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This Months "Pet of the Month" is:  Outdoor Pets 

Reptiles: Basic Care

Our article this month is going to cover general reptile care with tips and advice on caring for various reptiles, mainly the Green Iguana. This article is meant to give you a good start on caring for your new pet. If you find you have further questions you may visit our forum board where you will find a section just for reptiles. Our Moderator Zendogg will be happy to assist you with any further questions you may have.

Green Iguana Tips

There is a lot of advice available to people who are interested in, or own the common Green Iguana, iguana. Not all the advice given, even by some experts, is correct. Some incorrect bits of information may seem of little importance. But, the Iguana, being one of the lowest priced and most readily available is NOT an easy, cheap reptile to keep. Nor an appropriate reptile choice for a child or a novice. Unlike their purchase price, providing the right environment for them is quite costly in money and space (and blood, sweat, flesh and tears). Green Iguanas die by the thousands in the US due simply to ignorance and neglect. Their care requirements are critical, mandatory, and providing them is NOT optional. One of the common areas where people get bad information is in feeding iguanas. Pet store employees are not necessarily knowledgeable about any of the animals sold in the shop. This is especially true when it comes to reptiles
The Common Green Iguana is an obligate (no other choice) herbivore, like cattle, horses and sheep. Herbivores have evolved a specialized digestive system designed to efficiently process PLANT material. They are not physiologically equipped to process animal protein. Yes, they will eat it if offered, especially if, say, dog food is all they get, they will eat it so not to starve. Some individuals like cheese, scrambled eggs, and chocolate. They should never be given these things in spite of the fact that they seem to like them. If a toddler liked the taste of feces, I doubt any parent or care giver would allow them access to it. Right?
When Iguanas eat animal protein, even as occasional "treats", it shortens their lives. At approximately 6 years of age (+/- ), their kidneys will fail and they will die. The primary organs for riding the body of protein waste are the kidneys. Meat, insects, eggs, cheese, are rich animal protein sources. The iguana's body is not equipped to handle animal protein. Their kidneys are stressed by being in 'warp drive' and they eventually fail, being completely used up and damaged by trying to do a job they were never designed to do.
What's my point? If you have, want, will have Iguanas? If you want them to be the healthy, long lived, magnificent creatures you have seen and are impressed with, you can not be sloppy or neglectful or casual about any of their care needs. Being committed to this, you would never feed anything you know to be harmful to your iguanas.
Don't think they can get enough protein from leaves? Consider the cow. Beef cattle are raised on grass. That's a lot of pounds of cow produced by eating grass. Consider Horses, they grow to hundreds of pounds (1,000+/-) eating grass. Iguanas share this ability with the other strictly herbivorous species in the world. Why doubt God's design and mess with something that isn't broken?
Greens does not mean lettuce. Greens mean the DARK leafy types that are so good for you too, but which most people won't eat. The top choices are: Collards, Turnip Greens, Chicory/AKA Endive, Dandalion Greens and blossoms and Alfalfa. What makes these the preferred staples is that they are higher in calcium and some in Plant Protein. The 'dark' part comes from being rich in carotenes. These are the staple greens, the foundation of the diet. To these you need to add seasonal* greens for variety and vegetables. A little fruit in season can add to the variety and value of the diet. Fruit should be no more than 10% of any meal. It is a good practice to, after washing the greens, leave some of the clean water on them to provide moisture the iguana will ingest when it eats them. Don't leave them soggy. They will rot.
Seasonal, means what's in the market at any given time of the year, or what you can grow at any given time of the year. Or what you can find at farmer's markets during the growing season.
