Green Iguana Society logo  1999-2001, D. Baze

The health and safety of your iguana is very important, and one of our main goals is providing you with enough information to raise a healthy iguana, but your health and safety is just as important to us. Iguanas can be very dangerous in many, many ways. Unknowing iguana owners may even be unaware of some very serious issues that could put not only the iguana, but the owners themselves in danger. The purpose of this page is to help you stay healthy and safe while raising your iguana. Some other health and safety issues may be covered elsewhere in our health and safety information, but this page is intended to cover any other concerns that may need to be adressed. For instance, Salmonella is such a major health concern for iguana owners, it needed its own page. Hopefully, common sense will lead the way in most cases, but we hope to inform you of some other issues that may not be so obvious. We are not informing you of these dangers in order to scare you or make you think that iguanas are bad pets, but it is important to know that there are many serious situations that can be avoided if you are careful and know that there is a chance of something going wrong.

Fire and electrical safety. The first thing that we need to warn you about is fire and electrical safety. It's very important that extra precaution is taken to make sure that any heating and lighting devices are properly wired and placed in a safe part of the habitat. Heat lamps, ceramic heating elements and basking bulbs need to be placed in the habitat far enough away from flammable materials so that they do not catch fire. Every so often, there is yet another story of someone's house catching on fire because of an iguana habitat that was not set up properly. Most larger habitats are custom built by the iguana owner, and many times they are improperly wired. It's imperative that you use any electrical device as directed by the manufacturer. Extension cords are another common cause of electrical fires because a cord that was overloaded with too many lights and heating devices. It can be a pretty common site to see a habitat that has far too many things plugged into one electrical outlet and several small extension cords throughout the entire setup. Using quality power strips and heavy duty extension cords should be the only choice, other than directly wiring the habitat into your house's electrical system. Another very important thing to remember is that all the electrical devices in the habitat should be grounded. Using three-pronged, grounded extension cords, power strips and fixtures is highly recommended, due to the fact that you are combining electricity with a very humid environment. If you are building or have built a large habitat with a lot of fixtures, it may even be a good idea to have an electrician or inspector check the setup for any problems. As with most aspects of iguana care, fire and electrical safety should be something from which the iguana owner should always expect the unexpected and to use extreme caution at all times.

Preparing for Emergencies Sometimes events happen that are beyond our control - storms knock out our electricity, a fire breaks out that is not due to iguana heaters or lights, a mud-slide or flood damages our home, or there is a family or personal emergency that forces us to be away unexpectedly and/or for prolonged periods. The best way to deal with such unseen situations is to plan ahead. For suggestions on how to do this, visit our Emergency Preparedness page.

"No I didn't try to slash my wrists, I have a pet iguana!" One of the classic indicators of having an iguana is the tell-tale sign of scratches and cuts covering his or her wrists and forearms. Iguanas can have razor sharp claws and are capable of severely cutting and scratching you. This is a problem that can be easily remedied by simply trimming and filing the iguana's claws on a regular basis. Some iguana owners do not file their iguana's nails so that they will be able to climb easier, but they still fail to wear gloves. The best choice forgloves are falconry gloves that extend up the forearm. They may be expensive, so another good inexpensive choice is a pair of quality welding gloves that can be found in most hardware stores. Welding gloves extend about half-way up the forearm and if used properly, you can avoid the painful and easily noticable scratches and scars. It's recommended that gloves are worn only when necessary. An iguana may become too accustomed to the gloves and may not get used to being touched by bare hands if it's owner always wears gloves while handling it. Trimming claws on a regular basis is probably the best solution to the scratching problem, but it's still a very good idea to have a good quality pair of gloves.

You've been bitten by your what do you do? Even though you may be very careful in making sure your iguana does not bite you (or anyone else for that matter), accidents will happen and there may come a time when you or someone else gets bitten by your iguana. Knowing what to do before this happens can be the differences between a big or small scar and a little or a lot of blood, not to mention the fact that your iguana may loose some teeth. Although it sounds like it would be hard to do, it's very important that when you get bitten by an iguana, you do not pull away. The many sharp teeth in its mouth can literally shred your skin if it has a good hold of you when it bites, and pulling away or even flinching may make the bite much, much worse. Visit our Anatomy page to see a very good photo of an iguana's teeth. With all of those teeth, there is also a good chance of the iguana getting stuck while biting you. The iguana may become stuck and in the process of getting loose, may become even more aggitated and it may even break some teeth off in the process. Many times, the iguana will "lock down" on you and it may be next to impossible to get it to release, especially when its attitude is already not good. Trying to "unlatch" an iguana bite may take a while, because it will need to be calmed down. Sometimes using more force to break free of it, will only make it clench down harder. When and if you get bit by an iguana, the best way to deal with it is to not pull away, stay calm and attempt to calm down the iguana if it still has a hold of you. It may also be a good idea to move to a place in your home where a little spilled blood won't make too much of a mess. Attempt to calm down the iguana and control your bleeding if possible. If the iguana has latched down and you're bleeding profusely, there may even be a time when you'll have to decide to take other actions, which may include a trip to the emergency room. One of the most popular tricks in getting an iguana from unlatching its bite is to take a small towel with some alcohol on it and place near the iguana's nose and mouth. The smell usually triggers the iguana to let go, but this trick doesn't always work. There is much debate on whether rubbing alcohol is too dangerous to use for this purpose. Drinking alcohol, if available is better to use, and a drop or two can be placed directly in the mouth of a stubborn, latched on iguana. If you use any type of alcohol, use extreme caution and make sure that absolutely none of it gets into the iguana's mouth or eyes. All iguanas are different and there are many ways an iguana can bite someone, so you may encounter a different biting situation. Just remember to stay calm, don't pull away and remember to forgive your pet. It's not its fault you got bitten, it's your fault you didn't know that your iguana could bite you at any time and that you probably weren't paying attention.

