Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.
What Is an Impaction?
Reptiles, like any species, are prone to numerous health issues. Many of these health issues can result from poor husbandry, and many are preventable.
An 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, which is why it's important to understand proper husbandry protocols in order to determine when you should take your reptile in to be seen by a veterinarian.
Common Causes of Impactions in Reptiles
Impactions can be caused by various sources, the most common of which is housing your reptile on loose substrates. Some additional hazards are listed below as well.
- Loose substrates: Loose substrates can become ingested accidentally, especially by juveniles and babies. They are the most common cause of impactions in reptiles.
- Large feeders: Feeding reptiles food that is either too large or inappropriate can cause this condition. You should never feed insects that are larger than the width of a reptile's head (excluding snakes, in which case 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 a blockage.
- Hard-shelled feeders: Feeder insects that have a hard outer shell can also cause impactions. You should only feed these types of feeders to larger reptiles—never babies or juveniles.
- Low temperatures: Low temperatures can cause inadequate digestion, which is 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 their enclosure. Make sure that the basking sites of diurnal reptiles are kept at appropriate temperatures as well.
- Dehydration: One other cause of blockages is dehydration; always provide your reptiles with fresh water.
The Dangers of Loose Substrates
Impactions caused by loose substrates usually develop over time, so the symptoms appear gradually and not suddenly. Most of the time, symptoms will go unseen until it is too late. Calci-Sand, Vita-Sand, and other calcium-based sands are big no-nos. Do not trust the manufacturer's label, even if it says the substrate is "digestible."
If a substrate 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, so imagine what it will do inside a reptile. When wet, it doesn't dissolve either (so what makes the manufacturers believe it will dissolve in a reptile's body?). Other high-risk substrates include:
- Play Sand
Other risky substrates include corn cob, crushed walnut shells, gravel, cat litter, and pebbles. Any other pellet-type substrates should not be used in a reptile's enclosure either, as they too can cause blockages if ingested. The safest substrates that you can use are tile, slate, reptile carpet, and paper towels.
Symptoms of Blockages
The first symptom that you may notice is that your reptile's fecal matter may contain loose substrate. For example, their feces may be covered in sand, but you know that they did not kick sand onto it because there are no holes in the substrate. So, if a blockage has occurred, the following symptoms might be noticed depending on severity:
- Straining to excrete fecal matter
- Slight leg trembles
- Slight bumps along the spinal area
- Lack of appetite
- A blue/bruised area on the abdomen
- Difficulty breathing
Treating Impactions in Reptiles
Your reptile should always see a vet first if you suspect something is wrong. In milder cases that are not considered critical, you can attempt to manage the condition at home with veterinary approval.
If you are able to catch an impaction early on, you can set your reptile up in a different enclosure or reformat the current one. Here's how:
- Include an under-tank heater to help achieve appropriate temperatures.
- Use paper towels as the substrate, as they are disposable and easy to replace. Using paper towels also ensures that your reptile will not be able to ingest any more loose substrate.
If your reptile is showing mild symptoms, you will want to first set them up in an enclosure that is free of loose substrate. Then, follow the method below:
- Talk to your vet about getting a vet-approved, reptile-safe "laxative." Refrain from using olive oil and other substitutes until you have discussed your options with your vet.
- Give your reptile warm soaks at least once a day. Make sure to not let the water get hotter than the species' normal basking temperatures.
- Try to give as much fluid to them as you can without too much force.
- Do not give the reptile any solids, yet. Try to provide them with different baby foods. Bearded dragons and omnivorous reptiles can eat fruit or vegetable baby foods, and insectivores can be offered chicken and turkey baby foods. Make sure to add supplements to the baby food.
- Consider using a dropper to feed your reptile the baby food, but see if they will eat on their own, first.
This method may take several days to get the blockage moving through your reptile's body, but do not let it go on for more than that.
The next option really isn't an option at all. If your reptile is not doing well, you should take them to the vet ASAP. Hopefully, you know or have found a good reptile veterinarian in the area. The vet will try to flush the impaction out by giving your reptile an enema. NEVER try this on your own!
How to Prevent Blockages in Reptiles
If you want to prevent an impaction, start your reptile on a solid surface; do not use loose substrates. In addition, take extreme care not to house reptiles under one year on loose substrates. Also, consider the following:
- Feed size-appropriate foods. Make sure that crickets aren't too big for your reptile and chop all fruits and veggies up to into a smaller size.
- Make sure that the temperatures in the enclosure are not too low or too high. By 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 also humidity, which can be very important in creating the proper enclosure for your reptile.
- Keep a bowl of calcium in the aquarium at all times.
- Keep fresh water in the enclosure.
As always, take your reptile to the vet if you notice any health issues. The sooner, the better, as waiting can result in major illness or death.
BellatheBall on November 29, 2017:
This is a very informative article and very good advice. One would think it goes without saying but you never know what people will do with their pets.
Brittany Banks from Spokane, Washington on October 09, 2017:
Thank you for writing this one. It drives me crazy when people don't take care of their reptiles the right way and I own 3 of them myself.
Brian Hess on July 10, 2014:
The only substrate I use for my Leo and Bearded Dragon is tile,
Grainne Gillespie on November 14, 2013:
Vermiculite is also a risk. I used vermiculite as a medium in my leos shedding box/nest box without problem until I got a new male gecko. He ate the vermiculite and ended up dying of impaction
lucy on February 22, 2012:
So my baby leo is red in the face and we do use sand and im so worryed when i saw the pictures
meagan on December 27, 2011:
my leo is almost a year and i had him on sand and then i swicthed to reptile carpet and gave him a mineral oil bath but he looks worse . he stopped eating and is always sleeping .i feel really bad what shoyuld i do.
Steevie Rae on December 16, 2011:
First off... i work at a petsmart. We do not sell any leo's or any other reptiles under 1 month old or against the law in the state. We could get fined majorly
if he's smaller that's not a problem. you need to separate them while feeding if there is a huge difference in size. In fact you should get two different tanks if there is to big of a difference since the larger ones tend to be a bully.
there is no way its smaller then a hatch-ling. If the vendor sends us one to small.. we send it back. In fact we measure it up to what the size should be. if its smaller its illegal and we have to file a claim.. yada yada yada..
Brian Anthony Del Piano on November 20, 2011:
I am a freelance writer. I have written countless articles in the past about this, but I must say, photo's speak louder than words! EXCELLENT article! I can only hope this educates people.
ELIOT on October 14, 2011:
when using any substrate, feed ur animal(s)in a separate container!!!!!!!!!! and don't use sand!!!!!!!! i use eco earth for all animals and have never had a problem with it!!!!!!!!!! i feed all of my snakes in separate tanks so they wont afileate handleing w feeding also.
Eliot on October 07, 2011:
if people don't understand this, they are killing there reptiles!!!!! and they don't really care eather!!!!!!!!!!!
