January 25, 2013

The days of reptile owners depending entirely upon food diets for complete nutrition have gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Kevin T. Fitzgerald, PhD, DVM, DABVP, staff veterinarian for Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colo., said he’s encouraged that pet owners, retailers and vets alike are continuing to gain a better understanding of basic reptile nutritional requirements.

“It is very hard for [vets and pet owners] to mimic in captivity the nutritional base that reptiles experience in nature,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “In captivity, these animals often become deficient in vitamins, nutrients and obtainable calories. As a result, we need to supplement captive reptiles.”

While a greater variety of reptile supplement products are available today than ever before, the prominent trend experts in the industry are observing is manufacturers formulating complete diets, or “superfoods,” for specific species.

“These complete diets include the daily required vitamins and minerals for the specific reptile you have, so you don’t need to supplement on top of feeding,” Kate Larsen, general manager for LLLReptile and Supply Co. Inc., Vista, Calif., said. “Since it’s not convenient for everyone to have live feeder insects on hand, complete diets are becoming more popular as successful formulas become more readily recommended by top breeders and retailers.”

One innovator in this arena is Repashy Superfoods, which offers formulas for a variety of species, including a meal replacement powder for all fruit-eating geckos that also serves as a supplement for anoles, skinks, chameleons and iguanids.

Eric Haug, owner of Pets-A-Plenty: The Ultimate Reptile Shop in Hockley, Texas, a retailer that specializes in reptiles and amphibians, continues to recommend meal replacement formula products by Repashy and others to his customers.

“We can sell our customers a tortoise that eats vegetation and then give them a list of 12 different grasses, veggies, leafy greens and other things they should get. But the truth is that not a lot of people will go out and purchase that many different foods for the animal,” Haug said. “These superfood supplements help fill in the gaps.”

Two other big movers for Haug are Herptivite and calcium with or without vitamin D3 powder, both by Rep Cal. Herptivite is a multivitamin, multimineral and amino acid food supplement for reptiles that boasts a “sea vegetation” base rich in essential trace elements and minerals. It also uses beta carotene instead of vitamin A to guard against vitamin A toxicity.

Rep Cal’s calcium powder with vitamin D3 is scientifically formulated from 100 percent natural oyster shell, phosphorous-free calcium carbonate with added vitamin D3 to aid in calcium absorption—ideal for lizards, turtles, tortoises and other cage-bound creatures kept under artificial light. For herps kept outdoors in natural sunlight as well as nocturnal species like leopard geckos, Rep Cal’s calcium powder without vitamin D3 is a wise choice, Haug said.

The alternative to superfoods and powders is a liquid supplement. Vita-Drops by Oasis Pet Products, configured in a 2 ounce bottle with a dropper cap, is a popular choice.

Tortoise and box turtle owners have yet another supplement option. Blocks, such as Zoo Med Labs’ Tortoise Banquet Block, can help augment nutrition while also preventing overgrowth of the animal’s beak. Zoo Med’s product is a food and calcium supplement in one.

–  Erik J. Martin

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