Veterinarians tend to be a little-used resource among iguana owners. There are indeed a growing number of veterinarians who specialize in reptiles and amphibians, and their help can sometimes be invaluable. Virtually no illnesses that your iguana may contract are easily cured without the help of a veterinarian. There are medicines and recommended dosages for herps, and veterinarians can prescribe them for your iguana. I highly recommend finding a veterinarian in your area long before you have a problem with your iguana. I also recommend yearly check-ups, because sometimes a veterinarian can spot a problem that you may miss. You can also call your veterinarian if you need advice. Most will be happy to talk to you on the phone about your iguana if you have a question.
In addition, I do not recommend that you visit a veterinarian that does not specialize in herps. If you do not know if any of the veterinarians in your area are knowledgeable about herps, check the Yellow Pages and make some calls. Often times the person you talk to at one veterinarian's office can refer you to another veterinarian.
It is very important to quarantine new iguanas, as well as all other herps. If you purchase a new iguana, it is possible that it harbors either internal or external parasites, or even a virus or other disease of some kind. It is a good idea to keep new iguanas in their own, separate cages until it can be reasonably determined that they are healthy. They should be inspected daily for external parasites, and even if none are observed for a couple of weeks, it is always possible that eggs are present somewhere and that they may yet hatch. If no external parasites are observed for about four weeks, it is pretty safe to say that the lizard is mite-free. You should also take your new iguana in for an appointment at the vet, because veterinarians are very experienced in spotting problems with iguanas and he or she might notice a problem that you missed. You should definitely take a fecal sample with you, so your vet can check for internal parasites. If any exist, the iguana should be treated and re-checked before it is introduced to your other iguana(s).
In general, you should quarantine any new iguanas that you may purchase for at least six weeks before introducing them to your established iguanas. During this quarantine period, you should check for both internal and external parasites, and observe the iguana daily to make sure that he or she is acting normal. Do not introduce any new specimens to your established specimens unless you are pretty sure that the new ones are healthy.
You should check your iguana daily for any strange physical appearance. One thing you should check for are external parasites. Iguanas do not have keeled, or "spiky", scales so they do not usually harbor many external parasites. (Also called mites.) But around the spines and head they sometimes do pop up. These mites will simply look like little bugs. They can be black or red. They must be removed as soon as you notice them. You can remove the ones you see by squashing them, but that is a very slow process as there may be hundreds of mites present, all laying hundreds of eggs.
If you do find mites on your iguana you must buckle down with your cleaning duties. Your iguana's enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. You may use a bleach solution (one part bleach to ten parts water) for disinfection, and you must rinse those areas thoroughly after cleaning. You must clean all branches, rocks, substrates, bowls and dishes. I then recommend first bathing your iguana to drown as many mites as you can right away. It will be impossible to get them all that way, as you cannot submerge your iguana for any length of time. But it is a start. You can then purchase a Pest Strip from your hardware store, home and garden store, or variety store. It will look like a yellow block of plastic. You should avoid direct contact with this substance. You can place it either inside or outside the iguana's enclosure, but make sure that, wherever you put it, the iguana cannot come into contact with it. If your iguana lives in a small cage, you might want to cut off a very small strip of it and place it in a margarine tub with holes in the top. You need not leave the strip in or around the cage at all times; rather, you could use it for a few days, then remove it, and then repeat the treatment each week for about a month. There is some speculation that even if your iguana can not contact the strip, the fumes it gives off are water soluble and could contaminate your iguana's water supply. Change your iguana's water frequently when using a Pest Strip, use as little of the strip as is necessary, and do not leave it in the cage at all times.
Another messy, but effective way to eradicate mites on iguanas is to douse them with olive oil. I use a kitchen brush type baster to coat their bodies with the oil. It is like a prolonged bath because it drowns the mites. If you use this method, be very careful not to get any oil into the nostrils. I stop using the olive oil when I get right behind the eyes. Because you are not coating the entire body, it is not 100% effective, but it has proven to kill large numbers of mites. I like to coat my lizards in the evening, and then bathe them in the morning.