Deemo on September 11, 2011:
I have a leopard gecko, they are from the desert so therefore they naturally live on sand. I purchased desert sand after I spoke to a breeder who has been breeding for 9 years and he uses the sand also all his reptiles, some he keeps and some he sells are all on calci sand and none of them have had any problems. What %age of geckos suffer from impaction as it does say 'may' cause impaction ? I was using wood chips and noticed he did eat a small piece of wood that he picked up with a locust, I'm scared now that this is going to kill him could he poop it out or will it get stuck ? Please help.
momo on August 22, 2011:
If the gecko eat something to big, Bigger then it's head. Like a grasshopper a day ago, can i treat him with the veggie oil an warm baths now an have him be ok? I cant bring him to a vet because im dirt broke
Pstrat on June 24, 2011:
My 11 year old gecko died today of impaction. She wouldn't eat anything for quite some time, and in the last week of her life there were large amounts of blood in her cage. It was really sad cause I was planning on putting her to sleep and was too late.
I advise anyone reading this to NOT house your gecko in any type of sand!!!! If you currently are, it's not too late to switch... My gecko lasted 11 years which is a really long time, it just wasn't a pleasant way to see my childhood until adulthood pet go.
Again, do not house your gecko in sand!! And if you are, change to something else. Impaction can prove to be fatal!
rene' on May 07, 2011:
My garter snake ate some dirt while eating her worm and is now vomitting blood as well as the worm. Small bit of blood fri. night, more blood and worm sat. afternoon. What do you think her chances of surviving are? Do you think blood is from internal injury or from salmonela?
Katie03 on March 26, 2011:
Oh, and also, he is acting normal, as if nothing is different, he comes out around the same times at night, walks the same, looks the same, drinks just as much water as usual, the only thing that is different is his lack of pooping and eating.. although he still does a little bit.
Katie03 on March 26, 2011:
Hello, I need some advice... So, my leopard gecko is around 8 months old, he is on paper towels for substrate, the temps are usually about 90f on the hotter end of the enclosure, i use two bulbs for my heat source, neither being UVB, just red heat lamps, and i feed him crickets everyday unless he chooses not to eat. Now, for the past 2 weeks, he has only pooped twice, and on top of that he hasn't been eating nearly as much, he will only eat one every night, and sometimes not at all, and then after he does poop, he eats about 3, but then it goes back to the same as before. I've been giving him olive oil to help and warm water soaks while i rub his belly gently, because i was assuming he was impacted, but i don't really know why he would be impacted. The other thing is his poop isn't as full, i guess i could say. Instead its sort of dried out looking/ shriveled up, but still the same color pretty much. I don't know if he has parasites maybe, he was bought from a pet store, is there any way of getting rid of them at home? Is there any other problems he might have that i don't know about?
gecko lover on March 06, 2011:
i just had a gecko die from impaction . despite of how i hate passing the blame this is one time i have to go with everyone else when they say pet stores don't care. when i got my two geckos last december one was noticeably smaller than the other so i got advice from another pet store after he continued to stay the same size as the other grew , even though he was eating as well. she said he was dehydrated and gave me moss and a cool hide box, but nothing happened. well just last week he stopped eating and drinking and finally died my mom wanted to get me another one but i just told her that i would wait till i can ensure they have all they need and will be able to go to the vet before i get any more pets
and everything in his habitat was fine i have a larger gecko that i got at the beginning of last year that has ther same setup and is doing great and growing regularly
Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 12, 2011:
How can something be smaller than a hatchling? Geckos vary in size. If the gecko is that small, the breeder is nto a good breeder and had no right selling you geckos that small. If it was a pet store, then that's normal, as they buy from wholesalers who don't care about the animals just the money.
I never recommend buying animals from a pet store. They are commonly ill.
The two geckos need to be housed individually, as you do not know their genders, and if you have two males, they will fight and a male and female will breed. In some cases, females will also fight. They do better housed individually.
You just got them, it takes time for some geckos to get adjusted and eat. And, since these geckos should never have been sold, they are more than likely quite stressed and fragile.
Chris on January 11, 2011:
P.s. Whenever they see crickets, they don't go after them
Chris on January 11, 2011:
Hi. I just bought my new leos three days ago. To me, the smaller one looks smaller than a hatchling. The bigger one is about the size of a hatchling. I bought both at petsmart and i never saw them eat. from the looks of the cage, they only ate one mealworm. Am i doing something wrong? What should i feed them?
Justin on January 04, 2011:
this article is so great. I'm the new owner of my first beardie and, so far I am loving it! (My fiancé chuckles about this because ive been treating it like by own child, calling to check up on it and getting all kinds of stuff for it) I have a few questions though
We really want to get a second bd, but of the opposite gender (we are excited to eventually breed). Mine is a juvenile (only about 4-5", I haven't measure it yet) is there any way to check the gender at this young, (I know of the "1 bump 2 bump" method when they are older). Also, my friend recommended putting a damp towel above the cool side of the cage, and I noticed that definitely raised the temp of the warm side and levelled out the cool side, would that work if I eventually move up to a 55gallon breeder tank (currently using a 15gallon)? also, Is there an easy way to check the temp on the basking spot? He definitely seems happy with the temp, but I'm just a little worried it may not be peaking high enough.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 03, 2010:
What reptile are you housing? How old is the reptile?
madz on November 03, 2010:
is coconut soil a good substrate? with the string like pieces removed...
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 21, 2010:
I do see where plastic would be bad as a substrate, as many reptile decor is made of plastic. I would just make sure to clean and disinfect the tiles before putting them in the tank.
John10 on October 20, 2010:
Hi whitney, and thanks for the info. I actually ended up removoving the substrate right after i got off the computer. I put in paper towel instead, because its the most convenient of substrates and has no risk. One thing I noticed is the crickets are much faster on the paper towel, but I'm sure that just makes it more fun when he goes to hunt them down : )
I plan on buying ceramic tiles to put down eventually, because i look the look of them, and they are reusable after being cleaned. But, what i was wondering is, linoleum tiles are a lot cheaper to buy, but considering they are plastic, could they be harmful to a gecko? If i get them, it would be from a dollar store, and because of that, they might not be so good.. if they are made from toxic materials and what not.
Is linoleum/plastic alright to use?
Thank you, your help is very appreciated :)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 20, 2010:
Try the under tank heater, and see if that helps.
newowner on October 19, 2010:
Thanks for the comment back. I think the temperatures weren't right. We set the thermostat in our house lower during the weekdays, and I think that it made the temps in his cage go too low, even with the heat lamp. It didn't occur to me until this morning that that might be the problem. We're putting an undertank heat pad in tonight to see if that helps. I hope it's that easy of a fix!
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 19, 2010:
He could have over ate. That or the temperatures aren't right, and he's not digesting properly. What are the temperatures? Are you using an under tank heater? Are you using a digital thermometer with a probe to measure temperatures?
newowner on October 18, 2010:
I have a question about feeding and health. We've had our junvenile leopard gecko for 3 days. He's eating (crickets) every day and pooping well and is fairly active. This afternoon we checked on him, and there was a large-ish mass of what looked like cricket exoskeleton on the floor of his cage. (He still seems to be fine -- sleeping under his heat lamp, walking around, etc.) Is this normal? or are the crickets we're feeding him too big? or could there be something very wrong? I hope someone can give me some advice because I'm a little nervous about feeding the little guy until I have an idea what's going on.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2010:
Long-term, there is a high chance and possibility of impaction. Plus soil will increase humidity, which you don't want in a leopard gecko.
