The green iguana is perhaps the best-known reptilian pet as it has gained popularity in the last few decades. These reptiles are sold when very small but reach adulthood within 3 years, attaining lengths of 6 to 6 1/2 feet (1.8-2.0 meters) under proper environmental conditions. Iguanas naturally inhabit the rainforest of Central and South America, and as such require specific conditions in order to thrive in captivity. With a possible lifespan of up to 20 years and beyond, it is important to carefully consider the requirements of your pet iguana prior to purchasing or adopting one. Providing sound basic husbandry will avoid many of the medical problems seen in pet iguanas, which otherwise require very few visits to the veterinarian. Understanding what your iguana's life might be like in the wild is the basis for reproducing his or her life indoors.
Natural Habitat And Characteristics
The green (or common) iguana is an arboreal (tree-living) and diurnal (daylight active) lizard found in tropical and subtropical regions from northern Mexico to central South America. Living in warm and humid environments, iguanas spend a lot of their time climbing and then warming themselves on tree branches. While iguanas cannot change their colours like a chameleon, they will become darker when they are cold in an effort to attract the sun. Vision, hearing, and the sense of smell are acute.
Iguanas usually live near rivers and streams, and will fall from their basking branch to the water below as a way to escape from predators. Using their powerful tail to propel themselves, they manage to swim to safety- escaping to protective covering. In fact, iguanas can safely land on the ground and run to protective cover after jumping from substantial heights. Iguanas tend to be very wary and when threatened, will also defend themselves with astonishingly quick, whip-like lashes of their tails and with their claws and jaws.
Young iguanas are pale green with black ringed tails and tend to spend more time on the ground. As they mature they climb more, and they change to an earthier colour, with dark vertical bars on the body and tail. Male iguanas tend to be larger and possess brighter overall coloration than females. They also tend to have larger heads than females, in part because of swollen jowls. Male iguanas also possess more prominent femoral pores than the female, arranged in a row on the underside of both thighs. It is believed these pores secrete a distinctive waxy substance that is important during breeding season.
Malnutrition is one of the main causes of illness in pet iguanas. There is now a better consensus on the ideal diet for pet iguanas. Some of the most important elements of a sound diet are discussed here, followed by a sample menu.
For many years animal protein sources have been recommended in the diets of iguanas. However, in the wild, they are foliovores, a type of vegetarian that eats primarily leaves. Some iguana books falsely claim that iguanas eat insects until they mature, then switch to a vegetarian diet as adults. This is not the case. They are vegetarians from birth even though they might occasionally accept unnatural foods in captivity. Protein should be supplied as a plant based source. Meat, cheese, eggs, fish, dog food, cat food, trout chow and all insects or worms should be excluded from the diet.
Calcium versus Phosphorus ratio:
In order to obtain good bone growth and maintenance and avoid metabolic bone disease, calcium to phosphorus ratio of food (and supplements) of 2:1 is recommended. All foods need not have twice the calcium vs. phosphorus, but the overall mixture should strive for that ratio.
Canned, frozen or other commercial iguana diets:
The advantage of these products is that they are easier to use than preparing a balanced salad several times a week. The disadvantage is that their claims of being a complete and balanced diet may unfounded. They may play a role in iguana nutrition but should only be a small part of the diet until more is known.
Oxalates occur in spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, rhubarb, cabbage, peas, and potatoes. Oxalates bind calcium and trace minerals, inhibiting their absorption. Mineral deficiencies can occur if the diet contains these foods to the exclusion of others and if mineral intakes are marginal.
Goitrogens occur in cabbage, kale, bok-choi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous plants. Large intake of these foods with marginal iodine intake may lead to hypothyroidism.
Providing a balanced diet with the above mentioned consideration could be easily achieved by following a diet such as the one recommended below.
All plant material should be washed, chopped (you can use a food processor), and thoroughly mixed. This will ensure that all food items will be eaten, rather than just the favourite tasty ones. You can prepare enough for up to 4 days, store in the refrigerator between feedings, and serve at room temperature or slightly warmer. Use wide bowls or flat plates for food so that your iguana can easily reach his meal.
