Making sure you provide a well balanced diet for your herp is just as important as eating enough fruits and veggies yourself. With all the commercial foods it’s easy to get distracted from what a well balanced diet actually looks like. To start with the obvious, it’s going to look different for different herps, but should consist of one or both of these things: plant and live food. Commercial foods are balanced, generally healthy, and readily available, but fresh food plays such an important role in your pets mental and physical well being that it can’t be put aside!
Let’s take a look at our feeding options…
What are they? They’re the same thing as a dog kibble. It’s a compact piece of food that holds an entire balanced diet for your pet. It’s kind of amazing really that they can compress all those nutrients into little colored balls, and at the same time kind of upsetting. Would you ever live off a pelleted diet? Probably not. For that matter, would you be happy living off of one food for the rest of your life? Animals have taste buds just like we do, and they have food preferences just like we do. If you don’t believe me give your herp a bowl of fruits and veggies and see what they eat. (It’s honestly amazing how well they can sort through a bowl of food, no matter how small you cut it). I’m not saying that pellets are bad, they have their place, but while they may be “complete nutrition” they are not completely what your pet needs. So what else do you feed them…
Greens, fruits and veggies! Plant food can sometimes be overlooked because it’s a hassle. Providing greens often means cutting salads by hand and throwing away lots of extras that your pet didn’t eat. Besides the prep work, many greens such as mustard greens and dandelion greens can be hard to find. But, many household herps are omnivores or herbivores, so greens, fruits, and veggies make up a large part of their diet, which is why this food group is so important. Explore the different foods that are safe for your pet and find their favorites. Search through feeding guides and find a balance between yummy and good (because we as parents know those will never be the same thing).
Greens are fun too! There is no rule that says you have to cut up a salad and put in in a bowl. Hang them, hide them, grow them and let your pet forage. Herps too are capable of getting fat and lazy. And if plants are your pets main, or only, source of food that’s exactly what will happen by eating from a dish day in and day out.
Need food sources: Check out your farmers market, you might even talk to some of the farmers and ask if they ever have what you’re looking for. You can also talk to your grocer and see if they ever get a shipment. Lastly, Whole Foods can also be a great place to find food for your pets, as they tend to have more variety for all the green smoothie people (no offence green smoothie people, kudos for your health).
So what is live food. That question is probably self explanatory, but I’ve defined the other two so why not. For this post I just want to focus on insects. If you have a snake you can read about mice here.
Focusing on insects right now, live food provides essential nutrients such as protein and calcium. Depending on your pet you will need different insects, but what they provide is the same. These nutrients are more pure and concentrated then those found in commercial diets and are therefore preferable for your pet’s diet whenever possible.
Just like hiding greens and encouraging your pet to forage, live food encourages your pet to get up and move around. Tracking down insects or snapping at something moving is instinctual for many herps, and giving your pets a chance to exercise that part of their brain is important for their mental health. I can see a difference anytime Don is out of crickets; his whole personality changes. He’s a happier, more energetic, and more interactive lizard when he has live food. I should note here, that while having loose insects in the tank provides great enrichment, be sure your pet eats all of them, or you remove the uneaten ones as they can bite and irritate your pets if left inside.
How much and how often you feed live food is going to be between you and your pet. Remember that many insects, while high in nutrients are also high in fat. Just do your research. Your schedule will not only depend on your species, but also age and size. Don is a senior bearded dragon, so we choose to give him a salad every day and live food two to three times a week. We notice that we stays alert and energized this way, and at a healthy weight.
Check out these great resources from around the web:
Bearded Dragon reference (It’s for bearded dragons, but I think it’s a great resource for any lizard) .