One of the most highly debated iguana topics is their ability to eat meat. Therefore, I’m going to put an end to this discourse for once and for all, but you don’t have to take it from me. I’m going to let various iguana experts do the myth-busting for me.
Although iguanas will eat meat if it’s provided, no type of meat should be a part of their diet, and that includes baby iguanas. Iguanas are strictly folivores, a type of herbivore that mainly consumes leaves. Although eating an insect here and there is unlikely to be harmful, meat can nevertheless cause several health complications for an iguana, ranging from an upset stomach to kidney problems.
Many of the experts in this post will be cited from the book, “Green Iguana The Ultimate Owner’s Manual,” written by an iguana expert himself, James Hatfield. I purchased this book shortly after adopting my own iguana, and highly recommend you do the same, as the information is invaluable and can prevent you from making a life-threatening mistake for your scaly friend.
Can Iguanas Safely Consume Meat?
As I’ve previously stated, consuming a small piece of meat or a bug every so often won’t kill your iguana. The issue arises when meat becomes a frequent part of the iguana’s menu.
Furthermore, many iguanas will voluntarily eat meat in captivity if you provide it for them, but just because they can and will eat it, doesn’t mean you should feed it to them.
They [iguanas] obviously eat insects, dog food, and many other things captivity which they don’t get in the wild. Horses will eat sugar cubes until they’re sick and horses never eat sugar cubs in the wild.Gordon H. Rodda, iguana field researcher quoted in Hatfield’s book.
That being said, you should never intentionally feed any form of meat to your iguana, including insect meat, red meat, uncooked or cooked meat. Nada, zip, zero. No meat should ever be included as part of an iguana’s diet.
While there have been some observations of some individuals eating insects and carrion, most have occurred in places where iguanas have colonized nonnative habitats, or in highly disturbed native habitats. Long term research into many different populations has shown that this is not a species-wide behavior in iguanas in their native habitatsAuthor of “Iguanas For Dummies” and owner of Anapsid.org, Melissa Kaplan
Adding onto Melissa’s statement, the point of husbandry is to replicate the animal’s natural habitat and diets as closely as possible. Hence, if wild iguanas don’t go out of their way to eat insect or other forms of meat, then neither should you go out of your way to provide it for them.
Speaking of dummies, when I first got my iguana, Joanna, I had no idea what I was doing. Since I used to feed crickets to my Chinese Water Dragon, I thought iguanas, which look very similar, were also omnivores.
Fortunately for me, Joanna did nothing more than stare at the crickets that I placed in her cage. Had she enjoyed the insect meat, I would have probably made the mistake of continuing to provide them for her.
Apparently, I’m not the only iguana owner that learned via personal experience. The following are two iguana owner testimonials featured in Hatfield’s book.
Crickets have been introduced but were met with only confusion (“what is that thing?”) and anxious body language.Karen 33 yrs, New York
I’ve offered crickets before, but he [iguana] is afraid of them and runs to the other side of the cage and tries to hide under his substrate.Robert 22yrs, Wisconsin
I’m not trying to make the claim that iguanas don’t require protein, because they do. All of it, however, should come from non-animal meat sources. Furthermore, Hatfield states in his book that an iguana’s diet should consist of no more than 1-3% protein, the smallest category on the iguana food pyramid.
Can Baby Iguanas Eat Meat?
I’ve noticed the myth meat (as we shall now call it) is even more prevalent regarding baby and juvenile iguanas, with many sources even claiming they require the additional protein for rapid growth, and later transition into a complete herbivore diet as adults. However, part of that claim is false.
Although baby iguanas do require more protein to sustain growth and proper development, they shouldn’t obtain protein from meat, nor do they transition from omnivores to herbivores.
Luckily, iguanas hatch in the wet season, when everything is growing rapidly. The new plant growth is tender and more digestible, making it easier for the hatchlings to extract more protein and other nutrients they need.Iguana expert and author James Hatfield
The widespread misinformation is more than likely due to very outdated studies conducted decades ago which, unfortunately, have carried on to this day.
In the 1960’s, several papers stated [that] juvenile iguanas eat insects. The reasoning was, “They’re little lizards, they must eat insects.” There is no evidence from the field that they eat anything but herbaceous material.Gordon H. Rodda, iguana field researcher quoted in Hatfield’s book.