Adjust for age
Hatchlings (very young iguanas) up to 14 inches in length
Feeding interval: feed twice a day or provide continuous availability
Size of plant matter: finely chopped or shredded
Juveniles up to 2.5 years or 3 feet in length
Feeding interval: once a day
Size of plant matter: fine to medium chopped or shredded
Adults over 2.5 years or 3 feet in length
Feeding interval: daily or every other day
Size of plant matter: coarsely chopped
A balanced diet contains ingredients from EACH of the FIVE of the following categories. Rotating choices avoids feeding foods high in oxalates and goitrogens and is the best insurance of offering a complete diet.
1. Calcium rich vegetables (30-40% of the diet)
Two or more items per feeding: green beans, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, collards, bok choy, Swiss chard, dandelions, parsley, kohlrabi, escarole, spinach, dark green leafy vegetables.
2. Other vegetables (30-40% of the diet)
Squash, zucchini, sweet potato, bell pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, beans, okra, grated carrot, parsnips, sprouts, frozen mixed vegetables.
3. Protein source (10% of the diet):
Alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), soaked until soft. Do not use alfalfa sprouts as they do not have the same nutritional content.
No more than 15% of the diet – fresh figs (high in calcium) or rehydrated dried figs (for small iguanas remove the seeds) papaya, melon, apples, peaches, plums, mangos, strawberries, tomato, banana, grapes, kiwi.
Avoid Feeding: Rhubarb, excess protein, sweets.
5. Vitamin/mineral supplementation:
There is a lot of misleading information in the pet trade about reptile vitamins, minerals, and their use. Some products that are not recommended include: sprays that you spray directly on your iguana, calcium that is mixed with gravel for the cage bottom, vitamin pills for entire ingestion and solar 'drops' that are supposed to replicate the vitamin D3 sunshine provides naturally. (Sunshine provides your reptile with essential Vitamin D3, which is discussed under lighting
To date, since there are no documented studies on specific requirements for any lizard species, there are no recommended amounts of vitamin and mineral supplements to add to your ig's diet. However, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common in iguanas. This can be due to a marginal diet, insufficient natural lighting, or a heightened requirement due to egg production. So why not add lots of vitamins?
Because calcium and fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can also be over-supplemented, leading to bone deformities, kidney failure and thyroid disease. To avoid over-supplementation, we suggest using natural sources (balanced diet and outdoor light in the summer months) as the best choice, with very moderate use of a multi-vitamin/mineral. The best way to be sure all is well with your iguana diet is to have him periodically checked by your veterinarian for signs of over or under supplementation.
Use a crushed human vitamin such as Centrum™ or generic equivalent, or a powdered reptile vitamin such as Herptivite™ or Reptivite™. You may want to invest in a small mortar and pestle for the grinding.
The only mineral we suggest supplementing with is calcium. Choose a powdered calcium carbonate (available at most pharmacies) or a reptile product such as Rep-cal without vitamin D3 (if your vitamin already has a healthy dose of D3).
Mix 1 part multi-vitamin and 2 parts calcium. Dose as follows, mixed in with foods, not dusted on top.
Hatchlings and juveniles: 1 small pinch per feeding
Adults: 1 full pinch per 2 lbs. body weight twice a week
Adult females: 1 full pinch per feeding from December to March
Groups: 1/8 tsp. vitamin/mineral mix per 3 lbs. Iguana/week.
A note on difficult eaters:
Some Iguanas may become "lettuce junkies" (consume lettuce to the exclusion of other foods) and must be encouraged to accept and feed on more nutritionally complete food items. In some cases, these iguanas will accept items that resemble lettuce such as spinach and beet greens and having done so, may be more accepting of other foods offered. Another method of accomplishing this task involves sprinkling the more nutritious items (cut up into small pieces) over the preferred lettuce leaves. In most cases, the iguana will feed on both simultaneously. With each feeding, the proportion of nutritionally superior food items should be increased and the amount of lettuce proportionately decreased until the iguana fully accepts a more nutritious variety of food material. At this time a vitamin/mineral powder can be sprinkled over the food items being offered to insure nutritional adequacy. Keep in mind that if such a product is used during the transition period, it may cause the iguana to boycott all food, including the lettuce, which would be undesirable.
