Exotic pets like Iguanas make exciting pets, but what are they actually like to own? What is their temperament like and are they considered dangerous? I decided to conduct some research into the topic. Here, you will find all the information you will need.
So, are iguanas dangerous? Iguanas are not considered dangerous, yet can cause harm and risks to their owners when kept as pets. Iguanas do not generally attack their owners, but may do so when they feel threatened and in danger. Iguanas can bite, scratch and even whip their tails in self defence. Iguanas also carry Salmonella on their skin so you need to be careful when handling this species.
Whether iguanas are dangerous is a question that a lot of prospective owners face.
If you can equip yourself with the knowledge, strategies and practices to keep safe then there is no reason in why these exotic animals cannot be kept safely and enjoyably.
Let us now explore the topic further so that you and your iguana can remain safe at all times.
Are Iguanas Aggressive?
Generally, iguanas are not aggressive reptiles. That being said, even a docile and normally well behaved iguana may be aggressive during specific situations or contexts.
For the most part, so long as the aggression is infrequent, there is nothing to be concerned with as an owner. You do of course need to be aware and able to detect aggression, in order to remain safe from potential dangers (which we will cover in the next section below).
Like other animals, each iguana will have their own behaviors, traits and temperament. But, there are commonalities and types of aggression that every iguana will share. These are:
Accidental Aggression: can occur just through general handling, cleaning or even through feeding. These incidents are not something to be concerned with and you should remember that your iguana was not looking to cause you any harm.
Response To Fear Aggression: your iguana may attack if they feel threatened or unable to flee.
Breeding Aggression: this will only occur when an iguana is in season and looking to mate. This can occur in both male and female iguanas.
Competitive Aggression is usually the more serious version of breeding aggression and is usually displayed by male iguanas whom see you as a barrier to successful mating.
When it comes to managing aggression, be sure to optimize their environment, do not provoke them and never corner them. Monitor their body language and behavior and give them time to calm down during times of stress.
Aggression is normal, just as is found in any other animal. Just be sure to recognize it and be aware of the potential dangers to ensure you remain safe at all times.
Dangers and Risk of Iguanas
Iguanas, like many if not all pets, will naturally carry their own dangers and risks to their owners.
For other pets, the potential dangers can be a little bit more forthcoming and outwardly obvious. Owning a dog is one such example, you inherently know that there is always the risk of a bite.
With iguanas, it’s a little bit more complex. These are very unique reptiles and ones in which have their own needs and requirements.
With all this being said – so long as you have the knowledge, are proactive and take good care for them – iguanas can be kept perfectly safely as pets.
It is important to remember that iguanas have not been domesticated or kept as pets for a long time. This is unlike a lot of other animals who are bred from generations of former pets. As such they are well equipped to handle and better understand their environment within the human household setting.
They have adapted and developed natural instincts, understanding their role within the family unit and structure. They are perfectly away and comfortable in human contact and interaction. Reptiles and iguanas are not the same however.
So even though you can actually train an iguana, getting them to be fully comfortable and acclimitized to being a pet is going to be a challenge. Irregardless of how you take care of them, they will still instinctively be a wild animal. This always needs to be taken into account.
This is important because it affects how you handle and interact with them. It means that they are more prone to lashing out in self defense. It means that they can feel threatened and stress more easily; despite all your attempts to socialize them and spend time with them.
Iguanas act primarily out of instinct; dictated by the genes of their wild ancestors.
Naturally, they want to escape and evade predators. As such, iguanas have evolved to be quick, agile and able to elude a threat as and when it arises.
So, at any time your pet iguana feels uneasy, this is instinctively what they will want to do. They will want to escape the threat.
If however escape is not possible; attacking may be the next or only option. This is when they can be dangerous.
Iguanas have sharp teeth which can easily penetrate your skin. Open wounds risk the entrance of bacteria and development of infection.
The best way to ensure that attacking does not occur regularly, is with adequate and appropriate training.
But there are other dangers to consider. Let us now take a look at each one.
Possible Dangers of Iguanas
As we have already mentioned, iguanas can be dangerous at certain times and in specific contexts. Regardless of individual iguana temperament, there are always risks that this reptile will bring.
Let us now take at the most common ones:
Iguanas do not usually bite, however, they will do if they feel as if they are in danger. Instinctively, an iguana would rather flee than resort to attacking. Of course, fleeing is not always possible and an iguana may feel that biting is the only option to help them escape.
This is important to consider as an owner, you never want to corner your iguana or give them a ‘reason to bite’. For the most part, biting is rare and will not happen if they are carefully managed.
