Introduction - Many, if not most, iguana owners have other pets. As is true in any multi-pet household, sometimes pets get along great, sometimes they merely tolerate one another, and sometimes they don't get along at all. Whether your iguana will get along with and co-exist peacefully and comfortably with other pets depends upon many factors, including your iguana's personality, the personalities of your other pets, how they are introduced, and what type of living arrangements everyone has.
Introducing Your Iguana to Other Pets -
Young Iguanas - Small iguanas in the wild are prey for a variety of predators, and thus are skittish and easily stressed by the presence of other pets, which they see as a threat. They are also quite vulnerable to injury at this young age and small size, and are unable to effectively defend themselves against other, larger pets. For this reason, small iguanas should be kept securely in their enclosures when other pets are present. Be sure that the enclosure is "pet proof", and has a secure lid or door that cannot be loosened, removed or broken by a persistent cat or dog.
Allowing the iguana and other pets to view each other through the safety of the enclosure walls will encourage them to get used to each other's presence. Since your iguana is confined to its enclosure and cannot escape from the watchful eyes of other pets, you need to be sure to provide it with a hidebox, where it can retreat if it feels threatened or insecure. At night, you may consider not allowing other pets access to the room where your iguana is kept, until you feel that your iguana has become quite comfortable in the presence of other pets and will be able to rest, sleep and feel secure at night. This initial period of acclimation through the enclosure walls should continue for some time, until the iguana is larger, and until the pets are quite used to one another's presence.
As a small iguana grows, becomes tame and gets used to being handled, you can cautiously begin face-to-face introductions between pets by holding your iguana securely and allowing cats and dogs to sniff it. Do not rush this stage, however! A small iguana can be difficult to handle, and if it is too small, too skittish, or not being held properly, it is likely to panic, wiggle free of the safety of your hands, and be gone before you can react. No matter how well-trained your dog or cat is, a tiny green lizard darting across the floor and dragging a tantalizingly long tail behind it (in a cat's mind, iguana tail = neat green string) will probably be too much of a temptation to resist. Also, although a small iguana may seem comfortable with another pet on the other side of its enclosure walls, it may react differently when the wall is no longer there. Be prepared for anything.
Throughout these introductory steps, monitor you pets' behavior and reactions closely. You know your pets well. You can tell if one or the other is feeling curious, aggressive, or afraid. If you sense that the introduction process is not going well, you may need to shorten the periods of contact or postpone introductions until the animals are ready.
A good rule of thumb for all pet-pet interactions is that pets need to be closely monitored during their contact time. As previously mentioned, small iguanas are vulnerable to bites and scratches from other pets, and are not able to adequately defend themselves well. Never leave a small iguana and another pet alone together. In time, if you use patience and common sense while introducing young iguanas to other pets, you will most likely be rewarded with an adult iguana that interacts positively with other pets and which accepts them as part of its life and "family".
Older Iguanas - Many times, older iguanas and other pets must be introduced. You may find this process a bit easier in some respects, because an adult iguana is capable of defending itself with its tail. Thus, the odds are a bit more even and there is less risk to the iguana. On the other hand, older iguanas that have not had to coexist with other pets before may have a harder time adjusting to a situation change than would a younger iguana.
As with introductions between smaller iguanas and other pets, it is a good idea to begin the introduction process with the iguana safely in its enclosure (if it is not a free roamer). If it does not have an enclosure, allowing your pets to view each other from a distance while your iguana is up high in a safe spot will suffice. Giving the pets a chance to watch each other without having to directly interact will encourage them to become familiar and comfortable with each other's presence. After a period of acclimation has passed, face-to-face introductions can begin. Because cats and dogs have different mannerism and behaviors, slightly different introduction methods are recommended for each.