Another note about diet change: it appears that many iguanas are attracted to red and yellow foods. The use of chopped up flower petals, particularly hibiscus or rose, has proven to be very helpful to help expand the diets for many of our patients.
Due to the high heat of their environment, iguanas need access to water at all times. It is false to consider that an iguana obtains all of his or her required liquids through diet. Water should be provided fresh daily and can be offered in a variety of ways.
A standing water source such as a filled ceramic dish should be available for total body immersion and/or drinking. Spraying water on plants and in the cage and allowing the iguana to lap up the moisture is another suitable strategy, especially for smaller iguanas.
In the wild, iguanas frequently swim or immerse themselves in water. The bathtub is a practical recreational area since swimming can be great fun to observe and provides excellent exercise for the iguana. Benefits of daily immersion include removal of stuck debris or fecal matter, maintaining overall hydration status (a key factor in maintaining kidney health) as well as keeping the skin loose which helps during shedding. The soaking also stimulates the iguana to empty his intestinal tract and bladder on a regular basis. The tub is thus a practical, relatively escape-proof "holding area" for the iguana while his enclosure is being cleaned. The tub should be filled so that its shallowest portion allows for submersion of approximately 2/3 of the iguana's body. Water temperature should be as warm as would be well tolerated by a human bather 83-85 F (28-29 C). Iguanas should never be allowed to swim in a chlorinated pool.
Ideally, iguanas should have as much room as possible to move around in. This can be provided by a large enclosure or a combination of caging and daily exercise.
A cage mate for an iguana is not advised unless the iguanas already know each other. Iguanas are not particularly sociable animals, and are quite territorial. The addition of a cage mate invites aggression and fighting.
Most owners of juvenile iguanas choose to house their lizards in an aquarium. This is an appropriate choice for small lizards, as they need to be escape proof, easy to clean and provide visibility both for the owner and pet. Since small iguanas are likely to get lost when released into the home, an enclosure of some kind is required.
Larger iguanas can be housed in a variety of homemade or purchased cages, or can be provided with a portion of a room (as long as the rest of the room is also safe for the occasional visit from a roaming ig), or their own room. Essential elements of an iguana's home are:
Safe materials for iguanas' cages can include Plexiglas, glass, hard plastic, wood and metal. The benefit of having a transparent material such as Plexiglas is that it offers light and visibility. However, using these materials to make a completely enclosed structure does not permit for adequate ventilation. Thus, we recommend at least three sides of the cage being made with wire or bars of metal, which your iguana will happily use for climbing.
A safe space
In the wild, iguanas are partially hidden in the foliage that surrounds them. This helps with predations, but also thermal and dietary vitamin D regulation. We suggest providing a place into which your iguana can retreat and be free from constant visual scrutiny. Supplying cardboard rolls (from toilet paper or paper towels) for small iguanas or cardboard boxes for large iguanas can provide visual security. Optimum visual security can be provided, however, by strategic placement of artificial plants. Silk plants are aesthetically pleasing, easy to clean and maintain. Your pet iguana will eat real plants or trees. If you are willing to upkeep them, chose carefully as some plants are toxic. Some safe plants include pothos, wandering jew, spider plants, ficus, and hibiscus.
Your iguana should have enough room to walk, turn around, and climb. The height of the cage should be at least one and a half times his or her total length, and equally wide. If possible, increase the length of the cage to three or four times his length. The overall rule is, the bigger the better. If space relative to your growing iguana is limited, provide daily exercise by letting him or her out daily to roam and climb. An iguana that is restricted in movement may become depressed and ill.