Need more convincing? No problem, I have more experts for you on this specific topic than any other.
I also found no basis for earlier speculation that Iguana iguana exhibit an ontogenic shift [i.e., a change as they get older] from carnivory to herbivory.John B. Iverson, iguana researcher quoted in Hatfield’s book
When I was in Mexico doing iguana research, I asked the researcher who invited me there if it’s true that iguanas eat insects. She had watched iguana eggs hatch at the same spot in the jungle for several years in a row said the first thing the hatchlings ate were young shoots of nearby plants. She said that there were plenty of insects on the plants, but the hatchlings didn’t seek them out.Iguana expert and author James Hatfield
I hope this section is enough to disprove the myth about baby iguanas requiring animal meat. Neglecting it can result in severe consequences for your beloved scaly pet.
Do Wild Iguanas Eat Meat?
Additional reasons for the meat myth may also be due to the fact that wild iguanas are sometimes observed eating leaves with insects. However, the iguanas’ intentions are to consume the leaves, not the insects. They consume the insects simply because they just happens to be on the leaf.
In the jungle I have observed iguanas surrounded by bugs, making no attempt to eat them. Insects, bugs, and worms are animals foods that I don’t recommend under any circumstances for iguanas.Author and iguana expert James Hatfield
Negative Effects Of Iguanas Eating Meat
Iguanas contain a highly specialized digestive system for breaking down plant material. In fact, iguanas can extract up to 40% of a plant’s nutrients, which according to Melissa Kaplan, makes them one of the most efficient herbivores.
Although all protein is created via the same 20-22 amino acids, the deconstruction of the protein will differ depending on whether the source is an animal or plant.
Animal proteins form purines when deconstructed, leading to elevated levels of uric acid, and inevitably, a lot of unnecessary stress on an iguana’s kidneys along with the possible health risks detailed below.
Depending on the severity, some conditions you can reverse on your own, while others may require a herpetologist (reptile veterinarian).
One of the most crucial minerals for iguanas is calcium, which is primarily obtained through food and regulated by vitamin D3. Furthermore, an iguana’s body must always sustain a 2:1 calcium-to-phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio to maintain strong bones and muscles.
To put things into perspective, many fruits and many vegetables don’t contain a bare minimum of a 1:1 Ca:P ratio. Crickets, which are the most common reptile-fed source of meat, contain a .33:1 Ca:P ratio.
Hence, overfeeding cricket meat to your iguana can lead to a Ca:P imbalance, forcing the iguana to obtain calcium from reserves stored in its bones.
Additionally, an iguana that remains in a state of imbalance for extended periods can develop Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), a medical condition resulting in brittle or broken bones, permanent deformation, or death.
According to The Iguana Den, kidney disease is most commonly induced by dehydration and animal protein, or in other words, by feeding crickets or any form of meat.
Like humans, an iguana’s kidneys are responsible for removing waste toxins from the blood and urine. Therefore, kidney disease can be fatal if left untreated.
If you’ve been feeding meat to your iguana for extended periods, I highly recommend taking your iguana to the herp for a checkup, as it can save your pet’s life.
Also known as Cystic Calculi or Uroliths, bladder stones can be a result of excess animal protein in an iguana’s diet, but also:
- calcium deficiency
- vitamin A or D deficiency
- high oxalate consumption
- bladder infections
Specifically, bladder stones occur when crystals bind to each other to form stones. Symptoms may include blood in your iguana’s urine, and will require immediate vet attention.
If bladder stones are found in your iguana, surgery will be more than likely be necessary.
What Do Iguanas Eat?
So, if iguanas can’t eat meat, what can they eat? The answer is lots of leafy greens, veggies, and a smidge of fruit.
The topic of an iguana’s diet requires a post in and of itself, which is why you should click the following link to be redirected to a guide I wrote regarding iguanas’ complete diet, plus a bonus supplement section.
Hatfield provides us with an extremely helpful iguana food pyramid which he states is courtesy of Robert Ehrig, founder of the International Iguana Society.
|Food Category||Percent Of Total Diet|
As you can see, protein is one of the smallest food categories. Interestingly, fruits can pose some of the same health risks as meat, which is why you should check out the guides below: