©1996 Melissa Kaplan
I read posts and get email and phone calls almost daily from people whose iguanas refuse to eat certain foods. Most are from people who are trying to get their iguanas to eat a proper diet, such as my iguana salad, for the first time.
I had an iguana, Dexter, who alternately loved, then hated, cantaloupe. During his love-times, he ate it daily; during his hate-times, which seemed to happen from one day to the next, he refused to touch it. This goes back to the days when I served little piles of separate foods. I decided one day to mix the cantaloupe up into the rest of the salad veggies, and that's when I realized that if everything was prepared very small and mixed together, they couldn't pick at their food, eating this, leaving that. Further research showed that finely preparing the food served another purpose: it made it possible for the lizard to actually ingest more food, and much easier for their gut to break it down and extract more nutrients.
Now, I get in 15-20+ iguanas a year. Almost without exception, each of them has a food preference/avoidance reported by their owner...hates mustard, hates parsley, will only eat dog food, will only eat monkey biscuits, hates carrots, will only eat grapes... I just smile and nod, knowing all the while that within a matter of weeks, their iguana will be chowing down on whatever I put down, even if it includes the detested food item or doesn't include the "only food he'll eat" item.
Some food preferences can easily and safely be accommodated. Doesn't like carrots? No problem - there are several different types of squash that can be used instead. But food preferences, such as "will only eat fruit and a few greens" cannot be allowed to continue as it is not a diet which provides what the ig needs.
for Harmful Foods
"Animals Know Best" Fallacy
What's scary here is that I have seen mail and posts from vet and pre-vet students who propound this point of view. If they don't get disabused of this grossly mistaken notion by the time they start practicing veterinary medicine, they will be just as lethal to animals out there as is the pet trade.
Do this day after day. Be consistent. Don't change ingredients every day or so, trying to tempt the iguana. All this says to the iguana is "if I wait long enough, this stupid human will eventually give me what I want...then we'll know who's boss!".
So, you reach the breaking point...
If you can't stand it, or the ig is seriously stubborn, there are a few things you can do without seriously compromising your position and without reverting back to a lousy or dangerous diet. I define stubborn as 3-4 weeks of no eating. Keep something in mind - if you are seeing feces, the ig is eating something though you may not see much reduction in the amount of food on the plate!
You can gradually wean him off the bad and onto the good by using both the bad and good in shifting proportions: more bad/less good changing to less bad/more good until you phase out the bad all together. This is not something which should take months to accomplish - within a month the ig should be freely feeding on the new, proper food. This is another reason for processing the foods down to fine shreds or mince, not diced and sliced...the smaller it is, the harder it is to pick anything out (though I did once have an adult Akita who would leave three lentils and a carrot slice in the bottom of her 2 qt licked-clean food dish...)
If you are trying to get him to accept one of the ingredients in the salad, start off adding a small amount of it to the rest of the ingredients, and gradually work up. Keep in mind that different brands of alfalfa pellets and even reptile multivitamins will have different smells due to different ingredients, and sometimes those odors can be extremely off-putting to a reptile who has an extremely well-developed olfactory system. Try switching to another brand if there continues to be resistance after a month.
Story of Iguanita...
A true problem iguana is one who was sick to begin with, who may not have been well fleshed to begin with, and who may be undergoing treatment for parasites, dehydration, and or metabolic bone disease. They may have been starved, intentionally or otherwise, by their former owners or the pet store.
If you've not taken such an iguana to a reptile vet, do so. Forcing a sick and dehydrated iguana to eat hard to digest food could send it into shock, or worse.
An iguana suffering from MBD or chronic starvation may not have a gut that is functioning very well. Much of its natural gut flora may have died off. Spoon feed a teaspoonful of nonfat yogurt containing live cultures once a day for a couple of days. This is very easy to digest and will help boost the gut flora.
Important note: Forcing food into a dehydrated or starved lizard (and most starved lizards are also dehydrated) could make matters worse, so before actually force-feeding your iguana, be sure the read the articles on Fluids & Fluid Therapy in Reptiles, and Emaciation (Starvation) Protocol.
Gently pull down the dewlap and deposit a small amount in the mouth. Take it slow and easy. If you put too much in at one time or don't allow adequate time for swallowing, they may aspirate the fluid - literally inhale it or not be strong enough to react in time to close off the glottis leading to their lungs. Once food gets into the lungs, bacterial infection usually sets in which can be fatal if not treated. Too much fluid in there all at once may literally drown the iguana (this goes for most reptiles, actually). Be patient and plant to spend at least 15-20 minutes at each feeding session.
Iguanas will usually start to lap it up off the end of the syringe or eye dropper and can soon be encouraged to lap it up from a shallow plate or bowl. After a day or two of several such feedings a day, mix a very small amount of the iguana salad into the Ensure shake. Everyday, add a little bit more salad. Eventually, you will end up with more salad than Ensure, and ultimately wean out the Ensure completely. Ensure is a fatty food and so be sure to add your calcium supplement to the salad. The use of Ensure is for emergency measures only - it is not to be used as a staple food source.
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