Nutritional diseases are the number one reason exotic pets are presented to a veterinarian for examination. All species of animals have their own specific nutritional requirements and generalizations about nutritional needs cannot be made based on assumed lifestyles and needs. For example, a guinea pig and a rat are both rodents but their nutritional requirements are quite different.  

Whenever you are thinking of acquiring an exotic pet, the onus and responsibility are yours to acquire the necessary information to properly feed and care for your new pet. Pet stores are often not a good source of information about the proper care of your new pet, as many of them are misinformed themselves. Remember, there is a good reason many of the more exotic pets have not been domesticated – they are simply not good pets or are extremely difficult to care for.  Thoroughly research the animal you are thinking of acquiring BEFORE you purchase one. 

Click the links below to get more information about the feeding and nutrition needs specific to your pet.

The Common Green Iguana has become a popular pet. Iguanas are very engaging animals but they do require a lot of special care. Iguanas are vegetarians and they need a very specific mix of vegetables in order to get the proper balance of nutrients in their diet. The number one reason we see Iguanas is improper nutrition.

You can make a balanced diet for your Iguana by following this guideline:

50-60% dark leafy greens: collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, dandelions (not sprayed), parsley and alfalfa pellets.

Avoid beet greens, spinach, and rhubarb.

Kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower should be offered only occasionally, as these plants contain enzymes that bind iodine and may cause a nutritional deficiency.

30-40%  mixed vegetables such as a mixture of squash, sprouts, carrots, cooked sweet potato, green and red peppers, peas, beans, corn and green beans. You may buy frozen vegetables to put in this mix but at least 50% should be fresh.

10-15% fruit

This diet can be mixed in a blender or food processor and frozen in meal-sized feedings by spooning the mixture into ice cube trays.  Food can then be thawed as needed.

You should also add a vitamin and mineral supplement to this diet according to label directions. (Never over supplement.)

Iguanas require access to UV light

UV light is necessary in order for their bodies to convert the vitamin D they consume in their diet to its active form. Vitamin D is vital to maintaining bones and calcium balance in the body.

Most pet stores will sell Vita Lamps, these are full spectrum lights you place in the aquarium or cage where the Iguana is kept and will provide the full UV spectrum of light. Iguanas need to be under a light like this at least 6 hours a day.

Many owners do not have a full spectrum light in the enclosure, feeling the Iguana gets direct sunlight from the windows. This may be true but many of the windows in modern homes as well as the aquarium glass will block UV rays, meaning the Iguana is not getting enough of the light they need!

Iguanas need to have a heat gradient in their enclosure

They need to have a warm area and an area to cool off.  In general the warm area should be no warmer than 35C and the cool area no cooler than 25C.  We advise using overhead lights as heat sources.

“Hot Rocks” sold in pet stores will often develop an electrical short circuit in them causing many reptiles to end up with very severe burns as a result of laying on these suddenly VERY hot rocks.

Iguanas require bathing on a regular basis

Bathing should occur at least 2-3 times a week. The water must be clean. You can leave a pan of water for the Iguana to soak in, inside the cage but you MUST clean it every day. Iguanas are very susceptible to developing bacterial infections from dirty cages.  DO NOT allow your Iguana to bathe in your bathtub. Many reptiles shed salmonella in their feces as well as other bacteria, which may make you ill. Give the iguana its own infant bathtub or kiddie swimming pool as its tub.

Iguanas require VERY clean cages in order to stay healthy

Remove feces from the cage DAILY. You can use blank newsprint (available by the roll at The LeaderPost) or cut several pieces of Astroturf to fit the aquarium and then change them every day. Astroturf can then be cleaned with a dilute bleach solution once a week and dried. (Use 1 capful of household bleach to 1 standard sink full of warm water).  Once weekly the entire cage and cage furniture (branches, rocks, dishes etc) should be wiped clean with a dilute bleach solution.  Allow to dry completely before putting back in with the iguana in its cage.

Iguanas shed salmonella in their feces

This means you need to be careful about your general hygiene around your pet so that you do not get sick.  WASH YOUR HANDS after handling any reptile ? ALWAYS!

Use an antibacterial soap such as Hibitane scrub for this.