I am quite familiar with what most people consider weeds and buy poisons to get rid of. I know many of them to be highly nutritious plant foods. More nutritious than any cultivated variety you can buy in a market. They are free and can be fed fresh picked. Did you know that the dandalion is not native to the Americas? Immigrants brought it with them because they used it medicinally and for food in their country. In the "olden days" these weeds were referred to as 'pot greens'. People would go out and harvest them from where they grew wild. I cultivate some of these plants. This way I know they are clean and close by. I feed them during the growing season and dry or freeze some to garnish store bought greens with in the winter. I use no herbicides or pesticides or artificial fertilizers in my yard. Caveat: don't feed any wild growing plant unless you are absolutely sure it is clean of toxins, is edible, and you know what it is.
All known to be edible flowers can be fed. These are "very" seasonal and the same criteria for greens applies. They must be clean and free of toxins, toxins never having been used on them or near them. They must be fresh, flowers are very perishable. Wash them to get off the bugs and dirt. Some examples are: petunias, pansies, violas, day Lilly, dandelion, cherry and apple blossoms, nasturtiums, marigold, rose petals, squash blossoms, Christmas cactus blossoms. NEVER use flowers that have come from a florist. Assume they have been sprayed with insecticides and anti-fungal.
The presence of citric acid with calcium causes a chemical reaction that makes the calcium in food and supplements easier to be absorbed by the digestive tract and makes the calcium more available to be utilized by the body. Citric acid is contained in citrus fruits: lemons, limes, oranges, kiwi, fresh pineapple, etc. Use the juices as a garnish. A little sprinkle when you feed.
There are some greens and fruits and vegetables that should not be fed to Iguanas, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuces, baby greens, cabbage, onions, potatoes, eggplant, avocado, rhubarb. This is not a complete list. There are such lists on the internet. To find links to some of these lists and to read some excellent information on all aspects of iguana care, check out Certain plant foods have compounds in them that interfere with absorption, availability or usability of vital nutrients.
Calcium and vitamin supplements have to be used in the diet also. UVB exposure must be provided or all the calcium in the world will be of little benefit. The best source of UVB is unfiltered sunlight. Even if only for a couple hours a few times a week. For access to sunlight I use secure harnesses and leashes to take mine outside when it is warm enough. You can buy them or make them. I'd start by buying different designs and studying which style works the best before attempting to make your own. You can also build a secure structure for them where they can be loose, yet still protected from getting away. Sort of like a roofed dog run. The idea is that the iguanas be only separated from the sunlight by wire/hardware cloth etc. No glass or plastic sheet material can be used. Glass and plastic paning filter the sunlight. A shade area must be provided for the iguana to retreat to when it becomes too hot. I will also spritz mine with water. You MUST supervise the iguana the ENTIRE TIME it is outside. You must NEVER leave it unattended even to take a potty break, to answer the door or phone, or to get a drink from the fridge.
Other than sunlight, artificial "sunlight" has to be provided in the indoor enclosure. The lamps and bulbs sold to supply UVB/UVA come in different strengths and different types. Do your research before spending any money. For the florescent tubes buy 5.0 for Iguanas. 2.0 isn't strong enough. 8.0 is for desert reptiles, although more intense, it does not provide the proportions of UVA and UVB that are found in the forest canopy where iguanas live. The 'quality' of light is different. Over the long term, these differences can matter. The newest technology for artificial photo radiation of diurnal lizards are mercury vapor lamps. This posting is only an introduction and guide to one aspect of Iguana husbandry. Take this information as a base and continue to study this animal. The above web site is good and has links to other resources. Do this for the sake of the Iguana who is/will be totally dependant on you to provide all its needs for life.