Young iguanas spend more time on the cage bottom, similar to their wild counterpart that live close to the ground. However, adult iguanas love to climb and seem to search instinctively for the highest point in their cage. It is thus important to provide a high vertical space as well as a suitable tree like structure. This can be accomplished by installing diagonal branches for climbing. Use branches of different diameters, with the highest branch being at least as wide as your iguana is at his or her widest point. This will provide a 'perch' that he can easily rest on for a portion of the day. The higher branches should be placed more horizontally for comfortable resting. This is also an ideal spot to install a shelf-like structure that can be used for basking and resting.
The best substrate for use in covering the cage bottom is clean newspaper, or butcher paper. Paper towel squares can also be placed end to end in order to cover the entire bottom of the enclosure. When one of the squares becomes soiled, it can be easily removed and replaced without disturbing the entire floor of the enclosure. The next best substrate would be indoor-outdoor carpeting or Astroturf. Carpet can be cut into sections such that a soiled section can be removed for easy cleaning.
Under no circumstances should pea gravel, corncob material, wood shavings, sand kitty litter, or sawdust be used. None of these items promote adequate cleanliness and they can be ingested while the iguana is feeding, resulting in intestinal impaction.
A large proportion of the bacterial and fungal diseases of captive reptiles result from their daily exposure to fecal contamination of a damp, dirty environment. It is vital that the environment provided for a captive iguana remain fastidiously clean and dry (aside from the daily spraying, which should dry within a few hours). Any objects that become soiled with fecal material and/or urinary products should be removed and cleaned or be replaced as soon as possible.
Set up your iguana cage so that it can be easily cleaned- i.e., make the enclosure functional rather than beautiful. Dishes should be securely attached, within easy reach and unbreakable. After removing soiled papers and left over foods, the cage can receive an overall spaying with fresh water to remove other debris. If your iguana has not soiled his cage there is no need to disinfect it daily. Dishes should be washed daily with hot soap and water and rinsed thoroughly, or run through the dishwasher. Food that is not eaten should be removed at the end of the day.
We recommend weekly disinfecting with a non-toxic disinfectant such as Chlorhexidine soap (one brand name is Hibitane) or a solution made of 1 part bleach to 20 parts of water. The iguana should be removed from his or her cage during this cleaning (bath time) and the cage should be rinsed several times after disinfection.
A word of caution:
Reptiles are highly susceptible to intoxication from pine oil cleaners such as Pine Sol and Lysol. These household cleaners should be strictly avoided.
Focal heat Source
All reptiles require an increase in the environmental temperature in order to raise their body temperature. This increases their metabolic rate, a process essential for adequate digestion and increased activity level. In the wild, basking in direct sunlight is the usual method by which reptiles achieve this goal.
The optimum environmental temperature during the day should be 85°F to 95°F (29° C to 35° C). This temperature may be allowed to drop to 75°F (24 °C) at night. A thermometer should be present in the cage so that the actual temperature can be known and regulated. The thermometer should be placed at the level or levels where the iguana spends most of his time. Remember, the temperature on the floor of the cage may differ greatly from the temperature near the top.
Overall cage heat can be provided with heat tape, a heating pad under the cage, and/or a heating lamp such as a ceramic lamp over the cage (these get very hot- make sure they are out of the physical reach of your iguana). A localized heat source can be provided by a cloth covered "hot rock." The iguana has the option of lying on this object (totally or partially) to receive heat it generates or to boycott it altogether. Care must be taken to assure that this appliance is functioning properly. Malfunctioning hot rocks frequently result in serious thermal injuries.
Ultraviolet B light: Sunlight & Artificial Light
The ultraviolet B (UVB) component of sunshine (290-320 nm) is known to induce Vitamin D3 production in many species including reptiles. It is imperative that iguanas receive direct exposure to these wavelengths of light in order to synthesize vitamin D3, a hormone essential in the absorption and assimilation of dietary calcium.
Dietary supplementation of vitamin D3 does not appear to be as safe or complete as providing some dietary vitamin D3 coupled by daily UVB radiation. Excess dietary supplementation with vitamin D3 can be toxic, causing kidney damage. Naturally formed vitamin D3 from exposure to UVB radiation can never reach toxic levels.
Some research to date on various reptile species provides information on the amount of UVB radiation reptilian species might receive in their native environment. From this research, guidelines can be established for captive held animals.
