Best way to heat my iguana's enclosure?
November 13, 2007 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I have a full-sized iguana enclosure that needs to be heated more effectively. I've been researching my options and I think that using an infrared heat panel is the best way to go, but I'm not sure what size to get for my enclosure. Reptile enthusiasts needed!

The enclosure in question is 5' wide, 4' deep, and 6' tall, and contains several vertical and horizontal spaces for basking and climbing. The enclosure is fronted by a sliding glass shower door, is made of oak veneer plywood, and was built by my father and me about 2 years ago.

The problem we're having is that the room the enclosure in is colder than we'd like, and we're having trouble maintaining the correct heat gradient for our 3 year old iguana, Rethgar. Currently using a 125 watt ceramic heat emitter we can get his basking spot to the required temperature range (90-95 degrees, usually sitting at a comfortable 93), but the problem is that this device does not have a very large radius, and most other areas of the cage are cold enough that Rethgar doesn't like to go in them. This, of course, effectively confines him to the basking spot and doesn't give him very many options for thermoregulating (he can do it effectively and is healthy as far as we can tell, but he just doesn't get to move around very much).

Obviously we'd like him to be able to use the entire space, so we're looking at getting an infrared heat panel like the ones here. I'm just wondering what size we need to get to provide the proper gradient of heat for our setup- preferably the ideal setup would heat the basking area to 93-95 while keeping most of the rest of the cage above 85. Does anybody have experience with large cage heating? I should mention that we're in Minnesota, so ambient temperature is a constant challenge.
posted by baphomet to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One more detail about the enclosure, the space available to said iguana is about 5' vertically as the cage has a mesh ceiling set into it to provide a 1' clearance space for lights, timers, etc. UV light is provided with a 4' UVB fluorescent.
posted by baphomet at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2007

Maybe not a direct answer, but realted: I had an igunana (Rapunzel) in a fairly large enclosure, although not as large as yours. I believe the coolest non-basking spot was about 78 degrees. I kept the food and water in one area of the cooler spot, and her doo-doo dish in another. I also hand-fed her in the non-basking areas. Although she much preferred the basking spot, she did go into the other areas regularly. But the basking spot was heated by light, and was about 100 - 102

What temperature is the coldest part of the cage? I thought areas as cool as 80 or a bit below were preferred. Perhaps the hand-feeding and keeping the food dish in a cool area will encourage Rethgar.
posted by The Deej at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2007

Right now the floor of the cage (covered with ceramic tile) is the coldest part, and it's not getting warmer than 65-68 from what I can tell, which is a problem. I hand feed him from my shoulder multiple times a week- the feeding area in the cage is around 78ish right now, but it's only maybe 6 inches below the basking spot to give you an idea of how quickly the heat from the ceramic element diffuses.
posted by baphomet at 12:26 PM on November 13, 2007

Adding insulation is going to be the most effective way of keeping the entire enclosure warmer. Of course that may be easier said than done and you still may have to add additional heat. I'm not familiar with iguanas but it sounds like they'll want to spend most of their time at the warmest location.
posted by 6550 at 12:55 PM on November 13, 2007

Rejigging the floor, so there's a couple layers of closed-cell foam under the ceramic tile, will probably help a lot.
posted by flabdablet at 1:14 PM on November 13, 2007

Right now the floor of the cage (covered with ceramic tile) is the coldest part, and it's not getting warmer than 65-68 from what I can tell, which is a problem.

Whoa, you're right., that is pretty chilly!

You might want to try a heat lamp or two aimed at the floor. I never used ceramic heaters, or heated rocks. Here's a page explaining how iguanas can burn themselves by not realizing how hot the surfaces are.

A heat lamp, set up so it can't be touched by the iguana, will heat the air, and the floor without risking burning your pet.
posted by The Deej at 3:21 PM on November 13, 2007

I think you have a different idea of ceramic heater, I'm talking about one of these. It's an overhead unit that is basically a more energy-efficient heat source than than a traditional heating bulb would be. The unit is set into the proper fixture and hangs above the basking spot, and is separated from the enclosure by the mesh ceiling (meaning he can't get to it at all). It's not something that's designed, like a hot rock (which we've never and will never use), for the iguana to sit on to absorb heat; it's just a different style of overhead heat source.
posted by baphomet at 3:32 PM on November 13, 2007

First, congratulations for being a responsible and informed iguana owner!

In a similar enclosure, I used a human heating pad under the floor (actually duct-taped to the underside of the plywood, so it kept the floor merely warm, not hot), and a ceramic heater + hot lamp in the roof area. The ceramic heater was strictly for keeping up the nighttime temperature; the iguana sat under the hot lamp to bask. There was a UV lamp as well which provided negligible heat, which you don't mention but I assume you have.

I always heard good things about the infrared heating panels although I never used one. I don't think you could go wrong with getting a small size and seeing how that works out -- in a tall enclosure it would make more sense to have multiple ones spaced apart, I think, rather than one huge blob of heat source.
posted by nev at 4:56 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Sorry, you do mention the UV lamp it in the comment.)
posted by nev at 4:58 PM on November 13, 2007

For an enclosure that size, having the floor at room temperature is not a problem. I have a few cages that are 6-7' tall, 6-8' long, and 3-4' wide. Furnishing the cages are one or more long shelves, and one or more big branches (on which they climb from the floor to the shelves). The sides are made out of oak and cage wire, so the ambient temperature in many parts of the cage are room temperature (68ish). But they don't spend any time in those parts of the cage except to poop, and in transit from one hot spot to another.

So what I do is I figure out where they like to lounge, and rig up spotlights as necessary to act as basking spots. Those spots register around 90, and the igs can move in and out of those spots to thermoregulate. Even just a few inches away from the hottest spot is going to be a few degrees different. (An aside: if you do end up eating the whole thing, allow the coolest area to be below 85; more like 80. It really doesn't have to be even that hot everywhere because he'll hang out where he needs to. He might fall asleep in the "sun" and then want to go someplace to cool off a while.)

In addition, I use heating pads ("pig blankets") on the shelves. They spend most of their time on the shelves, and so the pads keep them warmer than room temperature (but not as hot as their basking spots). The "proper" way to heat this kind of reptile is via light from above because they have basically evolved to thermoregulate using the sun. But "room temperature" where iguanas come from is generally warmer than the room temp in my house, so the heating pads take care of that.

The other option would be to get some kind of heater, as you describe, but I figure I'm already going through the trouble of separating the UV bulbs and heat lamps from the iguanas (so's one doesn't injure the other, or cause a fire) and the igs can rest directly on the heat pads (actually I recommend using something in between, and I use indoor/outdoor carpet) so the heat pads have been my solution for a number of years.

For most of the years, in fact. I've had my 4 iguanas since about 1990, and they just refuse to get sick or die. ;) They've been housed in these large cages since about 1993 (when they reached adult size).

To try to more directly answer your specific questions, the problem is that every heating appliance I've used I've settled on through trial/error. The 100 watt bulb wasn't hot enough so I had to go buy a 150, etc. So I can't even begin to estimate which size you'd need.

But also, I think you'll find that your iguana will develop its favorite spot or spots -- likely someplace high -- and if you're heating the whole cage you're probably wasting a lot of energy. This has been my experience, anyway.

You've already found Melissa Kaplan's site ( and I can't disagree with much of anything she has to say about iguanas. Well, we have our differences, but neither my iguanas nor her iguanas will die, so both of our methods seem to work. (I have an iguana site but haven't updated it in years -- not that any of the info has changed, but, ya know.) Good luck!! (This is kinda jumbled, as I'm kinda tired. Apologies!)
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:00 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

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