After posting this article there were questions raised about the lighting systems. Please read on for the questions that were asked and the answers given by our Moderator, Zendogg, from our Forum Board.

Q:I'm curious about something you said--8.0 florescent reptile bulbs were "too high".
It was my understanding that no florescent bulbs came close to producing the same level of UVB as can be found in natural sunlight, and that only the new mercury--vapor bulbs could produce a level of UVB comparable to actually being outside?

A:Well, actually, I didn't quite know how to word that or express what I was trying to say. Yes, from everything I read, the mercury vapor lamps do provide the most effective level of both UVB and UVA. But, they are not suitable for every setup.
Since they also produce a lot of heat, for an enclosure big enough for an adult iguana or any of the larger lizards, mercury vapor is the best way to go. They are expensive, but worth the money.
I have been researching the manufacturers and the specifications on each product. (I'm always researching something) There is variability in price, in engineering, and in available wattage. Only a few suppliers offer mercury vapor bulbs at lower wattage like 60W. You can't use the 100's and 160's for small enclosures because they produce too much heat. So, yes, you are right, the mercury vapor bulbs are the latest technology in artificial reptile lighting. And they are an improvement on the old technology.
The 8.0 florescent are designed to replicate the wavelengths of the noon day sun in the generic desert. The wavelength configuration, i.e. the strengths of UVB, UVA are in different proportions to the lamps manufactured to replicate the generic forest canopy quality of light. So, from that I have concluded that the 8.0's, although more intense, might not provide the correct 'quality' of light for iguanas.
This is as far as I have gotten in my research. Also, there are now better engineered mercury vapor lamps, that are more durable and can offer more hours of use. That and there is some indication that the prices are coming down a little. The price, especially retail, can cause novice reptile buyers to act as if they have been burned. Personally, I would never pay retail by purchasing from a pet shop.
When I first got started in herpetology in the mid 1980's there was little technology and little data on artificially supplying the photo radiation requirements for most diurnal lizards.
For the home gardener in the 80's, plant lights were new technology. I lived in Los Angeles County then. I have since returned home to Montana, not a state where herpetology is hot. I think we only have 3 native species of lizards. But, even here, with the few warm days we get, my iguanas benefit greatly from being allowed outside to soak up the sun, taste the grass and fantasize about making a break for it. I have a male, who predictably becomes depressed in the depth of winter, loses his appetite and sleeps more, just seems less interested in his usual routines and habits. I am counting on mercury vapor lamps to eliminate that. I will see come this next winter.
All the appliances and devices sold today to create the 'ideal' artificial environment for reptiles have become big money opportunities. There is impetus to engineer better products. So, it is a different world today than it was 20 years ago. The data collected since covering the husbandry requirements for different species is voluminous compared to 20 years ago. In the 1980's, few people, even zoos, were successful keeping Chameleons alive let alone breed them. Its better days my friend, and 'twil be better days ahead for the hobby, the animals, and the professional breeder.

Q:Have the 8.0s actually been reported to cause any problems when used with iguanas, though? Proportions of wavelengths aside, I do know that igs are far more susceptible to MBD than many other species, and that they don't absorb dietary D3 well at all, so adequate UVB is absolutely essential.....
The mercury-vapor is certainly improving, they now have one adequate for a 60 gallon tank (which is as small as you'd go if you were sane, for a baby iguana, considering their growth rate). The price is still $60.00 or more, but I understand they actually last quite a long time? The florescent have to be replaced at least twice a year, and they're $20 a pop, themselves

A: Personally, I would go with the mercury vapor lamps before the 8.0. That is just a personal choice. I base this on my feelings that the mercury vapor have more to offer as far as wavelength goes. I know of no data where 8.0 have been used with green iguanas and there have been problems. With the MV's you get heat with your radiation. That means using only one outlet to cover both needs. $20.00 each for florescent, that's if you buy online or wholesale. My only local pet shop supplying these lights charges $30+ each for 18". The price goes up from there. Whereas, I have found that Big Apple Herp manufactures their own MV bulbs and their prices are one of the lowest. I haven't shopped there for a few months and can't recall off hand what they charge. I remember them though because their own products are very competitively priced.

Keeping Greens Greener

I have a method for storing both store bought and self harvested greens that keeps them fresh longer.
Have ready:

  • Clean food storage bags
  • Clean large mouthed containers, like jars, mugs etc.

As soon as you get the greens home
Remove them from the store bag.
Remove any rubber bands or twist ties
Pull all leaves that look like they have gone, yellowed, tattered, black spots, mold, etc.
Cut about 2 inches +/- off of the stem bottoms
*Place the bundle, stems down into a large mouth container
Add only enough fresh cold water to cover the stems.
The water must not touch the leaves.
Cover each with the clean food storage bag, open end down
Use a long twist tie, rubber band, or tie of your choice around the neck of the container to secure the bag. This keeps the bundle together and helps keep the water from being dumped.
Store the containers of greens upright in the refridgerator.
Change the water every other day or more often if needed.

*Wash the leaves just before you use them

Alternate Method;
Easier to store

Follow the steps above up to the step where the greens are placed in a large mouth container.
Lay out 3 sheets of paper towels (# depends on size of green bundle) on the counter or table
Lay the leaves spread out and aligned onto the top half of the paper toweling
Roll the leaves loosely in the paper towels
Place the bundle, stem ends down, into a clean food storage bag
Add enough water to cover half of the stems. Do not add too much water.
The leaves should not be stored immersed in water, they will rot.
Use a tie to secure the bundle at the top
Store the bundle at a slant in the crisper drawer
Change the water every other day

*Wash leaves just before you use them.

