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A little while back, I contemplating some of my skink's faecal matter and it occurred to me that it is something that always comes up on a regular basis, no pun intended, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a little something in type to help with all those excrement queries.
First of all, what does it look like?
A normal blue tongue skink poop will vary a little, depending on what went in the other end, but generally speaking, it should be firm , elongated, light to dark brown with very little undigested food matter present. Some things, such as a tomato skin, will only be partially digested and may come out pretty much the same as it went in. Think ... sweetcorn in human poop! Some things just don't digest well due to higher starch contents, so a mainly brown poop with bits of vegetable skin or peel in it, is usually going to be no reason for alarm! Insect casings and legs can also be a common feature after a feed of bugs/crawlies with hard exoskeletons ... having a roach coming out looking almost whole and untouched might look a little scary, but shouldn't be a huge cause for alarm. Just bear in mind for future feedings, as a skink bound up with insect exoskeletons won't be a very happy skink! Younger, softer roaches, just hatched superworms etc, might be easier to digest than the big adults.
So what is that white stuff? The white matter is a urate deposit, or the by-product of nitrogenous waste and protein breakdown. Uric acid is a small organic compound which is produced by the breakdown of protein during digestion and is is excreted by reptiles and birds as a urate solid. A skink has evolved in a way that they do not need to urinate in the "human" sense of the word, rather they will form a solid waste that is excreted via a bladder, while retaining as much fluid as possible. This is particularly useful for wild skinks in the arid zones of Australia, where water can be very hard to come by and in some of the driest seasons it has the lizards obtaining nearly 100% of their hydration from the food they eat. In captivity, water is usually readily available and therefore there will usually be a reasonable amount of "urine" present, too.
The size of the urate will depend on what diet your skink is getting, but it should be smaller than the faecal matter present. A very large urate could mean you need to look at making some healthy modifications to the diet. The urate itself should be soft, but not too runny, kind of bouncy to touch, but not mushy and may have a puddle of water present, which is a good sign your skink is well hydrated. A mushy, fluffy urate or faecal deposit may indicate parasites or even an infection and a faecal screen at your vet would be a very good idea. An increase in smell, beyond the normal for your skink, is also a sign of parasitic infestation.
Small, dry, hard or chalky urates are a good indication of dehydration and it is worth monitoring your skink to make sure they are getting fluids. Remember, you can give foods with a high water content to help improve hydration, but it is always best to provide a good supply of fresh water. A very hard and chalky urate can also be caused by too much calcium.
Bear this in mind with poop analysis and try to logically take a step-by-step approach, exploring the possible reasons for certain anomalies and seeing if perhaps a change of diet will correct the problem, before you have a full-on panic attack and rush to the vet. Having sensibly gone through the motions, so to speak, if a vet visit is necessary you can then go prepared, which will help both of you decide on a course of action.
Excess of uric acid can lead to a condition known as gout. Hyperuricemia, from the elevated level of serum uric acid can result from high intake of purine-rich foods, high fructose (fruit sugar) intake and/or impaired excretion by the kidneys. High levels of uric acid in blood may also result in kidney stones when the urate crystallizes in the kidney. I think it is important to understand this and to know the potential problems that can be a consequence of a diet high in uric acid.
How often and how much they poop depends on the size of the skink, what they ate and how much, but as a rough guide they should poop every couple of days during their active seasons, by that I mean not brumating. Diet will depend on whether there is urate present with every excreta, but if you haven't seen one for a couple of poops keep a close eye on them. A hard urate can cause a blockage in the bladder which, like constipation with faecal matter, can be harmful to your skink. Get to know what your skink's usual patterns are and when to expect a poop- right after a meal, 24 hours later or even two times a day! Like people, bowel actions will vary from skink to skink, so getting to know what is normal for them may save you a lot of worry at a later date. A constipated or urate-bound skink may become listless and lethargic, show signs of agitation, but may not mobilise in quite the same manner as normal. Sitting still with the eyes shut or periods of dashing around, sliding the belly purposefully against rocks/logs etc, may be indicating a problem.
If in doubt, always, always, ALWAYS seek advice from a qualified veterinarian.
I hope this little guide helps with the ins and outs of your skink's back ends and you are a little more informed of what is normal and what's not. As always with these health/clinical posts remember that I am not a vet and as above, always seek help from a vet if you are concerned about your animal's health.
The Poop Palette
First is a beautifully perfect poop and small little urate, courtesy of Venus, one of my shinglebacks.
The small seed-like things throughout are the little hulls from fresh strawberries. They are in season and fruiting in the enclosure and Venus has a bit of a thing for pick-your-own fast food! The urate is small, but bouncy and easily squished and the poo is firm, but not hard and a consistency of .... ummm .... firm, uncooked cookie dough. The poop is a day old, and as you can tell, not dried out or flakey, so a good indication that Venus is well hydrated. Being a day old, the slight yellowy granular look of the urate is because it is crystallising.
Now a little while back, I was blessed with the knowledge that my darling Kiah is most definitely, without any doubt, a very manly, masculine and macho male. He'd been inside for a week or so so I can monitor his food intake. He has always been partially blind, but his eyesight was deteriorating and I wasn't certain he was finding his food.
Back to the poop point ...
He was rumaging around, making a lot of noise and I went to look what he was up to at the very moment he popped out two beautiful sperm plugs, a small urate and squishy poop! Naturally, I was eager to photograph this momentous occasion and it was a great opportunity to give a pictorial view of the differences between urates and sperm plugs.
There are two sperm plugs, one urate and a poop.
In situ ...
And a closer look
I squashed the urate before the next pictures so you could understand the texture/consistency a little better. They are also taken nearer to the window, in natural light, which gives a true idea of colour.
Shinglebacks - Nippy, Lava, Suunto, Lutea, Perdita, Hermione and Rosie
Easterns - Kiah and Jade
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