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Q&A: Why Is My Leopard Gecko Constipated? How Can I Help?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

Constipation and impaction can be serious issues in reptiles. Here's what to do if you suspect this issue, as well as tips on preventing it in the first place.

Constipation and impaction can be serious issues in reptiles. Here's what to do if you suspect this issue, as well as tips on preventing it in the first place.

What Can I Do If My Leopard Gecko Is Getting Constipated From Mealworms?

"My leopard gecko is constipated very often, even after giving her two drops of extra virgin olive oil with her mealworms every two days. She's about 6–7 months old now. I understand she may be having trouble with her staple diet of mealworms and their hard exoskeleton shell. She is very healthy otherwise.

Now she is getting warm baths and the oil, but she hasn't had a bowel movement in 6 days now. Is there anything out there that would soften the mealworms' shells for digestion? Terrarium temps are right, and she has her moist hide and other hides.

I don't deal with crickets or other food, but I do gut load her feeders every three days. I am going to now offer her even smaller-sized mealworms. Any ideas?" —Darlene

Constipation vs. Impaction

Constipation is a lot more common in bearded dragons than leopard geckos, but since this has been going on for so many days, I would be concerned that it might be obstipation (an impaction) and not just constipation. These little guys can die from a urea plug in the cloaca.

Try Soaking Your Gecko in Water

In order to get the plug loose so that your gecko is defecating normally, it is sometimes enough just to soak them in water for a few hours. You have to put her in a bowl where her cloaca is underwater but not deep enough to drown, and then stay next to her the whole time.

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Consider a Vet Visit

If you have a veterinarian in your area that works with reptiles, she might need fluids too. Some of these herps also need a rubber catheter in the cloaca and a saline enema to loosen up the plug. Please do not do this if you are not sure how, as you can end up damaging your gecko.

How to Make Mealworms Easier to Digest

I am not sure the problem is from the mealworm exoskeletons, but others have had this problem with this type of food, and it has been studied. (1)

Puncture the Mealworm Shells Before Feeding

The results show that many mealworms pass without being digested, so if you puncture their surface, the digestive acids in the stomach will have a much better chance of breaking the meal down.

By puncturing the exoskeleton, you may also be able to feed less in that way, and there will be less chance of blockage.

Feed Very Small Mealworms

Very small mealworms that do not yet have hard exoskeletons may also help, but you need to take care of the constipation or impaction first. Hopefully that will be enough to keep this from happening again.

Sources

  1. Prinz JF, Silwood CJ, Claxson AW, Grootveld M. Simulated digestion status of intact and exoskeletally-punctured insects and insect larvae: a spectroscopic investigation. Folia Primatol (Basel). 2003 May-Jun;74(3):126-40. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12826732/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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