If the bite is a severe one where you are bleeding profusely, you may even consider going to the hospital with the iguana attached (and hopefully it will release before you get there). Hopefully, the iguana has released you. Make sure you put your iguana in its habitat or another room and try not to get too mad at it. Assess the situation. If the bite is severe and you're bleeding profusely, you'll need to quickly stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound. Assess the situation again. You'll need to decide if the bite is severe enough for a trip to the hospital emergency room. Iguanas are very capable of delivering that serious of a bite. Once you get the bleeding to stop, it is now time to clean your wound. Wash the wound with soap and water, flush it with sterile saline, apply some Betadine™ and some antibiotic ointment, and then properly bandage the wound. You should have all you need in your iguana's first aid kit. If you have experienced a deep and/or severe bite and you have to go to the doctor, it's important that you tell your doctor that iguanas carry Gram negative bacteria. This will help your doctor prescribe the right kind of antibiotics.

There is much more you should learn about properly treating a bite from an iguana, but hopefully this will help you for now. Melissa Kaplan has a very good article, Dealing With Iguana And Other Reptile Bites that will inform you of a lot more information than we have here. The best way to deal with being bitten by your iguana is to not get bitten.

This photo shows just how dangerous and unpredictable an iguana bite can be. "Adam Ig and John/Jane get separate soaks daily in a cat litter box in my big tub. I wasn't paying attention and must have bonked Adam on his nose as he was trying to climb the side of the tub to get out. He must have been startled because he has never made any attempt to bite me before. However, for several weeks, after he got out of the tub, he had been doing the crab-walk watusi and I didn't get the hint that an attitude could be building. Now I make sure to pay close attention when I get him out, and I don't set him down until he's in the much more open territory of my bedroom rather than the narrow bathroom." - Sue Solomon

Preventing injuries from aggressive iguanas. Aggressive iguanas, especially older males, can be one of the most dangerous threats to your safety. All iguanas are capable of being a threat to your safety, but a large aggressive one can do very serious damage. These tips are most generally aimed at owners of older male iguanas, but even some females can become very aggressive as well. Knowing that your iguana is capable of becoming aggressive at any time is the key to preventing injuries, but there are other tricks and techniques that will help you prevent a humorous "attack" from becoming a very serious one. First of all, always assume your iguana can become aggressive in an instant. Don't get too paranoid about it, but just be very cautious. Even some very docile, friendly iguanas can turn aggressive instantly. Learning the iguana's body language is the best way to spot any trouble before it becomes a safety problem. Secondly, there are many different ways an aggressive iguana can injure you, but the main ways are by biting and whipping its tail. Most generally, the tail whip can be only painful, but it's important to be aware that a tail whip to the eye can cause serious damage. Getting closer to the iguana will prevent a bad tail whip, but you may increase the chance of being bitten. Dealing with being bitten is detailed above, but preventing it is the best way of dealing with iguana bites. Many times, an aggressive male will charge at you, loaded with teeth and anger. The best way to deal with an iguana that charges at you, is to carry a large beach towel with you when you are aware that you have an aggressive iguana. If it charges, hold the towel in front of you with part of it laying on the ground in front of you. When it charges, and hits the towel, you can simply drop the towel over it. Then you can safely pick up the iguana and return it to its habitat or to another area. Be careful though, because it may even bite you through the towel. They are very capable of jumping at you as well, which can lead to being severely scratched and bitten. The best ways to remedy this problem is to be aware of where your iguana is and how much distance is between it and a possible "target". A large iguana is very capable of leaping several feet and when it lands, it will most definitely cause some damage with its claws and may even bite. Preventing injuries from an aggressive iguana is mainly an issue of being prepared, so be careful and be alert!

Common sense and close attention. Most of the ways that you can be in danger while owning an iguana can be prevented. Using a little common sense and paying close attention to your iguana and all that is around it, are the best ways of preventing any problems. Always assume that your iguana is capable of hurting you and everyone that is around it. Always be on the look out for anything that can go wrong and you, everyone around you, and your iguana will be safe.

Ig Aggression Types by Henry Lizardlover has some excellent information on why iguanas become aggressive and recognizing and dealing with iguana aggression. This page also has some very good photos of what kind of damage an aggressive iguana can do to a person.
Dealing with Iguana (and other reptile) Bites by Melissa Kaplan has some information on how to prevent being bitten and more on what to do when and if you get bitten by an iguana.
Fire Safety by Melissa Kaplan has more in-depth information about how to prevent fires and electrical accidents in an iguana home.

Glossary of Iguana TermsContact UsDisclaimer