Reptiles need a well-balanced diet of plant and animal foods. While commercial reptile foods can be useful supplements to a natural diet, it is best to feed your pet fresh foods.
Herbivorous reptiles (like geckos and skinks) need a diet of greens, vegetables +/- fruit. These can include kale, collard greens, beet greens, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves and squashes such as pumpkins.
From salad-loving turtles to meat-eating crocodiles, reptiles have very diverse diets. Whether they are herbivores, insectivores, carnivores or omnivores, reptiles require a healthy, monitored diet. Unbalanced diets can lead to nutritional disease such as metabolic bone disease, hypocalcemia and hypervitaminosis A.
Reptiles find their food through sight, touch, smell and hearing. In the wild, they may hunt or forage, or even dig to dig out their prey.
Herbivorous reptiles like bearded dragons and leopard geckos need a diet of 80-90% vegetables, including kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnips, and dandelion leaves. They should be free of oxalates, which block the body’s absorption of calcium. Bell peppers, shredded sweet potatoes, and carrots are excellent options for a vegetarian reptile, along with zucchini, squash, green beans, peas and tomatoes. These vegetables have low levels of phosphorus and are low in goitrogenic compounds, which can damage the thyroid gland.
Reptiles are a diverse group and they require a range of different diets. Herbivorous reptiles (like tortoises and iguanas) eat leafy greens, hay and other grasses, vegetables like kale, collards, beets, squashes like zucchini and carrots and fruits such as berries, bananas, apples and pears. In general, a good rule of thumb is to feed herbivorous reptiles about 70% of their diet from these foods. These vegetables should be low in oxalate to prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Omnivorous reptiles (like bearded dragons, geckos and blue-tongue skinks) enjoy a mix of invertebrates, vegetables and some fruit. These reptiles typically need about 60% of their diet to be invertebrates (like crickets and wood cockroaches), 40% vegetables and 10% fruits.
Fresh fruits are a healthy snack for all reptiles, but they should only be a small portion of your pet’s diet. Too much fruit can lead to nutritional disorders. It is best to offer fruit as a treat.
Reptiles eat a variety of animals including insects, birds, frogs, mammals and sea creatures. Some, like tortoises and terrapins, are vegetarians. Others, such as snakes and crocodiles, are carnivores.
Their lower resting metabolisms use less fuel than endothermic animals, so reptiles need far fewer calories per day than mammals and birds. Those savings allow them to inhabit areas where net calorie availability is much lower, such as tropical regions.
Carnivorous reptiles, such as crocodiles and alligators, feed on almost any living animal that is appropriate for their size. They open their jaws extra-wide to swallow their prey whole, fur and feathers included, and regurgitate the parts that can’t be digested.
Herbivorous reptiles need a high percentage of vegetables in their diet, but they also appreciate some fruits and non-citrus vegetables such as kale, collard greens, beets, romaine lettuce, dandelions and squashes like pumpkins. If these foods are given too frequently they prevent your pet from absorbing the necessary calcium. They should be supplemented with a quality grass hay that has a low oxalate content to avoid kidney stones.
Insects are a key source of nutrients in the wild diets of many reptile species. The best way to provide these essential nutrients in a captive environment is with a variety of feeder insects, particularly when the reptile is a strict insectivore that only eats bugs (and not vegetables). Using one type of insect as a staple can lead to dangerous nutrient deficiencies.
In addition to being high in protein, many feeder insects offer a good source of fat. It is important for captive insectivores to have a small amount of dietary fat to help maintain proper organ function and energy levels.
A wide range of feeder insects are available, from mealworms and king worms to butterworms and crickets. Ideally, these should be gut loaded between 24 and 72 hours before feeding to the reptile to ensure that all of the nutritional value is available. Oftentimes, gut loaders are soaked in a water and mineral solution to help make the food more palatable. A general rule of thumb is that the feeder should be fed to a reptile on a daily basis as a juvenile, and on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule as an adult.
Reptiles require a variety of vitamins. These are typically supplied through a varied diet of insects, greens and rodents. But it is not unusual for a reptile to become addicted to a favorite food and in doing so miss out on the other nutrients found in the other foods in their diet. Supplementing their diet with a multi-vitamin once or twice per week can help fill in the gaps.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is synthesized in nature through the absorption of UVB light by the skin. Since most reptiles are kept indoors and do not receive UVB, it is necessary to supply dietary Vitamin D to the animal.
The best sources of supplemental Vitamin D are Pollen, Egg Yolks and Repti-Cal (which is also a source of Calcium). Other good sources include the Sunlight Pets Supercal MeD and Tropical Vigorept Mineral with Vitamin D.
From a Calcium/Phosphorus ratio point of view Green Beans, French Beans, Runner Beans and Mange-tout peas are all safe raw ingredients to use in reptile rations. Chick Peas should probably be avoided because of their high protein content.