there are many other foods that should be avoided for several reasons, including:
- Avocado: these fruits are extremely toxic to many lizards, and should be completely avoided. Eating a lot of avocado could be potentially fatal.
- Fireflies: are known to be toxic to iguanas and also to other lizards. They should be avoided at all costs.
- eggs: these too are potentially harmful to iguanas.
- Dairy products and cheeses: these foods also contain animal proteins (such as meat) and should definitely be avoided.