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All reptiles and amphibians need water in one form or another. Some obtain their fluids mainly from the food items that they eat, whilst others will drink water. Reptiles take water in a variety of ways, either by licking dew or mist off leaves or lapping it up from a container of water. Hydration of the animal, and maintaining the proper humidity levels for your pet, will go along way toward maintaining its health. All animals should have fresh water daily for drinking and bathing. Tropical reptiles, or moisture loving herps, should have their enclosures misted as much as twice daily. A drip system should be in place for those herps that lick moisture off leaves and such. Some animals respond quite well when offered a daily bath in lukewarm water.

Proper hydration is extremely important in the general health of a reptile but it is absolutely crucial to a sick animal. Unfortunately, hydration is one point that has rarely been discussed in articles about sick herps. I have noticed that when reptiles become ill, they are often too weak to drink fluids on their own and if they are not drinking they become even more lethargic and weak.

A reptile that appears dehydrated will often perk up when we offer fluids. If the animal does manage to perk up somewhat, you will often have a better chance of curing whatever ails it. Of course, if a reptile acts ill, it is often very sick and proper medical attention should be sought immediately.

To put the aspect of dehydration into human terms, think about when you have suffered from the flu, or even a bad hangover. We feel weak, nauseated, sometimes have a headache, often thirsty as well, but sometimes we do not even feel well enough to get up and get a drink of water. However, if we do manage to get some fluids into ourselves, we often begin to feel much better, perhaps we still feel ill, but overall we feel a little bit stronger and much less achy.

The symptoms and results of dehydration can be very mild, or quite severe, depending upon how seriously dehydrated the animal is. Severe dehydration is a serious condition that may lead to Fatal Shock, Acidosis (accumulation of acid or depletion of alkalines in the blood and body tissues: symptoms such as weakness, malaise, muscle twitching, involuntary movement, cardiac arrhythmia, disorientation and coma may occur); and the accumulations of waste products in the body, as in Uremia (a condition in which there is an excess of urea in the blood, creatinine, and other nitrogenous end products of protein and amino acid metabolism, this is often the result of kidney failure).

Dehydration is a symptom - not a disease. It your pet is dehydrated then it is likely the result of either poor husbandry (lack of water, lack of fresh water, low humidity levels, temperatures within the enclosure that are too high, etc.) or diet i.e. offering improper food items to some reptiles may affect the function of their internal organs. For example, feeding animal protein to iguanas can cause kidney failure, which in turn can cause dehydration. Various diseases, infections, and gastrointestinal disorders may occur as a result. To cure the animal the underlying cause of the dehydration must be discovered.

A dehydrated reptile may have sunken eyes and/or dry and wrinkled skin. A good way of checking to see if your reptile is dehydrated is to gently pinch its skin between your fingers. If the skin rolls back into place almost immediately, then the reptile is likely well hydrated. In dehydrated animal the skin may stay in a pinched or 'tented' position. Depending upon the cause of the animal’s illness, fluid should be offered by mouth or by subcutaneous injection to animals that appear dehydrated. When I use the word reptile here, I am mostly talking about lizards, as the skin test should be quite easy to do on them, although all reptiles may suffer from dehydration and we should offer fluids if this is the case.

If you believe your herp is dehydrated, you really should take it to a reptile veterinarian to have the severity of the problem assessed. The animal may need subcutaneous injections of an electrolyte solution and oral fluids and, when sufficiently rehydrated, you may still have to force-feed the reptile. The remainder of this article is only here to serve as a guideline for after you have visited a vet, or for those of you who have worked with dehydrated animals in the past.

Your veterinarian may suggest that you offer oral fluid to your reptile. Fluids to offer are water or an electrolyte replacement solution such as Pedialyte or Ricelyte. A sports drink such as Gatorade can be offered as well, but it must always be diluted 1:1 with water. Pedialyte or Ricelyte are better than sports drinks as they are metabolized more quickly. The methods described below also work well when we must offer medication orally.

Force-feeding a moderately or a severely dehydrated animal may result in shock or even death. The digestive tract requires fluids to process foods and if there is not enough, it will try to take it from other critical systems. When dehydrated, the accompanying loss of appetite may be one way the body tries to protect itself. However, when the animal has been properly rehydrated, it may still fail to eat on its own. Force- feeding may become a necessity. There is a product called Ensure that can be used when force feeding becomes necessary. Ensure is NOT for rehydration, it is a nutritional drink that is easy to digest (obviously you want things that are easily digested when feeding a sick animal). Nevertheless, the animal must still be rehydrated before feeding and until it attains normal hydration levels.

I have discussed the seriousness of dehydration, and how to visually diagnose it and now I will discuss how much fluid you should be offering. First, you should have a syringe (without needle) or an eye-dropper handy to offer the fluids. If you are offering liquids with a syringe it should be simple to tell how much you are giving, as syringes are calibrated (i.e. the number of cc’s or ml’s are listed right on them). Small tuberculin syringes measure fluids by 1/10 of a cc and have the measurements listed on them as 10, 20 up to 1.00. One whole syringe is one cc or one ml. Larger syringes may hold 3, 5, or even 10 cc’s of fluid. Measurements on these syringes are marked by each cc (for example, 1 cc, 2 cc - 10 cc) and usually have ten small gradient lines between each cc, so you can measure out an exact dose. If you are going to use an eyedropper, be aware that they are usually made of glass and may break if the animal bites down on it so be very careful. Eyedroppers, when full, only hold approximately 1/2 of a cc of fluid.

