Common Green Iguana Diseases & Health Issues

Rostral Abrasion (Nose Rub)

Caused by an agitated green iguana constantly rubbing his nose on screen mesh, branches and rough bedding. The cause is ALWAYS a result of inadequate housing/maintenance. Check with your vet to see if your cage is too small or poorly designed. Is your vivarium too cold or too hot, too bright, too dark? The only treatment is to find out why your iguana is unhappy. Fix the problem by experimenting with safe changes in your cage or maintenance. Early stages will only show a small abrasion on the snout. Extreme cases leave scarring or the whole front of the snout may be rubbed off down to the bone. Catch and confront this problem immediately!

External Parasites

This is rare in captive-bred green iguanas. However, the majority of imported iguanas do show some signs of external parasites. Always incubate and isolate your iguana before introducing him to other members of your iguana family. External parasites can harbor ticks, which imbed themselves in the skin. They can be removed by dabbing rubbing alcohol over the tick, then gently removing it with tweezers. Treat this infection with a tickicide or spray/powder containing pyrethins or carbaryl. Avoid the eyes, ears and vent.

Mites may be seen crawling on the surface of your hands after handling an infected animal. Untreated, mites will cause scale rot and lesions. An iguana infected may rub his eyes against the side of the cage or other objects. Treat this infection by placing a 1″ x 1″ piece of No Pest strip the cage for 12 hours 2 days in a row. Repeat in 9 days. Remember to place the No Pest strip in a small, enclosed container to prevent direct contact with the iguana. A small pill bottle with large holes bored into the sides works well! Gently rubbing vegetable oil over the green iguana’s body, legs and tail will help to suffocate the remaining parasites and preventing reinfestation. Do not cover the iguana’s eyes or snout with oil. Use common sense.

Internal Parasites

Imported iguanas almost always harbor heavy loads of internal parasites, including roundworms and pinworms. It’s usually best to provide your veterinarian with a stool sample from your iguana to check for internal parasites. Although some people can provide the proper worming treatment at home, we suggest you let your veterinarian handle this type of procedure. If your green iguana shows any signs such as loss of appetite, dehydration, weight loss, diarrhea or bloody poop, call your vet right away.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Now known as Secondary Hyperparathyroidism, this common disease is caused by lack of calcium. Causes may be improper diet and/or improper lighting. Signs include: soft lower jay, swollen jaw and back limbs, back deformities and broken limbs. THIS IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN CAPTIVE GREEN IGUANAS! Do not neglect their dietary needs! Treatment includes adjustments in diet and maintenance, as well as veterinarian intervention. If caught early, with proper treatment and care you may be able to stop the damage. However, any damage sustained is irreversible. This disease is most often fatal in the end.

Vitamin B Deficiency

Caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B-1. Signs include swelling of the limbs and skeletal deformities followed by paralysis of the hind legs and tail. You can cure this disease by administering B vitamins orally and adding brewer’s yeast to the diet. Injections of Vitamin B will quicken the healing process. Left untreated, your green iguana will suffer a painful death.

Respiratory Infections

Usually caused by improper temperature control in the vivarium. Signs include: Sluggishness, strained breathing, bubbly mucous around the nose and mouth, and a decrease in appetite. At this stage, your green iguana needs to be maintained at a temperature of 85-95° F to help fight off the illness. If symptoms persist, a trip to the vet for antibiotic injections is a must. Do not be alarmed by obvious white mucous sprays on the vivarium walls. Your iguana naturally discharges a salty liquid from his snout.

Lost Tail

This is less of a medical situation and more of a cosmetic annoyance to both the iguana and its caretaker. The main PREVENTION: Do not pick up or hold an iguana by the tail. In defense, he will let loose of his tail to get away. Allow your tame iguana to crawl onto you or pick him up with an upper body hold. An untamed green iguana should be held with one hand above the neck/shoulder area and one hand on the base of the tail closes to the body. Although the tail will eventually grow back, it’ll look little like a tail and more like a thin brown stick.

Veterinary Visits

Animals for Awareness cannot provide all the necessary information you need to keep and maintain a healthy iguana. We only briefly covered the more typical medical situations. To ensure your pet receives the best of care, take your green iguana to the vet for yearly examinations. If you are considering purchasing an iguana for a pet, ask your vet about what signs to look for in a healthy and unhealthy iguana. Reduce your risk of illness by avoiding “imported” iguanas (taken from the wild), and take your pet to the vet as soon as possible after you bring him home. Also, avoid tiny “hatchling” iguanas. These babies are very fragile and are difficult to keep healthy and alive. For a first pet, consider buying an older (6-10 inches) iguana from a private party. An iguana of this size is well established and may be easier to maintain if it’s healthy at the time of purchase.

