Many people are squeamish at the idea of feeding live food to their pets. However, with many pet reptiles, live food is necessary for their health. If you follow these steps, you can easily feed your reptiles the live food that they need.
- Determine what type of food your pet requires. Many small reptiles, such as geckos, live primarily on crickets. Additional types of insects used to feed reptiles include mealworms, giant mealworms, waxworms, locusts, and silkworms, among others. Larger reptiles, including many types of snakes, may eat “pinkie” (newborn) mice, mice, rats, rabbits or chicks. Many reptiles have one particular kind of food that is their staple food, while others can be used to supplement or as occasional “treats.”
- Find a reputable store that carries live food. Your best bet is usually a store specializing in reptiles, as its employees will probably be knowledgeable about which food is best for particular pets. In addition, there are different levels of quality for live food. It might sound funny, but what the live food is fed actually matters! Some big chain pet stores may not take good care of their live food, causing it to be a less than perfect food source for your reptile. When in doubt as to where to buy live food, ask a reptile veterinarian for a recommendation.
- Take care of the live food before it becomes food. It may be counterintuitive, but live food needs to eat if it is not going to be eaten immediately! Crickets can be housed in a small plastic terrarium or bug box, and they will eat almost anything. Add some soft fruit or vegetable pieces to their box, or use special cricket food which makes the crickets more nutritious for your reptile. Rodents obviously also need to be housed and fed until they become live food. If you are not able to do this, see number 8 on this list.
- Use live food of an appropriate size for your reptile. If snakes or other reptiles are fed rodents that are too big for them, they may not feed at all, or become sick or injured as a result of the live food. For reptiles being fed insects, the same rule applies. Crickets come in different sizes, as do mealworms, and a good pet store can help you select the correct size for your reptile.
- Coat insects with vitamin powder. Many pet stores carry vitamin powder and calcium powder to coat the insects and provide additional nutrients to your reptile. The easiest way to coat crickets is to put a pinch of the powder in a plastic sandwich bag, add the crickets, and shake vigorously. This will not damage the crickets, but when your reptile catches and eats a cricket, it is now getting the vitamins and minerals that it needs.
- Do not overfeed your reptile. Whether your reptile eats insects or rodents, putting too much live food in with them at once can turn ugly. Some types of prey can actually turn on your reptile, injuring or otherwise bothering it. Don’t put in more live food than the reptile can eat in a day or two.
- Do not leave live rodents unattended in your reptile’s cage. Rodents have strong and sharp teeth and can seriously injure your reptile if the reptile is not interested in feeding right away. It is important to ensure the safety of your snake or other reptile by not leaving it alone with a live rodent.
- Consider using frozen rodents. If your reptile needs rodents and you are still uncomfortable with feeding it live food, you can purchase frozen rodents of many sizes. These need to be thawed (NOT in the microwave; you do not want the meat to be cooked) and placed in the reptile’s cage. Some reptiles will eat the rodent immediately, others will need you to use tongs in order to dangle the rodent by the tail and wiggle it around before it will strike and eat.
Some people believe that it is safer for the reptile, and more humane for the rodent to only use dead, frozen rodents for food. There is a chance that the prey can bite or otherwise injure the reptile, and many parents in particular do not want their children to go through the trauma of seeing a rodent killed. This should be discussed with a respected reptile veterinarian, who can advise you as to the best way of feeding your particular reptile.