The IgDen Diet
We would like to thank Kevin Egan for his care and research into the original IguanaDen Diet.
“It is with great pride that I say that this diet has become known and talked about as one of the best diets for captive raised iguanas in the world today.”
—Kevin Egan, Rehabber of over 300 iguanas and creator of the IguanaDen Diet
Everyday, there are new owners of iguanas surfing the web and hitting this site. Also, there are people daily joining our mailing list!
However, there are always questions about which diet is best and exactly what goes into the diet. There are many diets out there, and you should not feel obligated to follow any diet you are not comfortable with. That said, we would like to present you with a diet that not only works for our personal iguanas, but for many, many iguanas who have tried it! All we ask is that you read, research, and reflect on any diet that is presented. Don’t take our word for it! Do the research and figure out which one makes the most sense.
This diet is based on the idea that a balanced diet will provide the necessary nutrients without the dangers or over-supplementation.
Kevin Egan writes:
My thoughts are simple regarding the Iguana Den Diet: it is simply the best diet around today. But, hey! I need to say that, I created it! Since I began using this diet within the Iguana Den, I have seen remarkable things happen:
We have had iguanas come into Scales and Tails, Inc that have been on the brink of death. The only time supplements are used are when they are prescribed by a vet. Otherwise healthy iguanas are not given any type of vitamin supplements, as over-supplementation is a leading cause of kidney and liver dysfunctions, as both are overworked to rid the body of the excess vitamins and minerals. As with human medicine and supplements, a little is good (if it can be absorbed) but too much can be deadly! There are no regulations on the vitamins and minerals produced for pets, and human supplements are not designed with the small weight and slow metabolism of iguanas in mind. Therefore, a diet needs to have the correct balance of vitamins and nutrients so that we can eliminate supplements, and thereby eliminate the dangers of over-supplementation. You can learn more about Vitamin and Calcium Supplements on the Supplements page.
The IguanaDen Diet is based on the all-important theory of a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
This theory of High Calcium and Low Phosphorus ratios that should be adhered to at all times, as this will allow the iguana to absorb the correct amount of calcium into its body to avoid MBD. If you do not keep the correct ration of calcium to phosphorus, as well as a large variety, your iguana is in danger of not getting the necessary nutrients to ward off medical problems, much less grow!
The base of the diet is dark leafy greens! Not lettuce! Not other vegetables! Not fruit! The correct greens have a ratio of at least 2:1 Calcium to Phosphorus.
Why do we use greens? Well, iguanas in the wild are arboreal creatures, as well as obligate herbivores. They do not dig up roots or shell peas. They eat leaves, flowers, and fruits they can find. They do not carry around a grater or a microwave to make things easier to get into. Although, if they could, they would! Greens have the necessary fiber and nutrient content for our iguanas. However, just like human children and adults, they will eat what is bad for them! Therefore, the responsible owner will take care not to give iguanas junk food, just because they like it. Hey, I like sweets. If I eat 1/20th of my body weight in sweets daily, weekly, or even monthly, I am going to get fat, high cholesterol, and have major health problems! Iguanas, being small, will easily eat 1/20th of their body weight daily. My 23 lb male Igsley eats about 1-2 pounds of food daily. If we give them junk, they process a lot of it! Keep them on a healthy diet to prevent health problems. The closer we can match their natural environment, including their natural food, the better off they will be. Now, if I could only find donuts growing on trees…
Other vegetables such as winter squash, yams, or sweet potatoes can be used, especially if your iguana is not eating much or needs to put on weight. However, these should not make up more than 10% of the daily diet.
Fruits with a 1:1 Ca to P ratio or better can and should be used as a hydration and trace vitamin source 1-2 times per week. Plus, fruit makes the perfect bribe for training!
What about protein? Well, iguanas are obligate herbivores. This means their digestive system is designed to process all their needed protein form plant material. When you add extra protein, whether it be animal or plant sources such as such as whole wheat bread and alfalfa, you are making the kidneys work even harder to eliminate the unnecessary protein. Renal failure causes 1000s of iguanas to die yearly. See Proteins.
