Green Iguanas Health
In its natural environment, the green iguana is almost completely herbivorous (plant-eating) from the time it hatches. Despite this, captive juvenile iguanas should be fed a relatively large proportion of animal protein. Older iguanas should receive a greater proportion of vegetable matter in their diets.
Juvenile iguanas should be fed daily. A good diet consists of 1 part animal protein (water-packed tuna, cooked chicken, hard-boiled or scrambled egg, Purina Trout Chow, dog food) added to 2 parts vegetable material (broccoli and its leaves, Swiss chard, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, beet, collard, mustard and turnip greens, carrot tops and thawed, frozen mixed vegetables). Chop all of the ingredients into a size that can be easily handled by the young iguana. Then mix them thoroughly and store the mixture in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Once or twice a day, offer a small amount of this mixture after it has been liberally sprinkled with an appropriate vitamin-mineral supplement. Reptivite and Nekton-Rep are a couple manufacturers that can be found online.
Older iguanas should be fed 2-3 times per week and can be offered the same items as listed above. In addition, live crickets, mealworms and pinky (neonatal) mice can be offered in small numbers. Fresh fruit (bananas, berries, apples, peaches pears, plums) can occasionally be included in the diet.
Next to adequate nutrition, no other aspect of husbandry for captive reptiles is more important than sanitation and hygiene. Many bacterial and fungal diseases of captive reptiles result from their daily exposure to fecal contamination and a damp, filthy environment. In the wild, reptiles have acres of land and water over which their feces and uneaten food can be scattered. They rarely, if ever, come in contact with this material. This is not the case with captive reptiles. Owners of captive reptiles engage in a continual struggle to prevent bacterial build-up caused by continual deposition of waste products and uneaten food.
An iguana’s cage floor or aquarium bottom can be covered with clean newspaper (unprinted preferably) or butcher paper. The next best material is indoor-outdoor carpeting. Paper towel squares can also be placed end to end to cover the entire bottom of the enclosure. When one of the squares becomes soiled, it can be easily removed and replaced without disturbing the entire floor of the enclosure. Under no circumstance should pea gravel, corncob material, wood shavings, sand, kitty litter or sawdust be used. None of these items promotes adequate cleanliness, and they may be eaten while the iguana is feeding, resulting in intestinal impaction.
A captive iguana’s environment must be kept fastidiously clean and dry. Any object that becomes soiled with feces or urine should be removed and cleaned or replaced as soon as possible. The enclosure should be set up so that it can be easily cleaned. Human nature dictates that the more time it takes to clean the cage and the more complicated the task, the less often it will be done. Make the enclosure functional rather than beautiful. Reptiles are highly susceptible to poisoning from pine oil cleaners, such as Pine-Sol and Lysol. These household cleaners must be avoided.
Focal Heat Source
All reptiles require a warm environmental temperature to raise their body temperature and increase their metabolic rate and activity level. The optimal environmental temperature to provide for captive iguanas in their enclosures is between 85° and 103° F.
In the wild, reptiles bask in direct sunlight. Captive iguanas do quite well when a “hot rock” is provided. The iguana has the option of lying on this object (totally or partially) to obtain its heat as needed. Care must be taken to ensure the appliance is functioning properly. Malfunctioning hot rocks can cause serious burns.
Sunlight and Artificial Sunlight
Captive reptiles rarely receive adequate exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, especially when they are housed indoors. Captive reptiles, especially iguanas, must receive direct sunlight to benefit from its UV component. Ultraviolet light is necessary to properly absorb dietary calcium.
Window glass and plastics filter UV light. Consequently, reptiles must be housed in screened or wire enclosures during the time they are to be exposed to direct sunlight. Also, a shaded area must be provided so the iguana can avoid heat stroke from overexposure to sunlight.
An alternative to direct sunlight for reptiles housed indoors is an artificial UV light source.
With proper care and nutrition, an iguana can live for 20 years.
- Metabolic Bone Disease (Fibrous Osteodystrophy) – The most common disease of captive iguanas results from gross malnutrition. Signs of Fibrous Osteodystrophy include general listlessness, an enlarged, swollen lower jaw, difficulty in eating, and markedly firm, swollen limbs and tail. Unfortunately, these desperately ill iguanas appear well-fed and chubby, and veterinary care is not often sought until it is too late. Sometimes the back, tail or legs are fractured or deformed.
- Bacterial Infections – There are many different bacterial infections that can affect the skin and mouth.
- Parasite Problems – Parasites may be found externally (mites), within the gastrointestinal tract (worms, protozoa), and within the blood (malaria-type parasites) of captive iguanas.
- Bladder Stones – Minerals in the urine may precipitate and form stones within the urinary bladder of iguanas.
- Egg Binding – Egg-binding can be a life-threatening condition. It results when a pregnant female cannot expel one or more eggs from the reproductive tract.