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

Tough Love, or Attigtude Adjustment

Compilation and Comments by Melissa Kaplan, 2001


The following was posted by Bon on the Advanced Iguana Mail List (AIML) and is posted here with her permission.

Her male iguana, iZ, had been increasingly aggressive during the 2000 breeding season. She had tried rubbing some estrogen cream on him, in amounts ranging from 0.5-1.0 cc. It was appearing to have some effect, but Bon was still having serious enough problems with him charging and snapping. While jumping on chairs and posturing over him did mitigate some of his behaviors, whenever another family member ticked him off, he'd regress in his behavior with Bon. In Bon's words:

July 10, 2000.
I decided today that enough is enough: it's time to reinstate my authority as ALPHA IG of the house!

I thought iZ was calming down a bit, but iZ just *loves* to prove me wrong! He was back to his nasty aggressive self tonight after work... a *long* day at work at that - I think I snapped.

Bath time went okay and then after I took him upstairs to his supper shelf, he freaked out on me. His shelf is black plastic mesh with a blankie on one end (he likes being able to see through it!). He threw himself at the mesh with his mouth wide open, forgetting the mesh was there, trying to get me. <sigh>

Well, if iZ can do a 180 degree in attitude, so can *I*! I stepped out of his room and he thought "na na, got her again!" but I went and got my summer quilt and put it over my shoulders like a cape - on top of my heaviest sweatshirt and blue jeans. I went and sat in his room across from him and as soon as he saw I was gonna sit there, he started bobbing/posturing/ad nauseum. I jumped up, spread my 'wings' (almost as good as a dewlap!) and hissed at him! He was so shocked he almost fell off his shelf but he quickly recovered and attempted to outdo me. HA! Never underestimate a crazed ig-mom!!!!

I jumped up on a milk crate, spread my blue wings, hissed, leaned towards him at eye level and announced "*I'M* the Alpha ig!!!"

*Poof!* He deflated like magic and hung his head and wouldn't meet my eyes...I went and sat down across from him again. He ignored me a few minutes, looked over and shudder bobbed, so back up on the milk crate I go, open mouth hissing like the madwoman I am. He bobbed back again so I puffed up even bigger and leaned even closer and hissed even louder.

*Poof* Deflated ig. We did this for about a half an hour. I was soaking wet! (What an inventive weight loss program!)

July 15, 2000
iZ has just been getting closer and closer to being his old self this week. I don't want to say that too loud, or sound too thrilled about it for fear I'll jinx it, but <grin> my nose-bopping-Alpha-dance made my point I think.

We spent a couple of days posturing at each other in greeting, his way of asking if I still wanna be the Alpha, I think! As soon as I'd "puff up" he'd back down and the second he backs down, I praise him and talk to him and then we go down for bath-time. He climbs out of the tub and onto my arm like a gentleman again, no lunging for it. He then sits very nicely on my lap and lets me rub [the estrogen] cream on him and snuggle for a minute. He's even been allowed to ride back upstairs on my shoulder like the 'old days' instead of at arms length! *YAY*

His appetite seems to have returned full force, too! He's so darn happy to see that big salad plate, he's totally forgotten that last week he wanted to rip my face off instead of eating! I fixed what I *thought* was an ungodly huge plate for him, using up the last of the greens while they're still fresh, and darn if he didn't lick that plate clean! (*I* couldn't have eaten that much salad!).

Still using the estrogen cream nightly. I have absolutely no clue if it's the cream, the Alpha dance, or just time for season to be done. I'm not willing to suddenly drop the cream and find out, though, as I miss iZ too much! Still tapering *very* slowly. I *do* wonder if he wasn't estrogen PMSing for a few days!? He seemed to do much better on a lower dose both in the beginning and now, but again, the peak dose of the estrogen could have just coincided with the peak of his seasonal attitude. Anyway, I plan to continue to taper down over the next week and see how he does. I am thinking I might go to an every other day, very small dose for a week or so then. I know from personal experience how nuts hormones can make you and I really don't wanna shock his system *if* the estrogen *is* helping.

Right now, he's upstairs, roaming and stomping around, having a good time! Amazes me how much noise a 10# dragon can make!!!! *grin*

Things are looking up! 

Bon was, at the time of this incident, a pediatric nursing aide. She kept a log of the amounts and responses she was seeing to the use of the over-the-counter estrogen cream she tried on iZ. I do not recommend people rush out and by these products and slather them on their male igs. I do suggest discussing with your veterinarian the use of a topical estrogen cream or other form of estrogen before you try it. Remember that Bon didn't know for sure where iZ was in his cycle. It is also difficult to know if the prior weeks of estrogen primed iZ to respond as he did to her Alpha Ig-quilt waving, or if he would have responded that way regardless. It may be worth trying something similar (remember: she was padded with clothes under the quilt, and made use of a crate to stand on to get at a higher level so that she was over him or at eye level with him when she did her quilt-waving, then settled into a quite, low-profile posture after she'd made her point.

This getting into a position higher than the iguana and making oneself look bigger both use behavioral techniques regularly employed by iguanas and other animals to scare off potential predators and to establish (or try to resist) incursions into territory or social status displacement attempts by other iguanas. Sitting or standing on a level higher than the iguana (or humans, for that matter) is an established intimidation technique. While humans don't have dewlaps to flare and can't laterally compress their bodies to a significant degree, enlarging one's silhouette, as Bon did with the quilt, is a way to look even bigger than usual.


2002 Update - And An Important Lesson
A pet who normally behaves in a certain way who suddenly acts very differently may be a sign that there is a problem. For example, if a potty-trained pet who rarely has accidents suddenly has accidents all over the place, or in a particular place (like, on your bed), that may be a sign that there is some change in the household that is upsetting, or it may be a sign of a health problem. With male iguanas who suddenly start acting aggressive, the first thing we think of is the onset of breeding season or that there is something that is triggering the male iguana's territorial response.

When Bon started posting about iZ's sudden aggression, we all pretty much assumed it was indeed breeding season. It wasn't.

It turns out that iZ had formed another bladder stone. For anyone who has experienced them, you know how painful they can be. iZ's behavior, rather than being related to breeding season, was either trying to get Bon to go away and not pick him up and pet him, or otherwise a signal that something was wrong.

The lessons?

  • Always take into consideration underlying physiological causes for behavioral changes.
  • Making "big lizard" can be effective in dealing with some aggressive males. Several male iguana keepers have tried what Bon describes above to make themselves bigger, and their iguanas' behavior was modified as a result.
  • Never assume anything when someone describes a situation to you, online, in an email, or anyplace else!

For more information on pain in reptiles, please see Signs of Pain & Discomfort in Herps, and the Herp Pain sections.

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