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Avian Digestive System

Have you moved your household? Had to evacuate due to a natural disaster? Had the in-laws over for the week, totally disrupting your usual animal maintenance and playtime schedule?

Been gone on vacation? These are all things that may seem like they wouldn't intrude on the life of our captive reptiles but, for many of them especially iguanas and other social lizards , most definitely do. There are also the things that go on behind your back One woman found out from neighbor, who observed what was going on through the window while the owner was at work, that her cat would sit staring into her iguana's enclosure, nose pressed up against the glass, for hours at a time when the owner was at work.

Since the cat never engaged in this behavior when the owner was home, she never thought there was a problem with the cat. Another woman found out that her husband was turning off the heating equipment in her reptile's enclosure at night after she went to bed "to save money - it's a cold-blooded animal, so it doesn't need heat all the time" was his rationale when she finally figured out why her reptile was sick and stressed.

So, just because you are not directly observing something going on doesn't mean that something isn't happening to result in fear and stress in your reptile.

You may need to become a sort of detective in carefully and deeply assessing everything that goes on in and around your reptile's enclosure as well as exploring as much as you can of the animal's natural history before you will be able to figure out what isn't right.

Please note that if your conditions have not been set up appropriately before reading this material, the shedding, defecation, and growth patterns you have come to expect from your reptile may in fact be abnormal. Reptile owners who have no previous experience with healthy reptiles believe that since their reptile is alive, eating, and defecating, that they are healthy.

One 4-H reptile program leader informed me, for example, that ball pythons never shed in one piece. Her snake was covered in patches of unshed skin representing different sheds, its eyes deeply dented from retained eye caps. Her snake was not healthy, but she insisted that, since that was the way her snake had always been, and that since it was alive and moving around, that it was "normal" for the species!

I frequently encounter iguana owners who tell me that their iguanas defecate only once or twice a week even though they are eating daily. This tells me right away that their temperatures are too low. Once they are raised to the proper levels, the owners are often dismayed to find that, not only does the iguana increase its food intake, but its digestion speeds up to the proper rate, resulting in often copious defecation one or more times a day, depending upon the season.

Most of these owners also find that their iguana isn't really as tame as they thought it was. Common Feeding Problems Failure of a reptile to feed may be due to one or more of several possible reasons.

To get the reptile to start eating, the underlying cause for the failure to feed must be identified and corrected: Simply forcing feeding an animal will not correct the problem situation; it will just give the animal energy to survive, not thrive. Reasons for not eating include: If possible, it is always best to get the reptile to start self-feeding rather than resort to long-term forcing feeding or tube feeding.

Once you have assured that the reptile is healthy and in a properly established environment, certain tricks may be employed if the reptile is still not self-feeding: Changes in Temperatures and Humidity The humidity and temperatures in an enclosure will vary through the year as the ambient room air temperatures and humidity rise and fall. You may need to boost the humidity artificially more during the winter and winter months than during the Fall, for example.

Hygrometers can be used to measure humidity and may be used as a guide to alert you when you need to boost the humidity or back off. Unfortunately, more is known about the temperature requirements of species kept in captivity than is known about their humidity needs. In the absence of specific humidity data, you will have to learn how to judge the adequacy of humidity based on the above points. During the the winter, the fall in outside temperatures results in a lowering of the temperatures inside our homes.

This drop in ambient room air temperature often results in a lowering of the temperatures inside the reptile enclosures. Always monitor the temperatures with several thermometers placed inside the enclosure. You may find that during the colder months you many not only have to boost humidity inside the room or enclosure, but you may have to add stronger or additional heating equipment just to be able to maintain the proper temperatures.

One final factor that must be mentioned is the human tendency to demand that animals share the human's time schedule. Many people work during the day, coming home tired at night, often with an hour or more of chores to be done before they can settle down to relax. At that time, they may want to feed their reptile, or take it out for some together time.

