Animal Protein Effects On Iguanas
How Animal Protein Has Specific Effects On Iguanas
The topic of animal protein and the iguana diet is long standing. Over the past 20 years the amount of quality information on iguanas has increased and surfaced. Research through observation and scientific encounters (gut content analysis) has long proven that wild iguanas do not consume animal protein as part of their regular diet. This does not mean that they do not occasionally eat an insect while taking bites from vegetation. It simply means that they do not go out seeking animal protein intentionally. They have good reason for not seeking out animal protein, their bodies are simply not designed to properly break it down and it can kill them.
Animal Protein vs. Plant Proteins
Many people don't realize that the digestion of plant matter vs. the digestion of animal matter differs. The physiology of the iguana is geared toward digesting high-fiber plant matter and breaking down the amino acid levels found in plants. While animal and plants share the same 22 amino acids, the different ratios of those acids vary greatly and how they are metabolized is different.
Pyrimidines, formed by plants, is easier to metabolize than the purines formed by animal proteins. While pyrimidine rings can be degraded completely to CO2 and NH3 (urea excretion), purine rings are degraded to the metabolically inert uric acid.
Uric acid is created when the body breaks down purine nucleotides. High concentrations of uric acid in blood serum can lead to a type of arthritis known as gout. The chemical is associated with other medical conditions like ammonium acid urate kidney stones. Since uric acid is filtered through the kidneys, the high concentration begins to take a toll on them which can lead to premature kidney failure.
Plants lack the high amounts of fat and cholesterol found in animal protein sources making them a generally healthier food item.
Without question, most captive iguanas are not properly hydrated. This is in part due to the fact that it is almost impossible to maintain adequate moisture in the air that mimics their natural environment. Hydration plays a significant role in the development of kidney disease, which is why we are discussing it. Animal protein requires a higher concentration of water to aid in digestion. When you feed an animal that is already dehydrated to some degree a food item that requires additional fluids for digestion, you increase the chance of kidney failure due to the strain the food source is placing on them. Greens, like those found in a proper iguana salad are typically high in water content. This not only helps to re-hydrate your iguana but the added moisture content helps with the digestion process.
Iguana Hydration Versus Humidity
With the knowledge of knowing that your iguana will live a longer and happier life without animal protein being part of its diet how could anyone even consider adding it. Iguanas are herbivores and their diet should reflect this. Its hard to believe that some websites and literature still have animal protein listed seeing as all the most recent data contradicts that information.
Author: Richard Brooks
1. Mader, Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery SE. Saunders, 2005.
2. Nucleic Acid Metabolism
3. Uric Acid
4. Ackerman, Lowell. Biology Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles. TFH, 1997.
5. Animal Protein Issues
6. Amino Acids - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
7. Purine and Pyrimidine Metabolism
8. Adam Britton: Animal Protein and Claw Trimming
9. Animal Protein and Green Iguanas