In summer months (in Canada, April through September), the sun is strong enough to produce the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol in iguana skin to a biologically useful form of vitamin D3. When the temperature permits, placing your iguana outdoors on sunny days for a period of at least two hours, especially near midday, can provide adequate Vitamin D synthesis. Since glass and plastic cut UVB waves, set your iguana up in a screen or wire enclosure while being exposed. Remember to always provide a shaded area during this exposure time as iguanas can and will burn. As well, never use glass enclosures as they will overheat and can cause heat stroke or death if your iguana is left in direct sun.
UVB rays are absent from the sun that reaches above the 40-degree latitude mark for most of October through March. An alternative to direct sunlight is an artificial UVB light source.
We suggest a installing a fluorescent fixture housed with UVB emitting tubes over your iguana's enclosure. Some trusted brand names of UVB bulbs that can be used year-round include Zoomed's™ 5.0 reptile light, or Reptisun™ 5.0.
A word of caution: many bulbs exist. Some say 'full spectrum' or 'whole spectrum lighting', others are plant lights designed to 'replicate' the sun. Not all bulbs are created equal. Remember that UVB rays are harmful and can cause burns. Some lamps are simply warm but provide no useful UV component. If you are unsure about a bulb, ask your veterinarian.
UVB bulbs should be situated outside of the cage between 8 and 12 inches above the iguana. Since the strength of the UVB decreases with distance, if the bulbs are placed much further away, it will take longer for your iguana to receive an adequate dose UVB from the exposure. Provide light as unfiltered as possible for maximum dose, i.e., shone through mesh or screen but not through Plexiglas or glass.
We 'loosely' recommend these lights be used for at least 2 hours a day. However:
- Some reptiles are known to auto-regulate their exposure to sunshine based on their metabolic needs, including Vitamin D requirements. As such, a gradient of UVB should be available to your iguana. If his or her entire cage is basked in light, there is no room for adjusting exposure, causing an unnatural and possibly stressful situation. Provide light at one end of the enclosure, ideally near the basking spot, and provide a hiding place as well.
- Excess UVB is as detrimental as not enough. Watch for burns, squinted eyes, or avoidance of the light.
- Bulb efficiency decreases with time, so replace bulbs every 6 months or so.
- Ensure temperature requirements are also met. A cold iguana will not be able to use a light source for vitamin D metabolism.
Metabolic Bone Disease- Fibrous Osteodystophy
Symptoms of fibrous osteodystrophy include general listlessness, an enlarged, swollen lower jaw, difficulty in eating, and markedly firm, swollen limbs and tail. Unfortunately, the overall appearance of the desperately ill iguana is that of a well-fed chubby lizard for which veterinary care is not often sought until it is too late. Sometimes deformity or fractures of the back, tail, or legs are sustained and these problems receive more immediate veterinary attention. The animal may also be suffering from severe, sometimes irreversible kidney disease.
This common disease problem results from gross malnutrition. Most new iguana owners are not given proper information on diet
at the time of acquisition and some are, in fact, given wrong information. The most common mistake made is feeding lettuce (most commonly, iceberg lettuce) to the exclusion of other important dietary items. Lettuce provides adequate amounts of moisture, but is a nutritionally barren food otherwise. This dietary indiscretion is often aggravated by Vitamin D3 and calcium deficiencies, which results from inadequate exposure to direct sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light and lack of vitamin/mineral supplementation.
Treatment for iguanas suffering from metabolic bone disease requires the care of a competent reptile veterinarian. The prognosis is good if the condition is caught early, but becomes guarded to grave as the disease is more advanced. Therapy will include calcium and vitamin injections along with cage rest (fractures occur easily, so remove all climbing structures) and dietary changes, which may include initial force feedings.
Flaccid Paralysis of Rear Legs
Another disease resulting from malnutrition (vitamin B1 deficiency) has as its major symptom flaccid paralysis of the rear legs and tail. This problem is treatable with injectable B vitamins and dietary improvement. Rear limb paralysis may also result from mineral (especially calcium) deficiencies because fibrous osteodystrophy can afflict the spinal column. Injectable calcium is thus a necessary component of treatment.
