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

Moving, Vacation and Boarding Stress

©1996 Melissa Kaplan


Moving Stress
Vacation & Boarding Stress
Caretaker Stress
Owner Absence Stress
Iguana Sitter's List


Moving Stresses
No matter how far you move the iguana nor how long it took to get it there, the iguana will be stressed. Older iguanas are creatures of habit; disturb their daily routine, and they will suffer. Hatchling iguanas may be stressed, not only from the change, but from suddenly being the only iguana. There is safety in numbers for animals low on the food chain, and since your iguana isn't quite convinced that you are not going to eat it, the fact that it is now housed in comparative luxury with all of its needs met, doesn't really matter. Even relocating the iguana's enclosure from one side of a room to another can generate enough stress to produce the following signs.

Signs of stress common when iguanas have been moved from one place to another or from one enclosure to another include darkening, browning or graying of skin color, reduced activity, reduced appetite or complete loss of appetite, and reduced tameness (if the iguana was tame to begin with). Prolonged stress reaction may cause the suppression of the immune system, resulting in systemic bacterial infections, secondary infections such as mouth rot and abscesses on the body, limbs, and tail, or increased populations of protozoans and worms that can further weaken them.

Iguanas may spend all their time in their hide-boxes or other hidden places, or, if free roaming, hidden away behind or under furniture and tucked away in bookshelves. Their acclimation to their new home may take weeks, even months.


Vacation and Boarding Stress
There is one other kind of stress that comes on, not when the iguana is moved, but when its humans go away on vacation, leaving the iguana behind.

Boarding an iguana at a pet store is generally not a good idea. Given that most pet stores do not quarantine new animals, do not practice proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures and, in general do not care for their reptiles properly, pet stores are not particularly healthy places for your iguana to be. There are a few who do it well, feeding your foods, keeping your animal separate from theirs and away from public view Such boarding, however, is always risky to the iguana's health and well-being, quite apart from the stress of being separated from you and in a strange environment. Check out the store, check out their boarding facilities, and question the staff about exactly how they will care for the animal. Find out, too, whether they will feed the proper foods, or if you can leave them with the food to feed your iguana.

Boarding an iguana at a vet's may or may not be a good idea. Some vets do a superb job of it and have well-qualified animal care technicians and general staff who are knowledgeable about iguanas and treat them well. On the other hand, iguanas have returned from vet boarding missing tails, their snouts rubbed off, and considerably worse off than when their owners left them. As with pet stores, ask to see the boarding facilities, find out about diet provisions, exercise and/or sunning areas, regular handling sessions, etc.

The least stressful way to care for your iguana while you are gone is to have the iguana stay in its own environment and have a caretaker come in at least once a day. Some pet-sitting services are qualified to care for reptiles. Some veterinary care technicians will be happy to earn some extra money caring for your animals while you are gone. Sometimes you can trade animal care services with other herpetological society members who themselves would like to get away on vacation now and then.

Given that iguanas are highly social animals and that they eat and defecate every day, daily care is a must. Many people get reptiles, thinking they can leave them for a week or even a weekend; while you might be able to leave a snake for a weekend, you cannot leave iguanas. They poop in their water or food, or toss the bowls over, spilling everything. Sometimes lights fail to go on or off, or the iguana manages to dismantle the furnishings in its enclosure. Leaving it alone for the weekend just does not work.


Caretaker Stress
Even if the iguana is cared for in your own home, if he doesn't know the caretaker, he will be doubly stressed: stressed from your absence and stressed at being confronted by a stranger.

To mitigate caretaker stress, either have someone care for him whom he knows and trusts (clue: if your iguana turns brown when being held by someone, he doesn't feel comfortable with that person), or introduce the caretaker to the iguana several days before you leave, and have the caretaker do cage maintenance and at least one feeding by themselves while you are there, in the background.

Caretaker stress is much like moving and other stress: the iguana may become subdued, stop eating, become less tame when approached or handled. A potty-trained iguana may break potty training despite no change in setup or daily schedule.


Owner Absence Stress
Despite the best of care with the most trusted of caretakers, your iguana may still be stressed - by your absence. Even iguanas who are less than tame miss the humans with whom they share their lives. Highly tamed and social iguanas suffer even more. The signs of stress are the same as discussed above: drop in appetite, color changes, abscesses, etc. Correcting the stress situation, fortunately, is relatively simple, just come home! Actually, you needn't cut your vacation short. Your iguana will start to respond soon after you return home, although it may be tough to see it at first. Many iguanas seem to act almost like children (or some cockatoos I have known), they will make you pay for being gone. Payment may be extracted in the form of a suddenly whippy and thrashy or threatening iguana, complete with bobs and open mouth threats. The iguana may suddenly decide that its sole goal in life is to finally claw through the glass window and sail off into your yard. The most common form of retribution, however, is breaking potty-training. Favored spots are the middle of your bed, on a pile of clean clothes, or on those important papers you've been meaning to file away.

Scolding doesn't help in this situation (not that it really does in any situation!). Lots of love and quality time will, however. Head-rubs and back-rubs and a hand-offered treat or two, and your relationship should soon (well, it may take a week or two) be back to normal again. Be careful about too many food bribes, however: many iguanas will use them as a way to start getting you to alter their feeding patterns and food offerings - don't fall for it!


Iguana Sitters List
Iguana keepers share many common problems including what to do about finding good iguana care while they are away on vacation. To that end, many iguana keepers have volunteered their services to be iguana sitters. To find a sitter in your area, head to the Ig Sitters site.

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