Help, My Reptile Won’t Eat!

Although it can come as a shock when your reptile follows such a regular schedule, it’s not uncommon for any reptile to skip a meal here or there – sometimes even a few meals under specific conditions. Nevertheless, it can be concerning if it’s the first time you’re experiencing this. So let’s look at some of the most common reasons that reptiles may skip a meal and what you can do to revive their appetite!

Diet

There are two main ways that the diet itself can affect your reptile’s appetite. The first, and probably most obvious one, is that you need to make sure that you’re feeding your reptile the proper foods and supplements. Consider an omnivorous reptile: although this animal is designed to eat and use nutrients from plant and animal sources, not all plant foods or animal foods are equal in what they provide to the reptile and how the reptile’s body can use them (read more about reptile diets here). The second way that diet can affect your reptile’s appetite is if it’s not in the proper form or appropriately presented. There are two parts to this, however, so let’s break them down:

  • Proper diet form – This means making sure to feed the right size, shape, and texture of food to your reptile. The type of reptile, its feeding strategy (carnivore, insectivore, herbivore, or omnivore), its age and size are all things that can point to the best form of food to feed to your reptile. For example, pelleted diets can be a convenient way to supply macro and micronutrients, but consider the size and shape of the pellets. If you have a juvenile reptile, it may be best to soak the pellets in some warm water before feeding them so that they soften and break apart easier.
  • Appropriately presented – This means providing your reptile’s food to them in a way that allows them to perform natural feeding behaviors. For example, many herbivorous reptiles are natural grazers, built to eat small amounts of food all throughout the day, as opposed to one meal fed all at once. Allowing your reptile to practice this natural behavior by spreading its food throughout the habitat for it to move around and find over a longer period of time can help keep their gut healthy and their mind active.
When feeding live insects, be sure to feed only as many as your reptile can eat within a few-minute feeding period. Insects, such as crickets, can harm your reptile if left in the habitat with them for too long. Photo courtesy of Lazlo Virag via Pexels.

Hydration

If your reptile is eating the proper diet, be sure to check that they have a clean water source available at all times. Reptiles may drink from a dish or dripping water sources, and they also may require an occasional soak in shallow warm water. Soaking allows your reptile to hydrate by both drinking and absorbing through the skin. Additionally, you may find that your reptile defecates while soaking. If your reptile hasn’t defecated since the last time they ate a meal, try soaking them! Just remember that not all reptiles appreciate a good soak, so if you’re not sure if your reptile is the bathing kind, feel free to contact us.

Temperature

Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that the ambient (surrounding) temperature affects their internal body temperature. Although common reptile species kept as pets have a wide range of appropriate 24-hour temperatures, one thing they all have in common is the need for an increase in daytime temperature and an even warmer basking spot (read about how to create a temperature gradient here). The actual ambient temperature of the habitat and of the basking spot will vary based on species, but these two factors are super important for your reptile’s metabolism. As a reptile’s body warms up, its metabolism kicks in and revs up; conversely, as a reptile’s body cools down, its metabolism slows. If your reptile is kept at too low a temperature for an extended period of time, this can suppress your reptile’s appetite as its body will try to reserve the energy it still has. A reptile experiencing a cooler temperature than needed will typically be lethargic (moving very little and very slowly when it does move, low appetite, darker and/or duller color). On the other side of this topic, if your reptile’s terrarium is too warm or without a cooler side, your reptile will most likely retreat to their hide and choose to skip meals rather than come out to eat in the heat. Correcting your reptile’s temperature often solves this problem.

Season

When we think of seasons, we think of spring, summer, winter, and fall. While these can affect a reptile’s appetite due to changes in temperature and light cycle, especially if the reptile is housed outside, there are also life stage seasons that can affect a reptile’s appetite. For example, even if you only have one reptile, it will most likely experience breeding season changes. These changes can include increased activity leading to increased appetite. But once the breeding season passes and these activities stop, your reptile may experience a temporary dip in appetite as they return back to their normal routine. Additionally, female reptiles can still lay infertile eggs without mating, and often experience a decrease in appetite during egg-laying.

Stress

Reptiles are living creatures and can experience stress just like any other animal. But figuring out the source of the stress isn’t always easy. However, one common result of stress is decreased appetite. Any of the above topics can cause stress to your reptile, so be sure to check that each one is appropriate and corrected, if needed. Aside from what’s been discussed, other sources of stress can come from 1) surrounding activity – is your reptile’s terrarium placed in a busy or quiet area of your home?, 2) other animals – do you have multiple reptiles housed together or individually in view of one another?, or 3) inconsistent or inappropriate light cycle – does your reptile experience the same “sunrise” and “sunset” times each day? Take some time to consider what surroundings your reptile is designed to experience. If you need to make a change, make one change at a time, allowing enough time between changes for your reptile to become acclimated and comfortable.

Change

As mentioned above, changes to your reptile’s habitat or routine should be done slowly, preferably one at a time for significant changes. What makes a change “significant” can depend on the type of reptile, your reptile’s age, and its personality. Though in general, a significant change would include moving your reptile into a new habitat (terrarium), moving your reptile’s terrarium to a new location, changing the design of your reptile’s habitat, and adding a new reptile (whether into the same terrarium or in its own terrarium where the reptiles can see each other). These changes can lead your reptile to become reserved and eventually slow their appetite, but this response is typically temporary.

Health Status

In addition to the above possibilities, your reptile could also be experiencing a medical issue. This should be addressed with your reptile’s veterinarian. Be sure to check on each of the above alternatives and write down your findings for your vet to review, as they will most likely want this information to help them make an accurate diagnosis.

As with any problem, deciphering the underlying cause for why your reptile is skipping meals is the key to finding a solution. And what we’ve provided above is by no means an exhaustive list of underlying causes. If you need help with your reptile’s appetite, The Repstylist can help! We offer in-home consulting services to help with your reptile’s nutrition and care, taking your lifestyle and routine into consideration. Book an appointment with us today! Virtual appointments available.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic, contact us here or at therepstylist@gmail.com!

©Copyright 2020 The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

4 Comments on “Help, My Reptile Won’t Eat!

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