In the rare situation that a bite did occur, you’ll need to consider that this will likely be very painful. Iguanas have sharp, serrated teeth which are used to shred, tear and break down various plant matter. As vegetarians, they have to break down strong fibers that is abundant through their diet.
As you can imagine, these sharp teeth can yield significant damage to your skin. You must remain vigilant at all times; even if you have owned a pet iguana for years and have gained their trust.
While this can be a frightening thought, consider biting is unlikely to occur. However, even the most docile iguanas can and will bite in specific contexts so it is best to be aware of, and be sure not to provoke them.
Iguanas have evolved sharp and long claws which they use to climb and hang in the wild. Domesticated iguanas are no different; inherent these traits and characteristics of their ancestors.
Beyond just possession, iguanas know how to use their claws to defend themselves against a number of potential predators. They can be used to help them to escape from any situation in which they do not feel comfortable.
As such, your pet iguana will have sharp claws which can, and they know how to, cause a lot of damage.
You always need to ensure that you are not cornering or making your iguana feel threatened.
Moreover, scratches from iguanas can easily transfer bacteria into the wound. You need to be very careful to avoid painful and dangerous infections from any such attack.
The final defensive technique that iguanas will use, is through their tail. Iguanas grow on average to 5-7 feet; 2-3 feet of which can be made up of their tails. Iguanas are relatively large reptiles.
Whipping their long tails is not uncommon, and iguanas can whip with great force (the breaking of human bones has even been reported).
As you would probably have guessed by know, whipping does not occur without a reason to do so. Again, its always in an attempt to escape from an uncomfortable situation.
If they cannot bite or scratch, instinctively, they may feel the need to whip their tail at you if they feel under threat.
This is an interesting one; but a very important one at that. Unless you are aware of this as an owner, it can be a significant danger because it is does not seem overtly obvious.
Salmonella is a common bacterial disease that is very dangerous to humans. In fact, it is reported to cause 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Salmonella is particularly dangerous to the most vulnerable; younger children, elder people and those with already weakened immune systems.
Iguanas actually carry Salmonella directly on their skin!
As such, iguanas transfer Salmonella across their environment, habitat and enclosure and any item in which they come across and come into contact with.
While Salmonella can be very dangerous, thankfully even though they naturally carry it, you can still touch and socialize with your iguana.
What it does mean however, if that you need to be very careful; being sure to wash your hands with a good anti-bacterial soap regularly and being stringent with safe practices.
Methods To Avoid Potential Dangers
While reading the above dangers may have put you on edge, you’ll be pleased to know that all such risks can be diminished if not avoided. The best way to prepare and take care of an iguana is by understanding their needs, requirements and by learning of safe practices.
There is a tonne of information that you can access on effective iguana behavior and care; your vet will also be a good source of information so be sure to talk to them regularly if you are to have any questions.
Through time and experience you’ll learn a lot, but there is always some information that is handy to learn upfront and ahead of time.
Below, you’ll find some suggestions and recommendations to avoid the common dangers referenced above.
Reducing the likelihood of biting is all about keeping your iguana feeling safe and secure. You want to reduce any situation where they feel under threat. Biting is actually one of the final things they will do to help them to get out of danger.
Preventing biting is all about knowing about the situations where they feel most in danger.
Beyond this, its all about learning about your iguana’s signals that they are going to attack. Over time, and through learning about your own iguana is going to serve you well here.
It’s all about learning how to recognize that your iguana is distressed, and being able to observe this in their behavior.
You’ll be able to observe specific actions; including their movement and way in which they are looking at you/their environment.
Biting will occur instinctively, and will happen fast. But, it will only come as a response and signals can usually be identified ahead of time. Usually, this will afford you enough time to move out of harms way.
If you were to be bitten, its going to be painful. It will most likely be a deep wound that will require medical attention. You’ll also need to be very careful as it will be at high risk of infection.
In the event that an iguana bites; you’ll need to carefully remove the iguana and their teeth from you. Due to their shape and nature, your iguana will likely be hanging on from the area in which they bit.
Popular techniques from owners to release an iguana is to place a cotton swab or piece of cloth drenched in rubbing alcohol close to the mouth of the iguana. Iguanas do not like the odor; and will make the iguana release their teeth from you.
Its always a good idea to leave rubbing alcohol close to the cage for this reason. This is the brand in which I buy from Amazon.
Once released, you’ll need to act quickly. Due to the fact that iguanas carry Salmonella, you’ll need to clean the wound promptly to prevent it from setting in.