Older Iguanas and Cats - Because cats tend to move fairly slowly and cautiously when investigating something new, it is probably safe to put your iguana near the cat and allow them to approach one another. Be sure that neither is "trapped". Allow "escape routes" for both, should they feel the need to retreat from the encounter. Usually, it only takes one or two warning tail whips from an adult iguana to teach a dog or cat to respect that strange green creature. Allowing cats and the iguana to size each other up in this way will let them learn who's who, what's what, what each is capable of in terms of self-defense, and will encourage them to form a relationship based on that information. As always, closely monitor these interactions. Use your own good judgment on whether the introductions are going well or not, and whether you should continue forward or go back a step. Sometimes the introductions go quite smoothly, but at other times they do not. Natalie’s Primrose never feared her cats, even when Prim was small. My iguanas, however, both feared mine, at first. You just never know how things will go, so it is important that you be prepared for anything.
Older Iguanas and Dogs - Because dogs tend to be more excitable and quick moving (as well as larger, for many breeds), face-to-face introductions should begin with you holding your iguana while the dog sniffs and otherwise checks it out. This will give you more control over the situation, and will give you a chance to hold the iguana up out of harm's way should the dog become too excited or aggressive. Eventually, if all goes well, the iguana can be placed near the dog and allowed to interact in a more independent nature – under your watchful eye, of course.
As always, the reactions of different iguanas to different animals varies. Natalie’s iguana Primrose, who you see here with Natalie’s dogs, has never shown any fear of them. This is her usual reaction to their curiosity – she closes her eyes, tolerates their sniffing, and then proceeds on her way once they’ve satisfied themselves. On the other hand, Des’ iguana Vega$, who you see pictured below with Des’ bearded dragons, absolutely hates and fears dogs – no matter what their size or temperament.
Iguanas and Other Pets - Iguanas can be introduced to a variety of other pets in much the same way – starting with a period of no-contact viewing and acclimation followed by face-to-face introductions. With pets that are smaller than the iguana, such as birds, be cautious of any aggression on your iguana's part. Adult iguanas have been known to kill (and occasionally even eat, despite their herbivorous nature) smaller "intruders" in their territory. Some iguanas are very “alpha”, meaning that they have a real sense of being the boss of their own territory. Des’ Vega$ is this way. Vega$ is a very loving and personable iguana. However, she has a very definite territory, and she does not tolerate other animals in that area. She gets along well with many different kinds of pets – both Des’ and other people’s – when she is introduced to and interacts with them outside of her territory. As you can see from the photos, Vega$ will often peacefully share a good basking spot with her bearded dragon “siblings” Yucca and Daytona.
Each introduction process will be different. The period of acclimation and introduction will vary from pet to pet, and from iguana to iguana. Below is an example from my own experience.
My two adult iguanas, my female Donnie and my male Jake, had very different reactions to my other pets when they were first introduced. Jake and Donnie had been living in the lab at the college where I taught biology, until I moved and brought them home to live with me and the rest of my crew. Jake is a very confident iguana, and accepts new people and situations without hesitation. Donnie, on the other hand, is a shy and fairly skittish iguana, and gets stressed out by the presence of many strangers and new situations. So, I assumed that Jake would adjust much easier to the move than Donnie did. Ha – did they fool me!
After we arrived at the new house and got everyone settled in, I began the introduction process between the iguanas and my two cats. Both iguanas initially reacted with extreme fear when the cats would walk by their enclosure – shrinking their bodies down, sucking in their dewlaps, and tilting their bodies away from the cats. Interestingly enough, neither reacted this way to my rabbit. They seemed to realize that although the rabbit is as large as the cats, he was not a threat. Somehow they seemed able to recognize that the cats are predators while the rabbit is not.
Not only did their reactions differ between pets, but also between the iguanas themselves. Within a short time (i.e. one week) of the initial acclimation, Donnie, after watching me interact positively with the cats and having observed them going about their daily lives without bothering her, decided that they were no longer scary. She began to eat and otherwise behave normally in their presence, and so I moved her forward to face-to-face introductions, which went well. She now gets along just fine with both cats, and will often hang out with them on their favorite living room chair and look out the picture window (see photo above). This transformation occurred within 2.5-3 weeks of the move.
