Few things cause so much anxiety and heartache amongst reptile keepers as a creature that staunchly refuses to eat.
Getting the diet and feeding regime right depends on a lot of things, of course, and not least what kind of animal you’re dealing with, but many of the commonly encountered problems can be solved – if not avoided altogether – by paying attention to a few simple dietary dos and don’ts.
- Make sure that you are fully clued up on the dietary needs of any reptile pet you’re planning to buy and that you have, or can arrange, a ready source of food before you bring it home.
- Find out all you can about the animal’s feeding habits in the wild; knowing things such as the time of day it normally feeds, whether it typically goes for long periods without feeding during particular seasons of the year and so on will help you replicate as natural a life as possible for your pet. Moreover, knowing what to expect will stop you worrying unnecessarily.
- Do provide the freshest, best quality food that you can find – and supplement it with appropriate vitamins and minerals, taking care to follow the guidelines to make sure you don’t exceed a safe dose.
- Remember how important a reptile’s living conditions are when it comes to good feeding. If your pet is too cold or feels exposed and vulnerable, for instance it’s likely to be put off food, so make sure all the heaters and lights are working properly and that the animal has enough places to hide so it feels secure in its home.
- If you keep a number of animals together, always make sure that everyone gets their fair share of the food. Even reptiles that otherwise get on well can become aggressive when it comes to competing for food, and the smaller or more retiring individuals may lose out, so you might be best advised to feed – and even house – them separately.
- Don’t panic the first time your pet refuses a food that it’s been happily eating for ages – it isn’t automatically a sign of anything bad. After all, however much you like fish and chips or chicken korma, you wouldn’t want an endless diet of it. Try tempting the animal with something else – a bit of variety is often all that’s needed.
- If, however, you’re keeping a reptile that doesn’t naturally stop eating for long periods, don’t delay investigating any lengthy hunger strikes. Check for obvious signs of disease and seek advice as necessary from your vet, or an experienced reptile keeper who is knowledgeable about your particular species.
- Don’t get too hung up on trying to replicate the exact diet that your pet would eat in the wild. Very few animals have completely specialised diets, and those that do make difficult pets, for obvious reasons; it’s not particularly easy to find termites in Tamworth, or sun-ripened guava in Glasgow! Fruit ripened naturally in Britain will often be more nutritious than something exotic that’s been shipped half-way around the globe, while some wild-caught creepy crawlies make a great supplement to a diet of mealworms and crickets.
- Don’t forget the importance of water – and not just for drinking. Many reptiles’ appetites are stimulated by the chance for a good soak, so for species such as iguanas, pythons and boas that like having a regular bath, make sure your tank has a container large enough to let them.
- Don’t ignore any warning signs; weight loss, regurgitated meals covered with slimy mucus or a swollen stomach could be the first indication of a serious gut infection, so if in doubt, call the vet. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
In the end it all really boils down to common sense and remembering two simple things; find out all you can about the animals you keep and get proper advice when you need it. Do that, and your pets should happily munch their way to a ripe old age!