Rostral Abrasions (nose ulcerations)
One of the unfortunate consequences of captivity is injury to your iguana resulting from repeated attempts to escape. Iguanas tend to push and rub their noses against the walls of their enclosures as they repeatedly pace back and forth. This constant trauma results in chronic ulceration of the nose (rostrum) whether the walls of the enclosure are made of glass or wire mesh. Rostral injuries may result in serious, even permanent deformities that may have long-term detrimental consequences for the iguana.
Prevention of this problem is difficult but the provision of adequate visual security (hiding places) and a larger living area can help to minimize it. Furthermore, a visual barrier of dark paint or plastic film placed on or along the lower 8 to 10 centimetres of the enclosure's walls often inhibit pacing and rubbing. Consider allowing your iguana, once large enough to find, a daily outing from his or her cage for exercise.
Serious burns often result when iguanas are exposed to and inadvertently touch unprotected heat sources within their enclosures. Overhead incandescent light bulbs and heat lamps are most often responsible for these accidents. Lights and other heat sources installed in the cage should be out of the iguana's reach or outfitted with protective device such as a grill to prevent burns.
Heat rocks, where the heat comes from below, can also become defective and burn your iguana where he lies on it. Touch heat rocks daily to be sure they are safe, and check your iguana regularly for signs of burns.
Chronic exposure to bacterial contamination from poor sanitation and hygiene is the most common cause of the bacterial infections that afflict captive iguanas. Blister disease results when an iguana is confined to a moist, filthy enclosure. The disease is characterized by the formation of blisters, especially on the underside of the iguana's body. These blisters soon develop into seriously infected wounds of the skin. Treatment involves aggressive antibiotic therapy prescribed by a reptile veterinarian to successfully treat this condition. Prevention involves returning your ig to a clean and dry environment.
Dry Gangrene of the Tail and/or Toes
Another manifestation of serious, systemic (body-wide) bacterial infection is dry gangrene of the tail and often the digits (toes). It is not uncommon for the dry gangrene to very slowly ascend the tail from its tip and for one or more toes to exhibit the same type of progressive problem simultaneously. The tissue involved is, of course, not salvageable. Your veterinarian may offer to amputate this portion, or it may fall off on its own. Affected iguanas can be spared further advancement of the disease process by aggressive antibiotic therapy and prompt initiation of strict hygiene and optimum husbandry.
Generalized bacterial infection of the mouth is often the result of malnutrition and a debilitated, weakened condition. Symptoms of mouth rot include swelling and inflammation and an accumulation of pus within the mouth, increased salivation, and difficulty eating. Treatment involves identification of the offending bacteria, usually through a culture and sensitivity of the material in the mouth, and institution of appropriate antibiotic therapy. Supportive care (administration of vitamins, fluid therapy, force feeding if necessary) is also essential for the successful outcome of these cases.
Bacterial infections may localize in one or more areas (externally or internally) sometimes resulting in abscess formation. Reptile pus is not liquid and possesses a cheesy, sometimes rubber-like consistency. Consequently, treatment of abscesses by a veterinarian involves opening up the pus cavity and manually cleaning it out. Antibiotics are then used both topically in the affected area and systemically by injection.
Bacterial diseases of reptiles require aggressive therapy (injectable antibiotics) to insure that the causative germs are eliminated from the body as rapidly and completely as possible. When therapy is delayed or insufficient, bacteria are allowed to proliferate unchecked throughout the body, resulting in internal abscesses. Antibiotic therapy at this point is much more difficult and much less successful. Your veterinarian in order to properly evaluate and monitor the progress of the patient and to prevent relapses may prescribe an initial and then periodic white blood cell count.
Parasites may be found externally (mites), within the gastrointestinal tract (worms, protozoa), and within the blood stream (malaria-type parasites) of captive iguanas. Parasites represent a significant burden in addition to the inevitable stresses of captivity endured by all pet iguanas, and should be treated by a veterinarian specializing in reptiles. Iguanas weakened by malnutrition and chronic bacterial infections are particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of parasites.