The problem is that if their reptile is a diurnal active during the day species, it needs to sleep at night. Constant disruption of the sleep cycle, as well as being forced to eat at night rather than during the day, results in long term low levels of stress.

The same is true for people who work or otherwise stay up all night and sleep throughout most of the day. While this life style may be okay for nocturnal reptiles other than the fact that nocturnal species do still require darkness at night to function normally , it is stressful for the diurnal and even for many crepuscular species. When we keep animals, we must accommodate their needs; they should not be forced to accommodate our schedules. So, what does all of this have to do with my reptile's health?

Stresses, little and big, as well as the direct effects of environmental problems cage size, orientation, heating, lighting, feeding, humidity, etc. Stress itself can suppress immune function, making the body unable to naturally fight off infection or keep internal parasites under control.

The more stress, or the longer that it is allowed to continue, the weaker the animal becomes and the less tolerant it is to continued stresses and other problems in its environment. Reptiles take a long time to die.

Because of their ectothermy, their cold-bloodedness, they are able to conserve energy to maintain basic body functions for a long time, long after a mammal or bird would have succumbed or have deteriorated to the point where the owner would notice. Reptiles do not die "suddenly.

Those animals most adept at suppressing signs of ill-health or injury are those that will have a chance to recover before being eaten. In the wild as in captivity, reduced activity and increased hiding are behaviors associated with attempts at conserving energy the less one moves, the fewer calories burned, a common reaction to slow starvation and to giving the body more calories to put into healing, for example and trying to hide to avoid predation when the animal is too weak or too cold to effectively defend itself.

Behavioral Changes Changes in behavior can be a sign of an underlying physical problem. We tend to think of health problems as causing lethargy and loss of appetite, but animals may also become snappy, cranky, and may react abnormally to accustomed interaction and stimuli. Some iguanas may get aggressive. When the aggression occurs in green iguanas, known for their breeding season and territorial aggression, such behavioral changes are often dismissed as "just" being related to "typical" male aggression.

As an increasing number of iguana keepers are finding, abnormal aggression may also caused by huge bladder stones, tumors, abscessed organs, and other as yet undefined, pain, disorders and pathologies. When investigating the possible causes of abnormally aggressive behavior, do not discount a primary physiological cause until you and your vet have thoroughly checked it out.

Behavioral assessment of welfare. Scientists Center for Animal Welfare. The science of animal well-being. Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, 4 1 , The psychological well-being of reptiles.

Right before hatch, the yolk sac is taken into the navel cavity of the embryo. The residual tiny sac is the Meckel's diverticulum. Location of the Meckel's diverticulum in the digestive tract of a chicken.

The ceca plural form of cecum are two blind pouches located where the small and large intestines join. Some of the water remaining in the digested material is reabsorbed here. Another important function of the ceca is the fermentation of any remaining coarse materials. During this fermentation, the ceca produce several fatty acids as well as the eight B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B Because the ceca are located so close to the end of the digestive tract, however, few of the produced nutrients are absorbed and available to the chicken.

Despite the name, the large intestine is actually shorter than the small intestine. The large intestine is where the last of the water reabsorption occurs.

In the cloaca, the digestive wastes mix with wastes from the urinary system urates. Chickens usually void fecal material as digestive waste with uric acid crystals on the outer surface—that is, chickens do not urinate.

The color and texture of chicken fecal material can indicate the health status of the chicken's digestive tract: The reproductive tract also exits through this area. When a hen lays an egg, the vagina folds over to allow the egg to leave through the cloaca opening without coming into contact with feces or urine. These microflora aid in digestion.

When chicks hatch, their digestive tracts are virtually sterile. If raised by a mother hen, a chick obtains the beneficial microflora by consuming some of its mother's fecal material. In artificial incubation and brooding, chicks do not have this option. Through the probiotics, the chicks receive the beneficial bacteria they need to fight off infection by pathogenic bacteria, such as salmonella.

Intestinal disease in chickens normally occurs when the balance of normal microflora is upset—that is, the normal microflora are overrun by too many foreign organisms.

