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What are they? - A parasite is any organism that lives on or in another organism (known as a host), and may harm its host, but usually will not kill it. Iguanas may suffer from a variety of external (living on the body) and internal (living inside the body) parasites. The owner of a newly-acquired iguana should always have it checked for parasites by a vet right away. Even farm-raised iguanas can carry parasites, and iguanas may pick up parasites while they are exposed to other reptiles in the pet store, so it’s not something that only owners of wild-caught lizards have to worry about.

External parasites:

Ticks - Eight-legged members of the arachnid group (which includes the tick’s relatives: spiders, mites, and scorpions), which attach to the host, pierce the skin with their mouth parts, and feed off the blood and fluids of the host. Ticks can also carry and transmit disease.

    Symptoms -
    • Excessive scratching
    • Shedding problems
    • Strange-looking or damaged scales in some areas
    • Visible ticks walking around on your iguana, or more often, seen attached in skin folds or under scales. Favorite spots are in the soft skin around the eyes armpits, and vent.
    Treatment -
    • One way to get rid of ticks is to cover them with petroleum jelly. This closes off the breathing holes that cover their bodies, and they suffocate, die, and fall off.
    • Another method is to grasp the tick’s body with a forceps, as close to its head as possible, and gently pull until it lets go. Do not pull abruptly or forcefully, because the body will likely break off from the head, killing the tick but leaving the mouthparts embedded in your iguana’s skin. This can lead to infection.
    • Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite wound with treat it with antibiotic ointment.
    • Check your iguana’s enclosure thoroughly for any other ticks, and change the substrate. Ticks aren’t nearly as common or problematic as their cousins - mites.
Mites - Like ticks, these arachnids attach to a host and suck blood. They are much smaller, however, and are usually found in large numbers on your iguana and in its enclosure. Mites are much more active than ticks, and appear to be tiny, moving specks. If you’ve got mites, you’ve got problems.

    Symptoms - The same as for ticks (see above), although mites are harder to see because of their small size. They like the same places as ticks - eyelids, armpits, vent - so check these areas closely.

    Treatment - Treating for mites is a two-step process. You’ve got to treat your iguana, and you’ve got to aggressively treat its enclosure. Neither of these steps is easy or fun, but both are necessary to be rid of the mites permanently.

    Treating your iguana - There are a few different methods that you can use to get the mites off of your iguana:
    • You can cover your iguana with a thin layer of baby or mineral oil for a few hours, and then rinse. This will suffocate the mites. You’ll need to repeat this once a week until no more mites appear. Of course, what do you do with an oil-covered iguana?
    • You can talk to your vet about the possible use of flea sprays. Do not use any pesticides on your iguana without consulting your vet first! Only vet-approved products (like sprays made for young kittens, for example) should be used. If your vet approves a product, you can spray it on a towel and wipe it on your iguana’s body, paying special attention to those favorite mite areas, and being especially careful of your iguana’s eyes. Wiping the spray onto your iguana with a towel gives you more control. Don’t spray it on directly.
    • Talk to your vet or pet store about other mite treatments. Be wary of products in the pet stores though - many of them don’t work effectively. Research products thoroughly first, and consult your vet.
    • One popular method of ridding your iguana of mites is to give your iguana a bath in water containing enough Betadine to make it tea-colored. The bath should be shoulder-deep. Since the mites will crawl up on your iguana’s head to escape the water, you will have to gently pour water over its head, but be careful to keep the solution out of the eyes. After the bath, saturate a cloth with Betadine and rub it around (not in) the eyes, in the armpits and skin folds of the legs - all those areas that mites favor. This treatment must be repeated once or twice weekly until there are no more reoccurences.
    Treatment of the enclosure:
    • Remove the substrate from the enclosure and discard. Scrub the habitat and accessories (branches, bowls, etc.) thoroughly. Soak in ½ cup bleach/gallon water solution for at least eight hours. Rinse well, and let air dry for at least 24 hours.
    • Wooden accessories can be baked at 200º F - 250º F for 2-3 hours to kill any mites/eggs on or in the wood.
    • Mites are extremely resistant to even the harshest disinfectants. Therefore, you must treat the enclosure with pesticide to be rid of them for good. To do this, place several no-pest strips or cat flea collars in the enclosure. Place them in such a way that they do not come into direct contact with the enclosure walls, floor, etc. For example, you may place them on a piece of aluminum foil. Seal the enclosure as much as possible from outside air, and leave the strips in for several hours. After treatment, air the enclosure out for several hours before placing your iguana back inside.
    After treatment, you must be extremely diligent about inspecting the enclosure and your iguana for new populations of mites. The eggs and tiny, barely visible immature stages can be hidden and can escape treatment, despite your best efforts. Treatments of both enclosure and iguana must be repeated until the mites are eradicated for good. In addition, some people have had success treating parasitic mites by introducing predatory mites into their iguana's enclosure. These predatory mites are not harmful to iguanas, but rather prey on the parasitic mites on the iguana, as well as the mites and eggs in and around the enclosure, and then die when their food supply runs out. One company that sells these predatory mites is Biocontrol Network. You might check out their web site if you are interested in learning more about predatory mites. For more detailed instructions on getting rid of mites, visit the following web pages:

    Getting Rid of Reptile Mites by Melissa Kaplan
    Eradicating Reptile Mites by Tricia Power
    Mite Problems! by Sandy Kiraly -contains her account of dealing with these pesky critters, as well as some photos that may help owners identify them.

Internal Parasites - There are several different kinds of parasites that will happily live in your iguana’s intestines, and which will rob it of nutrients, irritate its bowel, and cause general misery if not gotten rid of.

    Types of Internal Parasites -
    • Protozoans - Unicellular organisms that are larger and more complex than bacteria. Protozoans include flagellates, ciliates, ameobae, and non-motile forms.
    • Round worms (aka Nematodes) - Unsegmented worms whose bodies are circular in cross-section. This group includes such common members as the pinworms.
    • Flatworms (aka Cestodes) - This group includes the tapeworms. These are not as common in iguanas as they are in other pets, such as cats or dogs. They can be present, however.
    Symptoms of Internal Parasites -
    • Loss of appetite
    • Lethargy
    • Mucus in the feces
    • Worms visible in the feces
    • Weight loss or no weight gain, despite having a good appetite
    • Frequent, loose and/or smelly stools.
    Treatment -
    • One of the first things that owners of new iguanas should do is to collect a fresh stool sample from their iguana and take it to the vet. The vet will examine the stool and will be able to locate and identify any internal parasites that are present.
    • Once the parasites have been identified, the proper medication will be prescribed to kill the parasites. Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions carefully, so that the dosage and administration of the drug is done correctly. A follow-up visit and stool check will most likely be required to determine whether further treatments are needed.
    • Your iguana’s enclosure will need to be cleaned and disinfected, to kill any eggs that have been shed.
    • Prompt clean-up of feces during treatment will be necessary to prevent re-infection.

For more information on the various medications that are commonly prescribed for internal parasites, see Panacur, Antiparasitic Drugs and Symptoms of Parasitic Infection, by Tricia Power.

To see some photographs of the various types of internal parasites found in iguanas, visit the Yamanouchi Iguana Lab. At the main page, click on “Fecal Exam”.

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