Your local reptile veterinarian can diagnose internal parasites with a fecal sample. If your iguana is acting peculiar, typically not eating or acting lazier than normal, it could be due to internal parasites. They can take control inside your iguana's alimentary canal and steal away the essential nutrients that your iguana eats. If your veterinarian finds parasite eggs in your iguana's feces, he or she can prescribe medicine that will easily take care of the problem. If you have multiple iguanas and only one of them is diagnosed as having internal parasites, you should keep that one away from the others until the parasites are eradicated. Usually, if one iguana is diagnosed with internal parasites and it has been living in the same quarters as another iguana, both will be given the medicine. This is one good reason for yearly check-ups: sometimes you will not know if your iguana has contracted an internal parasite, but a quick fecal analysis will reveal it right away and treatment is rather easy.
Your iguana may sneeze quite often. In most iguanas this is a normal behavior. Iguanas do not sweat as humans do, so they do not excrete salt through their skin. Instead, they do it by sneezing. There is no need to alter the salt content of your iguana's diet if it seems to be sneezing a lot or hardly at all. If you house your iguana in a glass enclosure, you will find white spots on the glass. This is simply what your iguana sneezes out. It cleans up relatively easily.
However, iguanas can also contract respiratory infections. This can happen when your iguana is not breathing clean air, such as air surrounding a dusty substrate, and when it is kept in cool conditions. If your iguana breathes loudly, possibly with its mouth open, it might have a respiratory ailment and you should consult a veterinarian. Bubbles or liquid outside the nose and mouth can also be indicative of a respiratory infection. If you ever suspect your iguana to be ill, always keep it a little warmer than usual. (Still provide a temperature gradient, however. See Heating and Lighting section.)
Your iguana might at some time in its life lose part of its tail. In the wild, this serves as a defense mechanism against predators. If a bird or other animal grabs the iguana's tail, the tail can actually drop off and even wiggle for several seconds to distract the predator while the iguana gets away. In captivity, iguanas lose their tails only by accident. You should never grab your iguana by the tail because it will break off. Tails usually do grow back but they do not look like the original tail. In most cases it is a dull brown, has different-looking scales than the rest of the tail, and it never grows back quite as long as the original tail. If your iguana's tail does break off, you may try to keep the area clean but you should not have to do anything other than that. It should grow back on its own. But if you suspect that your iguana is having problems following tail loss, consult a veterinarian.
Thermal burns are relatively frequent for iguanas in captivity, mainly due to the use of "hot rocks". As is discussed in the Heating and Lighting section, "hot rocks"; are no longer considered by most herpetoculturists to be safe ways of heating your iguana's enclosure. Iguanas can also burn themselves on lights that are used for heating. Lights should not be placed inside the cage; rather, they should be positioned outside the cage so they can shine into the cage. Most burns are relatively minor and can be treated with a triple antibiotic ointment. If the burn seems to be very bad, you may wish to consult your veterinarian. In general, if your iguana is still acting normally (eating, pooping, etc.) the only thing you should concern yourself with is applying ointment to the burn. If you think the burn might be serious, if your iguana is still acting normally, it will probably be just fine. Never hesitate to contact a veterinarian, however, if you are in doubt.
Nose wounds are common in many lizards that are housed in cages that have wire or screen on the sides. If your iguana is unhappy with its cage, it may spend much of its time rubbing its nose against the sides, trying to escape. Some lizards rub their noses against the cage so often that their flesh is rubbed away clear to the bone. If your iguana is exhibiting this behavior, you might want to consider making some changes with its cage. Often times, this behavior is indicative of a cage that is too small, or one that is not tall enough and does not have ample climbing space. You must try to make your iguana as happy as possible, and if it is cutting its nose on the sides of its cage, you must make changes. As with general wounds, (discussed next) all you can really do to help your iguana's nose to heal is to keep it clean. If the abrasion seems to be very bad, you may wish to consult your veterinarian.
Wounds and Abscesses
Iguanas sometimes wound themselves with their acrobatic antics. Iguanas frequently break their toes and pull out claws when they leap through the air, and those injuries are not considered to be very serious. Iguanas can also break legs, however, and if your iguana begins to limp or begins to move strangely in some other way, it needs medical attention.
