If we supply for the core nutritional and environmental parameters correctly we reduce the overall chance of avoidable harm/disease in our reptiles and amphibians
Impaction is a potentially fatal condition usually caused by the ingestion of ‘non-natural’ particles. It usually occurs in animals that have been under-provided for. Particles of substrate or even large food items are not able to move through the animal properly and start to build up in the intestines. There is then a risk of the waste matter building up inside the animal, which can lead to many internal complications.
There are many myths circulated with regard to the use of lose substrates and impaction. It is vital that we know the truth behind the causes of impaction. Also remember that some substrates are more likely to cause harm than others. If we use good product safely we negate the risk and allow our pets to live a ‘wild-like’ life within the enclosures that we have created for them.
The move towards Bio-Activity and loose substrates is a positive move but we must make sure that we only use substrates that pose no risk of becoming an issue when ingested. The easiest way to decide whether a substrate is suitable is to use mixes that occur in the habitats of the species in the wild. As example, a substrate made purely of coconut fibre (coir) does not occur in the wild. Animals have not have developed a use for, nor a level of protection against the material. Couple that with it being very stringy and fibrous and we have a very real risk, not to mention it being nutrient poor and not allowing live plants to grow properly. The same can be said for Calci-sands (CaCo3). This is non-natural and does not seem to dissolve in the gut (as once thought), instead it becomes almost sticky and cannot properly exit the system.
Natural, free flowing sands without added colours will be fine for arid reptiles when they are kept with the correct heating, lighting and nutrition and not allowed to ingest lots of the substrate.
Similarly, some substrates are entirely unsuitable for certain species. For example, bearded dragons often taste their environment with their tongues and can end up eating fibrous substrates such as aspen. Aspen does not have any nutritional benefit for a beardy and its short, sharp lengths lend themselves to getting stuck in the digestive tract. Aspen may be more suited to a large, heavy bodied snake, where they eat larger meals, less frequently than lizards and therefore a small particle of aspen will not be so dangerous.
There are then many variables that seem to act together to make the situation worse. Major factors that have an impact upon the digestive tract include poor hydration, a poor diet, a lack of heat and a lack of enrichment.
Not many of us realise the effect on overall animal wellness due to the impact of stressors on the body. Let’s be clear here, Reptiles are a highly adapted group of animals. They obtain ‘nutrition’ from every aspect of their lives, ‘Almost with every breath’. They are living, breathing machines that use both external and internal sources of ‘nutrition’ in order to thrive. By ‘thrive’, we refer to an animal that is able to live a long, enriched life, able to function as it would in the wild, with as low chance of avoidable disease as possible, and that is able to reproduce well. This allows them to project their genes into as many generations as possible.
The ingestion of earth for animals in the wild. It occurs directly, (which is called ‘geophagy’), or via indirect methods such as soil sticking to food items and of course through particles or in water. These particles, being full-spectrum in terms of their mineral content, are wholly beneficial within overall nutrition. It is certainly a very natural part of the wild feeding processes.
Arcadia EarthMix and EarthMix Arid have been developed to be as close to wild soil as possible for a reptile-safe substrate. As it contains a natural soil substance, volcanic rock dust and earthworm castings for a completely safe, natural substrate that is non harmful and actually even beneficial when ingested in small amounts.
Impaction, just as with MBD, is ‘man made’! It is the outworking of an under supply, or improper supply of a core part of nutrition, within captive surroundings. Stress puts a strain on the body and the immune system. Cortisol levels go up and the animal has a reduced ability to go through its usual biological functions.
You will very rarely see impaction in the wild, apart from in already sick animals or where humans have caused it. For example, king cobras have been found to ingest plastic and subsequently have died.
Reptile and amphibians use an external source of power, (namely the sun) to obtain the energy that they need to function. This is via heat (infrared). They also use the ‘full-spectrum’ of light including UV to maintain their biological processes within the body and for their vision. This ‘power’ is then used to move, hunt, feed, exercise, breed and of in vital organ function. The external energy field and its effective capture allows them to make use of the nutrition that is consumed during the day. This includes the assimilation, storage and use of critical minerals like Calcium (via the D3 cycle).
For this to be truly effective, the animals’ internal organs must function properly. Heat, light, water and movement are ALL vital within overall organ function. As we have shown, the wild-like ingestion of mineral particles is nothing other than a normal part of wild food and water ingestion. Nature has therefore provided a use for and a level of protection against it. We should view the substrates that we use as being the ‘heart’ of a naturalistic or Bio-Active enclosure. They are both stimulating and nutritionally positive IF used correctly and IF the external parameters are catered for in a healthy animal.
Under-hydration and a lack of movement due to underpowering further increases the chance of impaction. If we use natural substrates, large enough enclosures, provide heat, light, energy from light, hydration and humidity and a vastly varied ‘wild-like’ diet, we as ‘forward-thinking’ keepers will be going some way to provide for an animal’s actual biological needs.
All aspects of nutrition must be provided for in a safe and measured way with items that are proven effective and ‘wild-like’. Enclosures must offer room to move and hunt. We must encourage movement just as we do with humans. Exercise increases blood flow and exercises the muscles, keeping vital organs functioning well. Movement, enrichment and exercise also allows for increased digestive function.
We must provide areas of light and shade, heat and cool with areas of seclusion, be that in naturally dug tunnels or caves or indeed from broad leaf plants. This is not rocket science, we look to the wild, learn as much as we can and the try to emulate that in captivity. There can be a tendency to remove substrates in order to remove the potential ‘risk’ they can have but that will remove an important aspect of the animal’s environment.
All of this is of course the base of the Theory of ‘Wild Re-Creation™’. Taking our queues from nature and implementing everything that we can in a safe and measured way within the enclosures that we build and sell. Substrates are a vital part of this process and if provided correctly can only be viewed as being positive.