Only your vet can determine the true health of your pet through blood tests, palpations and observations. Please do not trust your untrained eye when it comes to the health of your iguana. You may, however, trust your instincts when your reptile acts just a little differently than you are used to. This may be a sign for you to get him or her into the vet soon. Only you will know the true personality and behavior patterns of your pet. A reputable vet will trust your judgment and perform necessary tests even if your iguana seems “normal” to him on the examining table.

Green Iguana Habitat, Cage Housing & Environment

Cage

An all-glass aquarium is both convenient and practical for your green iguana. However, because of the rapid growth experienced in iguanas, do not start off with anything too small. Let your pet grow into his cage, then purchase larger cages as he develops. Hatchlings should start off in nothing smaller than a 29 gallon aquarium. A screen lid that fits tightly will provide adequate coverage. As your iguana grows, you may want to investigate purchasing a custom made enclosure made of wood and glass or wood and Plexiglas. Completely clean your tank at least once a week.

What’s that white stuff all over the walls of the cage? Don’t panic! It’s just salt! Green iguanas have salt glands in their nasal passages that allow them to sneeze out excess salt. The higher the salt content in the diet, the more discharge salt spray for you to clean! If you’re really feeding high salt, look for little rims of crystallized salt around the nostrils!

Bedding

Iguanas are basically clean animals. Figure out the “popular” spot for pooping and use a small container of sand or a strip of newspaper in that area for easy cleaning. The rest of the cage bottom can be covered with reptile bark (pet shop item), sphagnum moss, orchid bark, or cypress mulch. All of these substrates are highly absorbent and decorative. The only drawback to these are they can harbor parasites and are difficult to clean. Another highly recommended bedding for green iguanas is alfalfa pellets or rabbit pellets. At times of unexpected hunger, your iguana can and will safely ingest these pellets. Other people choose to line the bottom of the cage with Astroturf. Whatever you choose, make sure you clean the cage on a regular basis!

Iguanas are arboreal. They spend most of their wild lives in trees. Make sure you make his cage interesting by providing some sort of climbing branches. Many iguana owners let their larger iguanas out of the cage regularly. They’re usually found up on a window ledge sunning themselves.

Heat Source

A properly maintained vivarium will provide your iguana with several different climates necessary for maintaining a healthy pet. A tank should always include a hot rock, which may be purchased at any pet store. Your iguana will use this warm spot to lay on, which will in turn help him to properly digest his food. Your iguana needs to be able to raise his body temperature to a minimum of 88° F in order for his body to be able to extract and digest nutrients from his high fiber diet. A “spot light” or “basking light” should be used during the day to provide additional heat. This light will not only help to turn existing water into much needed humidity, but it will also give your green iguana a source for “sunning” himself and keeping warm. If the spot light is over a piece of slate rock, then a homemade heat rock has just been created. HEAT IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE LIFE OF COLD-BLOODED ANIMALS! Up to 85-90° F during the day and 70-80 ° F at night. You may use a regular household light bulb or a black light as the heat producer. At nighttime, you may use a ceramic heat emitter or black bulb to provide the heat without the bright light. Both may be purchased at most pet shops.

KEEP YOUR PET AWAY FROM ANY HOT BULBS. 

Your iguana will unknowingly lay against the bulb to the point of being severely burned! Since some hot rocks can get up to 110° F, you will want to cover it with a thin piece of slate rock to prevent direct contact by the iguana. Under the tank heating pads or heat tape may be more practical.

The Vita-Lite – The Vita-Lite is an absolute necessity for most, not all, reptiles. Your green iguana MUST have one! The rule of thumb: If your reptile’s diet consists primarily of plant matter, then provide him with a Vita-Lite! In the wild, your iguana uses the UV rays of natural sunlight to synthesize Vitamin D3, which is necessary for the absorption of calcium. The Vita-Lite provides the UV rays to convert Vitamin D into Vitamin D3. This is a full-spectrum light which cannot be substituted with fluorescent bulbs.

Be sure to provide your iguana with some climbing branches. This is particularly necessary for the green iguana to get higher up and closer to the full-spectrum light and heat source. In addition, it makes your vivarium even more attractive.

Green Iguana Food List: Diet, Water & Nutrition

Green Iguanas are primarily herbivores at all stages of life. This means that their diet naturally consists predominately of leafy plant matter. We stress the word naturally because as pets, iguanas are sometimes forced to experiment with other food sources such as fruits and table scraps, though they have little nutritional value for your iguana. It is your responsibility as an iguana caretaker to develop healthy eating habits for your pet. Be prepared to shred and dice the proper fresh food for your iguana on a daily basis.

