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Generally speaking, smaller reptiles need to eat more frequently than larger reptiles; younger reptiles more often than older ones; insectivores more frequently than vertebrate eaters; and herbivores more frequently than omnivores or carnivores. These insects are easily reared in plastic tubs, and most of them do not require substrate. Sufficient numbers of warm spots, UVB exposure spots, and food pans should be available for all animals within an enclosure. Serum calcium concentrations may not be diagnostically useful. Vegetables with a low amount of oxalate should be fed to prevent kidney stones. Although gout in some reptiles is associated with increased circulating levels, postprandial transient increases in circulating uric acid may be seen in some species and confound the diagnosis. Green treefrogs Hyla cinerea:
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Prey such as rabbits, rats, or mice should come from commercial breeding centers and be offered dead to prevent injury to the reptile and for welfare reasons of the offered prey. Although it is not common, prey have been known to attack predators and can inflict serious bites. Offering dead prey can also reduce the chance of injury to the predator caused by striking the walls of the enclosure.
However, some reptiles may initially need the stimulation of live prey, particularly if they are not adapted to captivity. The possibility of disease or parasite transmission from prey to predator should be considered. Vertebrate prey should be fed nutritionally complete diets appropriate for the species eg, mouse diet, rabbit diet, rat diet, etc. The nutrient content of the prey depends on what it is fed eg, mice raised on a diet deficient in vitamin A have decreased liver storage of this essential nutrient.
Methods of thawing that minimize water loss are also important. Because many carnivorous reptiles rely on their prey not only as sources of nutrients but also as sources of water, the state of hydration of the prey can be very important.
Common practice has been to offer two or more different prey species, because differences in nutrient content exist among vertebrate and invertebrate prey. Reduced dependence on a single food or prey species is also desirable, because some prey items may be periodically difficult to obtain. Dependence on a single prey item is frequently seen in snakes and may be unavoidable. Many commercial diets for reptiles are marketed. Products for carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous reptiles are now available in frozen, freeze-dried, canned, extruded, pelleted, or sausage forms.
Acceptability may be better when the commercial diets are offered to reptiles when they are young. Appropriately formulated, manufactured diets for reptiles are a potentially simpler and more economical alternative to feeding fresh produce or live prey. However, some of these diets may not be formulated rationally, and frequently little information concerning micronutrient concentrations is provided by the manufacturers.
When selecting a commercial product, the buyer should obtain accurate information about product formulation and specific nutrient concentrations.
Unfortunately, little controlled research has been conducted on nutrient requirements of reptiles, and claims of product superiority may not have a scientific justification. Vegetables with a low amount of oxalate should be fed to prevent kidney stones. A good quality grass hay or a so-called herbs-hay should be fed. In Europe, often herbs and dandelions are fed to herbivorous reptiles.
Fresh, clean water must be available at all times. Recommended Nutrient Concentrations for Reptiles for recommended nutrient concentrations for reptiles.
These suggested concentrations are not sufficient to prevent signs of vitamin D deficiency in green iguanas. Vitamin C synthesis has been reported in many reptile species.
It has been suggested that ulcerative stomatitis seen in snakes and lizards may be associated with a vitamin C deficiency, although there is no supportive evidence.
In controlled studies with garter snakes Thamnophis sp fed supplemental vitamin C, tissue levels and body stores remained stable, although synthesis by the snakes was reduced. Although most reptiles excrete nitrogen primarily as uric acid, aquatic reptiles typically excrete excess nitrogen as urea or ammonia. The relative proportions of various nitrogenous wastes may depend on the amount and composition of feed, frequency of feeding, and state of hydration.
The excessive precipitation of urate crystals in joints, kidneys, or other organs gout can be a common condition in some species of captive reptiles.
The etiology is not clear, but it is commonly thought that diets high in protein may predispose reptiles to gout. Impaired renal function and dehydration have also been suggested as possible causes. If poor-quality protein is fed unbalanced amino acids or when tissue is catabolized for energy, uric acid excretion increases. Although gout in some reptiles is associated with increased circulating levels, postprandial transient increases in circulating uric acid may be seen in some species and confound the diagnosis.
Assuring an adequate state of hydration in a susceptible animal may help prevent uric acid precipitation in joints and organs. Feeding diets low in protein to carnivorous reptiles is unwise, because they are adapted to feeding on high-protein prey. Most vertebrates can either absorb vitamin D from the diet or synthesize it in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol using energy from ultraviolet UVB light of certain wavelengths — nm in a temperature-dependent reaction.
