Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Iguanas: Crusty Deposits Around The Mouth

©1999 Melissa Kaplan are doing everything right and then one morning you go to say hello to your iguana and are horrified to see a crusty yellowish or brownish ring around his mouth opening (or on one part of it) where the top and bottom jaws meet. Sometimes you may have to actually pry his mouth open a bit to break that seal. When you do, there may be some mucous clinging to the edges of the crusty stuff. You freak, with visions of advanced mouth rot and vet bills the size of your kid's college tuition dancing in your head.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Better now? Then read on...

What is that stuff?
Most often, that stuff is a mixture of serous fluid, saliva, and sometimes some minute particles of food that have gathered to the edges of the mouth/gumline and dried into place.

Minor Injury
Most often, what has happened is that your iguana ate something that was a little sharper than usual (a piece of squash, the center rib or vein from a thick-leafed green, the pen you left laying around, your other iguana's tail spikes) or accidentally scratched itself on the gum tissue when scratching its head with one of its feet.

When there is a minor such injury to the gum tissue, there will be a small flow of intracellular fluid which may become mixed with some saliva. The viscous mixture may entrap some food particles. This builds up over the course of several hours to the crusty deposits you see.

These deposits can be easily removed 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. Once you have done this, check the area inside the mouth as well as the rest of the inside of the mouth. If there are no signs of the plaques or petechial hemorrhaging associated with stomatitis, then there is nothing to worry about. You may have to repeat the removal with the swab a couple of times a day for a few days, but the injured tissue will soon heal in a healthy iguana, and you won't even need to treat the area with any topical antiseptic.

Serious Injury
Once in a while, an iguana will more seriously injure the inside of its mouth. This frequently happens to iguanas kept in cages, rather than enclosures constructed of solid materials, who bite on the wire while trying to reach something on the other side of the mesh. An iguana might bite a hard object hard enough to cause serious bruising or damage to the gum tissues which then become infected. Left untreated, it may lead to stomatitis.

If such an injury occurs, you should consider having your vet look at your iguana to see if any topical or systemic treatment should be administered along with your using the swab to remove the crust.

Sign of More Serious Problems
An early sign of stomatitis and respiratory infection is increased saliva which may then collect and dry on the edge of the mouth. Checking the inside of the mouth once or twice a day as discussed above should quickly show whether the problem is minor and transient, or an early sign of something that needs to be addressed by the veterinarian.

Salty Deposits
You are probably used to seeing salt deposits on the walls and perches inside your iguana's enclosure, or on the surfaces around her basking and sleeping areas outside of the enclosure. As you know from reading the article on sneezing, these deposits are natural byproducts of the iguana's digestion and metabolism.

Sometimes, though, instead of sneezing to clear the salt glands (the reservoirs that collect the fluid until such time as a sneeze is triggered), the fluid just sort of dribbles out. You may see it glisten on the bottom rim of the nostril, or feel the wetness on its nose or chin. Or you may see it once it has dried to a fine, salty film coating the scales under the nostrils and around the mouth opening and farther down the outside of the lower jaw.

Just as with the sneezed-out deposits, this salty film is nothing to worry about. Wet a cotton-tipped swab or dampen a facial tissue and gently wipe it away if it bothers you...chances are, it doesn't bother your iguana at all.

Food Deposits
Anyone who has had an iguana for awhile and feeds it grated food has at one time or another been startled and concerned about a "bloody" patch on the iguana's mouth or skin rimming the outside of the mouth. You get overly concerned, start writing everyone you know, call all the iguana experts you know, drag your iguana to the vet in subzero weather only to find, to you great chagrin, that that bloody patch is just a bit of dried strawberry or raspberry the slob didn't get all the way into his mouth.

As much as we love them, we all admit: igs are sloppy eaters. Between decorating their environment - with food painting, and diving rostrum-first into their pile of food, they generally end up with bits of fruit and vegetable decorating their face, dewlap and toes. They are like having a toddler around who will never grow big enough to not wear her Fudgsicle™ all over her face. So, while giving thanks that your iguana has not come down with some incurable disease, pull out that handy box of swabs or facial tissue, and have at it.

In Closing...
Buy stock in the companies that manufacture cotton-tipped swabs and facial tissue.

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site