Your green iguana’s diet must consist of greens and veggies that have a high calcium to phosphorous ratio (2:1) in order for calcium absorption to take place and to prevent the most common life-threatening disease in iguanas, known as Metabolic Bone Disease, or Calcium Deficiency. The updated name for this disease is Secondary Hyperparathyroidism. The following foods are recommended for your pet iguana: Broccoli (cooked), mustard greens, spinach leaves, collard greens, kale and dandelion leaves. All of these should be purchased from a reputable grocery store and not picked from your back yard. The latter could contain pesticides and pollutants such as salts, antifreeze, and oil. Always wash the greens very well before feeding them to your iguana.

Juvenile iguanas up to 2 1/2 years old require daily feedings of finely shredded and chopped food. Older iguanas may be fed a diet of coarsely chopped food every other day. The key is to offer a healthy variety of foods!

Basic iguana diets should contain 90% plant matter. Calcium rich plants include: Collards, mustards greens, dandelions, bok choy and kale (only small amounts), swiss chard, green beans, beet greens, and turnip greens. Other vegetables: Frozen mixed vegetables (thawed), shredded squash and zucchini, grated carrots, avocado, and peas. (Members of the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts should be fed sparingly since they may cause thyroid problems if fed frequently in great quantities). You may offer small amounts of fruit weekly just for variety. Calcium rich fruits include: Fresh or dried figs, raspberries, and papaya. Others include: Melon, apples, plums, bananas (with skin), grapes, tomatoes, peaches and kiwi. Remember to chop all food to a size appropriate for your green iguana. Other food sources which may be fed in small amounts are: crickets, mealworms, and cooked chicken that is finely chopped.

So why is it that so many pet stores and iguana owners insist on feeding iguanas inappropriate foods such as canned dog food? Well, it’s simple. They don’t know any better. But this is where it stems from: In some parts of the country iguanas are raised for human consumption (eew). So, the iggy farmers must get their “herd” of iguanas big and plump as fast as they can to sell to consumers. They do this by feeding them high protein dog food. Dog food bulks up iguanas faster than anything due to all the protein! But iguanas aren’t built to metabolize protein! And too much protein leads to liver and kidney failure over a short period of time! The farmers don’t care, because the animals are consumed before organ failure occurs anyway. But pet iguanas are kept around long enough to suffer and show the signs of this deadly diet! Be sure to feed your pet iguana what’s best for him!

Reminder: Certain foods listed above should be fed sparingly. All foods in the kale family such as broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and bok choy are can be extremely harmful if fed in large amounts to your green iguana. These types of foods will inhibit iodine absorption, thus leading to problems such as hyperthyroidism and goiter. Spinach contains oxilates. Oxilates will block the absorption of calcium. In addition, the elimination of oxilates through the urinary tract may over time cause kidney stones. When feeding vegetables, remember that fresh veggies have more nutrients and vitamins than frozen or canned.

Water

Many newly acquired green iguanas are somewhat dehydrated due to improper care. During the first couple of months of acclimation, your iguana should be provided with a shallow container of water at all times. Under optimal conditions, your iguana should be offered water only a few hours a day. If you insist on providing water at all times, be sure to thoroughly clean the dish daily. An iguana may defecate in the dish of water, thus causing a rapid spread of harmful bacteria in a warm and humid vivarium (reptile cage). Your iguana will also enjoy soaking and swimming in a bathtub filled with warm water.

You should also mist your iguana (especially juveniles) once a day, several hours before bedtime. This will help provide both water and much needed humidity as well as facilitate the shedding of skin. Do not mist immediately before lights go off. This may cause your iguana to chill.

Vitamins

Animals for Awareness recommends that you supply your iguana with a dietary supplement. Believe it or not, powdered bird vitamins are exceptional dietary aids. Any powdered bird vitamin will work, though some are better than others. Be sure to read the label for ingredients checking for the highest ratio of Vitamin D3. Sprinkle it lightly on your green iguana’s food every other time you feed him. This provides you with extra help in maintaining good health of your pet. We also recommend a vitamin product called Rep-Cal if your prefer not to use a bird vitamin. We use a 50-50 mixture of Rep-Cal and Chirp, and put the mixture in a regular salt shaker. It has also been shown that a light sprinkling of brewers yeast once a week will help to prevent Vitamin B deficiencies.

Keep the vitamins in a cool dark area to help prevent the breakdown of nutrients.