Moving, Vacation and Boarding Stress
©1996 Melissa Kaplan
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.
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.
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.
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!
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