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Veterinary Care

Iguanas like all other pets need regular veterinary check-ups. They do not require vaccinations, however regular blood work-ups can detect problems long before the are visible to the naked eye. Iguanas like all other reptile pets are programmed to hide their weaknesses until they are almost beyond repair. This is a natural defense to protect them from predators in the wild. The weak do not survive and in the wild it is survival of the fittest. For this primary reason it is best to get blood work-ups at least every other year as well as fecal examinations.

Choosing a Good Vet

The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) maintains a listing of reptile veterinarians. The bad part is it is on the Internet. The good news is that most libraries offer free access for you. The address is http://www.arav.org and then look for the member listing. Select the state that you require and look for one in your area. Another way is to ask around. Pet stores, rescues, humane societies and herpetological societies all have experience with vets. You will hear many different suggestions, however be sure to listen carefully why people like them so much. Once you have picked a name, call and see if you can talk with the vet for a few minuets to feel them out. Some things you want to look at are whether or not they suggest a meat-free diet with a 2:1 Calcium to Phosphorus ratio, if they can speak with some degree of confidence regarding reptile and Iguana Husbandry, and if they work to continue their education into the field of reptile veterinary medicine. Be wary of anyone who claims to specialize in reptile care. There is no current certification for reptiles and therefore by saying they specialize in reptiles is a misrepresentation of themselves. Make sure you fee comfortable with the vet. You will want to create and maintain a long-term relationship with this person. Find out their payment requirements. Are they willing to do emergency work on a payment schedule? That is something that is very important to know in the beginning. If they wont, consider setting aside a few dollars every now and again to make a cushion for a rainy day.

First Exam

The first exam of your Iguana should happen shortly after you purchase it. The vet should perform a fecal analysis. This is to check for internal parasites. To prepare for this you will need to take a fecal sample that is less than 24 hours old. When you collect the sample, place it in a zip-lock baggie and put it in the refrigerator. Take it out just as you are leaving for the clinic. Consider having a blood screen to establish baselines. Calcium and phosphates should be looked and documented. Also be sure that they weigh your Iguana. This should also be done at each visit. If at all possible see if the vet can sex the Iguana as well, however remember that this is only possible after the Iguana is about 2 years old.

Long term monitoring

Iguanas do not need much in the way of regular health care, however a yearly check-up is suggested. It helps to keep steady documentation of the growth and health patterns in your Iguana in case of future problems. It can also help with sexing and proper gender-specific growth issues. As the Iguana reaches sexual maturity and you learn the cycle that your Iguana goes in and out of seasons; you should adjust your yearly check-up to coincide with that cycle.

Is My Iguana Sick

After a while you should be able to pick up on basic health issues with your Iguana. You should watch to be sure that it is eating and pooping properly. You will learn what the consistency of the feces and urates should be. You will begin to learn how and when your Iguana sleeps. Iguanas are animals of habit. Any variation from normal behavior should be noted and documented. Watch for extended period of change. If they do something to an extreme for more than a week you should contact your vet as soon as you can.


Diet

In human terms, Iguanas are vegans. This means no animal by-products what-so-ever in their diet. This includes things that are made from/by animals (cheese, milk, eggs etc…) as well as insects. The food selection portion of this booklet is based on Melissa Kaplan’s ICFS (1)section on her web site. This base salad should be constructed of fresh, raw vegetables including at least one part one green and one orange vegetable, parsnip (for protein and color), a fruit (for moisture and color), and a protein supplement. This forms the foundation of the Iguana diet. Mix the salad portion with equal parts of a dark leafy green such as collard, dandelion or mustard greens. Depending on your Iguana’s age and health you will have to add a calcium supplement and multi-vitamin. Also there is no worries to over feeding your Iguana. If the bowl is empty fill it. Lastly, the smaller you chop the pieces the more your Iguana can pack into its stomach. So be sure to chop finely.

