Iguana Infection

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It is common for Iguana’s to be brought to us for infections. Often times they are minor and easily treated. Sometimes the infections are deep seated, and can result in death even when treated. To prevent infections in Iguana’s it is imperative that their husbandry is adequate.


Poor husbandry is at the root of many infections, therefore it is critical that proper humidity, temperature, and nutrition are optimum. Click here to learn more about adequate husbandry.

Iguana’s can get infections from trauma, especially to their delicate digits. The can also get infections from bite wounds and being in a dirty environment that exposes them to greater numbers of bacteria than is normal. Housing too many of them in close confines increases their stress level to the point that their immune system can be compromised, and they can pick up an infection that normally they could fight off with no ill effects.


Most Iguana’s with infections are not eating well or are not active. In some cases there is obvious swelling, especially around the jaw or the limbs and feet. Their skin might show discoloration, especially if we suspect Salmonella as the cause.

This poor Iguana has been kept in a cage that is inadequate. As a result it has traumatized its rostrum and caused a chronic infection. This preventable problem is inexcusable since it is so obvious.

This Iggie has an abscess in its mandible. Again, the problem is obvious, and should have been brought to our attention long before it got this large.

These dark blotches on the skin could be an indication of an infection. Diagnostic tests would be indicated in this case.

The swelling on the forearm of this sick Iguana could be a sign of an infection. This is another case were diagnostic tests are needed to make a diagnosis.


In many cases the diagnosis is obvious based on the symptoms. In other cases we need to perform diagnostic tests to help us determine if there is an infection.

A common test to perform is a blood sample. It lets us assess the red and white blood cells along with important internal organs like the liver. When we suspect and infection we pay particular attention to the white blood cells. A normal blood sample on a sick Iguana does not mean there is no infection or internal organ problem since sick reptiles commonly have normal blood samples.


Radiographs are used to give us a better indication of what is occurring internally. They are especially helpful when we suspect a problem with the bones.

These are the radiographs from the Iguana above with the swollen forearm. The picture on the left is the normal leg, the picture on the right is the swollen leg. The large arrow on the bottom points to the appearance of the swelling radiographically. The swollen spot does not necessarily mean there is an infection because other diseases and problems can appear this way radiographically. The small arrow on the top points to a reaction that has been noted on the ulna bone.

This reaction at the ulna bone gives us a clue that it might be an infection.

This radiograph is from a different Iguana. Its femur has an infection. The bone is thin and there is inflammation in the tissue surrounding the bone. This is a serious problem that is difficult to treat.


When we encounter an area that we suspect has an infection an important test to perform is analysis of the cells in the suspected area. In the swollen jaw above we can see the infection with our unaided eye, so the diagnosis is straightforward. In many cases the diagnosis is not so obvious, and we need an exotic animal pathologist to analyze the cells to help us make a diagnosis. This expertise is especially important when we are trying to differentiate cancer from an infection.

A tiny needle with syringe is used to obtain samples for cytology. This sample is from the swollen forearm you saw above. The cells from this syringe will be put on a microscope slide for analysis by an exotic animal pathologist.

This is the cytology report from this pet


In addition to cytology the same fluid that is removed is cultured for bacteria. any bacteria that we grow and suspect as causing the infection is also analyzed to determine its sensitivity to different antibiotics.

The culture report in this case told us there was not any significant bacteria in the fluid we submitted.


In most cases the above tests give us our diagnosis. Sometimes more sophisticated tests are needed. We reserve these tests when we still do not have a diagnosis after we utilize the above tests, or the pet is not getting better in spite of our treatment.

The Iggie with the swollen forearm did not respond adequately to initial treatment. We biopsied the tissue and muscle in the area of swelling to give us more information.

After it was anesthetized an incision was made in the scales directly over the swollen spot in the forearm.

A special biopsy instrument was used to obtain a sample of the muscle and tissue in the area.

We sutured the small hole in the skin to aid in the healing process. Diseased tissue heals poorly so we want to make every effort to minimize traumatizing the area.

This is the report we received from the muscle biopsy

It turns out this Iguana had an area of dead tissue deep within its muscles.The original source of this problem was probably an infection. The infection might have been transferred to this point in the body through the bloodstream, maybe from an external wound.


We have many treatment modalities depending on the cause of the problem and the extent of the infection. Antibiotics are used in most cases. They are especially beneficial when we have a culture report telling us the type of bacteria causing the problem and the appropriate antibiotic to use.

It is very common for well intentioned owners to use antibiotics on their pet before bringing it to us. This is fraught with several potential hazards, not the least of which it can be the wrong antibiotic to use. This will delay the healing and it might even decrease bacteria that are normal inhabitants and advantageous to the healing process. In some diseases like Salmonella we do not treat because all we end up doing is breeding Salmonella organisms that are resistant to antibiotics. People commonly use the incorrect dose of antibiotic, causing one of 2 problems depending on the dose. If they under dose their pet they increase the chance of the bacteria developing resistance. If they overdose they run the risk of making their pet ill from the antibiotic. Antibiotics are also misused when there is no infection present to treat at all because of ignorance or misdiagnosis. Again, all that is being accomplished is a delay in the proper diagnosis and treatment, and the potential to develop resistant organisms, making the antibiotic less useful when it is really needed at a later date.

Reptile infections behave differently from infections we are used to treating in mammals. Their white blood cells fight off infections differently, resulting in abscess material that is more like cottage cheese in consistency. This thick type of pus necessitates minor surgery to remove abscess material that normally in mammals would drain out of the body because it is more fluid in nature. Click here to see pictures of laser surgery to correct an infected abscess in an iguana’s jaw.

In the more involved cases we sometimes have to amputate an infected limb or body part to prevent further spread of an infection that is not under control. Click here to see such a surgery in a Gecko with an infected tail.

Reptiles can get infections that are hazardous to humans, the most notable of these is Salmonella. Any time you treat a reptile with an infection you should assume it has a bacteria that can be spread to people. Keep children and adults that might have ongoing diseases away at all times because their immune systems are most susceptible. Always use disposable gloves and wash your hands after every encounter with your infected reptile, and never put anything in your mouth that has possibly been contaminated.


Too many animals housed together increase the stress level to the point that the immune system can be compromised, making them more susceptible to all types of infections. Keeping your reptile in the proper enclosure and utilizing correct husbandry practices go a long way to making them less susceptible to infections. Since reptiles are so dependent on their environment it is critical that you learn about their specific needs in order to house them in an environment that is optimum for their health. This particularly true in Iguanas because they are vegetarians and because their environmental requirements are so specific.

Other reptiles commonly get infections, most notably snakes. Click here for more information on skin infections in snakes.