Tegus are large and exotic-looking reptiles that qualify as pests in many US states. This is due to their reproductive proficiency, considerable appetite, and ability to eat pretty much anything, including animals, insects, fruits, veggies, you name it.
But this isn’t what we’ll be discussing today. Instead, we will dive into the world of Tegu pet-keeping. The goal is to look at the most common health problems that these reptiles are likely to encounter in captivity.
Let’s jump straight in!
Common Health Problems in Tegus
Fortunately, most of the following health issues aren’t specific to Tegus but reptiles in general.
So, neither of them should take you by surprise. More importantly, most of these issues are easily preventable and treatable when detected in time.
With that in mind, here are the primary health issues that concern Tegus:
Dehydration is a standard condition among reptiles in general. Tegus require environmental humidity of around 60-80%, but they also need a fresh and clean water source at their disposal.
They drink quite often to hydrate themselves and even bathe daily to cool off and clean their bodies.
Not having sufficient water or experiencing low humidity levels for extended periods of time will impact your Tegu severely. The primary signs of dehydration include dry skin, lethargy, dry saliva, sunken eyes, difficulty moving, lack of appetite, and more.
Severe dehydration leads to organ failure, coma, and death, and it doesn’t take much for the outcome to set in. Tegus can die within 48-72 hours without water.
Always keep your Tegu’s environmental humidity within the 60-80% range, and have a water bowl present in the enclosure at all times. You should change the water regularly if it gets too dirty, preferably 2-3 times per day, depending on the situation.
If your Tegu shows signs of dehydration, provide it with fresh and clean drinking water and adjust environmental humidity.
You can spray the habitat to accelerate the process. If the situation is slightly more severe, soak the reptile in a larger body of water. Just make sure that the water is shallow so that the reptile doesn’t drown.
If that doesn’t do much either, contact your vet for professional assistance. The vet may administer IVs for fast rehydration and remineralization to make up for the lost electrolytes.
It’s important to act at the first sign of dehydration because this is a deadly and fast-progressing disorder.
Also, have a humidity gauge meter in place to verify humidity levels and discover any imbalances in time.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
MBD is essentially severe calcium deficiency that leads to low bone density, decreasing the animal’s quality of life and leading to coma and even death.
The primary symptoms to include are:
- Visible lethargy and difficulty moving and climbing
- Deformed or soft bones leading to visible malformations and even fractures
- Uncontrollable muscle twitches or spasms
- Poor appetite and visible weight loss
- Difficulties shedding, leading to stuck skin
- Swollen or enlarged joints that affect the lizard’s ability to walk and climb
- Behavioral changes (irritability, aggression, unresponsiveness, etc.)
It’s important to note that MBD can also have genetic causes, as some reptiles have lower bone density than others. Also, MBD is usually incurable in the late stages, leading to a slow and painful death.
Tegus have a very varied diet compared to other reptiles. These lizards are omnivorous and consume a variety of foods, including meat, insects, fruits, veggies, plants, you name it.
However, not all Tegus have the same dietary preferences. Some may refuse certain food items that other Tegus would thoroughly enjoy.
Lacking a well-rounded and varied diet can make the Tegu vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies, which can degenerate fast. I recommend speaking to a Tegu professional before and after getting your reptile. Tegus are notorious for their picky behavior when it comes to selecting their favorite meals.
Also, keep in mind that Tegus change their diets as they grow. Hatchlings and juveniles eat pretty much meat and insects exclusively.
Only 10% of their diet contains fruits and veggies. Adults eat around 60-70% animal protein and fill the rest with plant-based nutrients. So, your Tegu’s diet with change dramatically after the 3-year mark.
Also, some Tegus have a 90% animal protein diet even as adults. Colombian Tegus fit this category.
Obesity is a lot more prevalent among Tegus than one would think. Lizards don’t typically have weight-related problems in the wild because of how their ecosystem functions. They need to work for their food either by foraging, climbing, hunting, or fighting other lizards as well. These activities keep them in peak condition, so they will always spend more calories than those they take in.
The situation changes completely in captive conditions, as Tegus no longer need to worry about their meals. They exhibit less physical activity because it’s no longer necessary.
Combine this with an abundance of food and some people’s tendency to feed their Tegus more often and larger meals than needed, and you get the picture.
Obesity can impact these reptiles quite severely, leading to hindered movement, skeletal problems, joint issues, organ-related disorders, and even death.
You can tell that the reptile has started to gain weight if its belly grows larger than it should. The Tegu will drag it across the floor more often due to the excess weight.
