Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Vomiting/Regurgitation in Reptiles

©2000 Melissa Kaplan


Vomiting (regurgitation of ingesta in any state of decomposition) and fluids is not considered to be a common, relatively harmless occurrence in reptiles. When a reptile regurgitates, it is usually due to one of the following conditions:

  • too cold
  • too stressed
  • food/prey too large
  • food/prey spoiled
  • systemic infection
  • high levels of protozoans or parasites (such as the not-to-be-mistaken stench of vomitus due to Giardia)
  • disturbed (by humans, handling, other stressors) too soon after eating
  • obstruction in digestive tract (by torsion, swelling, foreign object, dystocia, impacted ingesta or fecal matter)

Vomitus may or may not smell bad. Carnivore regurge is going to smell worse than herbivore regurge, with omnivores somewhere in between depending on the the ingredients they've tossed. If the regurge was because of a parasite or intestinal infection, it will smell anywhere from "very strong" to "knocks you out of your socks when you walk in the front door".

Check the enclosure and room temperatures. If the enclosures or free-roaming areas have been allowed to get too cool (as during the change in seasons from fall to winter), or heating equipment has failed, or there was a temporary power outage when you weren't home, get the temperatures restored as quickly as possible (note: hypothermic reptiles need to be brought back up to basking temperature slowly so as to prevent cell destruction).

Since vomiting brings up the various digestive juices which can irritate the throat and mouth, it is important to give the reptile's upper gastrointestinal tract a rest of several days before trying to feed them again. You can administer oral fluids which will help wash the gastric fluids back down, soothe the GI tract a bit, and help rehydrate the reptile.

If the temperatures were not at fault, and the regurge wasn't because you decided to take your just-fed snake to school for show-and-tell day, or fed your lizard just before leaving on a bumpy 20 minute car ride to your friend's house, get your reptile to the reptile vet to be checked out. This is particularly true if there are any other signs of illness or stress.


A Note on Starved/Emaciated or Dehydrated Reptiles
If you force a starved or dehydrated reptile to eat, or to eat food that is too complex for its severely weakened digestive system to process, you will just make the reptile's overall health situation more severe...and the reptile may regurgitate rather than keep it down.

There are ways to properly rehydrate and feed dehydrated and starved reptiles to strengthen them and build them up to the point where they will be able to eat normal foods again. Please read the Fluids and Fluid Therapy in Reptiles for dehydrated reptiles; for emaciated reptiles, read the fluid article and the Emaciation (Starvation) Protocol article to find out how to safely reintroduce food.


A Note On Green Iguanas...
Green iguanas may regurge some water they recently drank, or greens or salad that didn't make it very far down their throat (you can sometimes see food in the back of their throat when they yawn or give you an open-mouth threat if they ate fast and peristalsis hasn't pulled it all down into the GI tract, making room for the most recent mouthfuls taken in. Regurging this close-to-the mouth food and water isn't a problem like regurging food or fluids that were swallowed much earlier. If the water was recently taken in, it will still be runny like water, thickened only slightly by some mucousy saliva. Recently swallowed food will come out looking pretty much like it did shortly before when sitting in the dish - each piece as distinct and colorful as it was when it went it, with a small amount of mucousy saliva laced in it.

If the green iguana regurges anything older, or what appears to be largely mucous rather than water laced with a bit of saliva, get the iguana to the reptile vet within 24 hours or sooner if there is any sign of rapid onset of illness (dramatic weight loss, sunken eyes, pale buccal tissues, diarrhea, lethargy, darkening skin color, behavioral changes, changes in daily routine, etc.)

Related Articles
While some of these articles were written for iguana keepers, much of the information in them is applicable to most other reptiles.

Signs of Illness & Stress

Change-Related Stress

Hypothermia in Reptiles

Constipation and Diarrhea in Iguanas

Fluid and Fluid Therapy in Reptiles

Emaciation (Starvation) Protocol

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