Disclaimer: The following page lists the symptoms, causes and treatments of some of the commonly seen problems in iguanas. This page is by no means meant to be a substitute for proper veterinary care! The Green Iguana Society recommends routine vet check-ups and visits whenever problems are seen or suspected.
Abscess - An infection that sometimes occurs when the body is weakened by a systemic infection or stress. The body walls off the site of infection so that it cannot spread. Because of this walling-off process, the body’s immune system cannot get to the infection to fight it. The abscess thus continues to grow until treated.
Symptoms - Signs of an abscess include a localized swelling or lump somewhere on the body that feels hard to the touch. The swelling will grow over time. The swelling may be painful when touched, and the iguana will react accordingly.
For more information on abscesses, visit Melissa Kaplan’s Treating Abscesses in Reptiles.
Causes - Abscesses often start as untreated wounds, particularly bites and punctures. Scratches can also introduce an infection that may form an abscess. For this reason, it is important that iguana owners examine their iguanas on a regular basis and promptly treat any wounds.
Treatment - Abscesses should be treated by a veterinarian. The standard course of action is to drain the abscess, clean out any pus, dead tissue, fluid and other substances that have accumulated inside the abscess, and treat with antibiotics. Often, the vet will have to culture the bacteria from the abscess to discover the appropriate antibiotic to use. Both topical and systemic antibiotics may be prescribed.
Constipation - When an iguana does not defecate every day even though it has been eating every day.
Symptoms - Lack of daily defecation , straining during defecation, and/or producing small, dry, hard feces.
For more information, see Melissa Kaplan’s Constipation and Diarrhea in Iguanas.
Treatments - Short Term:
Treatments - Long Term:
Dehydration - A lack of water in the body.
Symptoms - A prominent fold along the side of the body is one sign of dehydration. You can check to see if your iguana is dehydrated by gently pinching the skin on its arm or leg. If the skin stays up for a few seconds instead of immediately snapping back in place, your iguana is probably dehydrated. Dehydration is hard on the kidneys, and chronic dehydration can lead to kidney damage and failure.
For more information, see Tricia Power’s article, Dehydration in Reptiles.
Diarrhea - Frequent, runny stools.
For more information, visit Constipation and Diarrhea in Iguanas, by Melissa Kaplan.
Treatments (short-term) -
Treatments (long-term) -
For more information on NutriBAC, visit NutriBAC's Web Page
Dry Gangrene - Death of tissue on the body. This is most often seen on the tail and toes.
Symptoms - Tissue becomes brown or black, dry, hard and brittle. It collapses inward, and the infection can be seen to travel along the tail or toe. Sometimes the tissue may feel mushy as the cells in the area die.
For more information, read Melissa Kaplan’s article, Dry Gangrene of Tail and Toes.
Once gangrene has set in, only a qualified veterinarian should treat it. Amputation to remove the dead tissue is required. The vet will do the amputation, put in any necessary stitches, prescribe any necessary antibiotics, and give you instructions for caring for the wound until it heals. The Green Iguana Society does not recommend attempting amputation yourself! Not only should this operation be done under sterile conditions, but your vet will know the proper procedure, and will know where it is best to cut the tissue to be sure that all of the dead tissue is removed. Your vet will also be able to handle any bleeding and pain that your iguana will experience.
For more information on tail loss, visit Tail Breakage and Surgical Amputation of the Tail.
Dystocia (Egg-binding) - Also called egg stasis, dystocia is the inability of a gravid (egg-carrying) female iguana to lay her eggs. Dystocia can occur suddenly in otherwise healthy iguanas and is common in captive females. Owners of female iguanas should be aware of the signs of gravidity and dystocia.
Symptoms - Signs of dystocia include lethargy, anorexia (lack of appetite and refusal to eat, resulting in weight loss), regurgitation, labored breathing, straining to lay but not producing eggs, and cloacal discharge. Healthy gravid females experience some loss of appetite and weight loss toward the end of the gravid period, but often display restless behavior and a desire to dig as they search for an appropriate place to lay their eggs. If your gravid female was previously alert and active but has suddenly become lethargic, she may be experiencing dystocia.
For more information on dystocia, visit the following web sites:
Causes - Dystocia may be caused by several factors, including poor husbandry and previous health problems in the female such as Metabolic Bone Disease, which can result in misshapen spines and bones that hinder egg laying, large or oddly-shaped eggs, bacterial infection, or blockages of the oviducts or cloaca, among others. In addition, lack of a proper nesting site can encourage females to retain their eggs, leading to eventual inability to lay.
Treatment - Untreated dystocia can be fatal in less than 48 hours. If you suspect that your female is egg-bound, see a vet immediately. Treatment for dystocia may include radiographs to visual the eggs, injection of hormones such as oxytocin to encourage laying (used if the iguana is healthy and there are no blockages or physical problems with the eggs or reproductive tract) and/or spay (removal of the ovaries and/or oviducts).
Our article Breeding Season Issues describes the process of normal egg-development and laying.
For information about spaying, visit Spaying Female Iguanas - What Owners Can Expect.
See also Melissa Kaplan's article Dystocia In Reptiles.
Melissa also has a great article describing the egging process Green Iguana: Preparing for Egg Development, Laying and Incubation .
Impaction - A blockage of the intestine due to the ingestion of non-digestible material.
