Iguanas make unique lizard pets in terms of both appearance and requirements. As herbivores or, better said, folivores (leaf-eating) iguanas have unusual nutritional needs. As an iguana owner, you will often wonder which foods are good for your pet and which are better kept far from its food dish. With that said, iguana owners often wonder about alfalfa sprouts.
So, can iguanas eat alfalfa sprouts? While alfalfa sprouts are not directly toxic to iguanas, they do not make the best food choice for this lizard. The occasional alfalfa snack will not harm your iguana. Still, more frequent servings can be troublesome because of the sprout’s high phosphorus and calorie ratios and its relation to thyroid problems and foodborne diseases.
In this article, we will explain in detail why alfalfa sprouts are not a healthy food option for iguanas. We will also talk about the safety of other alfalfa products and give you tips on how to add plant-based protein sources to your iguana’s menu.
THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ALFALFA FOR IGUANAS
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), also known as Lucerne, is a member of the legume family and a popular livestock feed. However, alfalfa is also an excellent food for exotic pets such as iguanas.
We should note that alfalfa comes in three different forms, but not all of them are safe and healthy for iguanas.
Alfalfa hay contains up to 17% protein and good calcium to phosphorus ratio. It is readily available in pet stores and comes in practical mini-bales or compressed blocks.
Because it is sun-dried, it has a classical hay-like appearance. This makes it easy to pinpoint its freshness – if it has stayed on the shelves for too long, it will lose its mostly green coloration and become dingy brown.
Nutritionally speaking, alfalfa pellets are similar to hay – they are rich in proteins and contain the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio. They are also readily available in most pet stores.
It is worth mentioning that alfalfa pellets marketed for rodents can contain different plants. If this is the case, check the label – for the pellets to be considered suitable for your iguana, the number one ingredient must be alfalfa.
Like all sprouts, alfalfa sprouts are the “baby plant” or, in other terms, the immature version of the plant, meaning they are less nutritious than their mature counterparts.
Plus, alfalfa sprouts are an empty food with exceptionally high phosphorus levels and are not considered an iguana-friendly choice.
CAN IGUANAS EAT ALFALFA?
Yes, iguanas can eat alfalfa, but only its mature forms – hay, pellets, and powders. While the immature sprouts are not directly toxic, they should not be part of the iguana’s regular diet.
In theory, the immature form – alfalfa sprouts can be served to iguanas rarely, in small amounts, and if properly prepared. This is because, unlike chocolate, alfalfa sprouts are not directly toxic to iguanas.
However, the occasional serving is not enough to exert any health benefits, thus making alfalfa sprouts in iguana diets practically unnecessary.
Can iguanas eat Brussels sprouts?
While on the topic of sprouts, we should answer another popular sprouts-related question – can iguanas eat Brussels sprouts? Sadly, the answer is no. Brussels sprouts are not toxic to iguanas, but they are not particularly healthy either. Basically, Brussels sprouts are not suitable for iguanas for the same reasons as alfalfa sprouts (more on this later).
WHY ARE ALFALFA SPROUTS BAD FOR IGUANAS?
There are several reasons why alfalfa sprouts are not an iguana-friendly food choice. Some causes can be managed through proper preparation methods or serving size modification.
However, at the end of the day, the health risks of feeding your iguana alfalfa sprouts will still outweigh the potential benefits.
Alfalfa sprouts have inadequate calcium to phosphorus ratio
Unlike mature alfalfa, immature sprouts contain high amounts of phosphorus and low amounts of calcium. Iguanas need to eat a diet in which the overall calcium to phosphorus ratio is around 2:1.
Foods containing more phosphorus than calcium increase the risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). Basically, MBD develops due to low calcium levels. Even if the iguana’s calcium intake is normal, high-phosphorus foods block calcium absorption, thus causing calcium deficits.
MBD is a severe health condition manifesting with deformed legs and brittle bones. If your iguana shows early signs of MBD, it is critical to seek urgent veterinary attention. It is advisable to find a reputable reptilian vet in your area when you decide to buy iguana as a pet.
Alfalfa sprouts are considered an empty calorie food
As a general rule of thumb, immature “sprout” plant versions are always nutritionally more deficient than their mature counterparts, and alfalfa sprouts are no exception.
In fact, alfalfa sprouts are considered an empty-calorie food meaning they will add calories to the meal but no other ingredients with actual nutritional value.