The result is enteritis, or inflammation of the intestines. Enteritis produces symptoms that include diarrhea, increased thirst, dehydration, loss of appetite, weakness, and weight loss or slow growth. Try asking one of our Experts. This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by eXtension.

View publishing information about this page. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky An understanding of the avian digestive system is essential for developing an effective and economical feeding program for your poultry flock and for recognizing when something is wrong and taking necessary actions to correct the problem.

Parts of a Chicken Digestive Tract The chicken has a typical avian digestive system. Digestive tract of a female chicken. Infections often are subclinical but may be associated with secondary bacterial pneumonia. In severe cases, death may result.

Stomach worms of the genus Physaloptera are seen in lizards. Gastric ulceration may occur in severe infections. Ova are elliptical and may be embryonated.

Numerous snakes are infected by Kalicephalus spp. This hookworm, capable of transcutaneous infestation, prefers the upper GI tract and causes erosive lesions at sites of attachment. Ova are similar to those of Physaloptera spp. Large granulomas caused by the above species have also caused GI obstruction in snakes. Ascarids frequently infect reptiles.

Ova are similar to those of ascarids from mammalian hosts. Severe lesions and death may be seen in infected snakes. Clinically infected snakes frequently regurgitate partially digested food or adult nematodes and are anorectic. The major lesions are large granulomatous masses in the GI tract; they may abscess and perforate the intestinal wall. Many other nematode species may be found in reptiles.

Capillarid, trichurid, and oxyurid ova may be found on fecal examination. The nonpathogenic larval and oval forms of parasites of prey items eg, Syphacia obvelata , the mouse pinworm may be found when infected prey is consumed.

Treatment should be attempted when evidence of parasitism is present. Some larval forms of nematodes are suspected or confirmed to penetrate the skin eg, Strongyloides and Kalicephalus , bypassing the oral reinfection route. The subtle nature of reinfection by this route often goes unnoticed until the reptile is overwhelmed by parasites.

Close attention to the immediate removal of excreta and fastidious sanitation help reduce parasite burdens in captivity. Dermal lesions caused by the spirurid worm Dracunculus spp may be seen.

Numerous species of spirurids infect the mesentery, coelomic cavity, and blood vessels. These worms require a mechanical vector, so their incidence is reduced in captive-bred reptiles or in reptiles that have been in captivity longterm.

Pentastomes are found in a wide variety of reptiles, with variable pathogenicity. Pentastomid infections are occasionally associated with pneumonic signs, but these primitive arthropods can inhabit any tissue, and symptoms will vary with their migration path and tissues responses. Pentastomes were initially found primarily in tropical poisonous snakes; however, as more necropsies on reptiles were performed, more were found. Necropsy results from 88 bearded dragons showed that 11 were infested with pentastomes.

The most novel approach has been to endoscopically locate and mechanically remove all the adult pentastomes.

Recognition of pentastomal infestations is important, because these parasites are thought to present a zoonotic risk. Numerous protozoans are found on reptiles; most are harmless commensals.

The most serious protozoal pathogen of reptiles is Entamoeba invadens. Clinical signs are anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, mucoidal or hemorrhagic diarrhea, and death.

Entamoebiasis may be epidemic in large snake collections. Herbivores appear less susceptible than carnivores; a number of reptiles that seldom become affected or die can serve as carriers, including garter snakes, northern black racers, and box turtles. Although most turtles are resistant, the giant tortoises are susceptible.

Other resistant groups include eastern king snakes, crocodiles, and cobras possibly as an adaptation that allows them to eat snakes. Most boas, colubrids, elapids, vipers, and crotalids are highly susceptible. Transmission is by direct contact with the cyst form.

Hepatic abscesses containing numerous E invadens trophozoites are common in chronic cases. At necropsy, gross lesions may extend from the stomach to the cloaca. The intestine shows areas of ulceration that tend to coalesce, caseous necrosis, edema, and hemorrhage.

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