Posted on Aug 31st 2015
Impaction in any animal can be very painful, make them very sick and can even cause death. Impaction is when food becomes clogged and can become fused to the intestinal wall if clogged for long.
Reptiles, unfortunately are prone to impaction especially when in captivity. A reptile in captivity does not have to hunt or find its food so physical activity becomes limited. Also the types of foods we feed can lead to impaction and so can the substrate that we house our reptiles on.
Physical activity is important to digestion and it keeps the food moving along the gut. Without physical activity and animal will likely get constipated and that can lead to impaction. If you own a reptile please keep in mind that physical activity is important for their health so the largest possible habitat should be provided for them.
What we feed our reptiles is important too. Reptiles that eat very little meat (bugs, rodents, other reptiles) will have a hard time processing it without problems. Supplementation is also essential and it is up to you the reptile owner to research both you animal's regular diet and what supplements may be needed for them in captivity.
Without calcium, animals muscles don't work properly and therefore cannot move the food along the digestive tract. Also, ensuring that your reptile can adequately digest a certain type of prey item is your responsibility. Ex... Bearded Dragons have a hard time digesting chitin which is a substance that most bugs will have if they have an exo skeleton which is what makes the exoskeleton hard so you can see why it is hard to digest. Meal worms have a high percentage of chitin in their shell and so the beardeds can have a hard time digestion them and which is why you will often find meal worm shell pieces in a dragon who is eating meal worms. Meal worms pose an impaction risk because those undigested bits can get stuck on the way through the digestive tract. Many bearded dragons have become impacted due to eating meal worms.
The substrate that you use in the enclosure is of great importance to impaction risk as well. Any loose substrate can be a risk for most reptiles as they can eat it and become impacted or they could eat it an choke.
Temperature and lighting is important too. Animals that naturally bask( lay in the sun) need UVB light which can be supplied in an enclosure via a specialized light bulb. Without UVB they have no way to process the calcium that they need and they then could develop twitches, stunted grow and deformed bones...ect.
Being cold blooded, temperature is extremely important to reptiles, it directly correlates to digestion. Temps too cool = undigested food and possible vomit and temps to warm and they may digest so quickly that they are hungry again right away. As a good rule of thumb, if you have an animal that needs a basking light, it is a good idea to feed no later then at least two hours before their lights and heat go off or drop for the night.
If you have a reptile that you think may be impacted you should not delay in taking it to a knowledgeable reptile vet as impaction can cause death and at the very least is extremely painful for the animal.