John10 on October 17, 2010:
Hi, i have had a leopard gecko for almost a month now, he is perfectly fine, but im wondering if the plantation soil i use as substrate is going to be a problem in the future. Im really worried and i cant find any answers on the internet to whether "planatation soil" (coconut fibre one)
is ok or not, it just says avoid loose substrates.
I watch him as he eats, and he doesnt seem to ingest it by accident, only the first week when he was really young and a bit more clumsy. He doesnt attempt to snack on it for no reason either.. but im still really worried that it will cause problems down the road :(
please help, thanks.
Baza on September 07, 2010:
Thanks I will remove all sand I just gave my two dragons a long warm bathe hoping it my help them poo wat is best to use in my tank
Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 07, 2010:
I would remove any form of sand, especially any and all calcium based sand. It does not digest nor break down in the body.
Baza on September 07, 2010:
I use komodo calci sand should I get rid
rivasrraa on August 16, 2010:
I just wanted to thank whoever put together this page. We just bought a baby Bearded Dragon a week ago. This is our first reptile and we are learning the care as we go. We put crushed walnut shell in as a substrate because the bag said it was ideal for bearded dragons! After some internet research we discovered this was very wrong. We removed the substrate and put down paper towles, but our baby dragon did not poop for days. We tried baths for a couple of days but these did not help. I read that olive oil might help so we gave him a few drops. About an hour later we brought him outside and placed him on a warm metal surface. In a couple of minutes he excreeted the walnut shells and everything else he had plugged with. This saved me an expensive trip to the vet. He seems much happier now. Thanks for the tip!
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 16, 2010:
If anything, I hope you've learned the lesson of not housing males with females without proper experience. Otherwise, you may need ton consult the vet via phone to see what she suggests. Typically the shot of hormone to induce labor, so to speak works great, but there are cases where it's not perfect.
BlueButterfly714 on August 16, 2010:
Thanks for your advice. I live in Toronto, On, where there are only 2 animal clinics that also see reptiles. After further investigation, I knew you were right, she was egg-bound. I took Ophelia to see a vet- she was nice and did an x-ray for free (I can't afford the 250 they wanted for it). Ended up spending $210 on exam fees, calcium and fluid shots. Had to bring her back the next day and pay $44 for the Oxytocent shot (was told I had to give her more calcium and fluid shots- all together would have been $100 if hadn't done it for free)- which I was told would induce labor in 30 min- to a few hours. It's been 4 days, and she still hasn't laid her eggs. So I spend approximately $260 that I don't have on what? I'm so worried about her, and just not sure what to do at this point. I think I might have to give her away, because I can't afford any further treatment- just don't know who else would be willing to take care of her, and I really don't want to give her away because I really love her. I feel like I'm stuck.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:
Calci sand is not digestable, and it does not dissolve in water or stomach acid. Remove the calcium sand, and use just the reptile carpet.
Also keep in mind that one female can lay up to 16 eggs by breeding just one time. Make room for plenty of babies.
Matty on August 08, 2010:
I have a leopard gecko. He is around 18months old and since i have owned him has been fine. Had ups and downs with eating but always comes round. I have just moved him into a bigger viv as i am looking for some females to breed but within the few hours he has been in there he has had a roam around and then just stayd in the cold side. I have calci sand but realy want to change after what i have read on here and wondered if it wise to put reptile carpet or lino on top ov the sand to keep the uneven look? Thanks
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:
Yes, add calcium and minerals to the baby food. I wouldn't feed a lot of baby food, as it's not the healthiest for reptiles to eat, especially as a staple, but it's ok for short term when readjusting the reptiles stomach and intestines after impaction, especially severe impaction. If it was just a minor deal, I wouldn't worry about the baby food, and just feed a regular diet.
Alissa Scott on August 05, 2010:
When you say add supplements to the baby food you mean I can add the 'Rep-cal powered calcium' that i use on the crickets?
I'm very worried about my bearded dragon. It just started happening a few days ago. She just got so plump. She's sluggish, won't chase crickets, and hasn't gone to the bathroom in two days which is normally an everyday thing for her.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 04, 2010:
Egg bound means that she's gravid (pregnant) and can't lay the eggs. She can die if she doesn't pass them, if this is the case. A reptile vet can imply one of a few treatment options that range from surgery, hormonal treatment, or manual stimulation. Surgery is very risky for small reptiles.
BlueButterfly714 on August 03, 2010:
Thanks for replying so quickly. I've had my adults for about a year and a half. I got Ophelia, the one that is sick first, then my male a month later, than a few weeks after that- my other female, who is Ophelia's sister. The babies were both raised in a 10 gallon separately, then introduced to the adults in the 30 gallon when big enough.
Ophelia's tail has never gotten quite as fat as my other lizard's, but she always seemed to have a decent appetite, so it didn't worry me. Now, between that, the fact that she's not eating, the swollen redness on her tummy, and her having problems pooing- she can't really go, and when she does, it's white/clearish and stringy. What does egg bound mean? I think I'll have to take her to a vet, do you happen to know of a good one in Toronto, Ontario?
Thanks so much for your help
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 03, 2010:
Are they housed together? Were any of the geckos quarantined before introducing? Is this the only gecko having trouble?
If the female is being housed with the male, she could be egg bound, which could be the redness that you're seeing. If that is the case, you may really need to see a vet.
If she's only been on food strike for a week, her tail shouldn't have gotten that thin in just that time.
BlueButterfly714 on August 03, 2010:
Hi. I have 3 adult leopard gecko (two female, one male) and two female babies. My eldest adult female, Ophelia, has not eaten for almost a week. Her tail has gotten really small, but she still has some mass in her stomach (actually, it looks a bit red underneath), and I was really worried it was impaction. To be honest I have no idea how that would happen, since I keep my guys on paper towel. After reading the information on this page, I started 2 days ago to feed her drops of olive oil, give her warm baths, and feed her applesauce with repti-cal mixed in. It's a struggle, and she still won't eat in the vivarium, but she's a little more active. Today when I gave her the olive oil, she started gasping for air, which really scared me. Do you have any suggestions for me about what I can do to make her better? Do you think it could be something other than impaction, since underneath her belly is red, not blue? Is there anything more I can do for her to make her more comfortable?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 24, 2010:
I am sorry that I couldn't provide too much insight.
For leopard geckos, the under tank heater is essential, and the overhead lighting is optional. They really don't need any lighting. They are nocturnal and do not really need the lighting. Some just like to provide a day/night scenario. I wouldn't even mess with a red light, but that's your option.
Calcium in a bottle cap is fine. I would also dust crickets. I have heard of Big Apple; they're sort of a wholesaler...
Chris on July 23, 2010:
Thank You for taking the time to respond to my question and i kinda had the feeling you were not going to be able to answer as to why they died. But i wanted to see if you could give me any more insight as to how to better care for them as i think i want to try again to raise some more leopards. UTH is a better option than an overhead light to provide heat im learning, do you use overhead lights? How important is the 12 hr light cycle to them or can i just get away with using room light and a red overhead light for night viewing? I should put calcium in tank in say a gatorade cap or just on crickets? Also just wanted to let you know i purchased the lizards from Big Apple pet supply, not sure if you ever heard of them? Thanks again for your insight its much appreciated!!
Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 23, 2010:
I'm sorry for the loss. My first thought was parasites; but then you said an online supplier. If it was a wholesaler, then parasites is still a big concern, as breeders tend to put more care into their reptiles. But, I also remembered you said that they were eating, which in most cases reptiles with parasites have a lack of appetite, so whether it was parasites or not would be hard to tell, as you would have needed to have done a fecal test to verify.
The lack of under tank heater could have caused digestion concerns, but I don't think it would have killed them all of a sudden like that, unless there were signs that you weren't noticing.
It is hard to diagnose what may have killed them without proper tests, especially considered that they seemed fine.
I'm sorry, but I don't think that I can give you an answer to what may have happened. :-(
Chris on July 22, 2010:
Hello, A month ago we bought my son(12) 2 baby leopard geckos. Both have unfortunatly died :[ When we got both they were both eating fine and im not sure really if they stopped eating as my son did much of the car taking. We housed them both in a 20 gal tank with repti carpet a couple of hiding spots some decor vines and for heat we had a overhead light with a 100 watt bulb. The air Temp when light was on was usually between 84-94. Now i no i made some mistakes here one being i think i should have paid more attention daily to the lizards but having been an owner of many reptiles in the past i just assumed like most of the reptiles i have owned the were pretty simple to keep. I missed the whole UTH during my initial research of these lizards and i didnt have any calcium in the tank, though i applied to crickets on occasion. Both lizards appeared to be very skinny upon death but im just not sure why they would have stopped eating and not having paid much attention(every couple of days) to them its hard for me to say how often they did or did not eat. Im not sure they could have been impacted, i bought them online from a lizard supplier. Both of their abdoman area seemed red under the skin almost like it was bleeding and both had black or blue spots, which i assumed were organs of some sort. I feel really bad that having known they required more attention to temp and all i could easily have checked them more just didnt know better at the time. but i dont want these lizards to have died in vain and not try to figure out what it was that they died from. So in short any suggestions or ideas as to what i should have done differently? I LOVE animals and really really really feel bad when i see injured, dead or abused animals. I just dont want anyone to think that i just neglected them as it happened so fast and they were so little i didnt recognize the symptoms( the 2nd to die looked pretty darn good a couple of days ago i saw him hunting at night and he looked strong). Could it be poor digestion due to the lack of UTH or stress from the light i had on him or parasites, i believe these r the 3 most likely reason for death. Thanks and sry for the long rant but i wanted to try to give you most info i could 1st time around. Thank You for any info u can provide.
Jack on July 14, 2010:
Yeah i give him fresh water everyday and keep the humidity where it should be and i give him a good soak in warmish water like three times a week. however i never quite know how long is enough. i usually soak him for like 20 minutes. And thats funny cause last night i was thinking it has been a while... so decided to feed him and i dipped the fresh killed rat in water! AND, This may sound a bit macabre but i took a dropper filled with normal temperature water and i guess you can say i pumped some into the rat. through his mouth into his stomach. Reno took this rat happily as he always does. we'll just have to wait and see. what are your opinions.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 14, 2010:
Do you have a water bowl that the snake can drink from? Try lukewarm soaks a few times a week. I'm not sure if the mineral oil will help with dehydration, but you may consider dipping the pr-killed rat in water so that when the snake eats it, he's getting some water in.
I know a lot of keepers will used F/T feeders and make sure they're still wet so that when the snake eats, they're getting in the nutrients from the feeder and the water to help keep hydrated, especially as some species really don't care for the bowl.
Jack on July 13, 2010:
Hey. I've noticed everyone here talks mostly about Leo's but I'm having problems with my Blood Python. I had taken him to the vet cause he wasn't defecating at all and he had noticeable lumps towards his tail. They Emptied him out and told me the problem was he was dehydrated and his urate was blocking everything else up. I've noticed before that he never drinks. well i took him home and thought problem solved. but now same problems. not going to the bathroom and a really small (as of now) lump right at his cloaca. i was wondering before i take him back to a costly vet, if maybe you could help me out. i was wondering if it would be harmful to him if i maybe injected a mineral oil/water mixture into his next pre-killed Rat meal. or if i should just force feed him so water with a dropper. what do you think?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 06, 2010:
That's good to hear.
Mark on July 06, 2010:
Ah it's okay now, she's been defecating prolifically around her tank so i began offering her food again and she's eating everything fine :)
She's also coming out and moving around the enclosure so she seems to be a lot more content than she did before.
I'm not sure if it was impaction but by following what you've said she has got a lot better.
Thanks for the advice :)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on June 29, 2010:
It typically takes a few days or week or so before there's a huge difference if it is impaction. You may want to have a reptile vet check her out to rule out anything else.
Mark on June 28, 2010:
There is literally nowhere i can get Mineral Oil, i've looked everywhere and in the end i just got some Olive Oil. I've been putting it on the nose of my Monitor and she's been licking it off but no real change.
She has been defecating but they've been small in comparison to her previous "full sized" feaces. She is also hiding all the times of the day except to bask in the morning and i don't want to continue forcing her to take warm baths since it is stressful for her :/
Do you think it is impaction or something else? It's mainly the swelling of her stomach that's convinced me.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on June 27, 2010:
Try mineral oil, as recommended above.
Mark on June 25, 2010:
I got a Savannah Monitor a few weeks ago and she was eating mice perfectly fine, but i think i overfed her on mealworms and mice and i've since gathered that this can cause impaction.
She stopped eating about 3-4 days ago, became lethargic, and stopped passing fecal matter and i knew the risks of impaction and i've been soaking her in hot water twice a day, but there's been no change at all. The temperature's are as there supposed to be and she has a basking rock that warms up her underside significantly. However she has developed a distinct "arch" in her back, and i'm worried that this is a definite sign of impaction.
There are no reptile vets anywhere near me so that's not an option, what can i do?
Ben on June 14, 2010:
Hi, I recently put moss in just a little area in my geckos tank. And it seems that she has gotten bigger on her sides. She keeps eating real good though, and she's active. Should I be worried about impaction because of the moss. I'm not sure if she is eating it or not. How can I tell if she has one or not?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 22, 2010:
That is good to hear. Hopefully he will keep it up.
Wendebastage on March 20, 2010:
Whitney, I want you to know he is drinking and eating very well now on his own, he gained a lot of strength back. He is no longer pooping substrate. I am so glad and thank you so much for guiding me through the process. I really appreciate it so much. :)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 17, 2010:
Good luck with him.
Wendebastage on March 16, 2010:
I have under the tank heaters as well. I think I am going to bring them upstairs. It's warmer up here. That is the plan. Thank you so much for all of your suggestions. Everything is seeming to work. He is still pooping substrate though, I am waiting for a cricket to be fully satisfied.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 16, 2010:
Gotcha... 80-85 is still rather low, especially for 13 years. 85 would be pushing it to be ok, as it is bare minimum temperature for the hot side, but 80 is definitely low. An under tank heater is the best way to provide heat for a leopard gecko.
Wendebastage on March 16, 2010:
Oh no. This winter was the only winter that they lived in chilled temps. We couldn't afford oil and it was colder than usual downstairs. The temps are now regulated because I added a higher wattage bulb. One gecko, Cartman, is filled out and semi-plump. He's okay. Fluffy just couldn't handle the cold this winter. Sorry, I didn't explain that either. Otherwise the temps were 80-85 on the hot side and 70-75 on the cool side for most of their lives, until now.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 16, 2010:
It should take a few weeks to a month or more for him to gain weight. Because they weren't eating like they were supposed to, they're going to be skinny. Then the one with the impaction, not eating for a few weeks on top of probably already being underweight... Just not good...