Vegetables such as Carrots, Red and Yellow Bell Peppers can be used to enhance the color within the diet. This adds to the attraction of the food and draws the iguanas to it. However, a healthier alternative is to add winter squash or yams, or even fruit. Fruit has a high water content, and is useful not only for its hydration properties, but also for the attraction it has to iguanas for the taste and smell. Winter squashes also have a sweet taste and smell, making them irresistible for iguanas! However, any vegetable should be added not only for attraction value, but what it can add to the diet. If it is a worthless vegetable, do not put it in!
The most important part of the diet is providing a variety of healthy greens.
Remember to choose greens that are the highest in Calcium/Phosphorus Ratios that are available. If there are not greens available, try vegetables that have a good ration. However, if you cannot find the necessary greens (especially overseas) you may need to tweak this (or any other diet) to get it healthy and balanced for your iguana.
Probably the hardest part about keeping an Iguana is mastering a healthy diet that will provide the proper amounts of Calcium and Phosphorus as well as being nutritious. Just remember a few rules of thumb when feeding your iguana:
4) NEVER FEED ANY GREEN WITH THE WORD "LETTUCE" IN IT'S NAME. While romaine lettuce is often offered to many iguanas by their owners, and is one of the more nutritious within the lettuce family, it is relatively nutritionally poor, especially when compared to a healthy green.
When deciding on any diet, a responsible owner must be concerned with the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and how UVB LIGHTING fits in with the diet. When feeding you iguana a diet created using the IguanaDen Diet theory, ALL of the vitamins your iguana will need will be provided directly from the diet. This is true for calcium, as well, as the diet is based on high calcium. Please note that problems have arisen in the past when Vitamin and Calcium Supplements have been added on a prolonged basis to any diet. If you chose to use a diet other than the Iguana Den Diet, supplementation should be considered per that author's recommendations, as only they will know where their diet is lacking nutritionally.
When we speak about Calcium we also need to mention UVB Lighting. Iguanas NEED, specifically UV-B rays in which to aid in the production of the vitamin D-3 which aids in the absorption of CALCIUM. Without UV-B to help create the D-3 Vitamin, iguanas do not absorb calcium efficiently and thus develop weak and brittle bones often termed as Metabolic Bone Disease, Fibrous Osteodystrophy and/or Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism. Please visit the section on UVB lighting, as the diet is only one component of a healthy iguana.
You might be thinking of using other vegetables within your iguanas diet because you have been told that one particular food is good for them by another iguana owner, an iguana site, or a pet store. Or, your iguana adores a certain food. Now, can you trust your iguanas instincts? Can you trust a child to feed itself a healthy diet? Can you trust what somebody says without doing the research? No. Research each and every vegetable that you might consider feeding to your iguana before actually feeding it.
The Iguana Den Diet
The above staple diet of vegetables is to be used as a GUIDE and a SAMPLE.
Basically, your diet should contain collard greens, arugula, and dandelion greens, at least one of these should make up 1/3 of your diet. A diet with all three is best!
Next, choose 3-5 of the following: mustard greens, chicory, escarole, watercress, or turnip greens.
Then, if you do not have enough variety, choose ONE of the following: kale, Napa, Bok Choy, or beet greens. Any high goigoitren food should be used sparingly.
If you cannot find these foods, look at the charts. Any food that you include in your diet should complement the 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio overall, or you risk harming your iguana.
Most iguanas like the greens! They what nature intended, or at least as close as we can come!
It is strongly recommended that you keep the Calcium content mathematically in the area of 800 mgs when you are choosing vegetables for your iguana's diet. Iguanas that have been maintained on high calcium low phosphorus diets with a Calcium content less than 500 mg have been known to suffer many of the different signs of MBD. Remember, it is the ratios that count!
This ratio is further maintained by picking and choosing vegetables that are much higher in Ca than P. Further information regarding these values can be obtain in the Vegetable Ca:P chart.
QUICK TIP: It is useful to use Plastic plates for Iguana feeding. When your Iguana is finished eating, you can toss the plate directly into the recycle bin eliminating the need for washing and possible contamination by salmonella.
NOTE: Many Vitamin sources on the market today advertise to provide vitamin D-3. While this might be possible, it should be understood that the D-3 that is synthesized by the Iguana's own body is the healthiest and most natural for the pet.
© 2002 - PurpleDragon Website Design