Written by Dr. Amy Nicewonger
Feeding Recommendations for Reptiles
Generally, most reptiles can be classified as insectivores, carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Striving to recreate wild diets to feed to captive reptiles can be challenging. Unlike commercial dog and cat foods, manufactured reptile diets are inconsistent and often do not provide the proper nutrients in the proper balance. Therefore, many reptiles require a variety of food items to provide complete nutrition. Another striking difference is that the metabolism of reptiles is about 30% less than that of mammals. Due to a lower metabolism, some reptiles require only weekly or monthly feeding.
Chameleons, young monitors, young bearded dragons, and small snakes are included in this category. Insects by themselves are generally nutrient deficient and require “gut-loading.” This is done by feeding the insects a diet high in Calcium and other nutrients. Many products are available to gut-load insects after purchase. Live insects are preferred to the dried or canned insects that are available. A variety of earthworms, snails, cockroaches, mealworms, waxworms, superworms, and crickets is recommended. Feed immature reptiles more frequently and adults less frequently. The constant presence of live prey can be stressful to the reptile so only feed the number of insects that can be eaten in 15-30 minutes. Days of fasting can sometimes be beneficial.
This group includes Asian water dragons, monitors, most snakes, and tegus. Food items that are available are mice, rats, anoles, day old chicks, and fish. Live rodents can cause serious bite wounds to reptiles, and it is recommended that rodents be freshly killed or stunned. Another option is to feed frozen prey that has been thawed and brought to mammal body temperature by soaking in hot water. It is recommended to feed carnivores in a separate container from their normal enclosure or soaking container. Weekly to monthly feeding is recommended depending on species and size. Remove and dispose of any uneaten prey after 2-3 hours. Variety of prey items is not important when feeding carnivores. Supplements are not required.
Examples of herbivores include most tortoises, adult bearded dragons, iguanas, and uromastyx. A well mixed salad made from pre-packaged salad mix (Spring Mix, Baby Herbs, or Baby Lettuces) [70% of diet]; Colored vegetables (red, orange, yellow, and purple) [20% of diet] such as small squash, sweet potatoes/yams, yellow/red peppers, beets, eggplant, and carrots; and Fruits (berries, especially blueberries, and papaya) [10% of diet] can be fed daily. Only feed the amount that the reptile can eat within one hour. For supplementation, a cherry or fruit-flavored Tums can be crushed and added to the salad daily.
Box turtles, many semi-aquatic turtles, transitioning bearded dragons, and blue-tongued skinks are examples of omnivores. These animals should be offered a mixture of the herbivore diet with a small amount of insects and prey items fed to carnivores. Owners need to monitor these pets carefully because they may only eat their favorite food items and not have enough variety in their diets.
For help designing a diet or enclosure for your reptile, be sure to consult your veterinarian!