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Having a reptile as a pet is quite different from owning a dog
or a cat, since feeding is relatively simple in the canine and
feline world. After adopting your first snake, lizard, or other
reptilian pet, there is typically a controversy over what the
correct method of feeding is for the animal. Many reptilian pet
owners want their pet to be able to experience the thrill of the
attack with their prey, in other words, they want their pet to feel
like they are a wild animal in their domesticated habitat. But
sometimes snakes and other reptiles are attacked by the live prey
as they fight the predator animal, and your pet can become severely
wounded or even die.
"There are times when the snake is not in the mood to eat" said
Teresa Shisk-Saling RVT, veterinary technician at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "Such
times are when a snake is getting ready to shed, or in breeding
season when they are growing follicles or eggs. If the owner leaves
the prey item alive and unattended, they can literally come back to
a dead snake. Even if the snake does eat it, sometimes they can get
a bad grab and the dying prey will bite, usually multiple times. If
the wounds from the bites are not treated, the snake can develop a
systemic infection and die."
Many pet owners also fear that their snakes will not eat prey
that is frozen and thawed.
"We have had several snakes come live with us who the previous
owner swore the snake would not eat frozen and thawed prey" said
Shisk-Saling. "As long as the item is warmed back to the original
body temperature, 99 percent of snakes will eat."
Each reptile and amphibian is unique in its nutritional needs,
so pet owners must be aware of the specific needs that each of
these animals has.
"People typically think of turtles as carnivores, and will feed
them only fish or turtle food. What many owners don't realize is
that turtles need calcium" said Shisk-Saling. "Be sure to feed your
pet turtle lots of leafy vegetables so they are getting the
appropriate amount of calcium that they need. Tortoises are
sometimes referred to as 'horses with a shell' and are in need of a
low protein diet, which consists of grass, hay and the ability to
Feeding is generally not a problem when it comes to some
lizards, although if too many crickets are thrown in the cage with
the reptile and it only eats two or three of them, the remaining
crickets may begin to feed on your lizard!
"The big thing with both crickets and meal worms is that they
must be gut-loaded before they are fed to the predator animal" said
Shisk-Saling. "Without gut-loading, the insects are just empty
calories and you can actually starve your pet while feeding
Gut-loading is a very important aspect of feeding when it comes
to providing the right nourishment for your predator. It involves
feeding the prey a good source of calcium, vitamin A and protein,
so that when the predator eats the prey it is getting the proper
nutrition it needs.
"Whatever the prey is eating, that's what you're feeding your
predator" said Shisk-Sailing.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
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