Dehydration in Reptiles: Signs, Causes and Treatment

Water is truly the elixir of life for humans and reptiles alike and is considered to be the most important nutrient in animal nutrition.

As with us or any other animal for that matter, captive reptiles can also become dehydrated. If left untreated, it can ultimately lead to death. A reptile (and human) will die from lack of water long before they die from lack of food.

The purpose of this article is threefold:

  1. To help you identify the signs of dehydration in a reptile.
  2. To identify common contributing factors to dehydration so you can hopefully avoid the problem.
  3. To outline the commonly used and most effective treatment methods.

As with any medical problem, I always urge people to consult with their veterinarian for assistance if they suspect there may be any sort of a medical problem with their reptile.

Signs Of Dehydration In A Reptile

  • Skin loses elasticity – when the skin is pinched it does not rapidly spring back but remains puckered.
  • Skin becomes dull and takes on a “wrinkled” appearance – often deeply wrinkled around the neck and along the sides of the body.
  • Dry, flaky skin.
  • In some snakes, you may notice a single skin fold that runs the length of the body.
  • As dehydration advances, the eyes may sink into the skull, creating a very stark expression.
  • Mucous membranes inside the mouth of chelonians and lizards become dry and the tongue may appear sticky.
  • You may also notice patches of un-shed skin on the body, especially on the head, toes, tails and crests.
  • Also evident may be signs of starvation and muscle wasting.
  • Reptile may also be lethargic and will not eat (DO NOT force-feed until rehydration has been started – always follow your veterinarian’s advice!)

A veterinarian can also determine the presence of dehydration thru bloodwork as well:

  • Elevated uric acid levels (which may also indicate renal impairment).
  • Elevated packed cell volumes (PCV).
  • Total protein values.

Common Causes Of Dehydration In Reptiles

  • Lack of an appropriate source/form of drinking water. Keep in mind that some reptiles will readily drink from a water bowl, while others will only lap out water droplets. It is important for you to research your reptile’s preferred method of drinking when in their natural environments.
  • Consistently high environmental temperatures within the enclosure/habitat.
  • Certain type of caging materials and substrate may be absorbing the necessary humidity levels within the enclosure/habitat. Once again, you need to research the necessary humidity levels for your particular species

Treatment Of Dehydration In Reptiles

Obviously any reptile showing signs of dehydration should be evaluated by a qualified veterinarian and rehydrated … if left untreated, it will die (and it can be a very painful death). The most appropriate treatment options will depend on the severity of the problem which is why it is important that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

The purpose of this article is not to show you how to rehydrate a reptile but to outline the most common treatment methods your veterinarian might suggest. In severe cases, emergency fluids or tube feeding may be necessary.

Mild dehydration is often treated by:

  • Providing daily mistings.
  • Giving an initial soak in lukewarm water.
  • Ensuring access to drinking water in a form suitable for your particular reptile species.

If the reptile will drink while being soaked, some vets advise soaking the reptile in a 1:1 mixture of Gatorade or Pedialyte with water.  Make sure you rinse your reptile off with fresh water before returning it to its enclosure after soaking.  Your veterinarian will advise you the necessary time-frame for soaking.

To treat moderate dehydration, longer soaks may be necessary as well as administering extra fluids orally (such as diluted Gatorade, diluted Pedialyte or lactated Ringers Solution.  Always support and supervise weak reptiles while soaking.

Severe dehydration will require administration of fluids via injection.

Always follow your veterinarian’s advise very closely no matter what treatment option is suggested.  Make sure you do not administer too much fluid at one time or too much fluid over a short period of time as this can kill the reptile in question.

When your reptile recovers and is maintaining a normal fluid balance, keep a close eye on it to ensure that it is in fact, drinking.  Offer drinking water in a manner appropriate for your species.

By Candace,

About Candace M Hansen

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

1 Response to Dehydration in Reptiles: Signs, Causes and Treatment

  1. I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!

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