Understanding Nutrients for Reptiles – Reptilinks

Understanding Nutrients for Reptiles – Reptilinks

Providing your reptiles with a well balanced diet is crucial to their overall health and wellbeing. By understanding what key nutrients your reptiles require and how to provide them, you will be better able to help your animals thrive. Let’s take a look at some of the important nutrients they require, how they benefit your reptiles, and what you can do to make sure they obtain them in their diet. 

Protein

Protein has many amazing benefits, but is best known for its aid in growth and development of the body’s tissues, organs, and muscles, as well as recovery from wounds and injuries. Protein is also a beneficial source of energy for reptiles. Depending on your reptile’s dietary needs, protein can be found in a variety of sources, such as insects (dubia roaches, grasshoppers, and crickets having some of the highest protein content), worms, eggs (such as quail eggs), and whole prey options. Herbivorous and omnivorous reptiles can also obtain protein from vegetation that contains protein or amino acids (the building blocks of protein), such as dark leafy greens and vegetables like green beans. Snap peas and broccoli are also great sources of protein, but should be fed in moderation due to their levels of oxalates and goitrogens. 

Calcium

Calcium is vital in helping your reptiles develop strong and healthy bones! Having enough calcium will protect them from experiencing diseases such as metabolic bone disease. Calcium is also important for proper egg production in female reptiles, and recovery post egg laying. You can make sure your reptiles are getting enough calcium in their diet by feeding whole prey (they will be consuming the whole animal – which includes their bones), feeding insects such as black soldier fly larvae, using commercial calcium supplements for reptiles, or making sure you are feeding calcium rich vegetation, such as collard greens, dandelion greens, and mustard greens. 

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is responsible for assisting the body in maintaining healthy calcium to phosphorus ratios and helping the body absorb calcium properly and effectively, contributing to the overall bone health of your reptile. Vitamin D3 synthesis occurs due to UVB exposure. Animals not exposed to UVB can obtain this important vitamin through the kidney and liver of other vertebrates that you may be feeding as whole prey, or in commercial reptile supplements. 

Phosphorous

Phosphorus has many important jobs within the body! It works together in conjunction with calcium to maintain healthy bone growth and development, and plays an important role in creating energy for the body. Phosphorus is also necessary for protein synthesis which aids in maintaining healthy tissues, and contributes to many other physiological functions. This mineral can be found in a variety of foods we feed our reptiles, such as vegetation, insects, and whole prey options. Be aware that the ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio when feeding your reptiles is 2:1. Some foods, such as fruits and various vegetables, may contain higher levels of phosphorus than calcium. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is well known for being a large contributor to maintaining ocular health. It is also very important for immune function, skin health (including having successful sheds), reproductive health, and tissue and muscle maintenance, among other jobs! Eggs (especially the egg yolk) and many aquatic prey options are great sources of vitamin A, as well as whole prey options, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, and properly gut loaded insects. Vitamin A can also be acquired with commercial reptile supplements. 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant, promoting overall health and well being by offering support to the immune system. It also plays an important role in maintaining healthy red blood cells. Additionally, alongside other vitamins, it contributes to scale health, eye health, muscle function, and reproductive health. You can include vitamin E in your reptile’s diet by offering dark leafy greens, vegetables such as asparagus (to be fed in moderation), whole prey, or supplementing with a reptile multivitamin powder. 

Fiber

Fiber plays an important role in supporting digestive health and a reptile’s gut health. This includes feeding beneficial gut bacteria, to create a healthy gut microbiome, assisting with gut motility and promoting regular bowel movements, and helping with nutrient absorption. Fiber also contributes to creating the feeling of being full, reducing the chances of overeating and therefore aiding in preventing obesity. Some reptiles, such as herbivorous reptiles like tortoises and iguanas, require a higher fiber diet than their carnivorous counterparts. Fruits and vegetables contain a good amount of fiber, as do hays and dried flowers, such as hibiscus and rose petals. Worms, the exoskeleton of insects, and the gastrointestinal tract of whole prey, contain great sources of fiber animals that aren’t strictly herbivorous.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s play an important role in keeping your reptiles in great shape, from having anti-inflammatory properties and providing a boost to their immune system, to supporting heart health and brain function. On top of their ability to assist in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, they can also play a role in reducing the risk of vision loss and improving fertility and egg quality! Omega-3s can be commonly found in aquatic foods, such as fish and crustaceans, chicken eggs, as well as commercial diets and supplements.

Iron

Just like in the human body, iron plays a role in oxygen transport throughout the body and the production of red blood cells. It is also essential for energy production. Various whole prey options, such as rodents and other small mammals, insects, earth worms and fish and shrimp are great sources of iron. High quality commercial diets, asparagus and green beans, and dark leafy greens are also great sources of iron. 

Zinc

Zinc is crucial to the development of the musculoskeletal system, function of the nervous system and reproductive system, and regulation of the immune system. It is also an important part of the process of synthesizing proteins and it is needed for the body to be able to heal from wounds. Many dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits contain zinc. You can also find zinc in insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers, as well as beef, poultry, fish and shellfish. 

Magnesium

Like many other nutrients, magnesium plays a role in many bodily functions such as regulating the response of the immune system, being involved in energy production, and contributing to healthy scales. It helps regulate muscle function as well as relaxation, and is involved in the communication between nerves and muscles. Magnesium will also assist in regulating heart health, and plays an important role in bone mineralization, helping to prevent metabolic bone disease. 

Vegetation (dark leafy greens and vegetables), insects (crickets, superworms and mealworms), legumes, and fish such as salmon, are excellent sources of magnesium. Consuming whole prey is a great way for carnivores to be able to get adequate magnesium. 

Potassium

Potassium plays an important role in keeping the reptile hydrated by regulating fluid balance and electrolyte levels, therefore maintaining proper bodily functions and preventing dehydration. It also assists in regulating the body’s pH levels. Like many other nutrients, it also contributes to the well being of the body’s immune system, nerve and muscle function, energy production, and cardiovascular health. Dark leafy greens, fruits (such as strawberries), vegetables, insects (such as crickets and fruit flies), and whole prey items are great sources of potassium. 

Reminders

It is important to remember that reptiles will have various nutritional requirements depending on the species, their stage of life, health, etc.. Being deficient in key nutrients, or even over supplementing these nutrients, can harm the reptiles ability to maintain optimal health. Make sure to research your animal’s dietary needs for each stage of its life, so that you are well prepared to meet their needs. 

As you can see, various food options will contain differing nutritional benefits, making feeding a varied diet important to an animals health and well being. Utilizing differing whole prey options, insects, and vegetation for example, will ensure that your animal is getting all of the vitamins and minerals needed to function and stay healthy.

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