Reptile Constipation: What Goes In, Must Come Out

If your reptile is eating (and hopefully it is!), it must be defecating regularly. And believe it or not, but constipation is a widespread and potentially serious problem affecting captive reptiles.

This is no joking matter and can be quite painful to the reptile.  A prolonged and severe bout of constipation can even lead to organ failure and ultimately death if left untreated

Today I thought I would talk about some of the most common causes of constipation in reptiles and outline the standard treatment methods.  The key though is to closely monitor your reptile daily and keeping detailed records of your reptile’s behavior (including patterns of defecating) so you can spot a constipated reptile early enough to treat with relative ease.

Even more important is to make sure you are providing the ideal captive environment for your pet with the necessary temperature gradients, space for normal activities, water for drinking … all of which may help prevent your reptile from becoming constipated in the first place.

What are the most common causes of constipation in reptiles?

  1. The reptile is being kept at a temperature below their Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone. In other words, the temperatures inside the enclosure are too cold and/or the reptile does not have access to a warm enough basking spot if necessary. Reptiles require warmer temperatures than humans to digest food properly!
  2. The temperatures in the enclosure dropped just after the reptile finished eating.  The ability to digest food properly is directly dependent upon the reptile having access to the necessary temperature levels.
  3. The reptile has ingested some type of foreign substance/material which has now become impacted.  The most common materials ingested include gravel, bark, and strings from indoor/outdoor carpeting.  Sometimes chitinous insects can cause a problem as well (such as large crickets). Impaction is a potentially serious problem!
  4. Some keepers are notorious for overfeeding their pets which can lead to constipation as well.
  5. An under-active reptile is also at risk of becoming constipated.
  6. If a reptile is partially paralyzed from an injury or some kind of nutritional disorder (such as Metabolic Bone Disease), it may also become constipated easily.
  7. Dehydration can also cause constipation in reptiles.
  8. Several different types of parasite infections can also cause constipation as well.

But to complicate matters further, because no one said keeping reptiles was going to be easy, sometimes a reptile may become constipated for no apparent reason.

What are some of the common treatments for constipation in reptiles?

One of the simplest remedies might be as simple as increasing the environmental temperature to the required levels. Once the reptile has warmed up, proper digestion typically starts back up again.

Sometimes, a nice warm bath is all that it takes to encourage defecation – either immediately or within approximately 24 hours.  If this technique does not work within 24hrs, you must seek veterinary assistance.

  1. Bathe the reptile in warm (not hot!) water for approximately 10-15 minutes.  Make sure the water is not over the reptile’s head – not all reptiles can swim!
  2. GENTLY massage the reptile for approximately 5 minutes, with strokes that run from the sternum to the vent.  This may not be possible with some smaller reptile species and hatchlings/adolescents.  Use common sense please!
  3. Replace the reptile in the bath and allow it to sit for another 10-15 minutes.

NEVER use a home laxative treatment with your reptile! These are often too strong and too dangerous!

If the warm baths are not helping, it’s definitely time to contact your veterinarian for further assistance. You and your vet can work together to determine the possible cause, the extent of the problem and the most appropriate treatment option for your particular situation.

Severely constipated and impacted reptiles may require surgery to fix the problem.  And if the problems are stemming from an injury or any type of illness, veterinary assistance is obviously required.

If your pet is continuously becoming constipated, this is usually a good sign that something environmental or physiological is not right and must be investigated further.  Take a close look at the reptile’s housing, temperature, substrate and the food items that you are providing.

By Candace,


About Candace M Hansen

Wildlife advocate, conservationist and environmentalist.
This entry was posted in Reptile Health & Medicine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Reptile Constipation: What Goes In, Must Come Out

  1. Very beneficial – always spread the word. Getting excited about an update. For too long now have I had the need to start my personal blog. Suppose if I wait any more I’ll never ever do it. I’ll make sure to include you in my Blogroll. Many thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s