Definitely keep up with current research, as you were very poorly informed about the gecko care.
You were doing something right as they have lived this long, but it is very surprising considering they've only eaten once every two weeks for the past many, many years, and lived in chilled temperatures.
Wendebastage on March 16, 2010:
You are so right there in regards to pet store employees. It's pretty sad, because they should be knowledgeable about the animals they have. The temps are raised and everything is up to standards. They are getting gut loaded crickets daily. I only give them 5 each as that is what they have been eating as of late. I feel like the quality of the lives were not as good as it could have been, but now they are thriving and I am keeping an eye on Fluffy. he seems to be getting around his tank and pooping in the appropriate place. He is still skinny, do you know how long it will take for him to get more meat on his bones. My other Gecko, Cartman, is doing very well, he is meaty and just shed his skin last night and is doing extremely well. Right now I have paper towels in there, I ordered some brown carpet reptile terrain from the pet store, as they only had green.
Anyway, I will keep you updated and thank you so much for helping me through all of this. I hope I helped him and made his life much better. :)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 16, 2010:
If you're still using 80 for the hot side, that's another concern. You want the temps to be closer to 90-92F.
Information on animals is ever changing as new information develops. You should never stop research once you get an animal.
Feed as much as the reptile will eat withing 10-15 minutes. Only feeding once every 2 weeks is ridiculous. I have never heard that. Even in the beginning information was still somewhat similar to what it is today. Never listen to pet store employees, as they are not always the most knowledgeable, whether 13 years ago or today. In a lot of cases, they don't know how to care for the animals they're selling you.
Wendebastage on March 16, 2010:
It's interesting, because when we got them 13 years ago, a whole other set of rules applied and there wasn't much information. So the information that was given to me from the pet store was completely incorrect. even the things I read on line was wrong back then. I am finding that this is going to make a difference for the last part of their life. I was told I didn't need a moss hide, just make sure the temps are above 80 on one side and around 70 on the cool side. Then I was told to use Calcium sand, then Walnut shells, etc. You can see how I was grateful to come and find you on this site as I would have never have known. Thanks again for all of your advice, they are now thriving.
P.S. He pooped again. lol I am just letting him be and get used to his habitat and schedule once again. I am feeding him 5 crickets once every day, is that too much? I was told to feed them once every two weeks, seriously! So, now I know that they eat every day. All of this information is in my Gecko book as well as what I have read in the past. Mind you, the past. :)
Here is to healthy reptiles! ;)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 16, 2010:
I use humid hides, yes. I use moist paper towels for younger geckos, and coconut fiber for breeding females.
Wendebastage on March 15, 2010:
I wanted to ask you another question, do you have a hide box with moss in it or vermiculite? I was reading this link and I didn't know if this is something I had to add. Let me know. Thanks.
P.S. I am keeping an eye on him. :)
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 15, 2010:
That is good. Keep an eye on him.
Wendebastage on March 15, 2010:
Thanks again Whitney. He pooped once again last night. I looked at his belly and I saw another urate, so I know that I got the obstruction. I am letting him be now and just watching him to see if he continues to be on the up and up. Thanks again for all of your advice.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 15, 2010:
I personally, would just leave a bowl of calcium for him to eat as needed. I wouldn't recommend an enema unless you are familiar with giving reptiles enemas. That is better left for the professionals as you can do damage to the reptile. Just keep an eye on him.
Wendebastage on March 13, 2010:
Whitney, I went out and got crickets today and he finally ate. I feel like I am doing the right things.
Wendy on March 13, 2010:
Also, how much is too much calcium? I just put a small small pinch of powder in his mouth once a day, for now until he gets more of his strength back. Plus I have given him an enema twice and this is what promoted the poop as well. I only put in a small small small amount in his rear end. I just started doing this 3 days ago this treatment and he is getting a lot better. Mind you, he is also 13 years old, I would love it for him to live another 7. :)
Wendy on March 13, 2010:
There were three pieces of poop there. I stopped feeding him because he refused to eat due to the impaction. Should I get him some crickets now that he has eaten? Also, his coat is shiny again and his color is back and he has more energy. The impaction is not severe, he is climbing and laying on his rock now, so I think I will be able to get this out of him. I am still calling the vet Monday. Thanks so much for your advice. I appreciate it.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 13, 2010:
Be careful in not overdosing calcium. A week of not eating, isn't that severe or anything to cause alarm. The impation is the concern. If the impaction is severe, a vet can flush out the gecko.
It is good that the gecko passed some of the matter. He may not be out of the woods; it's hard to tell because I don't know how bad the impaction was to tell you if one poo will be enough. It also depends on how much substrate he released.
You should have never stopped feeding him.
Wendy on March 13, 2010:
Whitney, Fluffy finally pooped. It's been a week. So the stuff is definitely coming out. I looked to see what was in his poop with a rubber glove and it was substrate. I am so saddened that I did this to him. I washed my hands thoroughly with anti bacterial soap after handling the poop. Other than that. I am glad that I found you and read all of your suggestions. It has worked! Thanks so much! Also, does this mean he is out of the woods now? I know I am going to continue treatment until he is fully cleaned out, but does this mean he is out of the woods? Also, when can I start feeding him again?
Wendy on March 12, 2010:
I am force feeding him calcium and water right now. He isn't eating on his own. The temperature on the hot side is about 85-90 and the cool side is about 75-80. The last time he ate was on the 6th of this month. So it has been a week already. I am having my local pet store order Nature Zone Essential Probiotics, they will have it on Tuesday, I hope my little guy makes it.
Also, if I take him to the vet, what would they do differently than I am doing now? Can they do an endoscopy on reptiles? I am actually being serious.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 12, 2010:
Other than what you're doing, you can take him to a vet. Depending on how bad the impaction is, a vet may be needed. Is the gecko eating? What are the temperatures?
Wendy on March 12, 2010:
I have 2 leopard geckos, both are 13 yrs old. One is fine, but the other one has an impaction. I have changed the substrate to paper towels as all these years i have been using the wrong substrate apparently. When I first got them they said Calci-Sand was best and then they said walnut shells. Now I hear that you shouldn't use any of that. Interesting. I have been giving him 2 drops of mineral oil per day, along with warm baths and massaging his belly to try to produce a bowel movement. What do I do in regards to getting calcium and water in him, because he refuses to open his mouth for me anymore. He hates the mineral oil, it takes me 15 minutes just to get 2 drops of that in him. What else should I do to help my little guy?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on February 02, 2010:
Definitely do not use calcium based sand. Very Fine play sand can be ok, but you still have the risk of impaction.
Reptile carpet/tile should not burn his feet; typically they don't sit and dig though. Newspaper is iffy because some printers use a dye that can be toxic.
kaz on February 02, 2010:
i have a new bearded dragon- the shop advised us calci-sand. i read up yesturday as never heard of it before-for ourother we used-repti sand similar to play sand. we have found both are bad.
Although if we use newspaper/reptile carpet...what happens if he tries to dig & will my heat lamp not make the substrate hot & burn his feet??
