Care of the pet Iguana
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
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.
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
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
One of the most common disease of captive
iguanas results from bad husbandry. low
humidity and improper diet contribute to this disease.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
mites are extremely common in Iguanas. They cause discomfort, skin lesions and
sometimes anemia. The Iguana as well as the environment should be treated.
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.
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.
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.
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