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Iguana Has Lost Appetite: What Can We Feed Him?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Appetite Iguana Green Iguana Vet Diet


We helped a friend out over a year ago by providing a home for his 15 year old iguana. He has a good area to roam and a couple of lights as well as a suspended ceramic heater and cool spots to roam in.

We feed him spinach, arugula, kale and fruit (usually banana or assorted melon). When we first got him he ate a ton! He got almost fat but after time he became obsessed with our cat's food. We hid it when he came out and all seemed well. But recently he is eating less and less. We know cat food is bad for him so haven't yet tried it but it has been close to a week since he ate last.

His age is approaching 17 and we are in a rural area with no vet able to service him. My plan is to give him a mix of cat food, (to entice him) rabbit food (to fool him) and bean sprouts (for water). His colour seems normal and other than the lack of eating and weight loss he seems fine, but I am no expert and am worried! Any suggestions?

(T.S, 30 April 2009)


The first thing I’m absolutely bound to say is that you really do need to find a vet. Even if the one who looks after the stock animals on the farms around you wouldn’t call him/herself an expert on exotic animals, he or she will have plenty of relevant knowledge and expertise to bring to bear – and may even be able to put you in touch with a colleague who specialises in unusual pets.

A Few Thoughts

That said, three things spring instantly to mind about this poor anorexic iggy.

Firstly, you say he’s approaching 17 – well, that’s not a record (some are said to have made 25 or more in captivity), but it’s certainly pretty old as iguanas go; the average seems to be around 15-20 years of age. I’m simply not going to attempt to diagnose at a distance, but one possibility is that it may simply just be his time.

Secondly, it’s not clear from what you’ve said whether the “lights” are ultra violet (UV) or not; UV is essential to his well-being – so once you’ve had him checked out by a vet and ruled out any serious problems, if you don’t have a good UV source, you’ll need to get one. Remember that UV bulbs lose their effectiveness over time, so you’ll need to replace yours on a regular basis in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Thirdly, is he drinking? If he hasn’t drunk in a week, that’s more immediately worrying than not having eaten for the same period. In the wild, iguanas often take to the water and swim well; in captivity they need a humidity of 60 – 90 per cent, so if yours doesn’t have a good sized water bowl, try adding one as many people have found that allowing iguanas to submerge themselves stimulates appetite.


There seems to be a lot of debate about diet in iguanas; once upon a time, we all believed that green iguanas enjoyed a diet that includes insects and the like as hatchlings, before gradually becoming herbivorous adults. These days, there seems to be a thought in some quarters that green iguanas are exclusively vegetarian even as youngsters and so shouldn’t be offered anything else. Well, all I can say is that I know I’ve seen juveniles take insects in the wild, so on a personal level, I’m fairly confident that the meat “ban” is unnecessary.

Equally, I’ve seen some pet keeping books that advocate giving iguanas cat food – but I would tend to agree with you that it’s not good for them! If memory serves me correctly, I seem to recall that it’s supposed to place too big a strain on their kidneys. By the same token, you seem to be saying that your iggy eats rabbit food; I can only conclude that you don’t mean the sort of dry, husky stuff that I’m thinking about.

I haven’t had anything to do with pet rabbits since I looked after a friend’s as a child, so maybe I’m out of touch with some deliciously lush, fresh fodder now available for them. However, most iguanas adore the occasional slice of well dampened wholemeal bread – which is scarcely a natural diet item either!

I’m assuming the material you describe isn’t all he gets to eat; there’s evidence to suggest that too much banana should be avoided ( a bit too phosphorus-rich), spinach can interfere with calcium metabolism, and kale has been implicated in iodine/thyroxin disturbance. If it is, you would probably be well advised to try to broaden the make-up of his menu, but then if he’s survived on them to the ripe old age of 17 (and many captive iguanas scarcely make 10, while 8 has been suggested as the average lifespan in the wild) he’s clearly not doing so badly!

The bottom line is, with a few notable exceptions, the more varied the leaves, stems, flowers and fruits in his diet, the better – but obviously you need to get him eating again in the first place.

For that to happen, I honestly have to say I think you are going to have to see a vet; with a such a geriatric anorexic, it’s the single most useful suggestion I can make. Good luck – I hope he’s soon munching his greenery with renewed gusto!

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