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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Nutrition For Reptiles

Nutrition for Reptiles


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There are four basic categories into which you can group most reptiles and amphibians: carnivorous, insectivorous, omnivorous, and vegetarian.

There are four basic categories into which you can group most reptiles and amphibians: carnivorous, insectivorous, omnivorous, and vegetarian.

Carnivorous animals primarily consume animal matter. A good example of a carnivore is a cornsnake. A natural carnivorous diet for the cornsnake (especially juveniles) is a variety of young rodents, lizards, and birds. If the pet you have chosen is a carnivore, it is up to you to develop a correct feeding regiment. Many carnivorous pets end up obese with many health problems attributed to overeating. So, be careful not to overfeed. Read as much literature as possible regarding the species that you want to own.

Aside from frozen and live feeder animals (such as feeder mice, rats, and rabbits), there are commercially prepared "sausage diets" available. The "sausages" and are prepared with all the necessary vitamins and minerals to maximize digestion and minimize waste. Many people like the sausage alternative since the diet is complete, more humane (for both predator and prey), and easier to keep on hand (as they are frozen and come in multi-packs).

Remember that if you want to convert your pet over to a non-live diet, it will need to be a slow transition. Some animals may flat out refuse an "unnatural" alternative to their regular prey.

Insectivorous animals eat a diet consisting primarily of insects.

Suggested insects are: crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, and earthworms. The insects alone are not enough. It is up to you to provide a high quality diet for the insects so that they pass on the good nutrition to your pet. The term for feeding a nutritious diet to food items in order to pass on the benefits is "gut loading." Offer the insects leafy greens, grains, flaked fish food, or commercially prepared diets.

Make sure the insects are getting moisture as well, but note that they often drown in water. To avoid this, there are special watering devices available, as well as commercially prepared water cubes. Additionally, you can feed them apple or citrus for moisture supplement.

Some insectivorous animals (i.e.: tegus, monitors, glass lizards, skinks) can also be offered a mixture of premium, low-fat, canned, cat and dog food (some canned reptile diets are also available). A handy trick to improve this diet is sneaking in a small amount of diced and minced vegetables into the moist food. Roll everything up into a ball, and most reptiles won't even know they just got a complete diet.

Omnivorous animals may ingest both plant and animal matter. Vegetarian animals eat nothing but plant matter -- but it is a good idea to sporadically offer a vegetarian the opportunity to supplement its diet with small amounts of live prey (as they might occasionally do in the wild).

Therefore, for this subject, omnivores and vegetarians will be grouped together. A good quality omnivore and vegetarian diet should include: vegetables, fruit, and prepared foods (such as pelleted foods).

Suggested foods include: dark, leafy greens (mustard, collard, radish, and turnip greens or tops, kale, cabbage, dandelion leaves-stems-flowers, non-treated backyard grasses and weeds, clover), legumes, mulberry and grape leaves, roses, hibiscus, nasturtiums, carnation flowers, cured alfalfa and timothy hay, soaked alfalfa pellets, thawed frozen mixed vegetables (peas, lima beans, carrots, green beans), peas in the pod, cauliflower, soy bean sprouts, radishes, summer and winter squashes, grapes, apples, oranges, pear, peaches, plums, nectarines, dates, all types of melons, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, mangoes, and tomatoes.

Some high protein foods suggested are: dry premium maintenance dog food (crushed or softened for smaller animals), tofu, and scrambled or hard-boiled eggs.

When feeding fruits & vegetables, use four vegetables to every fruit per meal. It may be best to offer fruits only in every third or fourth feeding. Red and yellow fruits and vegetables are great for shy eaters as some reptiles are naturally attracted to the bright colors. Always remove food four hours after it is offered to prevent spoilage.

Insects such as (gut loaded) crickets, mealworms, superworms, and waxworms will also be consumed. Offer insects every 3-4 days for omnivores. Depending on the vegetarian pet you own, you may want to offer the insects anywhere from once a month to once every third month. Remember to read as much as possible about the animal you've chosen as a pet. Understanding its needs is the best way to ensure they live a long, healthy life.


For all of the above diets, there is the matter of vitamin and mineral supplementation. Since you cannot offer an exact match to the natural diet of your pet, you need to do the next best thing. Since the diet you provide is probably not rich in all necessary vitamins and minerals, there are products designed to "complete the meal."

A wide variety of vitamin and mineral powders and liquids are on the market today. How do you choose the right ones? Depending on where you acquire your pet, you can usually ask the breeder or store personnel which supplement they use for their animals.

Alternately, since you should develop a relationship with a qualified reptile vet early on in your pet's life, ask the vet. One single product may not be enough. Often you'll see that a single brand may have a whole series of supplements. Some are for different species, some are specific to the age of the animal, some focus on whether the animal is kept inside or housed outside. Once again (not to sound like a broken record), read about the animal you plan to get before bringing it home.

Once you have chosen the right supplement(s) for your pet, don't overdo it. It's best to supplement every other day or every three days. Even though most problems reptile nutritional problems are associated with a lack in the main dietary staples fed to them, a few are caused by over-supplementation. To help prevent that, plan a supplement schedule and stick to it.

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06 Sep 2010 9:29 pm

martha-k said:

Hello, I have a green south america iguana. he does not eat protein because it is bad for their liver and heart and will shorten their lives. It is to hard to digest. A healthy iguana may live from 17 to 25 years. He loves all greens, some flowers, reg iguans food, bread, and veggies.

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