20160224_111923_resizedIf your iguana’s tail has broken off, don’t be afraid. If you’re a new iguana owner, this can be pretty scary, all of a sudden seeing a twitching tail on the floor or in your hand. But this is a natural process called autotomy. Usually, an iguana will drop its tail as a defense mechanism, so the predator will be left with a flopping tail in its mouth or on the ground, giving the iguana enough time to get away. Sometimes an iguana won’t even need to be touched for this break to occur; just the threat or harassment of some kind can cause it.

To prevent the tail from breaking off as a defensive response, include the tail in the taming process, especially when they’re young. This way, they’re less likely to feel threatened later on. Also, don’t grab for the tail when you pick up your iguana. And if your iguana roams around your house, be sure to watch where you walk! Sometimes an iguana can get its tail stuck in a door or someplace in the house, or feel threatened by another pet, like a dog or cat. If you take proper safety precautions, you’ll reduce the chances of your iguana’s tail breaking off.

Will my iguana’s tail grow back?

It’s very likely, especially in young iguanas, that the tail will regenerate. However, it won’t grow back to the same size or the same color. Often it will be a darker color, like gray or black, and not the same pattern as the rest of the iguana’s body. There’s a better chance the tail will grow back if it was broken at a lower portion of the tail.

If your iguana is big enough to not need this defense mechanism, he won’t waste energy regenerating the tail, and will instead use the energy to increase his body size.

What happens after the tail breaks off?

You’ll notice that the missing tail will cause your iguana to be off-balance, possibly a little wobbly. They have to get used to walking and climbing without the use of their tail. Some iguana owners have reported that their pets developed cases of “tail envy” and attacked other animals’ tails during this time!

Treatment for a broken iguana tail. . .

When your iguana’s tail breaks off, you won’t be the only one who is stressed out. This is a very emotionally stressful time for your iguana, even though it’s not a life-threatening injury. If the break was a clean one, there shouldn’t be any bleeding, or very little. If there is bleeding, you can use cornstarch to stop it and make the blood clot. If, however, the tail didn’t break cleanly, and you see muscle and skin still trailing, you’ll need to take your iguana to the vet as soon as possible.

If you treat the wound at home, try soaking your iguana in a warm bath with diluted Betadine for 15 to 20 minutes to clean and disinfect the wound. After the soak, try some Neosporin on the wound to prevent infection.

Your iguana’s cage environment during this time should be:

  • As clean as possible to prevent infection.
  • At a slightly higher temperature than the reptile normally prefers.
  • Providing good nutrition to prevent deficiencies.
  • Quiet and as stress-free as possible.

As the tail heals, any exposed muscle or bone will eventually be covered by skin growing over it. It will turn to a hardened stump, protecting bones and muscles inside.

Note on incomplete tail breaks

If your iguana has to be rushed to the vet, stitches may be required. In these cases, the tail can still regenerate, so don’t worry.

The bottom line

Tail breaks are a natural, non-life-threatening event that your iguana may experience. The most important things to remember are to keep the wound clean and keep your iguana as stress-free as you can.

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