If you’ve ever had a dog, your veterinarian probably asked about their diet at each check-up and maybe gave you some recommendations, too. If the vet recommended a diet change, they most likely told you to do so slowly over 7-10 days so you didn’t upset your dog’s stomach.
Did you know that reptiles should have a slow diet change or new food introduction, too?
Many people think that reptiles are more “adaptable” than dogs when it comes to food changes.
Any living creature’s stomach (and entire gastrointestinal, or “GI,” tract) is designed for a specific feeding strategy. When talking about reptiles, there is a wide range of feeding strategies including herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, and insectivore. Your reptile has the right type of healthy bacteria in its gut in order to properly digest the right types of food. But what you might not know is that their gut reacts to each specific food that you feed them, and this bacteria shifts based on its diet.
When we think of these animals, most of us probably associate them with a specific feeding strategy (although probably not in those terms). For example, when you think of a bearded dragon and what they eat, veggies and insects probably come to mind. But for a lot of reptile owners, that’s where this idea stops; “veggies” can mean a lot of things. From a nutritionist’s standpoint, “produce” is a far more accurate term because it can be divided into greens, roots, vegetables, and fruits. Now don’t worry about memorizing all of these categories – that’s what The Repstylist is here for! But consider this: is purple cabbage the same as a sweet potato? You would, of course, answer no. Now how about this: is purple cabbage the same as green cabbage? You might have a harder time answering this question. When it comes to nutrition, the answer is the same – no.
What doesthis mean for you whenyou add or change a diet item in your reptile’s diet?
All of this information together means that you should make any food item or complete diet change for your reptile slowly, just as you would for other types of pets, ideally over at least 7-10 feedings. Note that these recommendations are based on “feedings,” as opposed to days, because many reptiles eat a few times per week instead of every day. If you feed your reptile every day, than use these recommendations as “per day” instead of “per feeding.”
A slow transition doesn’t apply to carnivores that eat whole prey. If you want to know more about how to change your snake’s diet, for example, just ask!
For herbivores, whose food travels much more slowly through their gut than carnivores or omnivores (days or weeks rather than hours!), this transition should be the slowest, taking place over at least two to three weeks (14-19 feedings).
For adding anitem to your reptile’s diet:
Start by providing your reptile with one piece (bite) of the new food.
Over 7-10 feedings, slowly provide your reptile with a couple more bites at each feeding.
If you feed your reptile more than once in a day, use the same number of bites for each of those feedings, and increase at the next feeding day.
Add in one new food item at a time.
Fully transition your reptile on to a new food item before adding another.
For changingyour reptile’s diet:
Recommended diet change schedule for omnivores:
Feeding 1 – add in the new diet item mixed with the old food item(s). You should have 10% new food and 90% old food.
Feeding 2 – add in the new food item mixed with the old food item(s) as 20% new food and 80% old food.
Feeding 3 – 30% new food and 70% old food.
Feeding 4 – continue with this pattern, increasing the new food while simultaneously decreasing the old food, incrementally by 10%.
Recommended diet change schedule for herbivores:
Feedings 1 to 3 – add in the new food item mixed with the old food item(s). You should have up to 15% new food and 85% old food.
You can add 5% more new food each day (i.e. 5% for day 1, 10% for day 2, 15% for day 3), or start with 15% new food and keep this amount for 3 days in a row.
Feedings 4 to 6 – add in the new food item mixed with the old food item(s) as 30% new food and 70% old food.
Feedings 7 to 9 – 45% new food and 55% old food.
Feedings 10 to 12 – 60% new food and 40% old food.
Feedings 13 to 15 – 75% new food and 25% old food.
Feedings 16 to 18 – 90% new food and 10% old food.
Feeding 19 – 100% new food.
If your reptile doesn’t seem to “like” (eat) the new food, don’t get discouraged! Animals can have preferences just like people and might need some more time to become accustomed to a new food (or any new change) than others. If your reptile doesn’t eat the new food after a week’s worth of trying, give him/her a break for a few feedings before trying again.
As always, if you have any questions about this topic, contact us here or at firstname.lastname@example.org!