Alfalfa sprouts are associated with foodborne diseases
Alfalfa sprouts and sprouts, in general, represent a high risk of foodborne illness. This is because sprouts end to carry infectious pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli.
Iguanas and most lizards are natural carriers of these pathogens – usually have them in the digestive system, but through shedding, they can generally be found on the skin as well. However, the natural amounts are not enough to cause health problems.
Introducing a more significant presence of pathogens via sprouted foods increases the risk of developing foodborne infections. In theory, the risk can be eliminated through cooking, but the high temperatures will destroy the nutrients together with the pathogens.
In excess amounts, alfalfa sprouts can cause problems with thyroid function. This is because sprouts contain goitrogens – substances that interfere with the thyroid hormones production by inhibiting the thyroid gland’s ability to utilize iodine.
An occasional alfalfa sprout snack does not contain enough goitrogens to affect the thyroid gland’s function. However, more frequent consumption or large-sized servings can be associated with adverse thyroid effects.
ALFALFA PREPARATION METHODS FOR IGUANAS
As mentioned, alfalfa hay and pellets make nutritionally dense and healthy food choices for iguanas. However, there is one problem – iguanas are not particularly fond of eating dry foods.
Luckily, there are ways of making the dry alfalfa pellets into an iguana-friendly option. In simple terms, you can either soak them or ground them into powder.
Soaking alfalfa for your iguana
If you decide on soaking the pellets, just mix equal amounts of pellets and water and let the mixture sit overnight. If the pellets are fresh or loosely compacted, the soaking can be much shorter as they tend to soak up the water in a matter of minutes.
Instead of soaking in water, you can entice your iguana into eating the moistened pellets by using fresh juices. For example, you can squeeze some fresh honeydew juice and let the pellets soak. Iguanas love fruits and will be more drawn to eating the pellets if they have a fruity smell and taste.
However, if soaking in juice, there is one trick: do not use store-bought juices loaded with sugar, additives, and other ingredients with questionable quality. Instead, stick to homemade fresh fruit juices.
Making an alfalfa powder for your iguana
Another alternative would be to make an alfalfa powder using the coffee bean grounder or blender. You can create an alfalfa powder from hay and pellets and then sprinkle the powder on top of your iguana’s salad.
If you decide on using pellets, it is necessary to sift the powder after grinding as there will be hard and spiky bits that, if offered to your iguana, can cause damage. On the other hand, if using pellets, there is no sifting need as the pellets usually grind nicely.
Alfalfa powder made from hay has a bright green color which most iguanas find pretty enticing. However, since hay can spoil, it is not advisable to prepare in advance.
When preparing alfalfa powder from pellets, things are a bit different. Namely, you can ground more significant amounts and have them stored. Just before preparing a substantial supply, make sure your iguana actually likes to powder. This is because alfalfa powder from pellets usually has a brownish color some iguanas find unappealing.
ALFALFA ALTERNATIVES FOR IGUANAS
Just because iguanas are strict herbivores does not mean they do not need a healthy amount of plant-sourced protein. Instead of alfalfa, you can use blue-green algae or cooked dried beans. Both the algae and beans can be added on top of the salad a few times per week.
Blue-green algae are rich in protein and contain the correct ratio of calcium and phosphorus. The only problem is their availability or, better said, lack thereof. To find blue-green algae, you should either visit some specialty stores or order them online.
Cooked dried beans are also a good alfalfa substitute for iguanas. All bean types (kidney, lima, pinto, navy, lentils) are suitable – just cook them and have them lightly mashed. The mashing will break the skin and make them more easily digestible.
The best thing about beans is that they are readily available. On the downside, most beans contain more phosphorus than calcium, meaning to achieve a proper ratio you should pair the beans with high-calcium veggies.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS: CAN IGUANAS EAT ALFALFA SPROUTS?
Despite being non-toxic to iguanas, it is best if you kept alfalfa sprouts away from your iguana’s food dish. In addition to being labeled as an empty-calorie food for iguanas, alfalfa sprouts increase the risk of several diseases.
If you want to enrich your iguana’s diet with alfalfa-derived protein, you can use alfalfa hay, pellets, or powders. These versions are made from mature alfalfa, which is more appropriate with the iguana’s diet needs from a nutritional standpoint.