Mites are bloodsucking parasites that stress and weaken your iguana. They are visible to the naked eye as tiny, roving brown, red, or grey dots. The favourite places for mites to lodge themselves include the area around the eyes and nostrils where skin is thinner and there are small crevices to hide in.
Symptoms of mites include trouble shedding, excessive scratching, dark coloured spots on the skin, and simply seeing them on your pet or in the cage. In some cases, almost no symptoms are present, and then the mites are discovered. Mites do not generally parasitize humans, but they will wander from their host out into the environment to lay their eggs.
Treating the mites involves a two-pronged and aggressive approach: treating the iguana and treating the environment. The most important consideration is the state of the iguana's health. If he or she is already weak, a strong anti-parasitic treatment can be toxic. It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine how to proceed with the anti-parasitic medication than may be administered by injection.
As an immediate measure, you can help your iguana by giving him a shoulder high bath and carefully washing his face to remove as many mites as possible. Use small q-tips to physically remove any mites still clinging to his or her head. If your iguana skin shows signs of bites, an iodine bath is advised to disinfect the wounds and protect against infection: first bathe your iguana and then add a few drops of iodine until the bath water looks like brewed tea. Run a little of this liquid over his head, or use a wet Q-tip to wipe the area around his eyes and nostrils. After a 15-minute soaking, gently rinse your iguana and place in a dry and warm spot.
With the iguana safely set up elsewhere, set about cleaning the cage or enclosure. Purchase a pyrethrin pray from your veterinarian. Note: pyrethrin sprays can alter the colour of certain plastics. If you have not yet visited your veterinarian, all of the following steps can still be performed without the spray and will greatly reduce the number of mites in the living environment.
- 1) Remove uneaten food, the litter, bedding or other substrate, tie in a bag and remove from your home. If you had shavings that may have been the source of contamination, discard them.
- 2) >Boil or bake rocks, branches and metal dishes. Baking should continue for 2-3 hours at approximately 100 degrees Celsius. Watch for burning.
- 3) >Scrub down all other dishes, hot rocks and unplugged heating pads with soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and spray with a pyrethrin spray. Wait 10 minutes and rinse completely. Let dry, preferably in sunshine if available.
- 4) Carefully wipe down unplugged light fixtures with pyrethrin spray, rinse well, let dry.
- 5) Remove and wash carpets, drapes, towels or blankets used in the cage area. Use soap and hot water as much as possible, rinse well and dry items in the dryer.
- 6) Vacuum the entire area surrounding the cage. Discard the vacuum cleaner bag.
- 7) Any questionable items (porous) should be tied up in a bag and discarded.
Mites are tenacious but will die if they lack food or water, or if temperatures are excessive. Once your iguana is safely removed from his cage, we advise using standard cleaning and disinfecting techniques that minimize the use of toxic substances. We do not recommend the use of flea collars or pest strips, flea powders or flea bombs.
We suggest repeating the cleaning every 2 weeks for a total of 3 cycles to remove newly laid eggs from errant mites.
There may be no outward visible signs of intestinal parasites, however, we recommend you have your iguana's stool verified at purchase or adoption, even it all looks well. While they may not be life threatening, intestinal parasites weaken your iguana by hording essential nutrients, rendering him or her susceptible to other disease.
Some signs of infection include stool that is poorly digested or has a change in colour, consistency or odour. On a rare occasion, a worm may be seen in the stool itself.
A fecal sample can be taken to your veterinarian for testing. However, if the result is positive the iguana will have to return to be weighed, verified and dosed appropriately. Since different parasites require different medications, this process should be undertaken with careful supervision by your veterinarian.
Failure of vital organs often accompanies advancing age, but may also be a consequence of certain metabolic diseases (i.e. gout) and severe, unchecked bacterial infections. Blood samples allow evaluation of vital organ integrity and must be collected on these patients. Treatment by a veterinarian is usually symptomatic and dictated by appropriate diagnostic testing.