Whitney (author) from Georgia on February 01, 2010:
gecko, as long as you've changed the substrate, just keep things as normal. make sure the temperatures are good and that the gecko is still eating and drinking.
aline, calcium based sand is horrible, get rid of it. try the olive oil and see if the gecko passes any of the substrate. a diet of sole mealworms is fine, but it's best to var it with crickets or another feeder just to vary it up for better nutrition. If the gecko doesn't pass anything with the olive oil and warm soaks, you will probably need to see a vet.
Aline on January 30, 2010:
I have been asked to look after an adult male Leopard Gecko 6 weeks ago. His female had died, she was not eating. Not knowing much about Gecko i followed the intructions given to me and did not check them as it was only for a month. I have now been asked to keep him so i read more about it. I was given completely wrong info! For the last howmany months he was fed on mealworms only, and did not have any calcium supplement. As he was living in a calcium sand base, he was not lacking calcium. 2 weeks ago he stopped eating. As he is a rather obese Gecko and his tale had not changed, I did not worry. Now his tale is thining so I fear impaction. As he has not eaten for over 2 weeks can I still deal with this myself with olive oil and bathing or do I need to see a VET urgently?
gecko beginner on January 30, 2010:
Hi, I have a leopard gecko that I have had for just over a month. I am worried that she has the beginning signs of impaction as i noticed some sand remnants in her poo.
I have changed her flooring to slate tiles and she has started to get slightly paler. Im hoping this is just because she is due to shed soon or could this be related to the impaction? She has still got a big tail and hasnt lost any weight so how long would you say it is best to leave her without feeding her anymore crickets?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 07, 2009:
since you've already seen a vet, just wait and see what he did works. flushing is something that a vet normally will do to flush out the body.
Judith on December 06, 2009:
I have an 11 year old leopard Gecko named Brutus. He has impaction. I have changed his lining to paper towels, I am giving him olive oil, giving him baths and massaging his belly. I took him to the vet last night and today and they did xrays and gave him something to losen his stool. He has an upper impaction. He appears to be gasping and is not moving his upper limbs. Is there anything else I can do? You talked about flushing. What do you mean by this? If you mean give an enema will it help a Gecko who has impaction in their upper digestive tract?
vetherppath on October 27, 2009:
There is not a good correlation between pectoral and pelvic limb paralysis and the location of impaction. Neurologic disease can be associated with endotoxemia that often occurs with longstanding impaction. Those species with large ceca also can have their lower digestive tract distend and impinge on brachial plexus nerves. Most of the cases I have seen of impaction with paralysis were of this type. They had colonic impaction but had pelvic and pectoral paralysis.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 15, 2009:
Towels could get expensive. It may make walking on them harder, and depending on how thick they are the gecko may grab them while trying to eat. Although, the gecko wouldn't be able to eat it, the towels would make feeding harder, I'd assume.
matt on October 14, 2009:
I just had a quick question, would it be bad to have a young leopard gecko housed on small cotton towels instead of paper towels or reptile carpet?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 21, 2009:
I'm sorry to hear that. The blue area on the belly is probably the liver. I've found that sick geckos, tend to have their liver more prominant than healthy geckos.
Make sure that the gecko is on paper towels, and try your best to heal him for the broken leg.
Helena loves Muncha on September 20, 2009:
My lizard seems to be listing to the right, he seems to be having breathing problems, he wont walk that much, we took him to the vet last week, and they just said he had a fractured leg, but then i found this, he has a purple bruise on his belly. mum says he wont make it through to tomorrow :(
Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 13, 2009:
Terrible housing. You need ventilation, so get rid of the solid lid and get a screen lid. You need to unplug the heat rock, as it can and will badly burn the gecko's belly. You want to throw away the cedar, as cedar is terrible for reptiles and other small animals; the oils can give respiratory problems.
Paper towels, not regular towels. Just line the bottom; no need to shred. Keep them dry, moisten them and the humidity will rise and respiratory problems can develop.
For a moist hide, yes mist the paper towels within the hide ONLY and only when the gecko is going to shed.
Weekly replace the paper towels.
An under tank heater is a heating pad that goes under the tank. Heat rocks can and will burn reptiles. They are not recommended for geckos, snakes, and most lizards.
eimmot38 on September 12, 2009:
My friend has a leopard gecko that was given to him. It is in a 20 gallon (fish)aquarium, with a solid lid and a heat rock. It has cedar shavings for ground cover and he puts a dozen crickets at a time in there for it to eat. He also keeps a piece of potato in there for the crickets to eat...was told to do this by a friend. Is this a dangerous environment? "Harry", has good color is active and has a fat tail, all seems well. When you say use kitchen towels, do you mean paper towels...and if so does he line the entire bottom with them or does he shred them? Does he keep them moist? In his "hide" does he put wadded-up paper towels?, and does he need to spritz them to keep them moist?, How often does he need to change the paper out? Also what is a bottom heater? Harry has a heat rock, wouldn't that keep his belly warm?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 01, 2009:
leopard geckos are beter with solid substrate. Your vet was correct. Just give the gecko time to adjust.
Francis on August 01, 2009:
I have a blizzard gecko, he is now five years old and I had always used a kind of sand and my gecko vet. Said me to change substract because it could cause impaction. IN was asking myself what to put: towel paper or repti carpet and if any thing is better... Say me because my blizzard gecko does not seemed to like solid substract.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 23, 2009:
Pet stores house on sand as most pet stores have a coporation regulation that have sand as the housing. Also in consideration for pet stores, they house on sand but the reptiles are on the sand for short periods of time. Sand is potentially bad, as you have seen. Hopefully, you will be able to cleanse the gecko of the impacted sand.
jez on July 23, 2009:
this article along with others on the net has been useful. i have a 9 month old gecko and was sold it from the store with reptile sand which is was always kept on. at the time i had done a load of research and was aware of impaction, but a couple of friends of mine said it was a bit exaggerated and they had geckos which had been on sand all their life and been fine
anyway, the last couple of weeks has seen my gecko get really really thin; he was quite thin anyway but this time his tail was tiny. i thought at first it might have been the heating so i put the lamp on for longer and made sure it stayed at 90 (sometimes it creeps down to 80ish). however this didn't seem to do anything and he became even more lethargic just laying on the sand not moving all day.
I hadnt looked at the belly as i only learnt today that a bruised belly is a sign of impaction, but he has a very large dark area on his belly, much bigger than any liver.
this has sent me in to kind of shock mode. ive thrown out the sand (i was planning to anyway but my fault for putting it off) and put towel in. I am now going to give him 2 warm baths a day and i have given him some vegetable oil. It looks bad and probably a later severe stage of impaction, which im gutted about as i really dont want to lose him. I found a vet and have an appointment first thing tomorrow, he is a reptile specialist and one of the best in the UK so he should have seen this all before.
Anyway i guess i am commenting here so people read this and take it from me - dont use sand, the stuff sucks and although most stores for some reason house geckos on it, its so easy for it to kill your gecko; then you will be in my position and be thinking 'i wish i did something about that seeing as my gecko could well die now'.
BIN THE SAND!
Wrapping Up Ball Python Substrate
There are many safe AND ideal types of substrates to choose from. The BEST choice for you and your ball python will depend on your situation and personal preferences.
Feel free to experiment! What works for one keeper might not work for you. You could even try mixing different, safe substrate types.