I have found that these methods enable the greens to stay crisper and fresher longer. Washing the leaves before storing actually causes them to deteriorate faster.

Health Issues

OK, you have followed all the advice about providing the right temperatures, humidity, lighting + UVB/UVA. You gut load the feeders, supplement with calcium, keep a clean and tidy cage. That's all you can do right? NO! One of the most beneficial yet chronically overlooked "supplements" are ProBiotics.
ProBiotics are those microorganisms that live in the healthy gut of all animals. The presence of large numbers of these beneficial flora not only assists digestion and nutrient production and release, they protect the body from pathogenic invaders, i.e. disease organisms, by simply crowding them out and keeping them overwhelmed. I supplement with probiotic powder at least 1 or more times weekly. Daily in new animals and those showing signs of stress.
The populations of beneficial gut flora are easily disrupted by environmental and man induced stress. For example, the Yellow Fungus Disease that has been infecting Bearded Dragons is believed to be related to the wiping out of beneficial gut organisms by antibiotics and certain parasitize. With the protective army annihilated, pathological organisms gain a foothold and take over. The YFD has proven fatal in affected Bearded Dragons almost 99% of the time. With new information it has been discovered that if treated in the earliest stage with topical antifungal AND internally with ProBiotics, the animals recover. + links.
The stress of antibiotic or parasite therapy, being shipped, breeding season, being gravid, being harassed by a cage mate, temps too cool, temps too hot, changes in food, marginal husbandry, addition of new reptiles to the household, (especially of the same species), presence of cats, dogs etc. that harry the reptiles, or stare at them with "predator eyes", not being able to get enough rest because of lights or noise, being handled too much, being handled at all, improper and inadequate lighting, dirty cages, dirty water, no water, too humid, too dry, the list goes on. These occurrences singly or in combination, will stress the animal enough to cause changes in the environment of the body itself(hormones, metabolites, fluid pH, suppression of the immune system). This can cause die off of certain species of gut flora, and/or encourage the flourishing of pathogenic flora. Even the use of garden soil, or placing the animal outside on yard soil can introduce organisms which the animals body isn't equipped to deal with.
Further, it is believed that those animals receiving ProBiotic supplements routinely, don't suffer the illnesses of non supplemented animals. Conclusion, ProBiotics is the best, natural health preserving supplement that can be used.
Probiotics can be found in pet shops and feed stores, NatureZone is one manufacturer. You can also find ProBiotics At GNC and its competitors, where the products are packaged for human use. As a matter of fact, GNC offers a formulation that includes a wider variety of beneficial species than can be had with the older formulations that only include the milk product flora cultures as in yogurt.
"The use of these products in reptiles has received little to no study as of yet. Most of the data is anecdotal. I advise the use of ProBiotics based on the affects my reptiles enjoy from receiving the supplementation. And on the research that has been done in other animals/humans. They can't hurt. In fact Probiotics help by improving nutrient availability, extracting more nutrients from ingested food, and producing and maintaining a healthly, harmonized intestial environment. You can't underestimate the value of that.
Being living organisms (in stasis until activated by being placed in the right environment, like when ingested) they can start to die off as the product ages (eg. years on the shelf sometimes indicated by the layer of dust on the lids), especially after being opened. Buy fresh. Expect to pay more for the better quality products, but the highest priced is not necessarily going to offer more than a medium priced product. Be leary of the cheap stuff. Remember, a little goes a long way. Give them a try!

Eco-Friendly Disinfectant

I discovered this EcoFriendly and animal friendly DISINFECTANT RECIPE.
For nonporous surfaces.
It is from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

You need: White Vinegar, Hydrogen Peroxide 3%, 2 spray bottles, Paper Towels

Use dilute solution of plain soap or detergent to clean any organic material off.
Spray full strength vinegar onto the surfaces to be cleaned.
Follow with a spray of full drug store strength, 3%, hydrogen peroxide.
Allow to sit on the surfaces for several minutes; let dry if possible. Then rinse off.

It is claimed to be more effective than chlorine bleach in killing bacteria, molds, and viruses. More importantly, it is not as caustic or as harmful to the environment as clorine bleach.

This artcle was written by Zendogg, Moderator/Administrator of our Forum Board, and is not to be copied without her permission.

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