Symptoms - often mimic those of constipation:
Causes - Impaction can occur whenever your iguana eats something it can’t digest. Since iguanas gather information about their surroundings by tongue-flicking, they are likely to pick up things that aren’t food. It is up to you to keep the area where your iguana spends its time clean and free of debris that can be ingested. Don’t use particulate substrates in your iguana’s enclosure. Don’t let it get into your plants and eat the potting soil or gravel. Watch it closely when you take it outside. You’d be surprised at what iguanas will ingest. Don’t assume your iguana would never eat anything that big, hard, obviously non-food, etc. I’ve caught my iguana Jake happily eating cigarette butts that he found on the sidewalk. He also attempts to eat the corner of the door mat, and has been known to chase and try to eat the occasional shiny foil gum wrapper. I have to watch his every step when we’re outside. It’s no better when we’re inside. While living in the biology lab at the college where I teach, he once managed to eat a plastic test-tube cap! I discovered it later in his stool. Luckily, he was able to pass it without trouble. Despite my best clean-up and supervision efforts, he got into mischief. I’m thankful it wasn’t more serious. Hopefully, these examples help illustrate why impactions happen and how important cleanliness and supervision are when your iguana is out and about.
Treatment - If your iguana shows the signs of constipation but fails to respond to treatment (see constipation, above), then it may be impacted. If you suspect that your iguana is impacted, then take it to a veterinarian right away! Impaction will be diagnosed most often with an X-ray. Your vet may be able to detect impaction through an exam also, which would allow them to feel anything in the gut that should not be there. Most often, surgery is required to remove the item(s). Impaction will result in death if not treated, so don’t put off a vet visit!
Nose-rub - A nose wound that is most often obtained when an iguana repeatedly rubs its face against a door, the walls/door of its enclosure, a window, etc.
Causes - Nose rubs are the outward sign of some sort of stress your iguana is experiencing. Nose rubs are most often seen in iguanas that are kept in enclosures that are too small or are inadequate in some other way. They persistently rub their faces on the cage walls or door in an attempt to get out. If you see nose rubbing behavior, some things to check for in regards to enclosures are: improper temperatures, insufficient humidity, dirty conditions, and improper lighting. For more information on enclosures and proper habitat conditions, visit our Habitat page.
Nose rubs can also occur when an iguana is stressed for some other reason. For instance, gravid females will sometimes relentlessly nose rub in a corner of a room or at a door when they are feeling the urge to explore, find a suitable nesting spot, and dig a nest. Males in breeding season may feel territorial restlessness, or may injure themselves by attacking “another male” that they see in a mirror. Sometimes, glass or plexiglass enclosure walls can become mirrors, depending on how light hits them. If you see your male iguana attacking the glass or nose rubbing, and you cannot determine another reason, this "mirror effect" may be happening.
If there is something unpleasant in your iguana’s environment that it wants to get away from, nose rubbing may result. What your iguana sees as "unpleasant" may surprise you. Sometimes, things like other pets, children, or strangers can intimidate an iguana and make it want to escape its enclosure to hide. All of these things must be taken into consideration when attempting to determine the cause of nose rubbing. If the nose rubbing behavior is not eliminated, the behavior may continue until your iguana actually rubs the tissue off of the nose completely, exposing the bone. Wounds like this are very slow to heal, and will result in scarring. Do not let the behavior continue to this extent!
Treatment - Treat the wound as you would any other minor wound; clean it with Betadine or some other disinfectant, and cover it with an antibiotic ointment. However, the treatment does not stop there. You must also ascertain why the nose rubbing behavior is occurring. Once you have identified the cause of the behavior, you then must do what you can to eliminate it. With gravid females or males in breeding season, you may have to offer them diversions, such as a nesting box to dig in, or a “love toy” to mate with. All mirrors should be covered or removed if your male is attacking them. Lights must be adjusted to eliminate the "mirror effect" of glass or plexiglass enclosures. Increasing the amount of light outside the habitat can help reduce reflections on the inside.
If nose rubbing is a result of caging issues, then those issues must be addressed. Other stressors that may be responsible for the behavior should be removed. If removal is not possible (as with children or other pets), then you may need to cover a portion of your iguana's habitat, to block its view of the room. Covering part of the cage can also help eliminate the "mirror effect". Covering part of the cage can be accomplished in a variety of ways - from covering part of the enclosure with a sheet or blanket, to using miniblinds. When Derek's iguana Mojo had a nose rubbing problem, Derek used miniblinds to cover part of Mojo's cage which created a large "hide box" area for him when the blinds were down. This helped give Mojo a sense of security, and helped immensely with his nose rubbing.. You can be creative with your solutions. Whatever works for you and your iguana is acceptable.
If the cause of the nose rubbing behavior is not identified and addressed, then the behavior will continue, so don’t neglect this step!
Overheating - When the body temperature rises to a point where the brain and organs are in danger of being damaged. Although iguanas are from the tropical forest and need high temperatures to thrive, they can and do overheat.
Prolapse - When tissue or an organ that in normally inside the body protrudes and stays outside the body. In iguanas, the three types of prolapses that are most commonly seen are intestinal, hemipene and cloacal prolapses.
Symptom - A piece of tissue is seen hanging out of the vent and does not retract back into the body. The tissue will appear pinkish or reddish.
For more information, visit Cloacal and Hemipene Prolapse, by Melissa Kaplan.
Shedding Problems - When old layers of skin are retained. Problem areas are most often the hands/feet and toes, the dorsal spikes and the tail tip. My iguana Jake sometimes has trouble shedding the covering of his ear drum, or tympanum. Retained shed can cut off the circulation of toes and spikes, resulting in damage or death to the tissue. Always carefully inspect your iguana, particularly after each shed, and take care of any retained shed before it becomes a problem.
For more information on shedding, see our page on Shedding and Reptile Skin Shedding, by Melissa Kaplan.
**Remember - Regular inspection and observation of your iguana will allow you to catch these problems in their early stages, thus leading to easier treatment, with less suffering on your iguana’s part. Take the time to check your iguana over every day!