Reptile and Amphibian Care – Food
Different herptiles have different food requirements. Some are carnivores, some herbivores, and some omnivores. Carnivores Carnivores eat only meat. They get virtually all their nutrients from eating other animals or the eggs of other animals. In captive herptiles it is important to provide nutrient rich food sources. This can be achieved by feeding the “prey” nutrient rich food. In the wild, carnivores eat prey that is also wild, prey that has been eating a variety of food. Often these foods include vegetables and grains, and sometimes other animals. When feeding captive carnivorous herptiles it is important to gut-load prey items. That is feed they prey items a variety of nutrient rich vegetables and grains just prior to feeding them to your carnivore. This is particularly important when feeding insectivores (a special type of carnivore that eats insects exclusively). Many captive insects are void of nutrients having typically been raised on low nutrient foods. Rodents should also be fed prior to being fed to herptiles. Another consideration in feeding carnivorous herptiles is the choice between live and pre-killed prey. While feeding live prey items may seem, and truly “be,” more natural, it can be potentially hazardous for the herptile. Rodents in particularly can be very aggressive and have sharp teeth. Should a rodent bite the herptile while the herptile is attempting to catch or subdue the rodent prior to eating, a serious infection will surely be the result. Some herptile owners insist on feeding live prey to their herptiles, arguing that in the wild herptiles would have no problem with prey inflicted infections. This may or may not be the case (not being in the wild and observing herptiles preying on rodents we have no firsthand information on the numbers of infections caused by rodent/prey bites and the eventual outcome of these bites, should they be occurring). However, we do know about and have firsthand experience with prey inflicted bites and their resulting infections. In our opinion it is easy enough to offer pre-killed prey to rodent eaters and virtually eliminate the threat of bites and ensuing infections. Herptile owners who want to feed pre-killed prey should call different pet stores and look on the Internet for sources of food for their herptile. A note should be made that some herptiles will only eat live prey (most of these are insectivores) and need the movement of live prey to stimulate their instinct to feed. In these cases the conscientious owner should take care to observe their herptile eating so as to minimize the potential for bite infections to fester. If you see your get get bitten by its prey, take it to your veterinarian to minimize the chance of infection. Remember that herptiles as ectotherms have slower metabolisms. This means it takes them longer to develop sickness and show signs of being sick. Do not presume your pet’s rodent inflicted bite wound is OK because you see no blood or obvious signs of infection. Only a qualified veterinarian can actually determine if your pet has an infection. Herbivores Herbivores eat almost exclusively vegetables, with occasional fruit and sometimes insects. It is important to feed a variety of calcium rich vegetables such as dandelion greens, collard greens, carrot tops, escarole, parsley, spring salad mix, mustard greens, and others. Dark leafy greens tend to be richest in calcium and thus are most highly recommended. Variety is important as it more closely mimics what herbivorous herptiles eat in the wild. Vegetables to be avoided are ones high in phosphorous (which binds calcium) and high ones in fat. Most fruit is high in phosphorous as are some vegetables like some squash, bell peppers, many cabbages, and beans. Avocado in particular is extremely high in fat and should be avoided. Research your vegetables so you will know which ones are high in calcium and low in phosphorous and fat. There are several commercial “iguana” or “turtle” foods that can be purchased at pet stores, but it is unclear whether they provide the proper variety and amount of nutrients. They may be perfectly fine but we recommend feeding fresh vegetables rather than processed and packaged commercial herptile foods.