Can Iguanas Eat Meat? Facts, Tips, Alternatives


One of the most common questions that many iguana owners have is can they eat meat? This is a natural question, as the staple diet of so many other lizards revolves around eating bugs. Also, there are some long-standing myths that iguanas may need some of these foods supplemented in their diet to stay healthy. So what’s the answer?

Iguanas should not eat meat. This includes insects, any meats such as beef and chicken, or other food sources such as cat and dog food. These all contain animal protein which can make iguanas ill and potentially even cause premature death if eaten regularly. An iguana’s diet should consist of leaves, flowers and fruit.

It is perhaps natural to wonder why iguanas don’t eat a wider range of foods, particularly as some similar lizards such as geckos seem to eat such a broad spectrum of food-types. But the moral of the story is to stay away from meats, and also there are a few other foods that iguanas should not eat either.

iguana on branch

Iguanas Should Not Eat Meat

Meat contains animal protein, and this causes organ damage in iguanas. Eating meat can make your iguana sick, and ingesting it over a long time-frame can have many impacts. It will reduce growth, and generally make your iguanas smaller and less healthy and happy. It can also lead to premature death.

Some of you may be concerned that your iguana sometimes mistakenly eats a meat-based food. This probably won’t do any harm and is nothing to worry about. In fact there is some evidence that iguanas may occasionally eat meat in the wild, probably when other foods are scarce. Whereas the occasional mistaken tit-bit will not hurt, any purposeful feeding of meat-based products is definitely not recommended.

What Meats Can’t They Eat?

When people think of pet lizards they often imagine the staple diet of crickets and worms.

This is not the case with iguanas. They cannot eat any of the following:

  1. Crickets
  2. Roaches
  3. Mealworms
  4. House Flies
  5. Waxworms

Though you would probably never think this was a good idea anyway, please never feed your iguana any meats that are regularly eaten by humans. Foods such as chicken, beef, pork or ham are definitely not suitable for iguanas.

Feeding leftovers is not a great idea for lizards anyway, and any scraps containing even small quantities of these foods could be harmful.

bugs on branch

The Iguana Diet

So what should iguanas eat?

Luckily the diet of iguanas is much narrower than most lizards, and this helps that you only need to provide a few well-chosen foods.

Iguanas mostly live in the rainforests of Mexico, Central America, Brazil and Caribbean. They live in the canopy where leaves are in abundance all around them.

Therefore in the wild, iguanas will eat hundreds of different types of plant matter. The majority of their diet will be leaves. This will be supplemented by a few flowers, and also by eating soft fruit.  

In captivity, it is a good idea to stick close to this basic formula of greens, vegetables and fruit.

Some great examples of greens that your iguana can eat include:

  1. Turnip greens
  2. Kale
  3. Dandelion greens
  4. Collard
  5. Mustard greens
  6. Romaine lettuce
  7. Parsley

Avoid iceberg lettuce if possible. This has very little nutritional value.

Greens should make up about 70% to 80% of your iguana’s diet.

On top of the greens, some vegetables that your iguana will eat include:

  1. Bell peppers
  2. Sprouts
  3. Butternut squash
  4. Sweet potato (cooked)
  5. Cucumber
  6. Okra
  7. Carrots
  8. Peas

Once again, cut up into chunks.

Some fruits that are great for iguanas include:

  1. Pears
  2. Mango
  3. Grapes
  4. Tomato
  5. Peaches
  6. Melons
  7. Kiwis
  8. Guava
  9. Apples
  10. Strawberries
  11. Raspberries

Commercial Iguana Food

You can buy ‘iguana food’ from pet shops. This looks like small dry pellets. These can be a great supplement to your iguana’s diet. Please don’t think that these are the main source of nutrition for your pet, however. The staple diet should be greens, fruit and veg, with some iguana food to supplement this.

These pellets can be a little dry, so if your iguana is not too keen, then mix them first in water to make them moister.

Occasional Iguana Treats

A bit of variety is often a good idea for all lizards at it keeps them curious and interested, and avoids them getting bored with what is provided.

Some good healthy treats for iguanas can include:

  1. Cooked rice
  2. Whole-grain bread – cut or tear this into chunks that it can swallow
  3. Cooked pasta

Iguana Myths About Meat

There are some common misconceptions about iguanas and meat-eating, and it is good just to clarify any inconsistent thinking.

  1. Myth – Baby iguanas are insectivores. There seems to be a myth that adult iguanas are herbivores, but they start life as insectivores and slowly change into herbivores. This is definitely not true. Baby iguanas should eat the same plant based diet as adults. Good choices for babies include mustard greens and collard greens.
  2. Myth – Iguanas can eat cat and dog food. Again, this is definitely not true. These contain animal protein, and are dangerous
  3. Myth – Iguanas need extra protein in their diets by eating insects. Again not true. Iguanas do not need a lot of protein, and what they do need they get from their regular diet of greens. Too much protein can actually have negative consequences for your iguana. Just stick to the staple diet and you will be fine.

Avoid Choking For Your Pet Iguana

Iguanas have about 120 razor sharp teeth. However, they do not actually chew with these. Their teeth are used for ripping and tearing up their food, which they then swallow. There are several types of lizards that eat in this way.

To avoid your iguana from choking, it is therefore a good idea to cut food up into smallish chunks that are ready-made for swallowing. Younger iguanas will need their food cut up smaller, or possibly even grated. This will prevent any choking mishaps.

Other Forbidden Food For Iguanas

There are some other foods that can be very dangerous for iguanas and should be avoided.

These foods are also forbidden for several other types of lizards, such as bearded dragons. Some of them contain oxalic acid. This substance cannot be digested by iguanas, and can also lead to severe complications such problems with their bones. It stops the iguana from processing calcium. If they eat just a bit of this by mistake, this will not be a major issue. But in large quantities can have serious consequences.

Foods that contain oxalic acid and should therefore be avoided include:

  1. Rhubarb
  2. Beet tops (Beetroot)
  3. Spinach
  4. Swiss Chard

There are several other foods that should be avoided for different reasons, which include:

Avocados – These are extremely toxic to many lizards and should be completely avoided. Eating a lot of avocado could potentially be fatal.

Fireflies – These are well-known to be toxic to iguanas and also other lizards. Avoid at all costs.

Eggs – These are also potentially harmful for iguanas.

Dairy Products – This also contains animal protein same as meat and should definitely be avoided.

Conclusion

To summarise, please never feed your iguana any kind of meat, including crickets, bugs or certainly any kind of cat or dog food. These things all contain animal protein which is dangerous for iguanas. If ingested in small quantities it could make them ill, or larger portions could actually kill them. Iguanas are quite simple lizards in many respects in that their diet is quite narrow. Just stick to a few simple foods, and you will have no problems in keeping your iguana happy and healthy.

Martin Williams

Martin is the Founder of Mercury Pets, and he's been a passionate enthusiast for a multitude of pets all his life. He is driven by his desire to share his knowledge and experience with other animal lovers around the world. Find out more about Martin at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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