Diet and Nutrition
Online Veterinary Education Library
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Despite old assumptions to the contrary, reptiles do need water to drink. You'll need to place a bowl of clean, fresh water into their enclosure every day. It is helpful to keep the water bowl in a designated place so that your pet knows where to go when it wants something to drink. Also be sure that your reptile can access the bowl by placing it on or next to a secure perch or land for a solid foothold when drinking.
To prevent scum from building up, remove and clean the water bowl with soap and water daily. Once a week, the water bowl should be disinfected and sterilized as well (see Cleaning in the Daily Care and Grooming section for Reptiles).
Depending on the species and where it originated, your reptile could be an herbivore (plant eater), carnivore (meat or protein eater) or omnivore (plant and protein eater).
Herbivores need large amounts of food in order to maintain the nutrients and energy they need to survive. They eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, particularly those high in fiber. Generally, alfalfa, parsley, dandelion leaves, cress, romaine lettuce, escarole, squashes, berries, figs and bananas are edible. However, you will need to understand the specific needs for your pet reptile. For example, tomatoes are good for tortoises, but not for iguanas. The key to herbivore diets is variety so your pet won't get bored with its food. Herbivores also need mineral and vitamin supplements to ensure a balanced diet.
Please note: Do not feed herbivores insects, cat food or dog food.
Carnivores eat a wide array of proteins, ranging from rodents (such as mice and rabbits) to insects and invertebrates (such as crickets and mealworms), small fish (such as guppies and goldfish), eggs and even other reptiles. Rodents are frequently fed to carnivorous snakes and lizards. You can feed them live or purchase them frozen and defrost them before serving. Many insects are also packaged frozen for feeding insectivores. Carnivorous reptiles also need vitamin and mineral supplements. When carnivores or omnivores are fed a relatively large protein, such as a rodent, they frequently won't need more food for a number of days.
All reptiles and amphibians benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements. Specific products for reptiles are commercially available on the Internet or from pet supply stores. B-vitamins are particularly important to help with digestion and boost energy. The right balance of calcium and phosphorous is also important for each species, particularly in early skeletal growth and to prevent bone diseases, a common health problem for reptiles and amphibians.
Herbivores and amphibians need to be fed daily. Some experts suggest limiting the amount of time food is left in the enclosure, while others recommend allowing these pets to graze when they want since they need the energy. Carnivores can be fed small items, such as insects or fish, daily. Larger protein, such as rodents, can be sustained without further feeding for a few days to up to one week. Feeding times should be regularized and a specific area in the enclosure should be designated for food so that your pet knows where to go at feeding times. If you use a bowl or plate for the food, be sure to place it where it is accessible to the reptile, such as on a rock or perch, particularly for aquatic and semi-aquatic pets.
Feeding schedules will depend upon whether your pet is diurnal (active during the day), nocturnal (active during the night) or crepuscular (active at dawn, dusk or twilight). Some reptiles eat once a day; others eat more than once a day. Babies tend to need more frequent feedings.
Learn about the specific diet, nutritional and feeding habits for your preferred reptile or amphibian before choosing your pet to be sure you can provide for your pet's daily needs.