Unlike mammals and birds, iguanas don't clean or groom themselves. Iguanas in the wild seem to rely on brushing against rough bark and plunging into bodies of water to remove the grime and parasites that they pick up over the course of living their lives. Given that a captive iguana probably doesn't have much rough bark to rub against or pools to dive into at will, the task of keeping him clean falls to you.
Bathing your beauty
To bathe your iguana, follow these steps (remember, though, that "bathing" an iguana doesn't mean using soap on him or in the water):
1. Run the water until it's chest deep (the iguana's, not yours!) at the deep end where the drain is.
- This depth makes the water about iguana-hip deep at the shallow end. If your iguana isn't used to bathing, put less water in the tub and see the following section for tips on getting him comfortable.
2. Let him soak to his heart's content.
- If you leave your iguana in the tub long enough for the water to start cooling off (a good bath temperature for iguanas is 85–90 degrees Fahrenheit [29–32 degrees Celsius]), run more warm water into the tub, draining off a little of the cool water.
- The noise of running water can be quite loud in a tub/shower enclosure. If your iguana gets stressed by this noise, fill a pitcher with warm water at the sink and pour it gently into the tub.
3. When he's done soaking, blot him off to remove the drips and send him on his way.
4. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the tub.
- If any individuals in your household are at high risk for contracting bacterial infections, have your iguana use a different bathroom than the at-risk family members use. Even if you take precautions to thoroughly clean and disinfect the tub, walls, and floor, accidents and distractions can and do happen.
Daily baths are a good idea for several reasons. Iguanas get to soak, which is good for their skin. They get to loll about in an environment that has higher humidity, so they're inhaling air that has more moisture in it. Another benefit is that many iguanas drink deeply when their bodies are in water. But perhaps the most popular reason why iguana keepers bathe their iguanas daily is that most iguanas poop when they're in water. Keeping the enclosure clean is very easy because it's a lot easier to drain the bathtub, thoroughly rinse off the iguana, wash the bathtub out, and then disinfect it before the next use by human or iguana.
Iguanas who are new to baths frequently freak out. Acting like you're trying to kill them, they thrash wildly, scrambling about trying to launch themselves out of the tub, over your head, and out of the room. This scene is enough to make many iguana keepers shrug, dry themselves off, and never try it again. Which is a shame because, if you keep it up, starting off with very shallow water and over time gradually deepening the bath water, iguanas come to tolerate a bath quite well, if not actually look forward to a luxurious soak.
Making bath time more comfortable
Iguanas are excellent swimmers. They're able to hold their breath for extended periods of time, easily staying fully submerged for 20–30 minutes at a time. This ability tends to freak out iguana keepers who haven't previously seen their iguana looking dead, lying on the bottom of the bath tub. This is not to say that iguanas can't drown. They can. One of the dangers of leaving them unattended in the bath for long periods of time is that the water cools and they get too cold to move. In addition, something may panic them, causing them to thrash about and inhale water into their lungs.
Some iguana keepers make it easier for their iguana to climb in and out of the tub by placing a rubber bathmat or a rubber-backed bathroom rug over the rim of the tub. Terry cloth towels can be attached to the inside and outside of the tub with Velcro strips. The towels can be easily removed and tossed into the washing machine if they get soiled. If your iguana is bothered by the slick surface of the wet porcelain, put some decals on the bottom of the bathtub (those used to provide a nonslip surface for young children). Another trick is to put a terry cloth towel or rubber bathmat in the tub so the iguana has something to stand on that won't slide out from under him.
If you have two or more iguanas, poop them in the tub, clean and disinfect the tub, and then put them all into the refilled bathtub for a long soak. Obviously, you can do a joint bath only if the iguanas are compatible with each other. If you have iguanas who don't get along with one another, you have to give them each their own soaking session.
Although a long soak in a warm bubble bath may sound like a little bit of heaven on earth to you, it's not such a good idea for your iguana. In fact, because soaps and disinfectants can irritate their skin, eyes, and mouth, it's best to use just plain water when bathing and rinsing them.
Getting rid of stubborn dirt
Once in a while, especially when taking in an iguana who was ill-cared for, you'll see some feces or undetermined soiling stuck on and between the scales that won't come off with just a good, long soak. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- After you let the iguana soak for a while, use a washcloth or soft children's toothbrush to gently rub at the soiling to remove it.
- If it's still stuck on, you can put a drop or two of a child-safe soap or shampoo on the cloth or brush and work it in; then let the iguana soak some more in fresh, warm water. In 15 minutes or so, work on it some more. You may need to do this several times to get the soiling all off. Whatever remains ground-in will come off when the skin next sheds.
When you're done, toss the washcloth in the washing machine and wash it with hot, soapy water and bleach. The toothbrush can be washed and left to soak for ten minutes in the same disinfectant you use in the iguana's enclosure. Then rinse and dry the toothbrush when it's done soaking. Be sure to store it with the iguana's cleaning supplies and not someplace where a family member may confuse it with his or her own toothbrush.