Many iguana owners want to leash their iguanas so that they can spend time outside with them. However, it is not an easy issue to decide. Using leashes on iguanas is a controversial subject. Some feel that it is acceptable, while others feel that it should not be done. The reason for this is that leashes may be unsafe if used improperly. As discussed below, however, there are both pros and cons to using leashes.
Pros - The good thing about a leash is that it will provide you with more control when you are outside with your iguana. It will reduce the chances of your iguana getting spooked and making a mad dash up a tree before you can grab it. Some people like to take their iguana out in public, and the leash is especially useful then. In addition, if you use a leash you don't have to invest in a cage to keep your iguana outside for natural sunlight when it's warm. Providing safe outdoor caging that is large enough can be challenging. For more information on outside cages, see our Outdoor Sunning Cages page.
Cons - Using a leash requires that you train your iguana to accept it, which takes time. You should keep in mind that even with training, many iguanas never accept a leash. If you are interested in leash-training your iguana, be sure to read the tips below. Some iguanas become quite aggressive (because they are frightened) when leashed. Handling an iguana in this state, even to remove the leash, can be dangerous for the owner, who is likely to get bitten or tail whipped.
In addition to the training required, another down side to using a leash is that it can wear away your iguana’s spikes where the leash rubs. While this may not be harmful to your iguana’s health, it probably is uncomfortable for your iguana while the spikes are being damaged. Damaged spikes often do not grow back, so if you are concerned about your iguana’s comfort and/or appearance, this may be an issue to consider.
It is also important to think about the area where you want to take your iguana. Leashes can sometimes create a false sense of security. Keep in mind that a leashed iguana is not safe from predatory birds, pets and other animals that wander into the area. Safety from predators outside is one area where an outdoor cage has advantages over leashes.
Tips for Successful Use of a Leash -
1) Be realistic in your expectations. Keep in mind that rather than you walking your iguana, your iguana will walk you. In this way iguanas are similar to cats on leashes, and so the leash just serves as a bit of a safety mechanism. Don't expect your iguana to happily walk along beside you as you stroll around the block.
2) Be prepared to devote plenty of time to leash training your iguana. You cannot just put a leash on an iguana and take it outside. Many iguanas are terrified by the feeling of the leash, and they go into an alligator roll, which is a common defense mechanism employed by iguanas when they feel like they are being grabbed or restrained. A leashed iguana in the throes of an alligator roll can get tangled up, and might even strangle and die. Even an iguana that is leash trained may roll if it gets started by something in the environment, so becoming familiar with this behavior and having a way to release your iguana from the tangled leash quickly in case of this type of emergency is a must. In addition, as mentioned above, some iguanas become so frightened by the leash that they go into "hatchet mode" and will deliver a severe bite or tail whip to anyone who gets near them. If your iguana reacts this way, it is best to abandon the idea of using a leash.
Leash training has to start inside, until your iguana is calmly accepting the leash. It is recommended that you start the training by having your iguana wear the harness part of the leash (without the long strap, if possible) for very short periods until it accepts this without complaint. Next, you can add the strap and get your iguana used to having you on the other end of the strap when the leash is on. Once your iguana is comfortable with this, you can expand the amount of time your iguana wears the leash until it accepts it for longer periods. Only then should you try to take your iguana outside on the leash, and just because it is calm inside doesn't mean it will be calm outside. Start with short outdoor excursions and then expand the length of time you stay outdoors once your iguana has become thoroughly relaxed and comfortable in the leash outside.
3) Do not use the leash as a "babysitter". Never tie your iguana up and leave it unattended.
4) Do not use leashes on temperamental or skittish iguanas. If your iguana cannot be easily handled or is not comfortable outside or in public places, using a leash is not going to improve the situation. In fact, the added stress of the leash may make matters worse.
5) Use a proper leash. Be sure to get one that is safe and appropriate for iguanas. Leashes that loop around the neck are not safe. A proper leash will have a harness that loops around the body either at the front or back legs. Be sure to get a leash that is the appropriate size – not so big that your iguana may be able to get out of it, but not so tight that it is constricting your iguana in any way. Be sure that the harness and strap are made of a strong material that will not break if your iguana bolts suddenly or gets startled and begins to roll.
The photo below is a good example of a commonly used iguana leash. Notice that the harness fits snugly around the body just in front of and again behind the front legs. It is also less damaging to the spikes.
Leashes can be very useful when used properly and safely. They can provide your iguana with more outdoor freedom than it may otherwise be able to have and can allow you to take your iguana places with you. However, the dangers of using a leash improperly are very real and should be seriously considered.