EnRICHing the iguana/keeper relationship through accurate care information and compassionate re-homing.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HEALTHY IGUANA
Whether it’s a hatchling or an adult, there are certain items to look for in a healthy iguana.
Overall it should be well fleshed out. It’s good for the iguana to have fat stores in the hips, thighs, and at the base of the tail. Too much fat is not good either, but it should not have a bony appearance. Hatchlings are always a bright green. As they become a sub adult, they lose most of the bright green and take on their adult colors. Depending on the country of origin, the adult green iguana might actually be a “bronze” color and the green can be either dark or light. Typically the brighter green iguana will have yellow eyes.
Whatever the natural color, it should be uniform in appearance. All green iguanas have alternating darker and lighter bands that run down the length of the tail. There might be a black band at the shoulders and hips, and there are always black stripes that come up from the belly.
The eyes should be clear and free of discharge. A healthy iguana is alert and notices what’s going on in its environment. The eyelids can be half closed in a relaxed state, or fully opened. Hatchlings will many times have an “eyes wide open” expression that makes them look nervous or scared. This is actually normal, because they are nervous and scared.
The inside of the mouth should be pink and free of discharge. By gently but firmly grasping the dewlap just under the chin and pulling down, this will force the iguana to open its mouth.
Be absolutely certain the iguana is tame before putting your finger by its mouth! Or have the current owner perform this for you.
Do not pull or grasp the dewlap anywhere but just under the chin. A fine bone called the hyoid controls the dewlap. Rough handling of the hyoid can damage it.
Inside the mouth you will notice that the teeth run along the jaw. There might be a small amount of saliva, but there should not be large stringy ropes of saliva. Nor should there be any kind of thick or cheesy substance at all. The tongue should move freely in and out of the mouth. Take time to watch the iguana in its environment. He should be flicking his tongue out of the mouth and touching various surfaces. This is also normal. Notice that the end of the tongue is bifurcated, similar to a snake. On the roof of the mouth is the vomernasal (Jacobson’s) organ. When an iguana flicks her tongue out, she’s picking up scent molecules that are then rubbed against this special organ. Although not as sensitive as a snakes’, this is where the scent molecules are analyzed. Iguanas can remember scents and know if another iguana has been in the area.At the base of the tongue is the opening to the esophagus. There is another opening that is covered by flaps of skin.This is called the glottis and it’s the opening to the airway. The iguana can control these flaps of skin to close up the airway passage when eating or swimming. Click here to see a video of Samantha’s glottis!
The nostrils should be clear of any matter. However, there might be a slight droplet of what looks like water just inside one or both nostrils. All of a sudden, the iguana will “snort” this droplet out in a spray. This is not only normal, but also an essential bodily function. Because iguanas don’t sweat, they excrete excess body salts through their nose via a special gland. It’s normal for a slight build up of salt crystals to form around the edges of the nostril. This can happen when an iguana goes off feed for a while due to breeding season or illness. When the iguana resumes normal eating, salt production rises slightly, and then returns to normal. A healthy adult iguana will expel salt many times through out the day. As a matter of fact, you will be wiping off those salt deposits from the walls of the enclosure!
Chronic nose rubbers might have scar tissue or lesions on the snout. Nose rubbing is a behavior where the iguana will constantly rub its nose against the cage. This is an attempt to escape the confines of its enclosure. Most of the time this is a result of housing the iguana in a cage that’s too small. Sometimes the front of the mouth will become misshapen due to the constant rubbing. Untreated lesions can become infected.
The jaw should be straight and uniform in appearance. There should be no bulges or abnormalities.
The iguana has external ears and there is a covering that looks like a piece of plastic. This is normal. It could be opaque, but it’s not going to be completely clear. There should be no tears, or abnormalities, or any discharge.
Iguanas have a third eye located on the top of its head. This remarkable organ is an actual eye with a lens and retina. Through the parietal eye the iguana can see shapes but not color. This third eye helps the iguana to detect predators overhead. It may also help with thermoregulation, and may even be involved with hormone production. The parietal eye looks like an oval pearl. It might be slightly raised, or it might be more flat against the head. As with the rest of the iguanas’ head, there should be no discharge. The lens covering is opaque and this is normal.
The flap of skin that hangs down from the chin to the chest is called the dewlap. The hyoid bone that controls it should be free of kinks or any swelling. It will be slightly curved when the iguana fully deploys it.
Obviously there should be no lesions, lumps, bleeding, sores or crusty wounds. However, during the course of an iguana’s life, there are circumstances that result in unfortunate mishaps.
All lizards have the ability to detach (autotomize) part of the tail in an effort to escape predation.The tail will regenerate, but not as a true tail. The regrown appendage will consist of muscle, tendons, blood vessels, skin and scale, but the bone will not regenerate. The “regen” will not have the banded coloring of the original either. It will more likely be darker, or lighter, depending on where the break occurred. If your iguana has a regenerated tail, it will present no health problems.
Fingers and Toes
Iguanas have long slender fingers and toes with long claws that are perfect for climbing up and down tall trees. Unfortunately, these are not adapted well to some types of enclosures. Chicken wire is especially harmful to your iguanas toes, more so as the iguana gets bigger and heavier. The weight of an adult iguana can be enough to cut and sever its toes as it climbs up chicken wire. Another common hazard to toes is unshed skin. This is true more often in the case of hatchlings. When the skin around the toe sheds, it might form a ring, if it's not entirely shed. This unshed skin acts as a tourniquet cutting off the blood supply. The end of the toe dies and falls off. This is totally preventable. Learn more on how to avoid this in the grooming section. While accidents happen, if the iguana you are thinking of buying or adopting has several of its toes missing, it can indicate a lack of proper care. Ask the current keep about the care history. It may have been the learning curve of a new owner.
If an iguana gets its claw stuck in a crack, its instinct is to pull itself free. Sometimes this can result in the sheath of the nail being pulled off. This exposes the quick which is rich in blood, causing a bloody wound. The nail matrix will grow back if it hasn’t been too deeply damaged. Sometimes the nail will grow back deformed. If the iguana has deformed nails, it probably won’t pose a health hazard. You will have to pay special attention to these nails as they might grow back curved under, or softer than normal. That could make them easier to pull off resulting in special care for the nails.
Back and Limbs
The spine should be straight all the way down to the end of the tail. Any kind of curvature or kink indicates poor previous care. It could also be a genetic malformation. More than likely, if there are serious curves, kinks, bulges in the jaw, or broken bones, it is a result of Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism. This is commonly called “Metabolic Bone Disease”, or MBD. Learn more about the cause, cure and prevention of SNH in the article under FAQ # 6.
If possible, watch the iguana defecate. He should be able to lift his rear legs up high enough to let the excretion exit the vent and fall. Iguana poop is dark brown and somewhat soft, yet holds its shape. It should not be dried out and pellet-like. That could indicate dehydration. Neither should it be loose like diarrhea.The urine should be more of a clear liquid and the urates should be white and “slimy”.
No iguana should be shaking, or have muscle twitching or tremors. This is not to be confused with the normal head bobbing that iguanas use to communicate. Iguanas do not shimmy their skin like a horse does to shake a fly off its rump. And iguanas do not tremble like a Chihuahua.
Take your time to closely observe the iguana you are thinking of buying or adopting. Ask to see veterinary records. Educate yourself before you take the iguana home. Especially when adopting an older iguana, it’s possible that it might have health problems that are unseen. This is the risk we take with the older iguana. Please don’t let that deter you from adopting an older iguana. Many are in desperate need of a permanent, loving home where it can live out its life, ultimately enriching the life of the iguana “kept”.