What is Reptile Impaction
What is Impaction?
Impaction is a condition in which the digestive tract is blocked by a solid or a semi-solid mass. If it is not treated it can become fatal.
Leopard Gecko Impaction
Causes of Impaction
Impaction can be caused by various sources. The most common of which is housing them on loose substrates.
Other causes of impaction include feeding reptiles food that is either to large or inappropriate. You should never feed insects that are larger than the width of the reptile's head (excluding snakes, in which the rule of thumb for feeding is that the feeder rodent be no larger than the largest part of the snake).
Feeders that are too large can get stuck in the digestive tract, causing the blockage. Feeder insects that have a hard Chitin outer-shell can, also cause impaction. You should only feed these type of feeders to larger reptiles, never babies or juveniles.
Low temperatures can cause inadequate digestion, one more reason to make sure you have proper temperatures. If the reptile requires belly heat versus air heat, make sure that you include an under tank heater as a part of the husbandry. Make sure that the basking sites of diurnal reptiles are appropriate temperatures, as well.
One other cause of impaction is dehydration; always provide your reptiles with fresh water.
Impaction caused by loose substrates develop overtime, so the symptoms are more gradual. Most of the time it will go unseen until it is too late.
Calci-Sand, Vita-Sand, and other calcium based sand is a BIGno-no. Do not trust the manufacturer's label as digestible. Because it contains calcium, reptiles are more likely to eat it, but where calcium is good, sand is not. Calc-Sand clumps together when it is wet. Imagine what it will do inside a reptile... Clump... When wet, it doesn't dissolve either, so what makes the manufacturers believe it will in a reptile's body?
Other high risk substrates include:
Corn cob, Crushed walnut shells, gravel, cat litter, pebbles, and any other pellet-type substrates should not be used in a reptile's enclosure either, as they, too, can cause impaction if ingested.
The safest substrate that you can use is tile, slate, reptile carpet, and paper towels.
Symptoms of Impaction
The first symptom that you may notice is that the fecal matter may contain loose substrates. For example, it may be covered in sand, but you know that the reptile did not kick sand onto the fecal matter because you cannot find any evidence of holes in the substrate.
Mild Symptoms include:
- Straining to excrete fecal matter
Moderate-Severe symptoms include:
- Slight leg trembles
- Slight bumps along spinal area
- Lack of appetite
- A blue-bruised area on the abdomen
- Difficulty breathing
Note: When paralysis occurs in one or both back legs, impaction is in the lower digestive tract, but when it involves one or both front legs, impaction is in the upper digestive tract.
If you are able to catch impaction early on, you can set up the reptile in a different enclosure, or reformat the current one. Include an undertank heater to help achieve appropriate temperatures. Use paper towels as the substrate, as they are disposible and easy to clean; using paper towels, also, insures that the reptile will not be able to ingest any more loose substrates.
If the reptile is showing mild symptoms, you will want to first set it up in an enclosure free of loose substrates, and follow the below method. If you're reptile is showing more moderate-severe symptoms, you want to take the reptile to a vet, ASAP.
Now what you want to do with the reptile, itself, is to purchase a small dropper, in order to administer a few drops of either mineral oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil, daily. Give the reptiel warm soaks at least once a day, as well. Make sure to not let the water get hotter than the reptiles normal basking temperatures.
You want to try to get as much fluids in the reptile as you can without too much force. Try giving the reptile diluted Gatorade or pedialyte by using a dropper.
Do not give the reptile any solids, yet. Try providing the reptile different baby foods. Bearded dragons and omnivorous reptiles can eat fruit or vegetable baby foods, and insectivores can be provided chicken and turkey baby foods. Make sure to add supplements to the baby food. You may have to use a dropper to feed the reptile the baby food, but see if it will eat it on its own, first.
This method may take several days to get the impaction moving through the reptile's body, but DO NOT let it go more than 10 days.
The next option really isn't an option. You should take your reptile to a vet. Hopefully, you know, or have found, a good reptile veterinarian in the area. The vet will try to flush the impaction out by giving the reptile enemas. NEVER try this on your own!
If you want to prevent impaction before it has a chance to impact your reptile you need to, first, start the reptile on a solid surface. NOT loose substrates. And, make extreme care to not house reptiles under one year on loose substrates.
Feed size appropriate foods. Make sure that crickets aren't too big for the reptile, and chop fruits and veggies up to a smaller size.
Make sure the temperatures in the enclosure are not to low or too high. Using a digital thermometer with a probe, you can accurately determine the temperatures in the enclosure. Fluker's manufactures a digital thermometer with a probe that not only measures temperature but humidity, which can be very important in creating the proper enclosure for you reptile.
Keep a bowl of calcium in the aquarium at all times.
Keep fresh water in the enclosure.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a specialized reptile veterinarian.