You Make The Diagnosis: Iguana With Swollen Jaws

Iguanas require a lot of special care to keep them healthy in captivity.  This iguana suffered from anorexia, lethargy and reluctance to move. 

Examine the image carefully, before answering the following questions; Name the medical condition this iguana suffers from.  What causes it?   

Diagnosis:  Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease is a common disease of captive iguanas.  Lack of vitamin D3 from ultraviolet light leads to improper calcium absorption.  As the disease progresses, the bones suffer from calcium depletion causing fractures of the long bones and swelling of the jaws.  Look closely at the lower jaw.  See how swollen it is.  This condition is called rubber jaw because it feels soft and squishy when touched.  
Unfortunately, few captive iguanas receive enough of the ultraviolet radiation needed to prevent this condition.  In my experience, the number one cause is a burned out full spectrum light bulb.  The ultraviolet part burns out before the visible light does.  Naturally, many owners think that if the light is on, it is working.  The second most common cause is an improperly balanced diet with too little calcium.  The third most common cause is not exposing the iguana to the light for enough time each day.  The light must be suspended within eighteen inches of the iguana for twelve hours a day.  

When the metabolic bone disease becomes as severe as pictured above, it is extremely difficult to save them.  This iguana spent two weeks in the hospital receiving tube feedings and calcium injections.  He made it but his jaws never returned to normal.  He also suffered from a lot of back pain that limited his climbing.  He required a cage with ramps instead of branches because he couldn’t climb. 

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

2 replies on “You Make The Diagnosis: Iguana With Swollen Jaws”

  1. Dr. Kris.

    We have a 17 month old Siberian Husky. Recently her behavior has begun to change and I’m wondering if this is normal for a husky becoming a “teenager” or if something else is going on.

    EATING: She used to love her food and practically inhale it when we fed her. Now she doesn’t seem interested in eating most of the time and seems to just play with her food and not really finish it. We feed her the raw diet – I’ve discovered Dogs Gone Wild raw dog food and have been feeding her that. I get chicken necks, ground beed and veggies and ground lamb and veggies. I add orgnaic pumpkin and sprinkle dried raw fish, beef or turkey from Vital Essentials on top (the beef has green tripe). I am still offering her 1.5 lbs split between breakfast and dinner. It is time to switch her to a single feeding? Does she need more variety? I do give her bones ocassionally too. and I usually give her an egg once a week (including shell). I just tried an experiment and just gave her the ground meat, pumpkin and topper she ate it; maybe she doesn’t like the chicken necks any more.

    MISCHIEF: Of late, she’s been taking things off the kitchen counters. We feed one of our cats on the counter and keep dry food and water out for him. Yesterday she got 2 of the bowls on the floot and broke them (they were ceramic). She frequently pulls recycling bottle and cans down from the counter if we forget to get them into the outside bins. She had taken plastic bottle of Alieve and a Chinese herb we take for colds (Gan Mao Ling) off the counter and played with them until she chews thru the bottles and all the gel caps or tablets spill out when she tosses the bottles around (I’m guessing this is what she does with them). I don’t beleive she’s ingested either of these, but I can’t be sure. She has had some loose stools lately.

    ENERGY LEVEL: She seems more energetic than usual. She goes to a farm with other dogs once a week and gets to run on several fenced acres for 2 hours. She loves this and has many dog friends. She comes home tired and happy. Does their energy level and need to keep busy increase at about 17-18 months or so? She definitely wants to be outside more than inside and seems to need more attention than just a few weeks ago. She gets one 45 min-1 hour walk every day in addition to time playing in the yard both with us and by herself.

    SLEEP: She sleeps in a XL kennel at night; she has room to stand up and move around. We had tried letting her sleep out of the kennel but found she was scratching at our door to get into our room early in the morning so we put her back into the kennel again. We keep our door closed since we have a cat that lives in our bedroom (she and the male cat don’t get along). She seems to only need about 6-7 hours of sleep.

    We spayed her in late February; she did not come into heat before being spayed.

    Maybe this is normal, but I am concerned about the changes. Thanks for any information you can provide.

    1. Hello Jane,

      When home cooking for dogs, it is very difficult to supply all the micro nutrients at the proper levels. In reading the ingredients, I am concerned about the proper level of calcium and phosphorous as well magnesium. I would strongly encourage you to have a veterinary nutritionist make up a recipe for you to follow to make sure your dog’s diet is correctly balanced. NSAIDS like Aleve are dangerous for pets. They can causes liver and/or kidney problems as well as severe gastric ulcerations. I recommend bringing her to your veterinarian for an exam and lab work right away. Last, Siberian Huskies were born to run. In my experience, they do best with several hours of exercise every day. Without enough exercise, they get into all kinds of mischief. If possible, I would take her to the farm every day. Hope that helps!

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