How to Hold an Iguana? The Proper Way to Handle Your Pet Iguana

Iguanas are by nature wild animals, and as pet owners we should understand we are forcing them into domestication by possessing them. We should therefore also be more understanding of how they react to us in captivity. An iguana’s instinct is to run and hide when approached. Proper iguana handling is a process that will take time and commitment on your part.

It is best to start early getting your iguana used to you and the possibility of being handled. Many iguana owners discover that as their pet gets older, he may restrict who he allows to handle him. If your child or spouse is not involved in the early handling process of the animal, he most likely will not allow them to handle him. Much of this depends on the iguana’s personality.

Your iguana also has to know who is in charge. If you do not have the confidence needed to handle your iguana, he will most likely sense this and use it to his advantage.

Preparations Before Holding an Iguana

First things first: You need to be prepared. The success in handling your pet iguana significantly hinges on your readiness to respect their instinctive reactions and provide a safe environment.

1. Safety Precautions for You and Your Iguana

Respect your iguana’s space. Surprises are not appreciated by these creatures. Approach them calmly and let them know you are there. I have found that speaking to them softly can help. They may not understand what you’re saying, but they can recognize the tone and presence.

Remember that iguanas are armed with sharp teeth, powerful tails, and long claws. If they feel threatened or stressed, they can and will use these tools to defend themselves. So, when attempting to hold them, never rush or force the situation. Patience is the cornerstone of successful iguana handling.

2. Optimal Environmental Conditions

Contrary to popular belief, the timing and location of handling your iguana play a crucial role. Ensure your iguana is in a warm and comfortable environment. This is because iguanas, like all reptiles, are ectothermic animals, which means their body temperature is determined by their surroundings. A cold iguana is a stressed iguana, and a stressed iguana can lead to a difficult handling experience.

A perfect scenario? Try handling your iguana after it’s basked under a heat lamp for a while. It will be more relaxed and amenable to being handled.

3. Importance of Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is crucial for both you and your pet. Always wash your hands before and after handling your iguana. It helps keep both you and your iguana safe from potential infections. Iguanas can carry Salmonella bacteria, which can cause serious illness in humans.

Conversely, humans can pass on harmful bacteria to iguanas. By ensuring your hands are clean, you’re protecting both parties involved.

Step-by-Step Guide to Holding an Iguana

Handling an iguana properly is an art, and it’s one you can master with practice and patience. Follow these tried-and-tested steps to ensure a safe and positive experience for both you and your scaly friend.

  1. Approach with Caution: Iguanas, like any creature, have personal space. Always approach your iguana slowly and from the front. This way, they can see you coming and won’t be startled.
  2. Gauge Their Comfort: Pay close attention to your iguana’s body language. A relaxed iguana will be more accepting of handling. If they seem agitated or stressed, give them space. Remember, we’re building trust here.
  3. The Initial Touch: Start by gently touching their body, not their head. Iguanas can perceive a head touch as a threat. Move your hand slowly towards the side of their body, allowing them to get used to your touch.
  4. Lift Correctly: This is critical! Place one hand under the iguana’s belly and the other supporting their tail. Never grab an iguana by the tail or limbs—it’s uncomfortable and can cause injury.
  5. Hold Firmly, but Gently: Iguanas are strong, agile creatures. Hold your iguana firmly to prevent them from squirming out of your grip, but ensure you’re gentle enough not to cause discomfort.
  6. Keep Close to Your Body: Hold the iguana close to your chest. This provides additional security and helps keep them calm by limiting their view of the surrounding environment.
  7. Return Safely: Lower your iguana back to its habitat tail-first, allowing them to crawl off your hand naturally.
  8. Patience is Key: Your iguana may not be comfortable with handling at first. Be patient, consistent, and positive. Over time, your iguana will become more accepting of being held.

I cannot stress this enough: safety and comfort should be your primary concerns when holding your iguana. Every iguana is unique, so adapt these guidelines as needed to accommodate your pet’s specific needs and temperament.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Handling an Iguana

As a seasoned iguana keeper, I want to emphasize the importance of knowing what not to do when handling your pet. These are mistakes I’ve seen often, and let me assure you, they can have dire consequences.

1. Rushed Introduction

First and foremost, do not rush the process of introduction. Too many iguana owners, in their excitement, make the mistake of trying to hold their new pet right away. This can cause severe stress for the iguana and lead to aggressive behavior. Allow your iguana time to acclimate to its new environment before trying to handle it. Take time for gradual interaction, let your iguana learn your scent and voice, and most importantly, let it initiate contact.

2. Ignoring Signs of Discomfort

Understanding your iguana’s behavior is critical. Many owners, out of ignorance or indifference, overlook signs of discomfort such as tail twitching, puffing up, or open-mouth breathing. These are clear indicators that your iguana is stressed. Respecting these signs and giving your pet space will not only prevent injuries but will also help foster trust.

3. Holding the Iguana Improperly

Incorrectly holding your iguana is a common yet avoidable mistake. As I mentioned earlier, an iguana’s ribcage is delicate, and improper handling can cause serious injury. Avoid picking up your iguana by the tail or squeezing it too tightly. Always support its body, especially the belly and legs.

4. Not Washing Hands Before and After Handling

This may seem trivial, but it is vital. Our hands carry various bacteria, and so do iguanas. Ensure you wash your hands before and after handling your pet. This will protect both you and your iguana from potential health risks.

5. Not Conditioning Your Iguana to Handling

This is a common mistake born out of fear or hesitation. Remember, frequent, gentle handling is the key to taming your iguana. Regular, positive interaction helps your pet become accustomed to your presence and touch, reducing the likelihood of aggression or stress.


There are some basics to remember when learning the proper way to handle your pet iguana. Do not suddenly grab him. Do not grab him by the tail or the legs. Do not swoop down from overhead and try to grab him either. Remember, he has an “eye” on the top of his head, literally, that detects overhead motion. He will react with fear and/or aggression, most likely.

When your iguana is young, first he needs to get used to you. This will take time. In the beginning, he may flee or hide when you come into the room. Do not be alarmed or upset. Just go about your routine, feeding him and cleaning his cage.

Once he is accustomed to you, start offering him treats or food by hand. Spend time with him. Offer him your hand, and let him crawl into it. Pet him gently on the back of the head and on his sides. Do this every day, or as often as possible. Initial handling may be stressful for your iguana, so start out with short sessions, increasing them as he adapts.

Over time, you will know if you have an iguana with a personality that will allow more extensive handling. When you do handle him, you should hold him from his underside, or chest, with one arm and support his tail and hind legs with the other. You need to handle him firmly, but gently enough not to squeeze or hurt him. He needs to feel secure that you are not going to drop him.

The term “cradling” seems to be a way to best describe the handling position, cradling from the underside. His back side would extend back toward your elbow, with his tail under your arm so to speak. His back legs would extend or hang down on either side of your arm pointing downward, and his chest would rest on your forearm. Your hand would be positioned just behind his front legs, supporting his neck and head.

The holding position may require some adjustments based on the size of your iguana. The above is just a basic guideline for one way of iguana handling. A smaller iguana may be easily positioned in your hand, with your forefinger extending underneath his chin.

Start early in your iguana relationship getting your pet used to you and the idea of touching and handling. Be patient, move slowly, don’t scare your iguana by grabbing him or with sudden movements. As time passes, you and your pet will continue to get used to each other and you’ll be an iguana handling expert.

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