EnRICHing the iguana/keeper relationship through accurate care information and compassionate re-homing.
HOW DO I TELL IF MY IGUANA IS SICK?
Wild animals do not show sickness or weakness. They usually will hide to escape predation until they can recover or eventually die on their own. By the time an iguana shows outward sign of sickness or lethargy, it's past time to give it veterinary care.
The best way to tell if your iguana is sick is to observe it daily and become familiar with what is normal. Be sure to review the article on ďWhat does a healthy iguana look like?Ē SHOULD I TAKE MY IGUANA TO A VET? There are some forms of illnesses that are more obvious than others. Itís true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As soon as possible, bring your iguana to a herp-qualified veterinarian. For help in locating one, click on the button on the left. During the exam, your vet will physically check for any outward signs of illness or injury. Donít be shy about sharing items of concern you have, or observations you have made. Bring along a fresh poop sample so a fecal check can be done. This will determine if any internal parasites are present. YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?
Watch your iguana poop. You can learn a lot about its health simply by checking its stool every day for consistency, volume and color.
Pinworms are very common and in low numbers do not pose a problem for a healthy iguana. You will not be able to see the pinworms in the stool, as they are present in the gut. The ova of the pinworms are excreted in the feces sample, which is then observed under a microscope. However, if you notice what looks like small birdseed in the stool, this may be a very heavy load of pinworms and that will be a health concern. Iguanas defecate about once a day. On occasion, they might not go a couple of days, and then resume their regular schedule. Pooping several times a day might indicate internal parasites. It is normal for the gravid female to defecate several times a day as the eggs fill up her body cavity. Also, as she gets closer to the time of oviposition, her feces will become smaller. She wonít be able to eat as much, so she wonít be pooping as much. Learn more about the female breeding season here. Iguanas defecate all in one go, similar to birds. First is urine, which is a clear liquid, then the urates which should be white and slimy, then the feces. The fecal matter should not be hard and pellet like. That could indicate dehydration. If your iguana appears to strain while defecating, or strain, but canít poop, this can be a sign of an obstruction, impaction, enlarged kidneys, or in the case of the gravid female, egg binding. These are all extremely serious health issues and require immediate veterinary care. By straining too much, it might prolapse its colon. You will actually see part of the intestine pushed out of the vent.If you see any red tissue protruding from the vent, you need to take your iguana to the vet immediately. Sometimes a male iguana will evert his penis from the sheath inside the cloaca. That is common, but if for some reason he canít retract it back in, this will need to be treated by a vet as soon as possible. Those delicate tissues are in danger of drying out and dying off. Keep any exposed tissue moist by wrapping or covering it with a warm wet cloth or medical gauze. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUSH IT BACK IN! More damage can result.
DOWN THE HATCH
Iguanas do not normally regurgitate their food, so vomiting could be the sign of a problem. Your iguana may have ingested a toxic substance. Write down anything you fed to your iguana in the previous 24-48 hours, especially unusual items or any flower. Also, make a list of houseplants you have that the free-roaming iguana could have had access to. Keep the local Pet Poison Hotline number handy. A non-emergency vomit can happen during your taming/socialization time. In an effort to get you to stop, your iguana may vomit or defecate. Somehow they know that will get our attention! Whoever said iguanas arenít smart obviously didnít have one!
This is commonly known as Metabolic Bone Disease. However, Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism is the correct terminology and it more accurately reflects the nature of the disease. For the sake of reading, (and my fingers on the keyboard) I will refer to it as SNH.
THE ROLE CALCIUM PLAYS
The iguanasí body depends on the proper balance of calcium to phosphorus in its blood for all of its metabolic functions. This includes muscle development and control; digestion; bone development and density; nerve function, and in females, egg development. If itís not getting the right food and UVB light to replenish its calcium stores, the iguanas body will pull calcium from the bones.
WHAT DOES SNH LOOK LIKE?
This in turn will result in soft bones, which will show up as curves or kinks in the spine and tail or even the jaw. Or the iguana will have what looks like overly developed muscles on the arms and legs, giving it a ďPopeyeĒ look. This is the bodyís attempt to support the weakened skeletal structure by reinforcing it with extra muscle tissue. Tremors are another symptom of SNH. Any kind of twitching, tremors or shaking, or spasms indicate that the muscles and nerves are not getting enough calcium to properly fire the electrical impulses needed for smooth muscle movement and coordination. By the time these symptoms become apparent, the iguanasí health has already been compromised. If caught early enough SNH is reversible.
One of the most common diseases of the captive iguana is renal failure due to kidney disease. It is a silent killer.
Outward signs of kidney disease are very subtle. The best, and sometimes only method of detecting kidney disease is through a blood workup. By establishing a baseline, and evaluating the initial values, your vet can tell if the calcium to phosphorus ratio is correct. Even so, there isnít enough research being done on captive iguanas to ascertain how much kidney function is compromised. A general guideline is to take the calcium value and multiply it by the phosphorus value. This composite should be in the 50-70 range. Too many times a blood chemistry test came back in the normal range only to have the iguana die of kidney failure.
This is why itís so important to bring your iguana to the vet soon after acquiring it and yearly checkups afterward.
If blood work reveals elevated levels of phosphorus, this could be an indication of kidney disease. As the kidneys work overtime filtering out excess phosphorus, they become compromised and begin to deteriorate. Soon, parts of the kidney will become necrotic and die off. It is possible to slow down the advancement of kidney disease, but there is no cure. Your vet might advise you to give a phosphorus binder such as aluminum hydroxide to absorb the excess phosphorus. Aluminum hydroxide comes in the form of a mint flavored, gel-like liquid given orally. Keeping your iguana internally hydrated by offering water daily will go a long way toward keeping its kidneys healthy.
Iguanas in the wild might be scrawny, have parasites and bite wounds, but they never have SNH or kidney disease. These are the top two health issues for the captive iguana, and are totally preventable with proper diet and husbandry.
Do not believe the misconception that an iguana will only grow to the size of its cage. This simply is not true. It is true that the iguana will likely be stunted from a too small of an environment. It will continue to grow if at a slower rate. Many people complain that their iguana is too aggressive. Aside from the personality of the iguana, and the lack of handling, the main reason an iguana is aggressive is being in too small of an enclosure. It is just too stressful and frustrating for any animal to be confined in substandard housing.
By doing your research before acquiring your iguana, you can provide it with a suitably sized enclosure and give it the right diet, lighting and temperatures. As a result, you will have a healthy, gorgeous lizard, which has thrived in your care, instead of a stunted, deformed animal that will never live to its full potential, and may have future health problems.