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Iguana Veterinary Care and Husbandry

Iguanas are one of the most popular reptiles purchased from pet shops today. This animal can grow anywhere from 4-6 feet in length, reaching a maximum weight of 10-15 pounds. On average, they live 12-15 years in captivity, however they can live up to 20 years if taken care of properly. Iguanas come from a hot and humid environment, therefore, they are more active during daylight hours. They can become territorial and will not hesitate to use their strong and powerful jaws, nails, or tail.

Indoor Housing
A juvenile iguana can reside in a 30-50 gallon aquarium, however, their rapid growth will cause them to outgrow this enclosure within a few months. Enclosures come in many different sizes, shapes, and styles and are made out of wood, glass, or plexiglass. The substrate should be easy to clean to help you out. Newspaper works well and is most cost efficient, however, artificial grass, indoor-outdoor carpeting, or linoleum are excellent choices as well. Avoid sand, soil, and bark, as these substrates can lead to obstruction or impaction if your pet ingests them. Shallow food and water dishes should be provided, and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least twice a week. It is also important to provide your iguana with climbing materials such as branches, pieces of bark, rocks, broad limbs, or drift wood.

Iguanas need water to survive and should have it readily available. Iguanas obtain most of their water intake through the plant matter they consume, however, some iguanas enjoy drinking out of water dishes, or lapping water off leaves or wood in the cage. Misting your iguana and it’s environment daily will help keep it hydrated and provide it water droplets to drink. Some iguanas who are provided water dishes may train themselves to eliminate in their water. Their dishes need to be regularly and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to prevent internal bacterial infections.
Bathing your iguana is another good way for your friend to obtain water, and is a good habit to get your lizard used to. Bathing should be offered in shallow, lukewarm water, 2-3 times weekly. Always supervise your iguana to prevent any accidents. Remember, not all iguanas enjoy bath time. Some will swim around and enjoy it, others will panic.

Outdoor Sunlight
Iguanas need to be provided with exposure to natural sunlight for at least 5-10 hours per week. When possible, iguanas should spend daylight hours outside in a sunny location. When choosing an outdoor cage for your pet, a couple of things should be kept in mind. No wild animals, or cats or dogs, should be able to break into the cage, and your pet should not be able to escape. A wire mesh cage with a sturdy frame works well. Glass should be avoided at all costs as the glass can develop lethal temperatures even on cool days. Of course, don’t forget to provide food and water to your little friend in it’s outdoor enclosure.

Iguanas need frequent and regular handling to help tame them. Iguanas can learn to show affection to those who own them and handle them frequently. Juveniles should be held at least 2-3 times daily for approximately fifteen minutes. Stroke the back and neck while holding, and get your iguana accustomed to picking them up and handling them. IGUANAS CAN BE TERRITORIAL AND AGGRESSIVE BY NATURE. ALWAYS USE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN HANDLING ANY IGUANA.

Iguanas are herbivores and should only be offered a variety of fruits and vegetables. There is ample information available that states iguanas should be fed protein, however, protein in the diet can lead to kidney failure, metabolic bone disease, and eventually death if fed over the years. The bulk of the diet should be compromised of dark, leafy green vegetables, such as, collard greens, mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens, escarole, spinach, and kale. Iceberg lettuce should be avoided as it offers no nutritional value and iguanas can become hooked on it, refusing to eat other foods. Other vegetables that are good to offer include green beans, green peppers, frozen mixed vegetables, squash, and fruits, such as, bananas, apples, mangos, papaya. Iguanas should be fed on a daily basis, after their lights have been turned on and the iguana has had a chance to warm up.

Lighting and Heating
Temperature plays an important role to your iguana’s long term and overall health. Iguanas are cold blooded and do not possess the ability to regulate internal temperatures, so they rely on their environment. Iguanas regulate their body temperature by basking in temperatures above 85 degrees, sometimes as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Daytime temperatures should range between 85-95 degrees with a basking point of 110-115 degrees. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 70-75 degrees. Iguanas should be provided fourteen hours of daylight, and ten hours of night light.
So how do I achieve these heat requirements? There are many products on the market today. The simplest is a basking light. A 60-100 watt incandescent bulb is a radiant source of heat, and is adequate since they are basking animals. An Ultraviolet light, such as Vita-Lite or Duro-Test, available at your local pet store, helps provide heat and aids in the conversion of vitamin D. A UVB fluorescent tube light can also be provided. Heat pads, hot rocks, and heating tape are sold at most pet shops, however, observe extreme caution when using these products. These products have potential to malfunction, causing extreme burns to your iguana, that can potentially prove fatal. Also, these products don’t provide the adequate heat necessary for the required temperature for your iguana.

Common Problems
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Metabolic bone disease describes most disorders that cause a weakening of the bones or impaired functioning of the body’s organs. It is caused by an imbalance of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D3. Proper diet and temperature ranges will help prevent MBD. Symptoms of this disease include swelling of the lower jaw, curvature in the tail or back (‘S’ shaped), the lower jaw may be smaller than the upper jaw, and radiographs will show thin, brittle, curved bone structure. Metabolic bone disease is best avoided with proper diet and correct temperature ranges in the iguanas environment.

Kidney Failure
Kidney disease is common in captive iguanas due to poor diet and lack of water or humidity. External signs are anorexia, weight loss, swollen abdomen, dehydration, loss of muscle tone, and eventually lack of elimination. However, your iguana may not show any signs, and act healthy even two weeks before kidney disease turns fatal. Your veterinarian can check blood levels of the phosphorous and calcium in your iguana to try to prevent kidney failure. If caught early enough, treatment would consist of diet and environment improvements. Fed properly on a plant-based diet, access to water and frequent misting helps prevent kidney failure.

Iguanas are susceptible to both internal and external parasites. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism.

Internal Parasites
Internal parasites are more difficult to diagnose. They produce microscopic eggs which pass through your iguanas feces. Fecal exams should be performed routinely for newly acquired reptiles. The specimen provided should be fresh, within 24 hours, and needs to be refrigerated to prevent fecal matter from drying out. A negative finding on a fecal exam means, NO PARASITES DETECTED IN THE SAMPLE SUBMITTED. It does not necessarily mean your reptile is free of parasites. It is a good idea to test a few times with negative results in order to ensure your iguana is without parasites.

External Parasites
Mites are blood sucking organisms that may be bright red, black or dried blood in color. Generally they can be found roaming the body, tucked under the edges of scale around the eyes, ears, or tympanic membrane. Mites are microscopically small in most cases and can be difficult to get rid of. Mite treatments sold at pet shops are generally ineffective. There is no easy way to rid your reptile and its environment of mites. The environment and reptile both must be thoroughly treated. Remove all substrate and treat all items in the enclosure. Boil rocks, bake wood, and bleach bowls and the cage. The reptile must be soaked in warm water with mild soap. Any further problems should be reported to your veterinarian.