What is dystocia?
Dystocia (difficult birth or egg binding) happens when the female reptile is unable to pass her eggs or fetus. It is a reasonably common problem in reptiles and can be life threatening. It is a problem seen with snakes, turtles and lizards. It is caused by a variety of factors. Most commonly it is associated with poor husbandry including improper environment, lack of proper lighting, temperature that is too hot or cold, wrong humidity levels, an inadequate nest site, improper diet (malnutrition) and/or dehydration.
"Most commonly it is associated with poor husbandry."
Other contributing factors include the age and physical condition of the animal, and injuries or physical obstruction caused by deformed or oversized eggs, physical abnormalities with the reproductive tract or pelvis, infections, constipation, abscesses or other masses.
"Inactive reptiles may not be able to exert the substantial muscular effort needed to lay an egg or pass young."
Pet reptiles may have poor muscle tone or be "out of shape" with their sedentary captive lifestyles. These inactive reptiles may not be able to exert the substantial muscular effort needed to lay an egg or pass young. While gravid (carrying eggs or young), normal reptiles may not eat but they are still bright, active and alert. A gravid reptile with dystocia is anorectic, but rapidly becomes sick, lethargic or unresponsive.
What can be done in the case of dystocia?
The challenge for both owners and veterinarians is differentiating dystocia from a normal pregnancy. Determining the length of time a female has been gravid may not be possible or accurate. However, delaying treatment may compromise the mother, the young, or any future reproductive success. On the other hand, treating a normally gravid female animal is unnecessary and may put the unborn babies at risk.
A veterinarian familiar with reptiles must examine these animals. A physical examination and palpation, blood tests and X-rays are used to facilitate diagnosis. In snakes, a skilled veterinarian can sometimes physically manipulate the eggs out of the reproductive tract. Medical and/or surgical techniques may also be used to help these animals. Medical intervention may include supportive therapy such as re-hydration, calcium supplementation and vitamins. Hormone injections (e.g. oxytocin and other newer drugs) may be used to stimulate the uterus to contract. Surgery is indicated if the above techniques are unsuccessful. Surgery may damage the reptile's future reproductive ability.
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