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Substrates and Shelters for Animals Prone to Intestinal Blockages – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for background information on substrate and food related intestinal impactions, including some interesting stories from the field.

Substrates for Aquatic Animals
Surinam toads, mata-mata turtles, axolotls, mudpuppies and other wide-mouthed aquatic animals that utilize suction (the flow of water into the gaping mouth) to capture prey quite frequently swallow gravel in the course of feeding.

If you do not care for the look of a bare-bottomed aquarium, our life-like Cypress Mat is well worth considering as a bottom-covering. It cannot be swallowed, is easily rinsed, and many animals will nestle down into it as a shelter. I suggest leaving a bit of the aquarium’s bottom uncovered by the mat until you can determine where your animals prefer to remain.

Sinking driftwood and Mopani wood are also safe to use, and will go a long way in improving your aquarium’s appearance.

Shelters for Burrowing and Aquatic Animals
Artificial and wood-based caves and hideaways are often accepted as substitute shelters by burrowing animals; plastic models are fine for use in aquariums as well. If so inclined, you might also enjoy using novelty decorations and shelters for pets prone to ingesting gravel and sand.

Cork bark pieces and rolls make fine shelters for terrestrial herps, and may be wedged against the aquarium’s sides to form an underwater retreat as well.

Hagen Silk Plants  are an excellent option for African bullfrogs, marine toads and other large animals that prefer to back into vegetation or moss as opposed to using a cave. These plants are equipped with suction cups, and when arranged to hang down to the terrarium’s floor they provide a naturalistic retreat. They can be used in a similar fashion under water – Surinam toads in particular prefer this arrangement to a cave.

Tong-Feeding and Separate Feeding Enclosures
Training your pets to feed from tongs will also go a long way in avoiding substrate-swallowing problems. Use plastic tongs for animals with a vigorous feeding response and reserve metal tongs for those that feed gingerly or accept large food items.

Well-acclimated reptiles and amphibians often feed eagerly even after being transported to a separate feeding container. Transferring such animals to a bare-bottomed plastic terrarium or similar enclosure is a useful feeding option.

Further Reading
The Manuel of Exotic Pet Practice’s entry on intestinal impactions is posted here.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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