Signs of a sick iguana

Published: 23rd November 2011
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An iguana takes a long time to get sick and a long time to get well. In the wild sick and weak animals have to hide their illness or injury. Any sign of weakness will attract a predator and because of this instinctive tendency it is hard to tell when an animal is sick until it is too late.

The most effective tool for knowing when your iguana may have a problem is by paying attention to anything you feel is different from what your iguana normally does. If you think something is wrong then don't wait to take your iguana to the vet. Most iguanas that are seen by vets are gravely ill and it is often irreversible.

Signs of a sick iguana:

> Sleeping during the day
> Reduced eating
> Change from daily routine
> Discharge from mouth, nose or vent.
> Stool changes
> slight or dramatic limping
> Swollen limbs or trunk
> Muscle weakness, tremors or paralyses
> Changes in sleeping, eating, body colour, alertness, weight, appearance and energy levels.

Metabolic Bone Disease

75% Of iguanas seen by vets are there for metabolic bone disease and nearly all iguanas seen are calcium deficient.

Early signs of MBD:
> Rubber Jaw
> Broken or fractured bones
> Swollen back legs - only an experienced vet can usually see the difference between a fat and swollen
> Softening of the leg's large femur bones
> Muscle twitches or tremors especially in the legs and arms
> Dragging the back legs or whole body as the iguana moves, instead of lifting the body off the ground
> Lowered appetite
> Weight loss

Respiratory Problems

> Normal activity reduced
> Difficulty breathing, rapid or laboured
> Opens mouth open wide for long periods
> Mucus in the mouth
> Discharge around the nose area, liquid or foam. Not the normal salty residue from snorting.
> A wheezing sound when your iguana breathes
> Decrease or no eating

> Habitat that is excessively humid and not enough ventilation. Pathogens breed and can cause respiratory infections.
> Excessively dry habitat. The mucous membranes can dry and your iguana can easily get infections
> Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures

Respiratory problems can go from bad to death in a short period of time.


Animal protein causes gout in iguanas.

> Swollen joints, especially finger and toes
> Other swollen areas like the eyes.
> Lethargy, inactivity and a sick appearance
> Unhealthy looking skin or scales

Medication is needed and an immediate change in diet, sometimes surgery is necessary. Even with the best vet care your iguana will probably suffer from permanent pain or loss of mobility.


Iguanas usually get pinworms, roundworms and tapeworms that live inside the iguana's body and feed off the blood supply, cause compaction in the intestines and steal nutrient from the digestive system. Parasites that are left will multiply, spread and can cause death.

> Loss of appetite or refusal to eat
> Lethargy
> Mucus in the feces
> Worms visible in the feces
> Defecate more often

Iguanas get worms from contaminated feces of other reptiles or birds, it can also be in soil.

Ticks and Mites

Ticks deplete an iguana's blood supply and also carry diseases. It is very stressful and irritating.

> Change in eating and normal activity
> Excessive scratching
> Possible listlessness
> Shedding problems
> Irregular and damaged scales in an area
> Small ugly creatures crawling on or stuck under the scales and in the skin folds

Mites are as small as the dot above an i, by the time that you notice them there is already hundreds. They breed extremely fast and suck blood and transmit diseases. They spend most of their time under your iguana's scales and hide in places that are most difficult to clean. Their eggs thrive at the same temperature as your iguana.

> Mites are found around the mouth, eyes, dewlap and vent of an iguana.
> Symptoms are the same as with ticks

It is very hard to see them, you might notice dead mites that looks like speckles of black pepper. You will also feel crawling things on you after handling your iguana.


90% Of injuries occur due to improper diet, specifically lack of calcium and inadequate exposure to sunlight or artificial UVB. Accidents do happen and if you think your iguana has broken or fractured a bone then you need to take him to a vet for x-rays.

Dropping or breaking of the tail

Even wild iguanas lose their tails, it's part of having to drag a long, fragile appendage behind them all day.

Never grab your iguana by the tail, if you do that you will end up standing with only the tail in your hands and your iguana in a different part of the room. It also happens that the tail can get stuck somewhere and your iguana will drop it in an attempt to get away. When your iguana is in 'over-drive' to escape he can also break his tail because he throws his whole body into the escape mode. It is very stressful event for both the owner and the iguana.
There are usually a lot of blood, take your iguana and rinse the tail under lukewarm water and then apply corn-starch or Kwik-stop to stop the bleeding. You can apply Betadine or Polysporin ointment to the wound to disinfect and dry it faster. The wound needs to be kept clean and disinfected every night. Parts of the dead flesh will fall off and healing will start. The tail will be like rubber with no colour and shorter than what it originally would have been.

Claw Pulled out

> Bleeding from the tip of the finger or toe usually means that the claw is broken or missing.

If an iguana's habitat is not prepared and maintained properly then problems can arise. It also happens when they are free roaming the house and get themselves into places where they do not belong.

Use Kwik-stop or corn-starch to stop the bleeding while applying pressure. Afterwards was off the Kwik-stop or corn starch and apply Betadine or Polysporin ointment.

Too Cold:

What feels warm and comfortable for you can be too cold for your iguana. An iguana that are cold and stays cold is in a dangerous situation. When cold your iguana will slow down to a point of no movement and loose all moving skills. I know of iguanas that died because they were left outside overnight.


Signs that your iguana might be overheated is when he opens his mouth wide and pant like a dog. His colour will also fade and loose all brightness. He may defecate an unusual number of times in a short period. Causes for overheating is usually because the cage are not designed correctly and there are no way to escape the heat. An iguana that overheat will die in a matter of minutes if left in that situation.

Remove your iguana from the heat source and mist him with a water bottle by spraying above him. Offer him water to drink. Do not put your iguana in a bath with water it will be a shock to his system.

Thermal Burns:

Iguanas get burned on hot rocks and these rocks should never be used. A human heating pad can burn your iguana if left on high. Heat lamps need to be secured and out of reach. If your iguana does get burned you can treat a minor burn with Nolvasan or Betadine. Pat the area dry with a clean cloth and then apply a thin coating of Polysporin. If you are not sure how bad the burn is then it is best to see a vet.


If your iguana is severely dehydrated his organs will start to fail and death can occur. You can test if your iguana is dehydrated by 'pinching' his leg or arm, the skin should snap right back to its original position.

> Make sure that there are always fresh water available for your iguana and teach him to drink from the bowl by offering it to him and playing with your finger in the water every day. My iguana only drinks from a glass bowl.
> Soak his greens in water before giving it to him.
> Offer him water from a spray bottle every time that you mist him.

Again, if you are unsure please consult with your herp vet.

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