Fortunately, if you AREN’T happy with the substrate that you pick, you can always change it up during the next cage cleaning.
If you switch it up enough and carefully observe your snake, you might even discover which one they enjoy the most!
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So how do we prevent impaction?
1 – Make sure that your habitat is at the correct temperature. Warm end, cool end, temperature gradient.
2 – Species specific levels of UVB. Probably the best website out there dealing with UV in pet reptiles is www.uvguide.co.uk. Have a read, it’s excellent.
3 – Supplementation. Make sure that your pet is receiving the mineral and calcium supplements that best suit their particular needs. We can help you with that – just ask!
4 – Hydration. Keep your reptile well hydrated, and familiarise yourself with how your pet would have stayed hydrated in the wild. Would they drink from rivers or ponds, raindrops on leaves, morning fog? And no, they don’t soak it up through their bottoms when bathed.
5 – Reduce the likelihood of accidental ingestion. Feeding a bearded dragon wet lettuce on fine sand is asking for trouble – use a bowl.
6 – Don’t allow internet bullies to tell you how to keep your reptile. The internet is a marvellous tool, but anyone can post anything without having to back their knowledge up. We have to get it right, and regularly consult with experts in their field to try and stay abreast of current best practice.
We hope you’ve found this article useful, and that it’s demystified some of the odd beliefs that surround what is a truly horrible – but ultimately preventable – condition. If you have any questions about reptiles and would like to speak face to face with someone, feel free to pop into our reptile shop in Kidlington near Oxford, and one of our reptile experts would be happy to help.
IMPACTION of the gut in reptiles can not only be a costly process for its owner it can also lead to the reptiles death.
Impaction is a term given when a reptile eats too much substrate or material that it blocks the intestine, preventing the natural process of digesting food. Unless this blockage is removed or clears naturally the reptile will surely die.
The most usual cause of impacting is the ingestion of substrate, mainly mineral based substrates such as sand. Some of these substrate are just not digestible and once eaten will form clumps then in turn will compact leading to impaction.
Before panicking and removing all your substrates , it is normal for small amounts of substrates to be eaten by your reptile, these smaller particles will normally just pass through the gut and eventually be passed out. The problem occurs when your reptile deliberately eats the substrate, when this happens the material will accumulate and eventually cause impaction. It is very likely that this would also happen to reptiles in the wild as millions of reptile live in very sandy areas and will intentionally digest substrate. So why would reptiles in the wild eat substrate if they run the risk of impaction? Well they do this because usually the substrate they live on is rich in minerals especially calcium and all reptiles need a certain amount of calcium in their diet, many reptile also at small stones in order to supplement themselves, this behaviour is called geophagy. so in the wild these reptiles top them self up with substrate but this is usually done over a long period of time.
The most common symptoms are a swollen abdomen, lack of faeces, straining to pass faeces or blood in the faeces. Some faeces that do pass through may have substrate in it so its important to check faeces when cleaning the vivarium. If spotted early in its stages full impaction may be prevented. If in any doubt consult your local independent reptile specialist, or reptile vet.
WHY IS IMPACTION AN ISSUE?
A reptile that is kept at the right temperature, with the correct UV light and supplemented regularly may well eat small amounts of substrate, intentionally or unintentionally. This will usually pass through the system with ease just as it would in the wild.
However if a reptile is kept in the wrong conditions it is likely to develop low blood calcium levels as well as other deficiencies. In this situation the reptiles natural regulatory will kick in and will intentionally try to top up on what it feels it is lacking and the first thing it will try is the substrate. The problem is without the right temperature, UV and supplements the reptile will not be able to absorb any calcium from its gut therefore its calcium levels will not correct themselves. So the reptile will continue to try and correct the situation and will eat more substrate.
HOW CAN IMPACTION BE PREVENTED?
There is no 100% way of preventing impaction. Some keepers will keep their reptiles on a solid substrate to prevent this but we believe that with the right conditions and the right environment that allows your reptile to display its natural behaviours would benefit your reptiles well being far better than a piece of lino or carpet that may encourage your reptile to eat and walk in its own faeces. Good husbandry is the key to Reptile Keeping, having the right knowledge and keeping your reptile in the right conditions with the right equipment.
Ron’s Pet Supplies offer a free health check on you and your reptiles, to give you piece of mind that you are doing the best for your pet. Please contact us for more details.
Please do not be tempted to buy any exotic species unless you have the correct knowledge to meet its needs, with the equipment and knowledge available these days it is very easy to keep exotic species and we are more than happy to equip you with everything you need but as a responsible exotic retailer we will also refuse a sale if we feel that you are unable to fulfill the reptiles needs.
What is Snake Impaction?
Impaction occurs when a snake ingests something that its body cannot digest. Substrate impaction can happen when a snake is provided with bedding made of sand, walnut shell, sawdust or other fine particles that can be accidentally ingested. Snakes can consume their bedding in 2 ways:
- While consuming their prey
- While burrowing in their substrate
Sand and walnut shell substrates are also drying. When placed in a tank, they tend to soak up atmospheric moisture, reducing the humidity of your snake’s environment. When ingested, these impacted particles dry up your snake’s feces, making it harder for it to be passed out.
How Long Does it Take a Snake to Poop?
In some snakes, such as rat snakes, poop doesn’t remain internally for too long, leaving the body just 2 days after eating.
Arboreal snakes and other relatively slender snakes, such as tree pythons and bush vipers take around 3 to 7 days after eating to defecate.
In heavy-bodied henophidian snakes, such as boas and pythons, feces can remain in the hindgut for months before it is released. The maximum recorded time taken by a Burmese python to poop is 126 days, 386 days for a blood python, and 76 days for an emerald tree boa.
Why Snakes Take Longer To Excrete Waste
Part of the reason some snakes take as long as several months to poop is that they let their digestive systems’ atrophy between feedings. Since snakes eat only a few times a month, they have to repress their organs and proteins to conserve their energy.
When they eat, their organs grow back in size to digest the food and make up for increased oxygen consumption during digestion. According to Stephen M. Secor and Jared Diamond, each time a python eats, its digestive tract, pancreas, heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver increase in size (hypertrophy) by 50 to 100% within 1-3 days.
Snakes have a relatively high energy cost during digestion and in rebuilding proteins and organs that have atrophied during fasting. The authors explain this regulatory system using an analogy of driving a car. You don’t stop your engine during a brief stop, but you will stop it to save fuel if you have to wait for a train to pass.
By repressing their organs, snakes can save energy during prolonged fasts, according to the Journal of Experimental Biology. As their metabolic rate and gut size changes, so does their ability to absorb nutrients.
Infrequent feeders have lower metabolic and nutrient absorption rates. Therefore, the rate at which their bodies produce feces is much lower.
Adaptive Ballast Hypothesis
Some snakes can hold a lot of feces in their intestines. Termed as the “adaptive ballast” hypothesis by Lillywhite et al., some snakes retain their feces for a hunting advantage in capturing large prey.
Stored feces are an easily-changeable element that can add to a snake’s body mass. Unlike muscle, this inert mass requires little-to-no energy to maintain as long as it doesn’t have to be dragged around much.
Pythons are sedentary reptiles that ambush their prey, instead of chasing them, so they don’t mind the added weight. The added mass which is saturated in the posterior region of a snake’s body increases the inertia of this region and its friction on the ground.
