Impaction in Crested Geckos – Treatment & Prevention
Impaction is a dangerous condition in geckos, primarily because you cannot assess its severity without the help of a professional. The notion of impaction refers to a solid object blocking the reptile’s intestinal tract. This can be a large insect or worm with a hardened chitinous shell, a rock, or a piece of wood that your gecko may have ingested by mistake.
While crested geckos are arboreal and spend their time climbing on various branches and terrarium decorations, they tend to feed on the substrate. This creates the perfect opportunity for them to ingest larger objects that aren’t meant to be swallowed.
Today, we’ll discuss gecko impaction, how you can detect it, treat it, and whether you can prevent it.
Signs of Impacted Crested Gecko
We should begin by saying that early detection and diagnosis are key in lowering the risk of health complications in cases of impaction. The timelier the treatment, the better the chances for your gecko to recover fully.
This being said, here are some signs of impaction to keep an eye for:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of feces even when the gecko is supposed to have stools (typically every time it eats, so approximately 3 times per week)
- Weight loss due to eating less or not at all
- Lethargy or visible tiredness
- Inflated belly
- Difficulty breathing
Please note that these symptoms can also suggest other health problems, so you run the risk of misdiagnosing your gecko’s problem. If you’re unsure of the issue, consult the vet for a plus of professional insight.
Causes of Impaction in Crested Geckos
There are several risks worth noting here, such as:
- Ingesting substrate particles – This generally happens during live feeding, when the gecko hunts the insects at the substrate level. They risk ingesting substrate particles along with their prey which can cause constipation and impaction, depending on the particle’s size. In most cases, the gecko will be able to eliminate the foreign particle, but not always.
- Hard-shelled insects – Some insects and worms have hard exoskeletons which are resistant to the gecko’s digestive juices. This causes the insects to get stuck in the intestinal tract and clog the area as new food comes in. The result is impaction.
- Large insects – Even if the insects don’t have hard shells, they will impact your gecko if they’re too large. The ideal insect size should be similar to the distance between the gecko’s eyes. This applies to geckos of all ages and sizes since the size between the eyes grows along with the gecko.
- Dehydration – This is a massive problem for most geckos kept in improper conditions. Even if the food is right, the lack of proper humidity places the gecko at risk of indigestion, constipation, and even impaction. Fortunately, the gecko will display a variety of symptoms when dehydrated, so you can act before the impaction even sets in.
- Low temperature – If your gecko’s temperature drops too low, its digestive system will slow down, resulting in indigestion and impaction in more severe cases. The problem is that the gecko’s digestive system is already slow enough, which is why geckos only have around 3 meals per week. You should always keep your gecko’s environmental temperature within the ideal range to prevent such problems.
- Inadequate diet – Insufficient food and inadequate nutrient intake can cause the gecko to eat things around its habitat that aren’t supposed to be eaten. You can see where this is heading, I hope.
Treating Impacted Crested Gecko
If your gecko shows signs of impaction, consider the following treatment options:
- Avoid hard foods for a while – You can opt for fruit purees which are rich in fiber. This method only works in cases of hard-to-digest food and constipation. But it won’t work in case your gecko swallowed a rock or something. If your gecko’s intestinal transit returns to normal, feed it some soft insects and worms for a while, just to make sure.
- Olive oil – Use a syringe to deliver a few drops of olive oil via the oral cavity. The oil will soften the stool, allowing for ease of passing. This can work even in cases of intestinal blockage by foreign objects, albeit not in all of them.
- Improve hydration – Mist the reptile’s tank, fill up the water bowl and even place the gecko in a sauna-like container with higher humidity levels. This will moisten the reptile’s stool, helping it pass the feces easier.
- Massage – You can gently massage your gecko’s belly to help the intestine move the hardened mass around. Make sure you don’t stress out the reptile or cause pain during the process.
- Laxative – Rely on your vet in this sense to inform you on the type and amount of laxative to use.
- Surgical intervention – This may be necessary if none of the above work or your gecko shows signs of severe impaction, which may threaten its life. Maybe the accumulated hardened mass is too large for the gecko to pass on naturally. In this case, the best option left is to contact your vet for immediate surgical intervention.
You should always contact your vet if you’re unsure of your reptile’s condition or impaction severity. You can easily make things worse by attempting unsafe DIY procedures, especially if you lack any experience in the field. It will cost next to nothing to have a professional reptile vet look at your gecko, but the benefits are incomparable.
Prevent Impaction in Crested Geckos
Fortunately, preventing impaction is pretty easy, provided you understand the right approaches. Here are some recommendations to go with:
- Adjust temperature and humidity – Aim for humidity levels between 60-80% and make sure your gecko always has fresh water available. Spray the enclosure regularly, at least twice per day, to keep humidity between the ideal parameters. Regarding the temperature, aim for an upside-down temperature gradient with a basking, a neutral, and a cold area. The basking area goes for 80-90 °F, the neutral area stays at 72-77 °F, and the cold area is between 60-71 °F. This allows the gecko to alternate between different zones depending on its needs.
- Mind the feeding – Make sure that the feeder insects are no longer than the gecko’s distance between the eyes. This ensures that the gecko can swallow the insect easily. Avoid hard-shelled insects with difficult-to-digest exoskeletons. Mealworms fall into this category, although some species are safe for consumption. If the worm is too large, cut it in half. The worm will still wiggle for a while, enough for the gecko to detect and eat it. Also, check the gecko’s nutritional intake to prevent any nutritional deficiencies and prevent the gecko from eating stuff it’s not supposed to. Vitamin supplementation may be necessary to prevent that.
- Mind the substrate – Avoid pebbles, rocks, or large particles your gecko can ingest or choke on. I recommend going for a mix of soil and coconut husk for humidity retention, but other options are also available. These include cypress mulch, orchid bark, newspaper, moss, and wood shavings, to name a few.
Also, keep in mind that juvenile geckos have different requirements in terms of feeding and substrate than adults. I’m talking in terms of food and substrate particle size. Make sure you adjust accordingly.
Vet Cost for Treating Impacted Crested Gecko
Depending on your gecko’s issue and the amount of supervision and testing it needs to figure out the problem, expect to pay between $50 and $150 per visit. This is without the actual treatment, whatever that may consist of. In some cases, you may need to pay close to $500 or even more, depending on the intervention necessary.
Hopefully, you won’t get there, especially if you detect and address the gecko’s problem early on.
Crested geckos aren’t particularly sensitive animals, as they are reasonably hardy. But they can face some health issues, like compaction, in given circumstances. Fortunately, you can prevent most of them by understanding what’s causing the condition in most cases and tackling those factors specifically.
As a closing note, always rely on your vet’s recommendations and expertise, no matter how mild the problem might seem. The expert’s assistance can save your gecko’s life.