Stones are accumulations of minerals that precipitate out of the urine and may form within the urinary bladder of iguanas. The affected animal may exhibit no symptoms at all or may strain during urination and act listless. If the stone reaches very large proportions, abdominal enlargement may be noted as well. Sometimes blood is noted in the droppings/urine of an affected iguana. An X-ray is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and abdominal surgery is necessary to remove the stone. Often dietary changes are necessary to help prevent recurrence.
Egg binding can be a life-threatening condition. It results when a gravid female is unable to ovulate or to expel one or more of the eggs residing within her reproductive tract, in spite of diligent efforts on her part to do so. This often occurs in the winter months, but can happen any time.
Symptoms of egg binding include colour change to orange, swelling of the belly in spite of lack of bulk elsewhere on the body, anorexia, diminished stool production, digging and appearing irritable, and finally lethargy and weakness as the eggs are not laid.
Causes of egg binding are many and varied. The main cause is that it is difficult in captivity to provide the ideal environment for egg laying: a soft earth like floor where the female can burrow. Indeed, iguanas will wait to find such an environment to their own demise. As such, some iguana owners build a nesting box for them to lay their eggs. This can be accomplished by purchasing a large enclosed litter box with a front opening. It must be filled approximately half way with wet sand and she must be able to climb into it.
It is important, however to consider other causes of egg binding. These include malnutrition (mineral imbalances especially), concurrent disease, mummification of one or more eggs, and large or malformed eggs. Gravid females require calcium to expel their eggs but are often no longer eating. Thus, waiting for your iguana to lay these eggs in a nest box can aggravate the condition while weakening your pet.
If you notice some of the above symptoms of egg binding or have not had any success with a nest box, it will be imperative to consult your vet for a physical examination and X-rays in order to diagnose the underlying problem. A veterinarian might elect a medical and/or surgical approach to relieve this serious condition, depending upon the individual circumstance. Since iguanas can lay eggs every year, a hysterectomy may be recommended.
NOTE: a female iguana does not need any exposure to a male to produce eggs.
Although iguanas do not shed their tail like some lizard species, fractures, dislocations, and other serious injuries to this relatively vulnerable part of their anatomy do occur. Care must be taken when an iguana is picked up- they should never be stopped or lifted by holding the tail. Indeed, the tail can be gently restrained at the base during manipulations if necessary. A veterinarian can treat soft tissue injuries according to their severity and can "set" and splint the tail if necessary.
Broken toes look broken: they will be deviated from their normal position, or be swollen and tender. An iguana's toes are even more vulnerable that their tail especially when the animals are housed within screened or wired enclosures.
It is very easy for toes and/or toenails to become entrapped in the wire mesh of these materials, resulting in fractures, dislocations, torn nails (with subsequent bleeding), and injuries to the skin and scales of the toes. These injuries are most likely to occur when attempts are made to remove a panicked iguana from its enclosure. Great care should be taken when removal of an iguana involves overcoming its grip onto the wire mesh of its enclosure. Twisting of the iguana's body against this steadfast grip often results in serious injuries to the feet and toes. A veterinarian should be consulted at once if such injuries are incurred.
The very sick iguana
If you have an iguana that is extremely sick, it is paramount you have him examined by a veterinarian who specializes in reptile care. In the meantime, do not force an iguana to eat or move. Keep him hydrated as much as possible, offering liquids (pedialite) by dropper in the mouth, sprayings and warm baths (hold up the head of a weak iguana in a bath). If he is cold, bring him slowly up to a warmer temperature. Only a warm and hydrated animal can withstand supplemental feedings and medications, so this important first step can be undertaken while waiting to see your veterinarian.
We strongly recommend that all newly acquired iguanas, regardless of age, be thoroughly examined as soon after acquisition as possible. Besides a complete physical examination, blood work-up and fecal (stool) examination should be included. The advantage of this thorough post-acquisition work-up is that current medical problems, as well as potential problems, can be identified and treated before they create serious problems for the individual. Creating a good reproduction of their natural environment and diet will save an iguana a myriad of health problems and ensure a long and healthy partnership with you, the person he or she depends on for survival.