If you are going to offer fluids orally, you should check how much fluid you should offer with your veterinarian. Alternatively, you could ask the vet, about the reptile’s stomach capacity. Overall though, this ranges from 25-100 ml/kg in reptiles. Fluids are generally calculated based on two-percent of bodyweight per twenty-four hour period. Please note that too much fluid at one time, or in a twenty-four hour period, may be just as lethal as unchecked dehydration, as the kidneys and circulatory system can only handle a certain level (volume) of fluid. A veterinarian should be involved to determine the proper amount of fluid, based upon the severity of the dehydration.

Here is a small chart of amounts of fluids that can be offered to reptiles in a 24 hour period according to body weight:

If your reptile weighs:

5 gm: 2% of 5 = 0.1 gm = 0.003 oz = 0.104 ml over 24 hours
10 gm: 2% of 10 = 0.2 gm = 0.007 oz = 0.208 ml over 24 hours
20 gm: 2% of 20 = 0.4 gm = 0.014 oz = 0.417 ml over 24 hours
30 gm: 2% of 30 = 0.6 gm = 0.021 oz = 0.625 ml over 24 hours
40 gm: 2% of 40 = 0.8 gm = 0.028 oz = 0.82 ml over 24 hours
50 gm: 2% of 50 = 1 gm = 0.035 oz = 1.04 ml over 24 hours
60 gm: 2% of 60 = 1.2 gm = 0.042 oz = 1.251 ml over 24 hours
70 gm: 2% of 70 = 1.4 gm = 0.049 oz = 1.460 ml over 24 hours
80 gm: 2% of 80 = 1.6 gm = 0.056 oz = 1.669 ml over 24 hours
90 gm: 2% of 90 = 1.8 gm = 0.063 oz = 1.877 ml over 24 hours
100 gm: 2% of 100 = 2 gm = 0.07 oz = 2.086 ml over 24 hours
125 gm: 2% of 125 = 2.5 gm = 0.088 oz = 2.607 ml over 24 hours
150 gm: 2% of 150 = 3 gm = 0.105 oz = 3.129 ml over 24 hours
175 gm: 2% of 175 = 3.5 gm = 0.123 oz = 3.651 ml over 24 hours
200 gm: 2% of 200 = 4 gm = 0.141 oz = 4.172 ml over 24 hours
225 gm: 2% of 225 = 4.5 gm = 0.158 oz = 4.694 ml over 24 hours
250 gm: 2% of 250 = 5 gm = 0.176 oz = 5.215 ml over 24 hours
275 gm: 2% of 275 = 5.5 gm = 0.194 oz = 5.737 ml over 24 hours
300 gm: 2% of 300 = 6 gm = 0.211 oz = 6.259 ml over 24 hours
325 gm: 2% of 325 = 6.5 gm = 0.229 oz = 6.78 ml over 24 hours
350 gm: 2% of 350 = 7 gm = 0.246 oz = 7.302 ml over 24 hours
375 gm: 2% of 375 = 7.5 gm = 0.264 oz = 7.823 ml over 24 hours
400 gm: 2% of 400 = 8 gm = 0.282 oz = 8.345 ml over 24 hours
500 gm: 2% of 500 = 10 gm = 0.352 oz = 10.43 ml over 24 hours
600 gm: 2% of 600 = 12 gm = 0.423 oz = 12.51 ml over 24 hours
700 gm: 2% of 700 = 14 gm = 0.493 oz = 14.60 ml over 24 hours
800 gm: 2% of 800 = 16 gm = 0.564 oz = 16.6 ml over 24 hours
900 gm: 2% of 900 = 18 gm = 0.634 oz = 18.77 ml over 24 hours
1000 gm: 2% of 1000 = 20 gm = 0.705 oz = 20.86 ml over 24 hours

If you have not worked with dehydrated reptiles before, you may not be able to adequately assess the severity of hydration yourself. You really should see a reptile vet to determine if oral rehydration is suitable or if subcutaneous injections, or a starter injection, will be better. If the animal is so severely dehydrated as to warrant administration of oral fluids or subcutaneous injections, other medical measures may be needed to be taken in addition to rehydrating the animal. As I stated above, dehydration in reptiles is a topic that I have seen very little discussions about and I believe that it is a very serious issue. If the behavior, or even the colour of your pet changes in any way, or if the animal eats less, or stops eating all together, please remember to watch for dehydration. When you do note behavioural changes, check that the temperature in the enclosure is at the proper levels, and that all other aspects of the reptiles husbandry are correct. Preventing dehydration in reptiles may be as simple as applying good husbandry techniques.

Reproduced with permission from the Reptilian magazine.

This site has information on the following genera of Ratsnakes ... Spilotes, Spalerosophis, Ptyas, Zamenis, Elaphe, Rhinechis, Senticolis, Pseudelaphe, Pantherophis, Bogertophis, Orthriophis, Gonyosoma, Oreocryptophis, Oocatochus, Euprepiophis, Coelognathus, Archelaphe