Educational Articles

Reptiles + Nutrition

  • The bearded dragon is a well-known lizard currently considered one of the best pet lizards. If they are well looked after, with a good diet and proper environment, bearded dragons are reasonably hardy animals. Common health conditions of pet bearded dragons include metabolic bone disease, infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), parasites, respiratory infections, and adenovirus infection.

  • Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant- and animal-based foods, including insects. Generally speaking, bearded dragon's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based material.

  • Bearded dragons have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems. These problems include Salmonella, avascular necrosis, abscesses, and dystocia.

  • Turtles commonly suffer from vitamin A deficiency, respiratory diseases, abscesses, shell infections and fractures, and parasites. Vitamin A deficiency occurs as a result of feeding turtles an inappropriate diet. Symptoms include a lack of appetite, lethargy, swelling of the eyelids, swelling of the ear, kidney failure, and respiratory infections. Respiratory tract infections are most often caused by bacteria. Abscesses are treated surgically. Shell infections can be challenging to treat. Gastrointestinal parasites are treated with appropriate deworming medications. Seek immediate veterinary care if there is any deviation from normal in your pet turtle.

  • There are several problems that can occur in aquatic turtles. Cystic calculi occur in turtles when minerals from the diet form crystals in the urine, which stick together and form stones, often resulting from improper nutrition and/or dehydration. A prolapse occurs when an organ protrudes from the vent. Regardless of the tissue or organ prolapsed, all can become traumatized, become dried out, or suffer from compromised blood flow and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If you notice that your turtle's shell is growing irregularly, it may be a sign of malnutrition or metabolic bone disease. Any turtle whose shell is abnormal should be checked by a veterinarian so that appropriate treatment can be initiated. Although shell fractures can be serious, the shell is bone and often can be repaired. Any trauma to the shell should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian immediately. Green algae growing on the outside of the shell occurs commonly and can be cleaned off with periodic brushing of the shell with disinfectant cleaners. The skin of turtles periodically sheds off in pieces. In the water, shed skin appears as a whitish, "fuzzy" substance. Although turtles are certainly not the only reptiles that can carry Salmonella, most turtles carry the infection asymptomatically. Wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap every time after handling, cleaning, or feeding your reptile or its cage items to help minimize risks of contracting salmonellosis. Most veterinarians feel it is best to try to prevent captive red-eared sliders from hibernating. Dystocia occurs the female turtle is unable to pass her eggs, is a common problem in reptiles, and can be life-threatening. A turtle with dystocia typically does not eat and rapidly becomes sick, lethargic, or unresponsive and should be seen by a veterinarian familiar with reptiles immediately.

  • Turtles are omnivorous, eating both animal protein and vegetable matter. As juveniles, they are mainly carnivorous, become more omnivorous as they age. When feeding turtles, offering a variety of food is important to help stimulate the turtle to eat and provide nutritional balance. The carnivorous portion of their diet should consist of commercial turtle or fish pellets, as well as a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates. The plant portion of the diet should be made up of vegetables, preferably ones that float and can be left in the water for the turtle to nibble on throughout the day. Some veterinarians suggest adding a balanced, commercially available multivitamin once per week with an additional source of calcium, such as a calcium block or cuttlebone, twice per week. Having a well-functioning filtration system that is cleaned regularly is key to ensuring good water quality. Turtles and other reptiles commonly carry Salmonella bacteria on their skin or in the gastrointestinal tracts, so always wash your hands thoroughly after feeding, cleaning, or handling turtles.

  • Box turtles are omnivorous. Generally, your box turtle's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based material, but be sure to discuss a specific diet plan for your turtle with your veterinarian. Most young turtles eat daily, while older turtles can be fed daily or every other day, depending upon the pet's individual appetite, body weight, and overall health. Most (80-90%) of the plant material fed to box turtles should be vegetables and flowers, and only 10-20% should be fruit. As a rule, dark, leafy greens should make up the largest part of the diet. Fruit should be fed more sparingly than vegetables, since they are often preferred by box turtles over vegetables and tend to be less nutritious. The key is to feed a wide variety of healthy items, including both plant- and animal-based protein sources. A common problem seen in pet box turtles is over-supplementation with vitamins (especially vitamin D3) and minerals. Check with your veterinarian about the need to supplement your pet's diet with any kind of vitamin or mineral. Fresh clean water should always be available to box turtles.

  • Iguanas are herbivorous, meaning they eat plants. Most of their diet should be dark green leafy vegetables, with less than 20% of the diet as fruits. In general, foods comprised of large amounts of animal-based protein, such as crickets, mealworms, pinky mice, tofu, and hard boiled eggs, are too high in protein for iguanas to eat frequently and should be offered as less than 5% of the adult iguana’s total diet. The amount and type of supplements required by iguanas is controversial and somewhat age-dependent. Most veterinarians recommend lightly sprinkling a growing iguana’s food every other day (4-5 times per week) with calcium powder (calcium carbonate or gluconate), without vitamin D or phosphorus that has been specifically formulated for reptiles. Most veterinarians recommend that young iguanas receive a multivitamin supplement containing vitamin D twice a week. Opinions vary regarding the nutritional needs of captive iguanas, and our knowledge in the subject is continually expanding based on new dietary studies in reptiles. Check with your veterinarian for specific nutritional needs for your pet iguana.

  • All snakes are carnivores. Some eat warm-blooded prey (rodents, rabbits, birds), while others eat insects, amphibians, eggs, other reptiles, fish, earthworms, or slugs. Since snakes eat entire prey whole, it is easier for their owners to feed them nutritionally complete diets and certainly prevents many of the dietary-related diseases commonly seen in other reptiles. Live prey should not be fed to snakes. Snakes can be offered either thawed, previously frozen prey, or freshly killed ones. Smaller or younger snakes usually eat twice each week, while larger, more mature snakes typically eat once every week or two. If your snake has a decreased appetite, see your veterinarian. A large, heavy ceramic crock or bowl filled with fresh clean water should be provided at all times.

  • Gout is a disease in which the metabolism of uric acid is defective. Uric acid is a breakdown product of nitrogen, formed when protein is metabolized in the body. Uric acid is the form in which reptiles excrete their nitrogen wastes.