Howard County pets: Is an iguana a long-term commitment?

Q: I’m a mom with a 12-year-old son who’s begging for a pet iguana. I’m not a big lizard fan myself. How long do iguanas live? Is this a pet I’ll be stuck caring for when his owner goes off to college?

A: I wish more parents of young pet owners would ask such smart, practical questions! A typical life span for the popular green iguana is nine or 10 years, though some reportedly live well into their teens. So, yes, your son’s theoretical iguana may very well be waiting for him when he comes home for college vacations several years down the road.

If you don’t want to end up taking care of a pet you can’t warm up to, then why not sit down with your son and discuss other pet options? If he has his heart set on a reptile or amphibian, the variations commonly kept as pets tend to live as long as or longer than iguanas.

So how about small mammals or tropical fish? If you’re not up for a dog or cat (both of which live 10 to 15 years as well), then gerbils or hamsters might be worth considering (they generally live four years or less). Rabbits and guinea pigs are more likely to live eight to 10 years.

Whatever decision you and your son make, it’s best reached together. Some basic research online and in books can help narrow down the choices. When you’ve got a few possibilities he’s enthusiastic about, you can get down to the details, including cost (of purchase, preparation and ongoing care), typical life span, difficulty of care and feeding, safety, and common health and husbandry problems.

In some cases, once kids get past the idea of having a particular pet and into the specifics, they may change their minds about what kind of animal they really want, or whether they want any pet at all. Some parents see a pet purchase as a way of teaching a child responsibility. But it’s not uncommon for kids to make all kinds of promises just to get that pet home — and then fail to live up to parental expectations. If that happens, are you willing to step in and pick up the slack? If not, please think twice before saying “yes” to any pet. That’s how animals end up neglected, parents end up aggravated and kids end up miserable.
Take your time, and avoid impulse purchases or adoptions. The more you and your son know beforehand about what you’re getting into, the more likely you are to make pet ownership and care an enjoyable experience — for him, and for you, too!

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