Jake, however, was much slower to adjust to the cats' presence. For weeks Jake continued to show fear when the cats entered the room. It took him several weeks to feel comfortable enough to eat or use his litter box if the cats were in the room, even though he was safely in his enclosure. This just goes to show you that you can never tell how an iguana will react to new situations. Never make the mistake of assuming that you know how your iguana will react, because it can leave you open to situations you aren't prepared for, and one or both pets may get hurt or seriously stressed. This leads us to the next issue: What do you do if your iguana and your other pets do not get along?
What If They Don't Get Along? - If your iguana does not get along well with other pets (e.g. it acts aggressive, territorial or fearful), then you have a couple of options. You may consider keeping your other pets away from your iguana all the time. I know of some people who keep their iguana in one part of the house and other pets in another part of the house, and never the two shall meet. This may be an easy and acceptable situation for you.
However, I did not feel that this was a desirable option for me. My iguanas' enclosure is located in a room that has two doorways, and is used as a hallway of sorts, as we move from one part of the house to another. I chose this room for the iguana cage because I wanted Jake and Donnie to be in a busy area of the house, where they would not be isolated, but rather would be in the middle of day-to-day family life. Closing them off from the other pets meant closing them off from the rest of the household activity as well, and I did not want to isolate them in that way. This meant that I had one option left – continue with the acclimation period and hope that Jake eventually became comfortable and happy in his new home with his new companions.
The first thing I did was make a conscious decision not to push Jake into face-to-face contact before he was ready. So, while Donnie often ventured out of the enclosure to free roam and interact with the other pets, I allowed Jake to remain in the enclosure. I always left the door open for him so that he could come out if he chose to, but I did not force him to. I hoped that, as he saw Donnie interacting with the cats in a positive way, he would come to lose his fear and would come out on his own. After several disappointing weeks with no progress, I lost patience and arranged for a face-to-face contact session to occur. I had Jake on the screened in porch, catching some sunlight. The cats had not been allowed out with him previously. On this day, I decided to let them out on the porch, in the hopes that Jake might lose some of his fear if he realized that he could intimidate the cats and defend himself from them. As soon as he saw them, he went into "hatchet mode" – dewlap down, body flattened side to side, mouth gaped, tail ready to whip. The cats, being intelligent, realized that this guy was not like that other, friendly iguana, and they approached him with extreme caution. Once Jules, the friendlier of the two cats, approached closely enough, Jake let loose with his tail, catching Jules' toes. Poor Jules! His little feelings were so hurt! He backed away and kept extreme distance after that. After a few more minutes, during which Jake did not relax from his aggressive posture, I removed the cats from the porch. I had hoped that Jake would then realize, after this encounter, that the cats were no threat that he could not handle, but to my disappointment, he continued to show fear in the days and weeks that followed, and I felt bad for having subjected him to the stress of the encounter on the porch. So, I continued to allow him to remain safely in his enclosure while Donnie was out and about, and I forced no more face-to-face encounters. As I write this, it has been almost three months since we moved and the introductions began. Only in the past week has Jake finally begun to venture out of the enclosure on his own. The cats keep their distance, and he now feels comfortable enough to remain in the same room with them without going into defensive posture. I feel confident that soon he will be interacting with them in the same way Donnie does. He simply needed more time to sort things out on his own.
Conclusion - Iguanas, like other pets, have their own personalities, needs and desires. The key to introducing iguanas to other pets and encouraging them to form comfortable relationships is to be aware of how they feel, and respect that. Do not rush interactions. Never assume that you know how your iguana will interact with other pets. Be wary, alert, and ready to take action if necessary. Use your best judgment. In time, if all goes well, you may have a household full of peacefully coexisting companions.
However, you must also realize that sometimes, pets simply will not get along. If this is the case, then do not force your pets to interact. It is imperative that you pay attention to your pets' body language and what they are communicating to you about their wants, needs, and feelings. Pets that are forced to interact together when they do not want to are not only unhappy and stressed, but often end up injured or dead because of pet-pet conflicts that arise. Be willing and prepared to keep pets apart permanently, if necessary. As always, use your common sense and best judgment.