When you walk through the aisles of any reptile show you encounter a number of parents with a small cage in hand and a child hanging off the side of that cage. The child’s face, inches away from it’s new-found pet, shows a mixture of wonder, excitement and pure joy. The parent’s face shows a mixture of emotions as well but often they can be clearly interpreted as, “I bought a lizard. Now what?”
Reptile breeders are an excellent source of information on how to properly care and feed for your new pet. Afterall, they have been caring for and successfully breeding those species for generations. I’m referring to the reptile generations, not necessarily human generations although many breeders are carrying on family businesses as well. They will often be your first introduction to the term gut-loading. Before you buy an insectivorous reptile or amphibian you may consider gut-loading to be a term associated with large holiday feasts.
Gut-loading is used to make those tasty feeder crickets, that you purchased along with your new gecko, a nutritionally balanced meal. Feeding a cricket that has not been properly gut-loaded is akin to eating a cabbage roll without the savoury blend of meat, rice, tomatoes and spices. It’s just cabbage. Cabbage is not particularly nutritious and neither are crickets. If you ate nothing but cabbage then you would soon develop health problems.
We know from our own diets that animals (including humans!) can survive on poor diets and it can take years before the negative effects of those diets become apparent. If that wasn’t true, then few people would live through that first year on their own that is characterized by a complete disregard for health and a disturbing propensity towards ordering by meal number. Fortunately, most survive this sheer lack of forethought and eventually tend towards a varied diet that meets the basic nutritional requirements.
Captive animals have the same ability to live on poor diets and like us, their health and well-being will suffer in the long run. If a cricket is being fed as an occasional treat to an iguana then it may not need to be gut-loaded. Each meal you eat may not be completely balanced and contain the appropriate level of protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals for your age, exercise level, reproductive state, and body condition but over the course of a week we hope it balances out. If you recognize that a cricket is a treat that provides insufficient nutrients to the iguana then you would also recognize that the remaining parts of that animal’s diet needs to contain all the nutrients for the health of that animal.
If you have a species that eats crickets as 100% of its diet then the nutritional inadequacies of that one food item is of more concern. Gut-loading crickets is crucial to the health of these species. All this talk of gut-loading is getting me hungry. I think I’ll go ‘gut-load’ some cabbage for dinner.
For more on gut-loading I will be posting some common gut-loading myths. If you need advice on feeding your reptiles please contact us. We’re always happy to help!