For the green vegetables, use green beans, snap peas or snow peas. Wash well, then steel knife in the processor or grate. Feel free to throw in carefully washed carrot tops occasionally. These tops can be steel knifed in the processor or placed in a bowl and cut with kitchen shears into small pieces. To vary flavor and smell you can occasionally throw in SMALL amounts of broccoli, bok choy, and brussel sprouts, or herbs like basil, cilantro or oregano. For the orange vegetable, select one of the orange fleshed squashes(2) (i.e. acorn, butternut and kaboucha). If you need to, microwave the squashes until they are just soft enough for you to peel and cut into lengths that will fit into the processor to shred. Sweet Potato and Yams may also be used occasionally. Carrots, while an excellent orange vegetable, do contain a certain amount of calcium oxalic acid. This is the same stuff that makes spinach bad. The levels in carrots are not as high, so the can occasionally be used in moderation. Also finely shred the parsnip. Other vegetables your Iguana may enjoy that can be used in small amounts along with the above are the occasional taste of mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, other root vegetables, cactus pad, star fruit, asparagus, okra, and any of the summer yellow and green squashes (i.e. zucchini and cucumbers). For the fruit, raspberries, strawberries, papayas, pears, plums, mangos, apricots, cantaloupe, dates, grapes, soaked raisins, prickly pear cactus(2), and kiwi(2) are all good fruits. They should be steel knifed or finely chopped and then mixed with the vegetables. Figs are the highest in calcium with dried figs higher than fresh. Unfortunately, fresh figs are rather expensive unless you have a tree. Dried figs are available in grocery stores during the holidays, however the can usually be found in health food stores year round. Some owners have reported seed impactions in very young Iguanas with such high seed fruit such as figs and raspberries so be sure to soak any dried fruit well and alternate these two fruits well so that the last batch can properly digest. Protein is provided in the form of alfalfa rabbit food pellets, crumbled alfalfa hay, powdered alfalfa or pulverized alfalfa tablets. Alfalfa spouts are not a source of protein or any advantage to the dietary health of your Iguana. They can actually carry harmful levels of salmonella and should not be used in the diet. The pellets and tablets can be ground in a food processor (if your ears can handle the noise) or they can be ground in a coffee or nut grinder. However with the rabbit pellets, you may leave whole and mix with the salad. The moisture from the vegetables will soften them up.

Supplements

Vitamins are an important but unsure science of your Iguana’s diet. I suggest for juvenile Iguanas, one ground up Multivitamin (i.e. Centrum Complete) every week. For adults you may decrease the dosage to every other week. I also recommend Sugar Free Tums as a calcium supplement. Grind up the entire container and store in an airtight dish. For juveniles add a pinch every other day and for adults, sprinkle every 3-4 days. You do want to err on the side of less. Too much and it can be dangerous and the effects are hard to reverse. Be sure when adding the supplements, to mix in well and not just dust the top of the serving. Mix it in well so that you know it was consumed.

1 Melissa Kaplan’s web site, ICFS document and diet are all copyrighted. These items are used with her permission by the author. Permission was given in 1996. 2 be sure to skin first.


