All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Iguanas and Babies

Dear Marie,

My son recently purchased two large iguanas.  He lives in Yorba Linda with his wife and their two-year-old son.  I am very worried about my grandson because these things are awfully big and seem very dangerous.  Isn’t there a law against owning animals like this?  I may be over-reacting, but I am very concerned for my grandson’s safety.

Anna, Brea

Dear Anna:

I understand your concern for your grandson.  Reptilian pets are often misunderstood and considered hazardous.  However, if they were hand raised and are used to regular human interaction, they are most likely very docile and pretty fun pets.  Conversely, if they have had little human contact, they can inflict serious injuries with their claws, teeth, and tail, which is used like a whip. 

There are no laws regulating ownership of iguanas.  These reptiles, in fact, are very popular.  Unfortunately, many prospective owners do not do their homework prior to adopting these amazing animals.  As with any pet, it is extremely important to find out basic information regarding maintenance, behavior, health, and other important factors.  Without acquiring this familiarity prior to adoption, disaster is sure to follow, if not for the owner, than certainly for the pet.  

I was very concerned to read that your son introduced iguanas into a home with a two-year-old.  My worry is not for your grandchild being clawed or whipped by a frightened iguana, but rather for him being infected by a bacteria called Salmonella.  This bacteria is frequently present in the intestines of many reptiles.  It is shed in their stools and therefore is present in their living quarters and on their bodies.  In many cases, Salmonella does not adversely affect the infected reptiles.  However, sometimes the animals do get sick.  Signs of illness would include weight loss, lethargy, diarrhea, and unwillingness to eat.  Animals showing these or any other symptoms of poor health should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

If humans are infected, similar symptoms may be expected.  In children under two years of age, the infection may be very serious...sometimes, death from salmonella infection can occur.  And with toddlers, as you know, everything goes in their mouths and they have no concept of hand washing or hygiene.  Therefore, this potential problem cannot be taken lightly.

There are a number of safety steps your son must follow without fail.  First, anyone who handles the iguanas, maintains/cleans their cage, or feeds them, must immediately wash his or her hands when finished.  The iguanas must never run loose in the house.  They can shed the bacteria on the floor (where baby will be crawling) which allows for the spread of salmonella.  Iguanas must be excluded from the kitchen and all other areas where food may be prepared or served.  Avoid the temptation of letting them swim in the bathroom sink or tub.  Give them their own tub in their own designated space.  Finally, have your son take the iguanas to a veterinarian for a health exam and advise him to keep up with regular vet checks. 

If your son follows these safety guidelines, he probably will not have any trouble.  

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