Reptile Diet

Reptiles’ specialized diets require specific vitamin and mineral requirements to keep them healthy. Understanding the dietary needs of your reptile is essential for successful animal husbandry.


Live insects are highly nutritious and the movement stimulates a reptile’s natural hunting instinct. However, they can cause SNHP when poorly prepared. Therefore, they should be gut loaded and dusted with a multivitamin before feeding.


A primarily herbivorous reptile diet includes leafy greens, vegetables and fruit. Vegetables may be cooked or raw and include kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, kohlrabi, broccoli, peas and zucchini. Other food items that can be used are berries, apple and other fruit, and sliced and diced hard-boiled eggs. A commercial “herbivorous” kibble is also available for those with limited space or time to prepare fresh foods.

Herbivorous reptiles need a constant supply of fresh food to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Often, fresh foods must be fed daily. Carnivorous reptiles, on the other hand, can be fed only weekly. Carnivorous reptiles are more likely to be injured or sick when they hunt live prey, which is why it is usually better for them to be fed commercially-prepared meals or pre-killed frozen rodents.

Many herpetoculturists raise their own insects for feeding to their reptiles because it is inexpensive, easy, and provides a fresh food item that contains high amounts of vitamins. Alternatively, pet stores carry an assortment of live and canned insects that can be purchased for the feeder reptiles.

Some herpetologists believe that ontogenic shifts in reptiles’ dietary preferences and behaviors occur as they grow older. For example, a common garter snake might switch its prey preference from worms to fish as it gets larger. These changes are generally based on what types of prey are readily available in the reptile’s natural habitat.


In natural conditions, some reptiles survive on a diet of animal or plant matter. Often their preferences and digestive systems are hereditary. They also may have developed dietary needs and habits based on the foods available in their geographic area.

A reptile’s metabolism is greatly effected by its diet. This is why it is so important to know your pet’s specific needs and feeding requirements. Keeping up with recent herpetological research and joining a herpetological society in your area are good ways to do this.

Omnivorous reptiles like Box Turtles, Bearded Dragons, and Green Iguanas thrive on a diet that contains both animal and vegetable matter. Most omnivorous reptiles love insects and enjoy whole or partially eaten insect prey items as well as a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Most reptiles are primarily attracted to live, ambulatory (moving) prey. They are genetically wired to hunt, scavenge or capture and consume these animals and their offspring in order to get the protein they require.

Herbivorous reptiles require a diet that consists of 15% to 35% animal protein and 40% or more veggies and fruit. This diet should also contain adequate vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients. In addition, most herbivorous reptiles will benefit from having a few hard-boiled eggs and trout chow for the additional protein they require. Water is also an important nutrient for all reptiles. It is essential to provide your reptile with clean water and a container that can hold a sufficient volume of water for the amount of time it is active.


Carnivorous reptiles include snakes, alligators, caimans, crocodiles and a variety of freshwater and semi-aquatic turtles. They require a high protein and fat intake to provide adequate energy. The jaws of these reptiles are specially designed for the efficient killing and dismemberment of small animals.

Feeding thawed, prekilled prey is safer than feeding live prey (rodents especially) since it can reduce the risk of disease transmission. It also allows young snakes and lizards to feed safely without being bitten or seriously injured by their prey. Prekilled prey can be frozen and thawed as needed, and is usually more appealing to reptiles than live feeders.

A wide variety of meats are available as well as fish, crayfish, crustaceans and invertebrates. The latter provides the reptile with important trace minerals and oils not found in animal flesh.

The dietary habits of reptiles have evolved based on their natural geographic locations and the types of foods available there. Familiarity with a species’ wild diet is critical in determining what foods and nutrient levels are appropriate for its care. It is common practice to offer two or more different prey species for feed, which delivers a wider range of nutrition and reduces dependency on a particular species that may become difficult to obtain at times.


Reptiles that feed on insects (like green iguanas, spiny-tailed lizards and tortoises) must have a constant supply of fresh insect prey available. The best and least expensive way to provide this type of food is by raising it yourself. This takes very little space and equipment and provides a better vitamin-supplemented diet than buying them at your local bait and tackle shop.

Herbivorous species appreciate fresh leafy greens, such as collard and mustard greens, kale, chard and bok choy, romaine lettuce, dandelions, beets, turnips, zucchini, carrots, and squashes like pumpkin. These should be offered daily, while fruit can also be fed occasionally to enhance the variety of their diets. Avoid feeding these vegetables too frequently, though, as they prevent your pet reptile from absorbing the necessary amounts of calcium.

Carnivorous reptiles, such as crocodiles and alligators, obtain the majority of their nutrients by consuming the flesh of warm-blooded animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, and other reptiles. They also eat fish, insects and other invertebrates, as well as some plants.

Insects are a good source of protein, fat and some vitamins and minerals but they often lack other vital substances such as Vitamin D and calcium. Reptiles that primarily feed on invertebrate prey items may need to be supplemented with water and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as minerals, on a weekly basis.