Cloacal prolapses occur in reptiles when the tissue located within the cloaca is everted for an extended period of time.
Cloacal prolapses are a common problem in lizards (though can be found in other reptilian species) and is usually secondary to an infection or straining due to dystocia, constipation or sexual swelling. A Cloacal Organ Prolapse is when the bladder, hemipenes (male), oviducts (female), or colon protrudes from within the cloaca (the excretory orifice of reptiles) for an extended period of time. This can be a very serious issue that requires immediate medical attention or can sometimes take care of itself and retract on its own, as in the case where males of a species may evert their hemipenes during marking, defecation or when sexually aroused.
Bearded Dragon Cloacal Organ Prolapse
Cloacal Prolapse Situation
It won't be difficult to assess if your reptile is experiencing a cloacal prolapse of some sort. The prolapse itself will be evident by the (hopefully) moist tissue protruding from the cloaca. You won't know what type of prolapse you have unless you are familiar with the species anatomy since the color of the tissue is species dependant, which organ that is actually prolapsed, the sex of the species (males evert their hemipenes and females may every their oviduct) and the duration of the prolapse. The duration of the prolapse will change the color as a result of the tissue drying out, which is very dangerous.
Males of several species will evert their hemipenes from time to time, for varying reasons. In most cases they will retract without any assistance from you. In the event that you see your reptile walking around and dragging an organ beneath them, get to a vet. An organ that has dried out is of no use to the animal and could potentially kill it.
Cloacal Prolapse Causes
There are several causes of cloacal prolapses with some of them being more common than others. it is important to determine what type of prolapse you are experiencing with your reptile and what could have caused it. Some prolapses are the result of some serious issues that will require immediate attention. Most prolapses, with the exception being male hemipenal eversion, are normally the result of an underlying illness or issue.
Excessive Libido - Sexual Engorgement - When a male is in season or is sexually aroused, he may evert his hemipenes. Normally this isn't an issue and happens frequent enough that some owners have become accustomed to it. Problems arise when males excessively and repeatedly protrude their hemipenes, causing it to become extremely engorged or swollen. the swelling is an issue when they hemipene can't retract. The hemipene needs to remain moist or it will dry out and die.
Trauma from mating or fighting can cause cloacal prolapses. A female that is spooked could "bolt" in mid-copulation, causing damage to the males hemipene.
Calcium issues have been known to cause prolapses. Chronic low blood calcium can result in decreased strength of the muscles responsible for keeping and retracting the hemipenes or other associated organs.
Straining to defecate or urinate, a sign of chronic dehydration, can cause prolpases.
Egg laying and straining to lay eggs can cause cloacal prolapses. This is especially true if your reptile is experiencing Dystocia.
Internal parasites can cause prolapses.
Bladder stones can cause prolapses.
Urinary tract and gastrointestinal tract infections are also known to cause prolapses.
Obesity, something you don't often hear about, are known to be a cause of prolapses.
Tumors or other blockages can also cause cloacal prolapses.
There are a number of reasons, including some not listed than can be of great concern when a cloacal prolapse has presented itself. Treat each incident as if it is the life or death of your animal because in many cases, it has been.
Dealing With A Cloacal Prolapse
The immediate concern when dealing with a prolapse is that the organ will dry out. This can and will create life-threatening complications. The very first thing you should do is clean the organ or tissue. Gently rinse away any debris with clean cool water and then apply a water based lubricant such as KY Jelly or a triple antibiotic ointment. Safely secure the animal and get them to an emergency vet clinic capable of dealing with reptiles as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more damage that will have been done.
Cloacal Prolapse Treatments
I do not share home remedies for taking care of prolapses for the simple fact that every prolapse is different and every situation is different. Some prolapses require surgery to correct. Some require medications. Almost every situation will require antibiotics because of the location of the prolapse. Infections are high when injuries persist around the cloaca, since bacteria is normally abundant. (They defecate through their cloaca.)
There are methods you will find online for home treating prolapses. Those who use these treatments are not looking after the best welfare of the animal. They are trying to save a buck and are hoping the animal survives. This is not responsible pet ownership. Get your animal to a qualified vet!
Surgery was performed on a Bearded Dragon to correct its prolapse and we were allowed to get film documentation. This is why you need to see a qualified reptile vet.
Bearded Dragon Cloacal Prolapse
Author: Richard Brooks
Bearded Dragon Cloacal Organ Prolapse © Richard Brooks
Mader, DR. 2006. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Elsevier. St. Louis, MO.