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Brief Look at Reptile Nutrition Thoughts and Tips

One of the most important parts of pet ownership is providing your animal(s) with proper nutrition. Domestic animals like dogs and cats and even pocket pets and birds can be bought formulated diets found at any pet store. Reptilian pets are another matter. Some species have demanding nutritional needs that cannot be met with simple kibble and it is important to know what your pet needs to survive and thrive.

Being cold-blooded, reptiles only need 10% of the food a warm-blooded animal the same body weight needs and can go longer periods between meals. Most reptiles are predators to some extent. Snakes are obligate carnivores and most lizards are insectivorous although many are omnivores to an extent, while turtles run the entire dietary gamut. As a result, most reptile diets consist primarily of other invertebrate prey. Common feeder insects include crickets, cockroaches, waxworms and mealworms and are typically offer live; being visual hunters, lizards often respond to movement.

While such feeders can be purchased ether online or at any reptile store, there is a downside. Captive-raised insects do not have the same nutritional content as their wild counterparts. Owners who raise their owner feeders often utilize a process called gutloading; this involves feeding the insects healthy food such as fresh produce to ensure they get proper nutritional that in turn will be passed onto the reptile that consumes it. It is also recommended to coat feeder insects in a calcium supplement, since calcium is a vital mineral for reptiles and without it they can develop sever medical issues. There are a variety of calcium supplements available on the market, some with vitamin D3 and some without. Knowing which kind to use can be tricky.

If your reptile has access to proper UV lighting, use the powder without D3 to prevent overdose and calcium supplementation should not be needed more than a couple of times per week. Some lizards will take canned feeder insects and Zoo Med’s Can O’ products make wonderful additions to your animal’s diet. Asian markets can also be a source of unique feeders, such as apple snails, silkworms, and locusts. Variety not only provides more balanced nutrition, but provides a bit of mental stimulation as well. If feeding live insects, do not leave them in the terrarium overnight with your pet. Crickets have been known to chew on sleeping lizards.  In order to prevent accidental ingestion of substrate, many keeper use a feeding dish or plate.

Vegetation is much more demanding to digest than animal protein and needs to be consumed in greater quantities, and this provides challenges in keeping herbivorous reptiles. There are very few strictly herbivorous lizards, and these include species like iguanas, uromastyx, and prehensile-tailed skinks. The only reptile group dominated by herbivores is the tortoises. They have complicated nutritional requirements and as a result need a great deal of variety in the food they are offered. Iceberg and Romaine lettuce has little in it other than water, and shouldn’t be used as a staple. Some vegetables, like kale and spinach, are high in oxalates and goitrogens that can cause problems is fed in high doses. The best staple greens for plant-eating lizards include things like escarole, endive, raddichio, turnip greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens. Other produce should be rotated within the dietary regimen to provide variety and supplemental nutrition. Fruit can make a wonderful treat, but feed in moderation to non-tropical species as the sugars may cause bacterial blooms in the gut.

Feeding snakes is relatively straightforward. All snakes are carnivores and most species do not need to be fed more than once a week; bigger species like boas and pythons can go weeks, or even months, between feedings. The best sized meal for a snake is one that is about as big around as the thickest part of the snake, although bigger snakes make require multiple food items per feeding. While snakes can consume animals several times the width of their heads, bigger meals are more stressful to digest. Think about how you feel right after Thanksgiving dinner. Most pet snakes feed on captive-raised mice and rats, but larger snakes can take rabbits, guinea pigs, and domestic fowl. It is not recommend you feed snakes live prey. Being a predator is a highrisk, high-reward lifestyle and every hunt comes with the possibility of a fatal outcome for the hunter as well as the hunted. Rodents are armed with incisors like razor-edged chisels and will not hesitate to use them in self defense. While some keepers argue feeding live is more natural, in the wild a predator can abandon the hunt if the prey proves too difficult or dangerous to subdue. In a captive setting, fights are always to the death. There is no reason to subject animals in captivity to the same stresses the experience in the wild. As a result, frozen feeder animals are readily available. This takes away the risk of injury to your pet and makes storage much easier.

The best way to thaw rodents is to put them in a Ziplock bag and then place it in warm water; larger rodents can be left in the fridge overnight. Do no put the feeder in the microwave, as the rapid infusion of heat may cause it to explode. Most keepers do not feed their snakes with their enclosure, but in a separate feeding space. For the larger predatory lizards like monitors and tegus, whole prey is essential. Many keepers try to cut corners by feeding their animals human-grade meat from the supermarket. This is not a nutritionally-balanced diet. Whole prey, i.e. whole animals, provides everything they need: calcium from the bones, vitamins and minerals from the organs, roughage from fur and feathers. Rodents, fowl, and fish are all great whole prey choices. Be careful with fish, as some species (such as goldfish) contain a chemical called thiaminase that causes health problems in fed in high doses. As with snakes, it is safer for your pet to offer pre-killed or frozen-thawed food. Because of their popularity, it is not surprising that some companies have developed packaged diets for pet reptiles. Aquatic turtle feed primarily on pelleted food, and companies such as Zoo Med and Reptomin make excellent products. Tropical geckos also do well on packaged diets, and Pangea and Repashy products are formulated with all the nutrients such animals need. Mazuri is well-known for its iguana, tortoise, and even crocodile chow. However, most lizard kibble is not balanced enough to serve as the main food source like it does with dogs and cats. If you are considering adding lizard kibble to your pet’s diet, make sure to thoroughly read the ingredients list. At best, it can serve as a treat or filler as part of a properly balanced diet.

 

Written By:

Grayson Kent

Sponsored By:

The Painted Reptile

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