In this article we will be discussing how to keep your reptile from putting on the pounds and how to spot obesity, and what you can do to prevent it from happening, and as a result have a very happy pet!
Reptiles are such a varied group (gecko’s, bearded dragons, snakes and tortoises) that not all will have the same diet. They each have very specific nutritional requirements that owners need to learn and understand before getting one as a pet, and that’s where we’re here to help.
Below are some basic requirements for keeping your exotic reptile pet fit and healthy.
Although there are many different species, in general lizards are considered overweight when they have a thick layer of fat over their backs and sides. They will also have fat deposits under their necks, and a pear-shaped torso (rather than streamlined). Very obese lizards will have a tail that is wider than their bodies. A healthy lizard will typically have enough fat in their tail so that it is nearly the width of the rest of their body.
Leopard Geckos solely eat meat, which means they do not eat plant matter like fruit or vegetables.
Ideally the meat fed is live insects as most geckos won’t eat them dead if offered.
The best options are mealworms or crickets, and they should be ‘gut-loaded’ – this is the process of feeding the insects very nutritious foods, which then gets passed on to your scaly friend.
Young leopard geckos are fed daily, whereas adults only need feeding every 2-3 days.
Live feeding should be done in the evening, this is when your leopard gecko has the most energy and will be active.
Feed a few crickets at a time, and in a place where they can see it, any uneaten crickets should be removed.
Bearded Dragons are omnivores which means they naturally eat both plants and animals.
For their meat requirement, insects are convenient and usually inexpensive.
As bearded dragons don’t get the same exercise as they would in the wild, they can suffer obesity on a diet too rich in insects.
Feed your beardie 25% insects, and the other 65% vegetables and 10% fruit (although avoiding citrus fruits, lettuce, spinach and avocado).
Supplement powders or ‘gut-loading’ insects are also a great way to get all the right nutrients into your bearded dragon.
Slowing down how quickly your bearded dragon eats will help prevent obesity. This could be done by spreading out the food on a plate instead of stacking in a bowl. Cutting vegetables into slices instead of cubes will also take a little more effort to eat.
An overweight tortoise may have large amounts of fat deposited behind their eyes, they may also have large fat deposits in their armpits, groin, knees and neck.
Most tortoises are natural grazers, in the wild they will spend a large amount of their day eating grass, plants, flowers and roots. This diet is low in fat, sugar, protein and high in fibre and calcium – making it perfect for tortoises!
Try and stay away from feeding them high sugar fruits and high protein vegetables (like peas and beans). These should generally be avoided, or only be given as a very rare treat.
Using a calcium, vitamin D3 and mineral supplement is a good way to make sure your tortoise is getting everything it needs to stay strong and healthy.
A slow and even growth is the best way for their long-term health.
Do note that each type of tortoise will have a different diet, some are omnivores and will eat the odd insect or meat. So, make sure you research the specific species thoroughly before purchasing!
All tortoises need clean fresh water every day, to reduce any hydration deficit you can bathe your tortoise once or twice a week.
An obese snake will have fat along the length of their spine, and when examined the vertebrae will not be felt. They may also have fat lumps under their skin in many areas making the body look uneven and less tubular. An overweight snake also may have folds of fat that are noticeable when they bend into an S-shape.
Corn snakes are meat eaters and will eat whole meat, for example thawed frozen rodents. Legally in the UK, food is normally deceased when fed.
You must take into consideration the size of rodent you feed your snake as they eat their prey whole.
Rodents should be no larger than 1.5x the size of your snake’s midsection.
Feed your young snake a meal every 5-7 days, and 7-10 days for adult snakes.
All corn snakes should have access to clean fresh water every day. Many of them like to lay in their bowl of water, so make sure to clean it regularly.
‘Reptiles are homeotherms; their body temperatures are determined by their external environment temperatures. Every reptile has a specific temperature range (their preferred optimum temperature zone, or POTZ) at which their metabolism, immune system, and digestive tract functions best, and when they are not kept within this temperature range, they may not digest food properly and may not have an optimal body condition, even when they are fed properly otherwise.’ - body condition score for reptiles, PetMD
As well as diet, temperature and UV light are just as important in getting the right weight and health for most reptiles. Ultraviolet (UV) light is used to activate the vitamin D in their skin which allows the reptile to absorb the calcium from their food.
There can also be many other issues when it comes to feeding reptiles the wrong type of food, not just obesity, for example;
Gout (from excess protein)
Soft tissue mineralisation (excess calcium and vitamin D3)
Fatty liver syndrome (excessive fats)
Make sure you are well informed and educated on owning a reptile before you purchase one, just like dogs and cats, they’re not just for Christmas, they’re for life!
If you have any worries or concerns about your reptiles eating habits, always contact your vet or specialist for advice.
Reptile insurance will make sure you don’t need to worry about the finances if anything were to happen.