Iguanas are relatively inexpensive pets to acquire, which makes them popular for children. But caring for them properly is neither cheap nor easy, and there the problems start.
Some places that sell these pets either don't know or don't care enough to properly educate buyers about their new family members. When it comes to iguanas, the cost of a proper setup can set you back a lot more than the price of the pet itself -- but incorrect housing and care can be deadly.
If you or your child has an iguana on your wish list, make sure you know what to do to keep your new pet healthy. A good setup is crucial, and so is a proper diet. Calcium requirements are probably the most often ignored: A long-term lack of calcium can leave a pet with a rubbery jaw he can't use to feed himself.
Here are some tips to keep an iguana in good shape:
-- Diet. Iguanas should be fed plant matter only, a mixture of vegetation that's high in calcium but low in phosphorus and fat. Choices include mustard, collard and turnip greens, as well as yams, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, alfalfa hay and squash.
Chop the vegetables into a size that can be easily handled by the pet, and mix and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Offer small amounts twice a day and sprinkle the food with a calcium supplement, available from pet-supply stores, catalogs or Web retailers that specialize in reptiles. This diet can be supplemented by high-quality commercial foods.
Water should be available for both bathing and drinking. A ceramic dish in the enclosure is a must. Many iguanas also enjoy being sprayed with mist a couple times a day.
-- Housing. The bigger the better. Little green babies can grow to be as large as 6 feet in length in as little as three years. Cages or aquariums must be kept scrupulously clean and dry to prevent bacterial or fungal diseases. The iguana's enclosure should be lined with newspapers, or better yet, clean newsprint. (Roll ends of clean newsprint are available from many newspapers.) Other possibilities for good footing include indoor-outdoor carpeting, Astroturf or even paper-towel squares. Avoid sawdust, litter, wood shavings or gravel.
Silk artificial plants can improve the appearance of the enclosure and are easy to keep clean. Provide your pet with a place to hide, such as a cardboard box, and some branches for climbing.
Uneaten food and soiled areas must be promptly removed. For disinfecting, avoid pine oil cleaners and use a solution of one part bleach to 30 parts water. Remember that proper sanitation and handling is essential for your protection as well as your pet's, since salmonella is a risk when proper hygiene procedures aren't followed.
-- Heat and light. Instead of a hot rock, use a heating pad or undercage strip designed for use with reptiles, or a ceramic basking lamp, which emits heat but no light.
Captive reptiles need ultraviolet B light from an artificial source. Pet stores sell lightbulbs that provide the proper light for iguanas. It's best to approximate natural conditions by supplying 10 to 12 hours of light per day.
Surprised at how much work an iguana can be? If you can't care for an iguana properly -- or didn't realize how big they get -- please don't get one.
If you want to proceed, keep researching before you buy. Melissa Kaplan is one of the best sources for all things reptilian. I highly recommend her book "Iguanas for Dummies" (Wiley, $22) and her Web site, www.anapsid.org.
Used mostly for craft-making these days, old-fashioned wooden clothespins -- the kind without metal springs -- make wonderful playthings for pets such as rabbits, rats and parrots. The pins are fun for them to play with and chew on, and are inexpensive to replace. Look for them in crafts stores and on the Internet.
PETS ON THE WEB
When it comes to disasters, we need to be prepared for our human family members and for the pets who rely on us just as much or more. Take time to review your emergency plans, and to replenish or replace any necessary supplies. The Emergency Animal Rescue Service has a collection of disaster-preparedness articles on its Web site (www.uan.org/ears/tips.html), including advice geared toward pets other than dogs or cats. Specifically for horses, the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital offers disaster-planning tips on its Web site (www.vmth.ucdavis.edu/home/VERT/VERT/disasterprepguide.html).
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: For about two months, I have been trying to decide what to do about something that happened at the veterinarian's office. I'm hoping you have a suggestion. I went in to pick up pills for one of our pets while my husband waited in the car. He saw two of the office staff taking a dog outside. The dog was on an IV, and one woman was holding that. The other woman was trying to get the dog to go to the area where they let the animals relieve themselves.
She was nudging the dog with her foot to get him to move. Every time she did that, the dog would yelp. My husband was very disturbed and called the office to discuss what he had seen. The veterinarian would not come to the phone, and the receptionist said that the dog had been yelping ever since he was taken out of his cage.
Even if the staffperson was not hurting the dog, that is no way to treat an animal that is obviously ill or has had surgery. How much trouble would it have been to guide the dog with her hand? Her actions showed no compassion, and that concerns us.
We have taken our pets to this practice for three years, but now I am afraid to leave my pets there for treatment. If that dog was treated in such a way where people could see, I wonder what happens out of view.
I am going to change veterinarians. But do I just drop my concerns with the current practice or is there another course I should take? -– Name Withheld, via e-mail
A: In many practices, receptionists handle calls without involving the veterinarians so that the practitioners can spend their time treating patients instead of talking to salespeople or answering routine questions over the phone. It may be possible that the veterinarian was never fully informed of your concerns or of what you witnessed.
As a courtesy to the veterinarian and in hopes of preventing their possible future mishandling of animals, I would want to be certain management was fully informed of the incident and had a chance to respond to your concerns. (Not having seen what your husband saw, I would like to think there might have been an explanation, such as that the dog would have bitten a hand put down to help him instead of being nudged along with a foot.) I would send a letter that's matter-of-fact in tone, not accusatory, and ask to be contacted by phone to discuss your concerns.
If you do not hear back, or if you are not satisfied with the veterinarian's explanation, I would definitely change practices. You absolutely cannot leave an animal where you do not trust that the pets are treated with compassion, or where the veterinarians who own or run the practice will not hear your concerns about the behavior of their staff.
Q: I would like to add to your recent column on litter boxes that you should put enough litter in the pan to allow the animal to cover any waste it leaves -- at least 2 inches. Cats don't like to touch the bottom of the litter pan when burying their waste.
I ran across this little tidbit on a Web site just a couple of weeks ago. Up until then, our cat was having a problem with litter box aversion. Once I increased the depth of litter in her box, the problem was solved. -- C.S., via e-mail
A: It's like I always say: If the cat ain't happy, no one's happy. Some cats are extremely tolerant of whatever litter arrangements are made -- kind of box, brand of filler, box location, level of cleanliness -- while others simply will not use a box that isn't "just so."
Start with the basics: a good-sized box with lots of unscented litter, kept scrupulously clean and placed in a quiet and feline-convenient location. That works for most cats, and if it works with yours, don't mess with success!
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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