Iguanas or any other reptile should not share a home with children under 2 years of age. In the year 2000 the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta traced seven infant deaths due to salmonella to exposure to the household reptile. No pet is worth this risk. If you have small children it is best to find another home for the iguana. If you must have both the reptile and the children in the same home always wash your hands very well between touching the reptile and the child. They should never share the same room, toys, bath areas or dishes.

People who are immunosuppressed (HIV positive, cancer or hepatitis patients, people taking immunosuppressant drugs) should be especially careful around reptiles.

The domestic rabbit is one of the more common alternative pets we see.  Rabbits have been domesticated for thousands of years and generally make good pets for adults and older children.  If well cared for, they can live 7-10 years in captivity.  Commercially prepared rabbit feed is available and is generally acceptable as a base diet.  Fiber in the form of loose hay should be provided on a regular basis to prevent hairballs.  Rabbits appreciate the occasional treat of fresh fruits or vegetables, but it is important not to overdo this, as serious dietary upset may occur.

The most common nutritional disease seen in rabbits is obesity.  Captive rabbits often get far too heavy for their own good.  This leads to a number of problems including vitamin deficiency.  Rabbits produce vitamin B in their colon and get their daily requirements of this vitamin from eating their own poop directly from their rectum.  The vitamin-laden poops are different from the regular droppings normally found in the cage.  If a rabbit gets too fat to reach its own back end, it may become vitamin deficient.  Overweight rabbits are also prone to joint disease and a variety of other problems.  The ideal weight for a rabbit is very breed dependent, but in general a good body condition should have ribs that are easily felt under the skin, but not seen.

Guinea pigs are a common child’s pet and for good reason; they are easy to care for, friendly and rarely bite.  Guinea pigs have a unique requirement for Vitamin C in their diet: 10-30mg per animal per day.  Many guinea pig diets are sold with the claim that they contain vitamin C.  This may be true at the time of manufacturing, however vitamin C in a diet has a shelf life of only 3 months.  By the time it leaves the factory, goes through the distributor, into your pet store and into your home, most of the vitamin C is gone.  It is therefore necessary to give vitamin C supplements.  This is most easily done by adding vitamin C drops or effervescent tablets in the water.  Be sure to change the water daily, as once it is suspended in water the vitamin C will only last 24 hours.  Guinea pigs that are vitamin C deficient will develop scurvy, which can lead to a whole host of other nutritional problems.

It is advisable to have your bird examined once yearly by a Veterinarian to ensure it is healthy.  You should seek Veterinary attention if you notice any of the following: bleeding, not eating, inability to perch, trouble breathing, looking “fluffed up”, trouble laying eggs, runny stools, sneezing, discharge from the eyes or nose.  Birds are very good at hiding signs of illness – in general any bird that looks sick is often very sick indeed!


The common parakeet or Australian budgie has been a favourite pet with bird lovers for many years.  In general they are very easy to feed and care for.  They do have a unique requirement for iodine and they should be provided with a supplement in their water or in a vitamin block.


The Cockatiel is native to Australia and has an ideal diet of 80% pellets, 10% seeds and 10% fresh fruits and veggies.  Many are eating all seed diets; in order to change them over to pellets, mix the pellets in with the seeds until they are eating a few pellets.  Then gradually increase the amount of pellets fed over time.  If cockatiels are fed a seed diet they must have an avian vitamin supplement added to their water.

Parrots & Other Birds

Birds encompass such a diverse group of creatures that it is impossible to make many generalizations on their care and feeding.  Vitamin deficiencies, due to improper diet, are one of the most common problems in pet birds.  Make sure your bird is getting an appropriate vitamin supplement.  Take some time and do some research on the proper diet for your species of bird; many have unique requirements.

Household Hazards

Fumes from Teflon cookware are toxic to birds so keep them away from the kitchen when cooking.  Birds are particularly sensitive to a number of chemical fumes such as; paint, carpet cleaners and varnishes – in general if you are concerned something may harm your bird it probably could!  If you let your bird outside the cage to exercise beware of windows, ceiling fans and other pets.  In general if you want to let your bird out of the cage it is best to have its wings clipped at first, until it gets used to its environment.  This can be done by a Veterinarian.