Furthermore, these snakes can quickly release their feces, reducing their body mass by as much as 20% when it becomes a liability. This can be when the snake is gravid, before hibernation, moving long distances, or right after a new meal.
For some snakes, holding feces to add mass is not advantageous. For example, arboreal snakes cannot climb with the added weight. Therefore, these snakes defecate on a more regular basis after eating.
What Causes Constipation in Snakes?
If your snake is taking longer than usual to go to the toilet after its meal, the chances are that it’s constipated. Constipation can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful for snakes.
Furthermore, if a snake’s feces or urates are lodged in its body, there could be a risk of systemic infections or organ failure.
One common cause of dehydration and subsequent constipation in snakes is feeding frozen-thawed food. Frozen mice have less water present in them compared to when they’re live or fresh.
Since snakes get most of their water from their food, a diet that’s high in frozen food may cause their feces to become drier and harder than usual. Hardened stools are called fecoliths or fecal stones. A fecal stone can obstruct the passage of poop out of a snake’s body.
Another major cause of dehydration is not providing enough water. This can also cause a lack of colon movement. The longer the feces stays inside the colon, the drier it gets as their body draws more water from it to make up for the lack of water consumed by the snake. This hardens the stool, resulting in constipation in snakes.
Low Temperature and Humidity Levels
A lower-than-required temperature in your snake’s environment can cause the snake to conserve higher temperatures deep within its body to carry out its internal functions.
A rise in internal temperature can dehydrate the feces, causing it to harden inside the body. Not providing the right basking temperature can also cause constipation as snakes rely on external temperatures for thermoregulation.
Low humidity can have a similar effect in your snake’s body. The lack of moisture in the environment may dehydrate its feces, preventing it from being smoothly passed out.
Impaction can occur when a snake ingests particulate substrate, which includes sand, gravel and aspen shavings. The inability to digest foreign matter may lead to obstructed feces.
Overfeeding results in obesity in snakes. Obesity can reduce the movement of the colon, but not the ability to absorb water from urates and feces. In snakes, urine is produced in the form of semi-solid uric acid salts, called urates. A common cause of obesity is the hardening of urates inside a snake’s body.
Reptiles don’t have a separate opening for their feces and urine to pass from their bodies. Instead, they have one cloacal opening. Commonly known as the vent, the cloaca is found on the underside of the reptile’s tail. The cloaca received urates from the kidneys, feces from the colon, and babies/eggs from the oviduct. These leave the body via the cloacal opening.
As the colon absorbs more water from the urate suspension, it creates a harder urate plug that builds up inside the snake’s digestive tract. This blocks the passage of feces, resulting in constipation.
Most snakes will continue eating even while constipated until their gut is so full, it becomes intolerable. At this point, the snake is severely ill and will require immediate attention from a vet.
Other causes for constipation include severe parasitic infection and partial paralysis from a nutritional disorder or injury.
Signs of Constipation in Snakes
If you’ve had your snake for a while, you’ll be aware of its bowel movement routine. While a slight deviation in its routine may not be a cause for concern, any abnormalities in your snake’s mood, body or appetite accompanied by the lack of feces may be an indication for constipation. The following are signs of constipation and impaction in snakes:
- Lack of bowel movement for several weeks
- Discomfort and pain, which may lead to behavioral abnormalities
- Lack of appetite
- Irritability during handling
- A large, blue spot that appears as a bruise in the abdomen (only in species with skin clear enough to show lower internal organs)
Treatment for Constipation in Snakes
If you suspect your snake is constipated, start by bathing it in warm water in a tub. Allow your snake to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Soaking in warm water will soften any fecolith or urates, allowing the waste to leave smoothly. A warm water bath can also help your snake relax, making it easier for it to pass a hardened stool.
While your snake is soaking, gently massage its belly for 5 to 10 minutes, rubbing from its sternum to its cloaca. Rewarm the water as needed. This treatment should get your snake to poop within 24 hours. Consider adjusting the environment, making it warmer and more humid.
Check your snake’s bedding. Certain types of bedding, such as sand crushed walnut, tend to absorb atmospheric moisture, making the air drier.
To raise the humidity of your snake terrarium, consider substrates that hold humidity well, such as cypress mulch. Changing the location of your terrarium to somewhere away from direct sunlight or an air conditioning vent can also help.
Snakes that are partially paralyzed due to metabolic bone disease will have to be soaked and massaged daily to avoid the buildup of waste. If your snake shows no signs of improvement, take it to a herp vet.
Avoid trying to administer enemas or laxatives yourself without consulting your vet as many products can be fatal for snakes. Moreover, snakes may require a much lower dose than most mammals.
Your vet may begin treatment with mineral oil or milk of magnesia enema. This will often result in a large mass of feces and urates being released.
Your vet may examine the feces under the microscope to look for any microorganisms that may have built up while your snake was constipated. Note that these microorganisms aren’t the cause for your snake’s constipation, but are just an accumulation of internal parasites that haven’t been released with your snake’s poop.
However, when in high numbers, these parasites can result in infection, which may have to be treated with the antibiotic, metronidazole.
Alternatively, the vet may administer mineral oil as an oral laxative, but the results may take longer. Your vet may also recommend adding some mineral oil to your snake’s prey. It may take up to a week for your snake to poop after taking mineral oil, but if its constipation is still in its early stages, this should work.
If the hardened stool is very impacted and your snake has a swollen abdomen, it may have to be removed surgically. However, with proper care, your snake should recover well following the procedure.
How to Prevent Constipation in Snakes
Husbandry errors cause problems for captive snakes. The following are some ways you can correct them and avoid constipation.
Adjust the Temperature
Snakes rely on external temperatures for thermoregulation. A common cause of impaction is low temperatures in the basking region.
Therefore, create a temperature gradient in your snake’s environment by providing heat at one end of the terrarium. This can be done using basking lights, heat mats or creaming heating elements.
However, just providing heat is not enough. Make sure the temperature is suitable for your snake species. For example, ball pythons require basking temperatures between 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit and corn snakes enjoy a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit in their warm end.
Include More Water
Lack of water can cause dehydration, causing it to absorb water from its urates and feces. This can create a fecal stone or urate plug.
Provide your snake with plenty of fresh water for it to drink and soak in. Including a bigger water dish can also help raise the humidity levels inside the vivarium, preventing constipation caused by low moisture levels.
Change The Substrate
If you have a burrowing snake, use lower-risk substrates, such as cypress mulch or shredded paper, instead of sand or walnut shell bedding.
For non-burrowing snakes, artificial turf, carpeting, newspaper, and paper towels make satisfactory substrates with no risk of impaction.
Remove Unwanted Décor
If the vivarium is cluttered with unnecessary décor, consider reducing the items down to some horizontal branches or pipes, a couple of hides and some small live plants.
Don’t Overfeed Your Snake
Many snake owners overfeed or powerfeed their snakes to make them bigger faster. However, doing so not only increases their risk of obesity, but can also lead to digestive problems, such as constipation. Most adult snakes only require a medium-sized mouse once a week.
Regular handling can also help prevent constipation. Furthermore, it allows you to keep a lookout for any underlying issues that may have gone unnoticed while your snake is in its cage.