Tia – The Anorexic Iguana

If iguanas became real estate moguls, they would seek water-front property in tropical and subtropical locations that are warm and humid with pools, plenty of vegetation, and an abundance of trees with sturdy branches for lounging.


If a real estate agent failed to find adequate properties, an iguana may react by giving the individual a thrashing with its tail.

This may make an iguana seem unreasonable or demanding, but for an iguana, the right environment is often a matter of life and death.

As pet iguanas gain popularity and become more widely available here in the U.S., with many pet stores now stocking their aquariums with cute baby iguanas sprawled across logs, people are smitten with the tiny reptiles and taking them home, sometimes without realizing that maintaining the health of an iguana is quite a difficult prospect.

Our patient Tia is less than a year old, and her health was rapidly deteriorating due to her substantial environmental and nutritional needs not being met. Tia’s owners brought her in for an exam and expressed concern that she had not eaten in a few days.

It was immediately apparent to our doctors that Tia was lethargic and dehydrated. The little iguana was thin and anorexic and was already experiencing muscle atrophy. Only slightly larger than the palm of our hands, Tia would just sit there, unable to muster the energy to move even while we examined her.

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Earlier in her treatment, Tia remained weak, and we closely monitored her weight, making necessary changes to her treatment to ensure success.

Tia was immediately hospitalized and given fluids along with calcium and a special herbivore hand-feeding formula through a small syringe. Tia’s environment was monitored constantly. Throughout the day and into the evening, we would diligently check the temperature and humidity of Tia’s surroundings, often misting her area. We also soaked Tia twice a day and took her outside to enjoy natural sunlight. Along with hand-feeding the formula, we chopped an abundance of leafy greens, vegetables, and small amounts of fruit in pieces tiny enough for her to swallow whole and fed Tia by hand to encourage her to develop an appetite.



Tia’s road to recovery has been assisted by our caring staff, and we are pleased to report that Tia has responded favorably to treatment. She has already gained weight and is eating on her own. Tia is now energetic, exploring her surroundings and splashing around in the water during her daily baths.

A rare moment of calm, it was difficult to get a picture of Tia in the water once she began feeling better because Tia loves to swim!

Tia is now ready to embark on the next part of her journey. With proper care, Tia will continue to grow and will eventually reach a length of five to six feet and should have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years.

As she grows, Tia will inevitably outgrow her current enclosure. Baby iguanas do well in small aquariums where food and water is easily located. However, as they grow, iguanas need large enclosures with branches and rocks for climbing, logs and artificial plants for hiding, and fresh water in containers large enough for soaking and to naturally increase the humidity in the environment.

Feeling much better, the once listless iguana is now climbing and exploring.

To ensure proper digestion and a strong immune system, Tia’s enclosure will need to have temperature ranges that allow her to select warmer or cooler areas, and the humidity will need to be maintained at 60 to 80 percent. She will also need a full spectrum UV light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium.

Another important fact to mention is that Tia will need to be housed alone because iguanas are solitary creatures. Housing multiple iguanas in the same enclosure can lead to domestic disputes and sometimes even assault and battery!

As you can see from Tia’s story, in order to thrive in captivity, iguanas need their natural environment replicated, and when we fail to do so, an iguana’s health will inevitably be compromised. Despite the difficulties involved in keeping iguanas, they are one of the most enjoyable reptiles to own. Over time, iguanas can become friendly and affectionate, and they do recognize their caretakers. We even see iguanas that come into the clinic dressed in funny outfits! Iguanas can lead enjoyable lives in captivity if their owners fulfill their needs, and as a result, iguanas and their owners can enjoy the many benefits of the bond they establish.

For more information on the proper care of pet iguanas, be sure to check out our app where we have an Exotic Pets Library full of care instructions on the variety of animals we see here at the clinic. If you have an iguana, our doctors and staff are always happy to answer any questions, and scheduling a physical exam is a great and inexpensive way to determine your pet’s overall health and make any changes necessary to prevent a future emergency.


Author: Exotic Bird Hospital

We are an exotic animal clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Our patients are diverse and include birds, parrots, reptiles, small mammals, and more.

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