Iguanas can also get scratches. Usually, scratches are the result of contact with other iguanas, but they can also happen accidentally in other ways. If your iguana has a scratch, all you can do is keep the wound clean. You can use Betadine scrub, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. These do not need to be used at their full strengths, so you may dilute them with water. If the wound is very deep, you may wish to consult your veterinarian to see if stitches are in order. But generally, for minor wounds and burns, by keeping the area clean you can fend off infection and the wounds will heal fine.
Sometimes, what started out as a minor cut or puncture can turn into an abscess. Basically, this is just a pus filled, infected lump. If you ever find any lumps on your iguana, you must seek medical attention. In the case of abscesses, the lump should be drained and antibiotics should be administered. The sooner attention is given to abscesses, the better.
Most iguanas generally defecate every day or every other day. Others do so twice daily, and still others regularly skip two days. If it seems as though your iguana has not been pooping as often as it should, your first response can be to soak it in a bathtub with lukewarm water. (See Bathing section.) This action will sometimes stimulate iguanas to defecate within a few minutes or up to a half an hour or more. Another option is manual palpation. The abdomen of the iguana can be gently squeezed which can cause defacation. This should be done gently, and if you are unsure about performing this option, it is best if you consult an experienced iguana owner or a veterinarian. If your iguana refuses to defecate for prolonged periods of time, and definitely if it is not acting as it normally would, please consult a veterinarian. There may be a blockage within the iguana's digestive tract that needs to be removed.
There are a myriad of reasons why your iguana may be refusing to eat. It could be a psychological problem, physiological problem, or even both. One common solution to the problem is raising the temperature of the iguana's enclosure. Many people tend to keep their iguanas at temperatures that are too cool for them, and consequently, abnormal behavior ensues. Refer to the Heating and Lighting section of this booklet to find out if perhaps you are aiming for the wrong highs or lows, or if maybe your heating technique is not generally accepted. Many times, correcting the temperature will motivate an iguana to start feeding. In addition, most iguanas will eat voraciously in the summer months, and then slow down considerably during the winter months. If the weather outside is cooling off, your iguana might just be entering its own version of hibernation, where it cuts down on food intake until spring. (See Appetite section.)
If those things are not the problem, stress could be the culprit. Is your iguana's enclosure in a heavily trafficked area? Sometimes iguanas do not respond well to much human activity around their cages. You might try moving the enclosure to the corner of a room, or simply away from the most highly trafficked areas. This may reduce your iguana's stress levels. An improper photoperiod can also bother iguanas. (See Photoperiod section.) Do you keep the overhead light on in your iguana's room 24 hours a day? Iguanas need darkness at night in order to get enough rest and relaxation, just as most people do. Try to work the room that your iguana is in around your iguana. If something in the room bothers him, you must change it if you want a healthy and happy iguana.
Finally, your iguana might be ill. Internal parasites, external parasites, any kind of bacterial or fungal infection, as well as most other illnesses will cause your iguana to go off feed. As an iguana owner, you must begin to realize that commonly, the only symptom your sick iguana will present to you is food refusal. Once an iguana, or any reptile or amphibian, stops eating, there is definitely a problem at hand. Remember, anorexia (food refusal) is not a disease, it is a symptom of some other problem. If your iguana stops eating, you must immediately make some changes. If you suspect your iguana is physically ill, a veterinarian's assistance is usually all that can help. Please do not hesitate to contact one in your area. Sometimes, just a quick fecal analysis can pinpoint the problem and just two doses of medicine can get your iguana up and running again.
Similar to anorexia, lethargy in iguanas is a symptom of a larger problem. It usually accompanies disease. If your iguana seems listless, please review the nutrition and general care sections of this booklet. First, adjust temperature, lighting and diet, and if your iguana does not perk up, I recommend an immediate trip to the vet. He or she can almost immediately determine if your iguana is suffering from a disease related to hypocalcemia (calcium deficiency - see Metabolic Bone Disease section), and a quick blood test can tell very much about your iguana's health. Please act quickly with both anorexia and lethargy, as iguanas are very good at masking their problems. When a symptom becomes visible to you, any disease your iguana suffers from is probably in its more advanced stages. Luckily, most diseases can be completely reversed if caught in time and if a proper course of action is taken, and large doses of TLC (Tender Loving Care) and perseverance can help bring your iguana back to good health.