Overweight Tegus also have fat deposits in their tails, around the belly, and under the chin.
The treatment is relatively simple: stop feeding your Tegu so much and incentivize the reptile to move around more. Add some flat rocks, bridges, or wood that the lizard will explore and climb occasionally.
A moderate diet, combined with regular physical activity, should help the reptile get in shape fairly soon. Just make sure not to mess with the reptile’s nutritional intake when adjusting the diet. Better to consult your vet or a reptile nutritionist for some valuable insight.
This is a bigger problem than you might think, not because salmonella is dangerous bacteria, which it is, but because Tegus don’t really get affected by it. They don’t exhibit any symptoms, which qualifies Tegus as passive carriers.
So, you won’t even know that the reptile is carrying the bacteria, which is where the problem lies. And the problem is that salmonella is transmissible to humans.
The pathogen causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, etc. In severe cases, the infection can even become deadly, especially in the case of children, old people, pregnant women, or individuals who already deal with various health issues.
To eliminate this risk, consider taking your Tegu to a vet for regular inspection and in-depth diagnosis. If the reptile is a passive salmonella carrier, the veterinarian can recommend an antibiotic treatment to eliminate the pathogen.
Moving forward, you should always take precautions when interacting with your lizard because you never know when it might get infected.
Clean and sterilize your hands before and after handling the reptile, and keep its habitat clean and properly maintained. Salmonella infections are more likely to occur in dirty enclosures.
These are often linked to poor enclosure husbandry due to rotting food leftovers, muck, soiled substrate, etc. These are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and it’s only a matter of time until the Tegu becomes infected.
Internal parasites usually reproduce in the digestive system, feeding off of the lizard’s nutrients. This can cause the Tegu to lose weight and exhibit signs of anemia and nutritional deficiencies.
You can tell that the Tegu is infected if it appears lethargic, loses weight, and exhibits diarrhea. You know that the infection is severe if the parasites appear in the stool.
This is a sign that the intestine is filled with parasites that are now exiting the body in search of a new host. If your Tegu is infected with internal parasites, contact the vet for adequate treatment. These are generally easy to combat, allowing your Tegu to recover fairly fast.
Not many people realize that Tegus can deal with reptile mites. More importantly, these pathogens are by no means mild. They can cause severe itching, causing the lizard to scratch its body incessantly, which can cause injuries and irritation.
Aside from the stress and discomfort coming with these issues, the lizard also risks infections due to the open wounds.
If the infestation is severe, the lizard may also experience anemia and contract a variety of other health problems due to the parasites’ activity. Fortunately, you should be able to observe the early signs of infestation fairly easily.
Pay close attention, and you may notice the mites with the naked eye, moving across the reptile’s skin. Check the areas around the eyes and mouth since that’s their preferred breeding ground.
The treatment may involve ointments, oral medication, and warm baths to soothe and calm the animal while drowning the mites at the same time. Contact your vet in case of severe infestations because you can’t determine whether there are other complications to consider.
Scale rot is a bacterial infection that results from exposure to improper living conditions, like a dirty environment and excess humidity. These conditions affect the reptile’s skin, causing bacterial accumulation and scale infections.
Untreated, these conditions can become deadly fairly quickly. Your reptile may require antibiotic treatment, so contact your vet for immediate assistance.
It’s important to note that scale rot, although a progressive disorder, only becomes obvious when already in the late stages.
So, if you notice signs of scale rot in your Tegu, know that the situation is already too advanced for comfort.
Mouth rot is also known as stomatitis, and it’s a fairly common issue among reptiles in general. This condition is either bacterial or fungal in nature and has several triggers worth discussing.
The most common one is improper living conditions with excess moisture, a dirty enclosure, and a lack of overall enclosure hygiene. Mouth rot can affect the lizard’s eating abilities, causing severe localized pain and discomfort.
The disorder can also expand to other areas of the body and even cause generalized infections that can turn deadly. Immediate treatment is necessary as soon as you notice the first signs of infection. Your vet should provide you with specialized treatment to beat the issue fast and safely.
Respiratory infections are also quite common among reptiles kept in unsanitary conditions. High humidity, low temperature, a weak immune system, and a dirty enclosure with too much bacteria and filth will all contribute to the problem.
You know that your Tegu has a respiratory infection if it coughs, sneezes, and exhibits difficulty breathing. The animal may also have nasal and oral discharges, depending on the type and severity of the infection.