Heading to the hospital is usually the best course of action; especially if the wound is deep. Stitches and antibiotics will likely be prescribed.
Biting is something that can occur at any time during your iguanas life; you need to be vigilant at all times.
While bites can be painful and dangerous, so long as you are aware of their possibilities, you should be in a good position to stop them from happening in the first place.
If you carefully consider your iguanas enclosure, needs, preferences and fears, you should be able to prevent biting from every occurring.
Due to how sharp an iguanas claws are, one of the best ways to keep your hands safe is to wear gloves and cover up when around your iguana.
These are the type of gloves to purchase; as they are durable and will protect your hands/wrists from scratches. You essentially want to get a pair of heavy duty gloves that were designed to protect.
One thing to consider is that if you begin wearing gloves to handle your iguana, they will soon get used to it. From there, at any time you attempt to handle them without gloves it may cause them to become stressed and actually increase the risks of scratching/biting.
Therefore you must ensure that you touch your iguana with your bare hands frequently, particularly in their younger years of life to ensure that they still bond and become comfortable with you.
This is perhaps the main reason why trimming an iguanas claws is often recommended. This is why a lot of nail trimming products, aimed at iguanas, are often found on the market. These are perhaps the best ones to get from Amazon.
Experts and vets will recommend that nails are clipped weekly. To begin with an iguana may feel uncomfortable while this is being done and this is when you need to be careful not to be accidentally attacked.
That being said, in time and with regular trimmings your iguana will soon learn to trust you and get used to the processes involved.
Wearing gloves is generally a good idea for the first couple of times, or when your iguanas nails are especially long.
Irregardless of how careful you are, scratching is more likely than biting and it is likely to happen every now and again.
The same rules apply however; be sure to clean the wound with a safe soap and warm water. You need to clean the wound out to prevent any bacteria from growing inside. Antibacterial products like this is great to apply to ensure an infection does not develop.
Preventing Tail Whips
Tail whips are most likely to occur when your iguana feels trapped. Avoiding tail whips therefore is very similar to avoiding biting. You want to observe your iguanas behavior and ensure they are not signalling a potential attack.
Further still, you should never look to hold or pick up your iguana by their tail. This will stress them out and is not a natural event that an iguana will be able to understand.
Good hygiene practices and being careful of contamination are going to be the most effective strategies to prevent Salmonella.
With this being said, iguanas will always carry this bacteria on their skin; it is natural and healthy for them to do so. It does not mean that they are not clean or that anything is wrong with them.
You also should never attempt, nor would ever be effectively able to remove this bacteria from their skin and body.
So, ultimately, it is up to you to prevent the negative consequences of this bacteria. You’ll need to be sure to wash your hands regularly and often; especially following each time you touch your iguana.
Additionally, you’ll need to be careful of what you touch following interaction; because you can inadvertently spread this bacteria to other surfaces. Never touch your face/bite your nails/pick your nose etc after holding your iguana.
You’ll also need to consider that their enclosure is going to be abundant with Salmonella, as your iguana moves freely around and touches each item inside.
This is why it makes good sense to keep a hand sanitizer next to the enclosure; for quick use following any handling of your iguana/their items.
Regarding the cleaning of their enclosure; you should be sure to do so regularly. Deep cleaning and thorough disinfecting is a must. Be careful with any water (whether used to clean or from your iguanas drinking water bowl), because Salmonella is easily spread in and through it.
It goes without saying but never look to wash your iguana/their habitat anywhere near where you prepare food.
For the most part, it is also advised that young children/elderly or those with ill health do not ever pet your iguana. If they are to do so, you should ensure they wash their hands immediately and do not touch anything beforehand.
While Salmonella is a dangerous bacteria; so long as you maintain proper and effective hygiene habits, there is no reason in why it should cause you any harm while keeping an iguana.
Iguanas are not overtly dangerous and will not look to cause harm to their owner. That being said, there are several factors of which you will need to be aware of to keep you and your iguana safe at all times.
Biting, Scratching, Tail Whipping and Salmonella are perhaps the most significant to look out for.
Being aware of an iguanas needs, preferences, need for space and careful handling will ensure that you both remain safe at all times.
In the unfortunate event that your iguana was to scratch or bite you, be sure to clean out the wound promptly. Infection is a real possibility when looking after an iguana.
Always keep anti-bacterial soap close by and stay on top of good hygienic practices. From there, you can enjoy your exotic reptile for what they are!
With the right information and considerations, there is no reason why a pet iguana poses any significant threat to their owner.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.