Metabolic Bone Disease
The most common nutritional ailment among iguanas in captivity is metabolic bone disease (MBD), or fibrous osteodystrophy. If you follow the diet and temperature guidelines in this booklet, your iguana should not suffer from this sickness. However, I would like to give you a rundown of what the symptoms of MBD are, so that you can spot them quickly.
When an iguana has MBD, it does not have enough calcium in the blood due to a calcium poor diet. When the iguana's blood cannot get enough calcium from the food it eats, it starts to take calcium from the bones. This results in the bones becoming soft. If your iguana starts breaking its bones easily, it could be indicative of MBD. However, there are other signs that usually develop before broken bones. One sign is a "crooked" back. If your iguana's spine seems to be bent, no matter what position it is in, it might be curving due to MBD. Another symptom is lack of toe use. If your iguana's toes twitch frequently (this is called tetany) or don't seem to be very strong, it could also be indicative of MBD. Perhaps the two most common symptoms are the swelling of the limbs and the jaw. If your iguana is appearing "muscle-bound"; in its limbs but it hasn't changed its exercise routine, it could be due to the body's attempt to strengthen the weak bones by surrounding them with a fibrous tissue. Iguanas' lower jaws can also become swollen or appear to be "caved in" when they get very weak. If the mouth does not close all the way, it could be indicative of MBD. Also, sometimes the jaw will appear to be normal, but be soft. A very gentle squeezing of the jaw can be done to tell if the jaw does not seem to be well calcified.
MBD is a reversible disease, especially when caught early. Your veterinarian will easily be able to tell if your iguana is suffering from MBD, and can help you nurse it back to health. The most common "cure" is simply a change to a better diet, more exposure to unfiltered sunlight, and calcium injections are sometimes administered.
Salmonella is a bacteria that is present in the gut of about 90% of reptiles. It usually lives there happily and harmlessly, just as its cousin E. coli lives in the gut of humans. As a matter of fact, many humans harbor small amounts of salmonella as well. However, salmonella in larger amounts, especially in the young and the elderly, can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. Therefore, it is important that you practice good hygiene when there are reptiles present in your household. After handling your iguana or items from your iguana's cage, you should always wash your hands (preferably with an anti-bacterial soap, but regular soap seems to work just as well) to prevent further spread of the bacteria. In addition, you should keep your iguana's cage clean and bathe your iguana on a regular basis to keep its skin free of debris such as feces which spreads the bacteria. Salmonella is not comonly transmitted from iguanas to humans, but it does happen occasionally. Many adults can fight off the bacteria without treatment, as many people generally think that they have a 24-hour flu. But young children and the elderly are particularly prone to becoming sick from the bacteria, and it can be fata. Therefore, it is extremely important that you make sure guests wash their hands after handling your iguana, and that you do the same, to avoid transmittance of the bacteria.
It is not usually necessary to treat iguanas for salmonella. Actually, unless there is a problem (salmonella in excess is simply an internal parasite; see Internal Parasites section) iguanas should not be treated for salmonella. It is best to leave the small amount of bacteria inside the iguana and simply practice good hygiene.
You must inspect your iguana every day for changes in its appearance or behavior. If it starts acting lethargic or stops eating, there is almost definitely a medical problem that must be addressed. Nutritional problems are reversible through change in diet. It is extremely important that you offer your iguana a varied diet to avoid nutritional problems. Physical injuries usually heal just fine as long as they are attended to. Overall, do not neglect your iguana. Even if you are extremely busy with work or school, you must take a few minutes every day to look your iguana over. It will help you spot problems, and it will also work to keep your iguana tame. Healthy, friendly iguanas can be great pets, so let's keep them that way!!!