Thus, vitamin D is required in the diet only when endogenous synthesis is inadequate, as develops when animals are not exposed to UV light of appropriate wavelengths. Many captive basking species appear susceptible to rickets or osteomalacia. Bone fractures, soft-tissue mineralization, renal complications, and tetany can develop. Reptiles frequently show few premonitory signs, although lethargy, inappetence, and reluctance to move are commonly reported.
Serum calcium concentrations may not be diagnostically useful. Although blood levels of vitamin D can be measured, normal values for most species are not known. This involves piercing the braincase of the killed prey with a pin or nail before offering it to the reptile. Never leave live rodents in an enclosure with the reptile. Too many big boids have died or been permanently disfigured by rodent attacks.
Something to try before pithing, however, is dipping the prekilled prey into some warm chicken broth. This is especially effective in species whose wild diet includes birds. Canned chicken broth may be poured into ice cube trays and frozen, defrosting cubes as needed.
Depending on the size and number of prey you need to dip at each feeding, you can use the trays for regular sized cubes or trays for miniature cubes. Prominent snake breeders Dave and Tracy Barker discovered the efficacy of chicken broth.
Some reptiles are sensitive to color, and have definite preferences for prey of certain colors. With rodents, this may mean brown or parti-colored mice rather than white mice after all, there aren't a lot of white or albino mice in the wild, as they tend to not survive long enough to pass on their color genes. This color preference may extend to insect-eaters as well. Adding powdered spirulina or alfalfa to the food-and-vitamin mix fed to crickets will turn them green, making them more acceptable to reptiles who typically eat green insects in the wild.
Chameleon keeper Alon Coppens discovered this when he ran out of naturally green insects for his picky Nosy Be C. Serving Food Care must be taken not only in the type and size of food selected for feeding, but in the presentation of the food as well.
Proper presentation not only makes food attractive to the reptile, which will help stimulate feeding, but will ensure that the food can be safely consumed.
A plate of some sort must be used when the reptile is kept on a substrate of soil, shavings or other particulate matter. This will prevent the unnecessary uptake and accidental ingestion of the substrate itself.
While there is nothing to prevent this from occurring in the wild, captivity is not the wild. We are still ignorant about what factors or organisms that may prevent impactions in the wild that are missing in the captive environment. An alternative is to remove the reptile from its enclosure and place it in a special enclosure reserved for feeding. Separate feeding enclosures will be required when two or more snakes are housed together. Keeping and feeding them in the same enclosure may well result in fewer snakes as one snake eats the other merely because it smells like prey, or when both have tried to eat the same prey animal.
Separation may also be required when housing two or more lizards or chelonians together when one of them is unable to compete successfully with the others for access to enough food. Plant foods should be thoroughly mixed together to prevent the reptile from picking out only certain plants and leaving the rest. Captive diets consisting of just one or two plants is not nutritious and will result in nutritional deficiency disorders. Using a forceps hemostats or kitchen tongs, grasp the prey by the base of the tail and dangle it for the reptile.
You may find that "walking" it around a bit will better simulate the movement of a live prey animal and thus better trigger a feeding strike. Let the fish swim in the water bowl or special feeding bowl, large enough for the aquatic turtle, or semi-aquatic lizard, snake or turtle to get into and swim to catch its prey. Individual worms or larva may be held in forceps to introduce the prey to the reptile.
A meal's worth of worms or larvae may be placed in a shallow bowl or saucer, enabling the reptile to get in but preventing the worms from escaping. Leave some of the food being fed to the worms in the bowl so that they have something to feed on if they are themselves not eaten right away.
Crickets may be set loose in the enclosure for most reptiles. For turtles, they may need to be held with forceps. On a daily basis, check under furnishings, branches, and potted plants to get the crickets who have hidden back out into the open again. Put some of the food being fed to the crickets in their own enclosure into the reptile's enclosure so that the crickets have something to feed on if they themselves are not eaten right away.
A piece of fruit placed in a jar lid will provide the crickets with an easily accessible source of moisture. A rock should be placed in the reptile's water bowl so that if crickets jump into the water they will be able to climb out onto the rock and jump free and thus escape drowning.
The plant food may be placed in a shallow bowl, jar lid, or saucer. Offer vertebrate prey as indicated above. Worms, larvae, and killed vertebrate prey may be placed on top of the plant food, mixed into it, or offered separately. The leafy greens may be floated on the water.
If turtle food sticks or pellets are being offered to aquatic turtles, they may be floated on the water as well. Feeding Time When the food is offered will also affect feeding and metabolism. Failure to proffer the right food at the right time, and in the right way, may well result in malnutrition or starvation. Some species feed at night. Others will easily take food around sunset but will not feed during daylight hours. Still others will only eat during the day.
