Care of the pet Iguana

 

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Biology

There are many Iguana species. The most common and popular is the green (or common) iguana (Iguana iguana).  This species lives in tropical and subtropical regions from northern Mexico to central South America. It is arboreal and it prefers areas with plenty of fresh water. 

Iguanas can reach lengths of 40-80 inches. The ventral cervical region presents a large flap of skin (the dewlap). They have a dorsal prominent crest of spines (longer in males). Male iguanas tend to be larger and have brighter overall coloration than females. The distinct color of males is especially pronounced during the breeding season. Both sexes have prominent pores arranged in a row on the underside of both thighs( femoral pores). These glandular structures secrete a waxy substance with which iguanas mark their territory and identify each other. As the males mature, their femoral pores are more prominent. Iguanas have sharp vision, smell and hearing. In their natural environment, iguanas tend  to bask by day on tree branches, often over water. When frightened or threatened, they usually drop (sometimes from great heights) into the water below. They are good swimmers. Iguanas defend themselves effectively by whipping with their tail and using their sharp claws and teeth. Iguanas mate in fall. The female digs in moist sand or soil, usually near the base of a tree, and deposits 25-40 eggs in January-April. The eggs hatch in about 90 days. The hatchlings reach sexual maturity in about 3 years. In some areas iguanas are used for food and are called  "bamboo chicken." 

The pet Iguana

Iguanas are very popular pets. They are interactive, bright and interesting creatures. Most Iguanas are easily tamed, especially if raised from early age. They recognize people and create individual relationships.
Husbandry
Iguanas are not easy to keep and require considerable care and knowledge. Most of the medical problems result from inappropriate husbandry.

They need an environment that mimics their natural habitat, the rain forest. The cage needs to be spacious, well ventilated and tall, free of sharp edges or strings. The vivarium needs to contain tree branches and high basking spots, a large container of fresh water, high humidity and temperature of 80-100 F. Heating can be done by using heating lights above the cage and undercage heating plates or pads. Humidity can be produced by placing a humidifier or sprinklers in the cage or by placing a heat source under the water container. Care should by taken to avoid direct contact with heat sources as they can cause burns. The cage needs to be very clean. A practical solution is to cover the floor with newspaper or similar material, which is changed daily. A natural UV light on top of the cage should be available at least for several hours a day. Artificial plants can add sense of security to the Iguana and are visually esthetic. 

Iguanas benefit from frequent bathes. Warm water bathing provide exercise, moisture and it facilitates elimination. Make it a routine.

Iguanas are territorial and crowded environment may produce mate aggression and consequent injuries. 

Iguanas are herbivorous. They may occasionally consume small animals or insects, however most of their diet consists of leafy plants. Diet traditionally is a very important factor in Iguanas life. Feeding nutritionally rich vegetables is crucial. Some of the recommended vegetables are: broccoli and its leaves, Swiss chard, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, beet, collard, mustard and turnip greens, carrot tops, dandelions, rapini and rose petals. Iguanas should be fed daily and the food should be fresh. You may sprinkle vitamin and mineral supplement (Reptical and Vita-Life, Terra-Fauna Products, Mountain View, CA 94042, Reptovite, Verner's Pet Products, Long Beach, CA 90807, Nekton-Rep) on the food every three days or so.

Common health problems

Metabolic Bone Disease (Fibrous Osteodystrophy) One of the most common disease of captive iguanas results from bad husbandry. low humidity and improper diet contribute to this disease. Signs  include general listlessness, an enlarged, swollen lower jaw, difficulty in eating, soft cranial bones, spontaneous fractures, swollen limbs or tail. These problems should receive immediate veterinary attention. 
Paralysis of the Rear Legs 
This condition may result from vitamin B deficiency or spinal fractures. The Iguana cannot move it's hind legs and drags them. It requires prompt medical care. 
Nose Abrasions
These are injuries resulting from repeated attempts to escape. Iguanas tend to push and rub their noses against the walls of their enclosures and injure it. Nose injuries may result in serious long-term problems. Providing adequate space and environmental conditions as well as visual security (hiding places such as artificial plants, branches and rocks) helps to minimize it. A visual barrier of dark paint or plastic film placed on or along the lower 4 inches of the enclosure's walls often inhibits pacing and rubbing. 
Thermal Injuries
Serious burns often result when iguanas contact unprotected heat sources within their enclosures such as light bulbs and heat lamps. Heat sources should be placed outside the cage or outfitted with a protective device to prevent burns. 
Skin Infections
Poor husbandry, sanitation and hygiene is a common cause of skin bacterial infections in captive iguanas. The disease is characterized by skin dark spots or areas of discoloration, or blisters (especially on the underside aspects of the body). Aggressive antibiotic therapy is necessary.
Dry gangrene of extremities
Dry gangrene of the tail and often the toes may develop due to dry environment and poor nutrition. The dry gangrene presents as dry, hard dark discoloration of the extremity. It usually starts at the tip and progresses up the tail or the toe towards the body. Iguanas may also have tail injuries as a result of frequent whipping, which damages the blood vessels and lead to death of the tissues.
Mouth Rot
This disease is characterized by  inflammation, wounds and accumulations of pus within the mouth. It can progress rapidly and cause difficulties in eating. It is treated with antibiotics and daily topical disinfection.
Abscessation
Iguanas frequently develop abscesses under the skin and in the oral cavity. It is the most frequent cause of lumps and bumps. It is believed that bacteriae in the blood end up creating these localized infections. Poor husbandry is to blame. Abscesses require surgical intervention and systemic antibiotic therapy.
Internal parasites
Gastrointestinal parasites are common (worms, protozoa). Sometimes parasites are found within the blood (Protozoa) of captive iguanas. Iguanas weakened by malnutrition and chronic bacterial infections are particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of parasites.
External parasites 
Skin mites are extremely common in Iguanas. They cause discomfort, skin lesions and sometimes anemia. The Iguana as well as the environment should be treated. 
Bladder stones
Minerals in the urine may precipitate and form stones within the urinary bladder of iguanas. Excessive calcium may cause the disease. Often the Iguana continues to strain and may have blood in the urine. Radiographs (x-ray) are necessary to confirm the diagnosis. The stones are removed surgically.
Egg binding 
Egg binding is the inability of the Iguana to lay eggs and it is a life threatening condition. Iguanas produce and lay eggs whether fertile or not. Lack of activity and improper environment and nutrition contribute to this problem.  

Veterinary care

A thorough initial examination is the cornerstone of a health care program for the pet iguana. All newly acquired iguanas, regardless of age, should be thoroughly examined by a knowledgeable veterinarian as soon as possible. Besides a complete physical examination, a blood workup and stool examination should be done. The veterinarian will discuss specific issues of husbandry regarding your Iguana.

Public health

Iguanas can carry salmonella. A bacteria that can cause serious illness in people. Care should be taken to ensure good hygiene and frequent hand wash with disinfectant soaps. [Back]
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