When you own reptiles, it can catch you off guard when something suddenly goes wrong. You won’t see as many signs as you will with mammals, so it can be a little tricky to figure out the problem and how long it’s been going on. Impaction is a potentially dangerous issue that causes a blockage in your beardie’s digestive tract.
While it’s treatable, it can be hazardous if the issue goes unnoticed. Detecting problems early on helps with everything from quick treatment to prevention in the future. Let’s learn exactly what you’re looking for so you can act fast.
What is Impaction?
Impaction is essentially a horrible case of constipation. Waste gets bound up inside your beardies’ intestinal tract, and then they cannot eliminate as they should. If you notice that your dragon hasn’t passed a stool in quite some time, impaction might very well be to blame.
If they go too long without going to the bathroom, wastes can build up inside—which eventually leads to death. It’s one of the most common death causes in bearded dragons, so it’s absolutely imperative to know when it’s happening.
What Causes Impaction?
There are a few factors that can contribute to impaction. Mainly, food, temperature, and substrate contribute to impaction if balance is off. It’s important to keep all components just right to make sure your bearded dragon has an adequate environment.
Your beardie needs a well-balanced diet of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. More importantly, they need fresh, clean water to help with digestion, too. If your beardie is lacking, it might slow up their system.
Because wild bearded dragons often drink droplets of morning dew or rain, many owners spray their habitat to mimic rainfall. However, you can offer a flowing water source as well. Stagnant dishes of water tend to collect bacteria and growth—which can lead to adverse effects.
Bearded dragons also need a diet consisting of 80% gut-loaded insects like crickets, mealworms, and super worms. They also need lots of fresh veggies packed with fiber to aid in digestion.
If your beardie isn’t living in the right temperatures, it can cause impaction, too. In the wild, beardies live in hot, dry, desert climates. Their basking spots need to be well within the parameters of 88-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
At night, you can shut off the light to mimic a cool desert night—with temperatures staying between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your bearded dragon is too cold, it can severely slow down their digestive tract and cause buildup. So, always make sure to keep a thermometer attached to the inside of the cage to get an accurate reading.
Many bearded dragons experience impaction because of the substrate in their enclosure. When your beardie snatched up a cricket, they might also get a few pellets or grains of the substrate with it. Since they can’t digest it, it can get bound up inside of them along with their digesting food.
That is why you shouldn’t use tiny particles like dirt, gravel, or sand. Instead, it’s better to use solid sheets, like newspaper or reptile carpet. Flat, debris-free bottoms are also cheap and easy to clean.
Symptoms of Impaction
Your beardie might be suffering from impaction if you notice:
Impaction can easily lead to the inability to use back legs, so they might drag themselves with their front. If impaction has reached this point, it will probably require more care than a warm bath and massage.
This condition is time-sensitive, so if you notice any symptoms, you need to act right away. Your vet will likely prescribe an enema or laxative to help them pass the mass.
How to Help Impaction
If you suspect impaction is a problem for your beardie, you can try some things at home to see if they will pass the stool. When the situation is still mild, you might be able to help at home. If you can’t, it’s imperative to locate an exotic pet vet.
Your beardie might not pass the stool right away, but this process should speed things up. If you notice no change, make sure you contact a vet without hesitation. They might be able to give you some more tips or tricks you can try at home—or advise that you bring them in for an exam.
On top of these steps, you can check basking temperatures and food intake. Change things up, if needed. You can go over your normal care routine with your vet to see if they suggest doing anything differently.