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

Paralysis in Green Iguanas

Paralysis is not a normal physical condition. It must be treated as a medical emergency.

©1999 Melissa Kaplan


If you are reading this because you just realized your iguana is fully or partially paralyzed, do not email me, or send mail to a mailing list or to a message baord to ask what do to about it! Instead, get your iguana to a reptile vet right now. If the cause is not due to an accident or traumatic injury, then you also need to read the articles on metabolic bone disease and the ICFS article, and start making the necessary corrections to diet and environment along with implementing the treatment directed by the veterinarian.

Given the number of people who don't see why they need to get their paralyzed iguana or other reptiles to a reptile vet, this bears repeating: Paralysis is not a normal physical condition. And, unless something smashes onto your iguana, or your iguana smashes into something and its spine is thus fractured, paralysis typically is not something that comes on suddenly, but a preventable side-effect of a condition whose onset is slow, with many tell-tale signs leading up to it.


What causes paralysis?
The most common cause of paralysis in green iguanas is metabolic bone disease - some form of calcium deficiency. These deficiencies are brought about because something we, their keeper, have done something wrong in setting up their environment, or constructed their diet improperly, or both.

When MBD has set in, even before it gets as far as paralyzing the iguana, other signs (as discussed in the Identification and Treatment of Metabolic Bone Disease and Calcium Metabolism and Metabolic Bone Disease articles) will have already been exhibited, often for some time, by the iguana. Twitching, loss of appetite, softening and swelling lower jaws, reluctance to climb - all are signs that something is wrong and needs to be analyzed and addressed immediately.

During this slow onset, the bones become increasingly porous and so are more easily fractured at pressures far less than would fracture a healthy bone. A minor slip-and-fall that wouldn't harm a healthy iguana will easily fracture the more delicate finger and leg bones of a calcium-deficient iguana, and ultimately just trying to bear its weight while standing up will be enough to cause fractures in the spine without any actual impact trauma.


Can normal motor or bowel function be restored?
If the paralysis is not due to an actual spinal fracture, then yes, chances are quite good that normal, or near normal, functioning will be restored. There may be some changes in gait and overall appearance, especially if there is some residual lumps on or between any vertebrae, but overall the iguana should recover its former mobility and agility, even with some deformity. Remember that recovery will not happen all by itself - you must get veterinary attention for your iguana, as well as make the necessary changes to the diet and/or environment.


What if the iguana remains paralyzed?
Occasionally, some devoted iguana keepers can keep their iguanas going, month after month, year after year, providing physical therapy, daily baths and massages to get the feces and urates moved out, moving the iguana from basking to sleeping to feeding area (if it is quadriplegic - paraplegic iguanas can often drag themselves around using just their forearms, though their climbing capability is severely, if not completely, impaired, but still need daily assistance to void wastes and help food move through the gut).


When continued life may not be an option...
In most cases, however, survival is relatively short, even with the most attentive of keepers. The iguana goes into a decline, both physical and mental. Ultimately, the keeper is faced with having to address the iguana's quality of life versus euthanasia. In all such assessments, it is important for the keeper to remove their personal feelings from what should be an objective assessment of the iguana's day-to-day life.

What often happens is that, in delaying making such an assessment and decision, the iguana continues to decline, eventually dying. Is it a painful, or confusing, dying? I don't know, nor do I know if it is possible to truly know. I do know that proper euthanization by a capable veterinarian, is far less painful or confusing than lingering and weakening day by day.


In closing...
While I have seen no data on it, I have observed that when the situation is caught before it advances to full paralysis or spinal fracture, the chances for full recovery are much greater.

If your iguana is paralyzed right now, please follow the links above and get your iguana to a reptile vet and do a thorough evaluation of its diet and environment.

If you are just reading this article because you are interested in the topic, good for you! The more you are aware of as to what can go wrong, the better you can do everything you can to make sure it doesn't go wrong.

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