Offering food outside the optimal feeding times for the species may result in reduced intake or failure to feed.
Some reptiles may be unwilling to feed when they are being watched by other animals, including humans. Still others will compete so fiercely with other cagemates for food that injuries may occur or the cagemates may themselves become reluctant to feed and so slowly starve to death.
Thus, observation of captive species must be done carefully so as not to stress, or alter the behavior of, the animals being watched. Feeding frequency may also lead to nutritional problems. Some hatchling lizards and small adult lizards need to feed several times a day. Other lizards may feed comfortably once a day or once every other day. The feeding frequency may change throughout the year due to breeding season or coinciding with natural cycles found in the animal's native habitat, such as the dry or wet seasons, cool winters, hot summers, or breeding season.
Wash your hands with hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and finish off with cold water. This will remove the scent of other animals - predator and prey - from your hands and give your hands a cooler thermal signature than the prey you are offering by tongs or forceps, please to reptiles who use heat sensing to locate prey.
Feeding Frequency There are no cut-and-dried rules on feeding reptiles. Each species will have its own requirements. Feeding amounts and frequency are based as much on the reptile's evolved dietary needs and metabolic size as it is on its being maintained in a proper environment. Generally speaking, smaller reptiles need to eat more frequently than larger reptiles; younger reptiles more often than older ones; insectivores more frequently than vertebrate eaters; and herbivores more frequently than omnivores or carnivores.
Most young lizards and herbivorous reptiles will need to eat every day, whereas young snakes may eat twice a week. Sick reptiles, or those preparing for breeding, may need to eat more or more often than healthy adult reptiles not in breeding season. Reptiles tend to eat more during the seasons that coincide with the highest food availability in their native habitat generally corresponding to our spring and summer months than during the cold or dry seasons. A reptile who acts hungry probably is.
Caretakers being struck or bitten by an otherwise tame and calm snake or lizard when they put their hands in or near the enclosure is another sure sign.
Except for certain gorge feeders such as savannah monitors and Burmese pythons , a reptile maintained in a proper environment, who gets plenty of exercise, and is fed a healthy diet, is difficult to overfeed. If they are not hungry, they will not eat. Commercial Foods Commercial reptile foods dried, broth-flavored insects, "sausages", frozen, canned and dried foods sound like the perfect answer to what to feed your lizard, snake or chelonian.
The only problem is that, despite packaging, advertising, and pet store claims, except for some of the aquatic turtle foods, these food products were not longitudinally tested and many are proving to be less nutritionally "complete" and "balanced" as claimed. Reptile keepers and veterinarians are finding that animals maintained on many of these foods exhibit developmental abnormalities growing too fast or too slow and nutritional deficiencies such as metabolic bone disease.
It is best to not consider these as suitable substitutes for whole prey or fresh plant diets. Snakes Feeding baby snakes may present some unique problems. Captive bred snakes remain genetically programmed to recognize certain scents and shapes as being "food. Most baby snakes do not feed for the first several weeks after hatching as they are still living off the remains of their yolk which is retained inside their bodies; this takes about days.
In the wild this time would be spent finding water, basking, sleeping, and hiding spots, and generally learning about its environment. In captivity, they may often be started on rodent prey, specifically pinky mice, causing them to imprint on the prey and so become willing feeders on at least that species of rodent for the duration of its life. Methods to help them start feeding on proffered food items, besides ensuring they have a properly set up and furnished environment, are discussed above and in the articles referenced below.
Chelonians Aquatic turtle hatchlings will often begin to feed in small containers, with water deep enough for them to swim and dive and equipped with a haul-out place.
Wriggling insects, such as pinhead crickets, moving on the surface of the water will attract the hatchlings' attention and stimulate the feeding response. Once they are feeding easily and heartily, they can be fed in their regular enclosure.
If feeding many hatchlings, care must be taken to not overcrowd the feeding enclosures. If they are being fed in their regular enclosure, some should be removed to one or more separate feeding enclosures. Care must be taken to watch them carefully to see if any are not able to compete successfully for the food. Terrestrial turtles are omnivorous. A selection of finely chopped or shredded plant food can be placed in a feeding container or in a substrate-free area of their enclosure.
The prey arthropods may be mixed in with the plant matter or placed on top of it. Mixing the prey with the plant matter is a good way to get them started eating the plant matter. Tortoises are grazers and should be offered a variety of vegetables and leafy greens as well as drier roughage for foraging.