Intestinal impaction is a serious condition where the intestines get blocked with faeces. In Bearded dragons it is most often caused by the ingestion of sandy or gravel substrates. There are various underlying and husbandry related problems leading to Bearded dragon impactions.
Ingesting sand and gravel are frequently the cause of impactions in Bearded dragons. Eating mouthfuls of sand or soil (also called geophagia) are often secondary to calcium deficiency, or metabolic bone disease. Metabolic bone disease also leads to the inability of the gut to contract properly.
Accidental ingestion of gravel (or any other foreign body) often leads to impactions and blockages. Other problematic substrates include gravel, pebbles, corn cob and bark products.
Diagnosing impactions in Bearded dragons
When an impaction is suspected, it is wiser to consult a reptile friendly veterinarian. A Bearded dragon with an impaction is very often lethargic, will eat less, produce no or little stool and have sand in the stool. In severe cases they will often not eat at all, vomit and have distended abdomens with a hard mass palpable. A diagnosis of impaction is made with radiography, which is also a good modality confirm metabolic bone disease. Taking radiographs will also help tell the severity of the condition and guide the veterinarian with treatment options.
Preventing impactions in Bearded dragons
Sand impactions can be prevented by using proper ultraviolet lighting in combination with adequate calcium supplementation. Substrates such as gravel and sand, even so called digestible sand, should be avoided.
Treating Bearded dragon impactions
Before treating any impaction, the underlying cause must first be identified and rectified. In the case of an sand impaction, the possibility of metabolic bone disease must be investigated and treated with calcium supplementation and the correct husbandry. The treatment plan will be according to the severity of the condition. Milder cases can respond to conservative treatments such as laxatives, careful force feeding and luke-warm baths. Severe cases justifies hospitalisation for intensive treatment. In hospital, drips, medication for vomiting, antibiotics and force feeding might be used. Some impactions will also benefit from enemas. Surgery, i.e. an enterotomy or a gastrotomy (opening of the intestines or stomach), is risky, but can be life saving and can be considered as a last resort.