It’s important to note that respiratory infections are especially dangerous and have the potential to aggravate fast. So, I advise against any DIY treatments that would most certainly make things worse. Instead, speak to your vet for adequate diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Prolapse refers to the lizard’s cloaca turning inside out. It’s a common issue, despite its disturbing and scary factor. It’s also fairly mild, depending on the condition triggering it, and should be easy to treat.
You have several potential causes to consider, including constipation, impaction (which is rather severe), internal or external cloaca injuries, parasites, egg-laying problems, etc. If you cannot determine the exact cause, call your vet.
You see how I always default to the ‘call your vet’ stance? That’s because too many people take the path of least resistance and prefer to try various treatments themselves.
This, more often than not, results in them making the problem worse or causing additional problems along the way. So, I prefer the ‘call your vet’ strategy in almost all situations where the cause of infection isn’t immediately obvious.
The expert will recommend adequate and targeted treatment for a smooth recovery process.
This is where the situation gets fairly tricky. Tegus have a varying shedding frequency, depending on their age. Younger Tegus shed more often, around once every week or 2 weeks.
These lizards can put on an inch per month during their first several months of life, so they need to shed more frequently. Adult Tegus typically shed every 2-3 months because they grow slower.
The shedding process is demanding both physically and mentally for the lizard and can come with a variety of problems. Dysecdysis is one of them, which refers to abnormal shedding due to poor humidity, lack of drinking water, infections, or nutritional deficiencies, especially that of calcium. If your Tegu has a calcium deficiency, the skin may not peel off completely.
The same happens if humidity is too low, causing the skin to get stuck and increasing the risk of infections.
If your Tegu shows signs of dysecdysis assess the situation to see whether you can correct the problem yourself. In most cases, increasing environmental humidity and providing your reptile with sufficient water should do the trick.
Keep humidity levels closer to 80%, and soak the Tegu if necessary to moisturize the skin. Also, make sure that the lizard has several rugged surfaces that it can use to rub the old skin off.
Also, shedding lizards require peace and a sizeable hiding spot for a plus of privacy. It will work wonders for their overall peace of mind and comfort because the shedding process leaves the animals vulnerable and more prone to stress.
Prevention of Health Problems in Tegus
Naturally, you want to keep your Tegu as healthy as possible over the years. Doing so will improve the lizard’s quality of life and lifespan considerably.
So, here’s what you should do in this sense:
- Keep the enclosure well-maintained – Always remove food leftovers, soiled substrate, and poop to keep the enclosure clean and hygienic. You may also need to replace the substrate entirely and disinfect the entire enclosure at least once per month. It all depends on how dirty your Tegu is, and they tend to be pretty dirty.
- Keep the diet optimal and personalized – Not all Tegus eat the exact same things, although, on paper, they should. This means that you need to set a basic diet in place, along with a good understanding of your pet’s specific predilections. Eliminate the foods that the Tegu won’t eat and always test the waters with new food items to see which sticks. More importantly, understand the concepts of good versus bad food because there are some foods that the lizard shouldn’t eat. There are also some foods that they should only eat in moderation. Fortunately, I’ve already written an article on this exact topic, so you’re in luck.
- Consider supplementation – Vitamin and mineral supplements are almost always necessary for lizards and, by extension, Tegus. Consider calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation and discuss with a more experienced reptile nutritionist for additional insight. If you want to be thorough about it, speak to your vet for some bloodwork for your Tegu to find out the lizard’s nutritional profile with greater precision.
- Manage the stress – All exotic pets are prone to stress, and Tegus are no different. They might be increasingly stressed during their first 2 weeks in their new home, though. So, do everything in your power to minimize the lizard’s stress by keeping parameters stable, cleaning the enclosure regularly, crafting a personalized setup, and giving the animal space. Don’t handle the lizard more than it feels necessary, and avoid contact if it seems irritated or violent.
- Monitor its health – All health disorders start small and snowball with time. Monitoring your lizard regularly allows you to detect these issues in time and act accordingly.
- Regular vet checkups – These are pretty much mandatory, whether your lizard is exhibiting any worrying symptoms or not. It’s called prevention and should be on the top of your priority list. Keep your vet on the line and take the Tegu to regular checkups to make sure everything is smooth. The vet can assess the reptile’s health status better than you could.
As you can see, keeping your Tegu healthy and happy is a matter of common sense and should come naturally with proper care and maintenance.
Tegus are exotic but tamable beasts that will provide you with joy and affectionate company. This sounds weird when discussing lizards because reptiles are notorious for their lack of emotion and poor bonding with their owners.
Tegus are different, though, which is why they are so popular as pets among connoisseurs.
Just make sure you’re up to the task because Tegus aren’t meant for beginners, as even experts can struggle with them.