Recognizing Common Iguana Injuries
An iguana can be injured several ways. Sometimes the injury is obvious; sometimes it’s not. When the injuries are minor, you can often treat the injury yourself, but knowing whether an injury is minor — or knowing when it goes from being a minor problem to a major one — is the tricky part.
If you’re new to iguanas, or you’ve never encountered and dealt properly with the condition before, don’t fiddle around with it. Take your iguana to a vet immediately. The longer you wait before taking your iguana to the vet, the bigger the risk to his health.
Abscesses are pockets of infection containing solid pus. They commonly occur as a result of injury to tails, toes, necks, and legs, especially when two iguanas are kept together and one gets bitten. Rostral abscesses occur when an iguana repeatedly injures its nose or snout by banging it into hard surfaces. However, abscesses don’t necessarily occur at the site of an injury or immediately after an injury. In fact, they may occur months after an injury or when there has been no injury.
Abscesses need to be treated by a veterinarian who may recommend administering a course of antibiotics first and then surgically removing the abscess.
Despite being removed and being treated with antibiotics, abscesses can form again in the same place within a very short time during the recovery period. As a result, two or more treatments may be necessary.
Burns are most frequently caused by heat sources: hot rocks, under-the-tank heating pads when used without a substrate layer, human heating pads when they’re the only source of heat, and overhead heat lights and ceramic heating elements. The burns may be mild, with just a small blister, or they may be severe enough to cause death by the time the keeper notices them.
Although you can treat minor blistering and burns at home by soaking them daily in povidone-iodine and applying a burn ointment, it’s best not to guess at the severity. Even with moderate burns, the iguana must be seen by a vet. Serious burns destroy skin, result in heavy fluid loss, and leave the iguana highly susceptible to invading bacteria. This, in turn, can lead to a raging, possibly lethal, systemic infection.
You know the saying “Once burned, twice shy”? In the case of burn victims, it’s “Once burned, forever susceptible to burns.” If the burn is on the iguana’s belly or pelvis, do away with all bottom heat sources for the duration of the recovery period. Once the burn is healed, you can use a human heating pad in conjunction with overhead or other radiant heat sources, but the pad will have to be covered with a thick terry cloth towel.
Iguanas require a warm environment, not just a hot surface, to successfully and safely thermoregulate their core body temperatures. If your iguana is found hugging a light or light fixture, or if it never leaves its pad or rock, that’s a sure sign that the enclosure is too cold and that you’re watching a burn about to happen. Fix the situation before it becomes a problem.
Claws — broken or torn off
Iguanas climb by using their claws as well as their toes. When walking, climbing, or jumping, they may jerk their toes instead of disengaging them, resulting in a broken toe, a ripped-out claw, or both. The same may happen if the claw is trapped in a tiny hole or fissure in a piece of wood.
Sometimes the claw may still be attached to the fingertip by the underlying fleshy structure or a tiny shred of skin. Removing the claw at this point is best. If just a tiny shred of tissue is holding the claw on, you can quickly pull it off; otherwise, you should take your iguana to the reptile vet to have the claw cut off. If the claw is gone, dip the toe tip in warm diluted povidone-iodine and let it soak for several minutes. Top the tip with antibiotic ointment. For the next couple of days, repeat the medicated soaks and apply the antibiotic ointment to the tip at night. Depending on how much of the nail matrix is left, the claw may or may not grow back. If it does grow back, the initial regrowth will be slow.
Keeping the iguana’s claws neatly trimmed and reducing or eliminating the fissures and small holes in climbing and basking branches that can trap claws will help prevent future occurrences. Trimming off the ultra-sharp tip projecting off the main claw won’t hinder his ability to climb.
Sometimes, usually in the morning, you may find a mixture of serous fluid and saliva encrusted around the edges of your iguana’s mouth. It may be thick and hard enough to have glued your iguana’s mouth shut. The cause is usually a minor injury to the gums, as from the stem of a leafy green or a small chunk of squash. Biting cage wire, thin branches, your favorite ballpoint pen, another iguana’s tail, and other hard objects can also cause minor mouth tissue injuries.
Remove these deposits by wetting a cotton-tipped swab in warm water and then twirling it against the deposit to gently loosen and move it away from the mouth. Then check inside the mouth, looking for signs of petechia (tiny red lines indicating bleeding in the tissue) or plaques (patches of tissue that may be yellowish, whitish, or greenish in color). If you see no signs of the plaques or petechial hemorrhaging, then there’s nothing to worry about.
You may have to remove the crusts a couple of times a day for a few days, but the injured tissue heals quickly in a healthy iguana, and you don’t need to treat the area with any topical antiseptic. Stubborn, recurring crusty sores on the rim of the mouth may mean an infection. If so, your iguana needs to visit a vet for evaluation.
Petechia, plaques, and regularly occurring crustiness may indicate a more serious underlying injury or infection, so you should see your reptile vet before the infection gets worse or spreads.
Dried food deposits look like crusty mouth deposits and are just as easily taken care of with a wet cotton-tipped swab. Iguanas generally grab and gulp their food, smearing food and juices on their face and dewlap. The result can, at first glance, look like your iguana’s been bleeding or has other injuries. You can relax once you realize that your iguana is wearing the day’s strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. Because iguanas also walk in their food, check their toes daily and remove any bits of food found stuck on them.