Heating and Humidity

The two factors that affect the health of an Iguana almost more then the diet are heat and humidity. Without these two items in the proper ranges, digestion, growth and overall health are affected. Basic Requirements There are two temperature levels in the enclosure. The basking level and the enclosure norm or gradient. Iguanas, as like most reptiles, digest by something called thermoregulation. To properly digest their food and stimulate their appetite, they need at least two different temperature levels. They will move from the warmer area to the cooler area and back again several times a day. The norm or gradient temperature level should be around 78 to 88. The basking spot should be around 88 to 93. Nighttime temperatures should be no lower than 75and no higher than 85. Humidity is another factor that you need to be concerned with. Remember these are tropical reptiles. They live in rainforests. Try to keep the humidity in and around their enclosure no lower than 60%. Maintaining Heat In the north this is a bit trickier than in the south. With our severe winters and summers, we really have no happy normal weather. One of the most important things we can do to maintain heat is to have enclosures with solid sides. If you have invested in a screened cage already, you can put plexi-glass or wood over the sides during colder weather. You may also use clear plastic such as shower curtains as well. To increase heat, you need to work with lighting and/or CHE’s. A good alternative to the super pricey basking bulbs that are “Made for Reptiles” are basic 100-watt bulbs. When using a bulb over 75 watts or a CHE, be sure to use a ceramic-based dome light fixture. The plastic ones WILL melt and can be a fire hazard. Using things such as rheostats (temperature control) and thermometers will help you get the right temps. There is no exact set up for all enclosures. It is a bit of guesswork to get the levels right: however once you do, it is easy to maintain. Maintaining Humidity Humidity can be easily maintained using a few simple methods. The most basic is to provide a humidifier in the room where the Iguana is kept and placing it near the cage. Be sure to get a cool air mist humidifier. Any bacteria that can live in the cool water will often die in the warmer air. Vaporizers can also be used, but remember that they put out warm water so please be sure to change it often and clean the unit well. A more direct approach is either bathing for a half an hour daily or misting with a squirt bottle. The daily baths can also help with cleanliness because you can actually train your Iguana to go potty in the bath as opposed to their enclosures. You may also get a towel soaking wet and place over exposed screening to drip-dry. Another option is to create a drip system. To do this, poke a few SMALL holes in the base of a clean milk jug. Place the jug with water in it on top of a small stack of newspapers. Throughout the day the water will drip slowly into the cage. This will work best when placed over a water dish.


Lighting

Lighting is a basic but needed item in Iguana care. It is often easier to set these items on a power strip using timers to automatically control the on/off times. This will provide a normal and set schedule for your Iguana. It will also make your life easier because you will not have to remember the lights day and night and try to keep a set time. Timers can be purchased for about $5.00 at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or other like stores. Fluorescent Fluorescent light is the one most over looked item in Iguana Care. The absolute basic requirement is the 1.1 UVB emitting lights. Most incandescent lights offer UVA however lack UVB. Iguanas need UVB to produce vitamin D. With proper production of vitamin D, calcium levels are better regulated. This should be on during all daylight hours at a minimum of 10 hours per day. It is best to place above a basking spot because the father away from where the Iguana can get at it, the less UVB can be absorbed. A few good products are Zoo Med’s Reptisun and Iguana Light and Durotest’s Vita-Light. These lights do not put out sufficient heat to be used as a heat source, however they are a necessary item. Also note that placing the enclosure in front of the window will not work in supplying UVB. Windows are made to keep up to 95% of harmful UVB rays out. Also by placing enclosures in front of windows, you can cause heat regulation problems. Too much sun and the Iguana can literally be baked. Drafty windows can make the enclosure too cold. Lights made for plants; fish, coral, offices and tanning beds also are not a good idea. They either put out too little or dangerous amounts of UV rays. When choosing a fixture, most any will work as long as it is the right size for the bulb. Avoid fixtures with glass or plastic diffusers however, since the diffuser will reduce the UV rays that you want your Iguana to benefit from. This is the one item that scrimping doesn’t save. Incandescent Incandescent or screw-in type bulbs are used to heat and brighten the enclosure. Regular bulbs work well during the day. They provide a good amount of heat and light. They are also very inexpensive. For nighttime, you can use red, blue or black bulbs. I personally feel that black bulbs are far less stressful to reptiles that need that extra heat boost at night because the put off such a low level of light. You can find 75-100 watt bulbs most anywhere. If you are using a CHE you may not even need these lights. CHE’s put off heat without any light.


Back to Care Main
Chapter 2: Choosing an Iguana
Explains how to choose a healthy iguana and where to go instead of a pet store.
Chapter 3: Getting Started
Covers Supply Shopping, short cuts, and setting up the home
Basic Husbandry
Vet care, Diet, Heat, Humidity and Lighting
Behavior
Behavior and Taming
Sexuality and Reproduction
Basic concerns dealing with the needs of male and female iguanas
Health concerns
Addresses health concerns for both human and Iguana