Many people prefer to allow their iguanas to free roam, which means that instead of keeping
their iguanas in an enclosure, they allow them to roam around the house or a specific area of
the house. There are some advantages to having your iguana free-roam, but there are also
some disadvantages that need to be addressed.
Advantages - Allowing your iguana to free roam gives him or her a greater area to explore. Iguanas that free roam get more exercise and benefit from a higher level of mental stimulation than do iguanas that are confined to an enclosure for most of the time. It is reasonable to assume that free roaming iguanas suffer from less stress than do iguanas confined to an enclosure, since they are not cramped or held in a small area against their will. Iguanas that are switched from a small enclosure to free roaming often show an improvement in temperament. Allowing your iguana to free roam also allows you to have more contact time with your pet, because you can watch T.V. or enjoy other activities together. Free roaming iguanas can be more fully integrated into the household activities. However, before you adopt such a husbandry choice, you must be aware that there are many dangers that can befall free roaming iguanas. It is up to the owner to do everything possible to eliminate or reduce these dangers.
Disadvantages: Providing Heat and Light - The biggest challenge with free roaming is providing your iguana with proper heat. If you do decide to free roam, you must set up basking stations for your iguana to supply heat and UV light. The best way to do this is to see where your iguana likes to spend most its time, and then set up stations in those areas. Iguanas that are left to free roam and are not provided with basking stations spend too much of their time below optimum temperature, and can suffer as a result. See the links provided below for suggestions on how to properly set up an area for free roam.
Disadvantages: Climbing, Jumping and Falling - Another danger with free roaming s access to dangerous objects, such as drapery or blind cords that can entangle, objects that can break and produce sharp edges, furniture that can tip over and other household pets that can injure your iguana. If you do not want your iguana to destroy your things by knocking them off shelves or tipping things over, then you must move those things to areas where your iguana is not allowed. It doesn't take long for a large adult iguana to wreak havoc in a room! Their instinct is to get up as high as they can, and that means they will climb or attempt to climb on anything handy. If they can't reach it by climbing, they'll jump. And yes, they WILL jump over huge distances. To you it may be obvious that they can't make it, but to your iguana, that eight foot gap looks completely reasonable. Not only are they great at pulling everything over with them as they fall, but they can get hurt.
Disadvantages: Eating Non-food Items - In addition, iguanas will ingest anything that, to them, looks like potential food. This includes but is not limited to lost buttons, hair, lose carpet fibers, dust bunnies, string, and in one hilarious but potentially deadly incident, silk underwear! My own iguana Jake, who lives at the college where I teach, managed to eat a plastic test tube cap on an outing one day, despite my attempts to make sure the area where he is allowed out was reasonably free of any such loose or dangerous objects. Any indigestible item that an iguana ingests has the potential to cause intestinal blockage, which can be fatal if not treated. Jake was lucky and was able to pass the test tube top with no problem after it had been in his system for a matter of weeks. In the case of the underwear incident, however, the iguana required surgery. You must be sure that if you allow your iguana to free roam, you keep the area clean and eliminate any possible items that may be ingested. Also, be aware that hair and carpet fibers can get wrapped around an iguana's toes, and, if not removed, can cut off circulation. The toes can be lost as a result.
Disadvantages: Getting Lost - Sometimes a free roaming iguana will get itself into an area where you can not find it, or where it cannot get out. Iguanas sometimes squeeze themselves into couch or chair seat cushions, under cabinets, behind refrigerators, into gaps and holes in walls and under doors. They may seek out a warm cozy spot, such as behind the T.V., where you can not see them. Since most iguanas do not come when called, it is important that you fully ig-proof the area of your home where your iguana will be allowed out. Also, free roaming should not be allowed until the iguana is larger and tame. For more information on how to ig-proof an area, see our page on Iguana-Proofing a Home. Larger iguanas can break right through the window screen on an open window and can find themselves lost outside. To prevent this, be sure to use hail screen (hardware cloth) on windows that will be open in the iguana’s area. For information on what to do if your iguana gets lost outside, visit our Lost and Loose Iguanas page.
Disadvantages: Cleanliness Issues - Even though free roaming can be a great husbandry choice, if it is thought through carefully and all necessary precautions are taken, there are some additional hygiene factors to consider. Obviously, a free roaming iguana must be potty trained in some way. Because iguanas may carry Salmonella bacteria in their intestines, it is extremely important that feces be deposited in the appropriate area by the iguana and cleaned up promptly by the owner. Even for iguanas that are potty trained, there are certain places in the house that should be considered off-limits for safety’s sake. The kitchen and other food preparation places are probably the most important of such areas. Places where young children will be crawling or playing should also have restricted access. Households with very young children, elderly persons, or people whose immune systems are compromised probably should not have a free roaming iguana. If free roaming is desired in such a situation, it is probably best that the iguana be restricted to one area or room of the house where those at greatest risk from Salmonella exposure do not spend their time. Visit our pages on Salmonella and Cleaning and Cleanliness for more information on basic iguana hygiene.
Disadvantages: Potential behavioral problems - Sometimes, an iguana may become very territorial, and will defend what it identifies as “its area” with displays and even attacks. This may happen periodically during breeding season, especially in males, but some iguanas become territorial and remain that way all the time. (See our page on Breeding Season Issues for more information on breeding season aggression.) If an iguana becomes territorial, the owner, primary caretaker or even other family members may be at risk. When considering allowing your iguana to free roam, it is important that you be aware of this possibility. The larger the area that the iguana identifies as its territory, the harder it may be to predict and control potential attacks, should they occur. I know of a few incidences where free roaming iguanas attacked their owners for perceived trespasses into their territory. Although many, if not most, free roaming iguanas do not exhibit this type of behavior, it is a possibility that should be considered before free roaming is allowed.
Melissa Kaplan’s page on Free Roaming
is one part of her excellent iguana care web site.
Carmen Iguana’s Habitat page
, by Elizabeth TeSelle, has a neat example of a free roam set-up and lots of
links to other habitat sites.
Hal and Sassy’s Green Iguana Haven
, by Tory Klementsen, has another great free roam suggestion.
Marie Eguro’s iguana
has a terrific free roaming set-up!
Napoleon the Iguana's Home Page
, by Tricia Powers, has some neat suggestions for free roaming.
Jennifer Swofford’s Iguana Pages Complete Guide
to Keeping Giant Green Iguanas is another great source of information
about free roaming.