WHEN THE TEMPERATURE DROPS AND THE SKY GETS dark and dreary, our iguanas tend to suffer from the winter blahs. This is more apparent on iguanas who spend most of their time in outdoor cages under the sun. The weather changes, fall creeps in and, for most of the country, the weather becomes unfriendly for iguanas.
What happens to our iguana who is used to spending his or her days basking out in real sunlight? It varies. Some iguanas behave like they are angry, some just mope around stop eating, some iguanas stalk the house and will scratch at the doors and windows, wanting to be let outside. And some iguanas might do all of the above.
The winter blahs don’t just happen to iguanas who have outdoor enclosures. Changes in photoperiod like daylight savings and the return to standard time, the sun going down earlier, the temperature in the house getting cooler – all the changes that the changing seasons bring can create conflict in our iguana.
The iguana comes from a temperate climate that experiences minimal change. Temperature fluctuation is within fifteen or twenty degrees at most. The major change is in rainfall amounts from the dry season to the wet season. Even if we attempt to regulate their environment completely, changes in our environment are going impact theirs no matter what we do. You can’t, and shouldn’t, build an air tight enclosure that has constant temperatures. Iguanas need air circulation and seasonal changes in temperature, humidity, and light to feel “normal” and to create or recreate healthy bodily functions. For all we know, iguanas may suffer from the wet season blahs in the rainforest when the rain is pouring down and food isn’t readily available yet.
So, how can you help your iguana through the winter blahs? First of all, make sure that your iguana is at optimum weight and health going into winter. One of the reasons your iguana seems to have a huge appetite in the summer is because he or she is preparing for the “dry season” or a period of limited food resources. In the rain forest, plants and trees slow leaf growth during periods of dry weather. An iguana must make the most of the food availability during peak growth periods.
Evolutionary information buried deep in an iguana’s brain drive their behavior. Never assume that because an iguana lives in the U.S. or was bred in captivity, they have less of a connection with their wildness, with the evolutionary drive of a rain forest animal.
So living in a captive situation can make their existence very difficult. Think stress. Any change, however subtle, can affect an iguana’s personality. Combine that with an ambient temperature change during colder weather and the loss of sunlight and your iguana is going to go through some changes.
Many homes do not have central heating or keep thermostats at low overnight temperatures. Review your iguana enclosure and your own enclosure (your house) to see what you need to do to make the transition from summer to winter easier on your iguana. If you do let your house get cold at night, the temperature in your iguana enclosure will be lower than it was in the summer when the ambient temperature in your house was much higher.
Central air and heat can affect the enclosure, as well. Forced-air heating is very dry and humidity is affected. Make sure you increase the humidity in the area of the enclosure if your house is very dry.
Watch for changes in your iguana’s behavior. Does he or she seem uninterested in a favorite food usually consumed with gusto? Does your iguana, who normally eats every day, suddenly decide to skip a few meals? Do you observe a change in behavior like abnormal aggressiveness or lethargy? Many of these behavioral changes can be the beginning of illness but they can also be the result of the change in the season.
Don’t stress out thinking that your iguana is getting sick but be more aware of the progression of the behavior. Even if the behavior is caused by winter blahs, it can expose your iguana to illness because of the depression in the immune system. During these stress-induced periods, make sure the enclosure is kept slightly warmer than normal. An iguana that is suffering the blahs is stressed and needs to be kept nice and warm.
If your iguana is put on antibiotics, your vet should tell you to keep the ambient temperature in the lower range of the enclosure at no less than 85 degrees. Antibiotics work best when a reptile is kept at the higher range of temperatures. Remember than higher temperatures mean more chance of dehydration so hydrate your iguana while he or she is kept at warmer temperatures.
A warm bath every few days can accomplish that but make sure that the bath is given during the day and that the iguana is completely dry before putting him or her back in the enclosure for the night. Dry folds and creases with a fluffy towel. Dampness can cause fungus to grow and can also cause a drop in body temperature while the wet areas evaporate.
As long as your iguana, nice and fat from lots of summer eating, eats fairly regularly and poops every day or so, you don’t have to worry during these initial winter blahs. Offer favorite foods, be gentle and all will be well.