In order to keep terrarium pets healthy, it is vital that they are fed in accordance with the needs of their particular species. This is the only way to avoid deficiencies e.g. rickets or illnesses caused by malnutrition (fatty liver, renal gout). It is important to know the natural eating habits of the animals in order to provide a balanced diet. In a terrarium, many omnivores or opportunists especially like to eat types of food which they would rarely find in the wild, or only at certain times of the year.
For example, some herbivores will also eat live food. If terrarium pets are given fully atypical food, for example, toast bread soaked in milk, cooked pasta, minced meat or cat food, a surprising number are certain to greedily devour this. However, not everything that the terrarium animals like to eat is good for their health. The reason why large common iguana do not eat cat food in the rainforest is not that the tins are hard to open, but simply because there is none there. Simply giving the animals their favourite food (he just loves to eat it) for convenience or out of excessive care is the wrong way to feed.
How often should the animals be fed?
There is no simple general answer to this question. The amount of food to give per meal and the intervals between feeds can vary widely according to the species. Of course, young animals usually need to be fed daily in the first few weeks, whereas adults only have to be fed 2-3 times a week. Depending on their age, snakes only need food at very long intervals, whereas the small colourful tree-climbing frogs (Dendrobatidae) develop serious problems after only a few days without food. The amount of food given should also be suitable for the pet. Many animals eat ahead so-to-speak so they will be ready for the annual dry season in their natural habitat when food becomes scarce. Of course, they are not aware that there will be no food shortage in the terrarium and, as a result, do not stop eating ahead when their owner constantly feeds them too generously. This is why desert animals are at a far greater risk of developing fatty degeneration than rainforest animals. Overfed animals become sluggish, their sex organs may become fatty, leading to sterility, or they may even die from organ failure, e.g. when their liver stops functioning because too much fat has been stored.
Food for carnivores
Most terrarium animals are “animal eaters”, so-called because they eat whole, live animals. As they are “programmed” to particular stimuli, such as the movement of the live food or, in the case of snakes, the warmth of the small mammal or bird serving as the victim, they can rarely be trained to accept substitute food, with few exceptions. Snakes can often be successfully brought to accept dead prey if it is warmed to 37-40 °C (microwave) before being offered as food.
Nowadays, specialist pet shops offer a wide range of live food animals e.g. small mammals, grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets, house crickets, flies, fruit flies, springtails, worms, mosquito larvae, wax worms or crustaceans. Compared with the vast range available in the wild, this is still a very moderate selection. To avoid deficiency symptoms, the type of food animals purchased should be changed frequently instead of buying just one kind. Last, but not least, the food animals that are purchased should be improved by feeding with high-grade food prior to being fed to your terrarium pets. This can be done by feeding them up with high-grade food mixtures such as JBL TerraCrick , bran, herbs, fruit, vegetables and minerals, which significantly improves their nutritional value. Caution: You can NOT recognise the nutritional value of food animals from the outside! Namely, the herbs, minerals and dietary fibres which a cricket eats shortly before being fed, are indirectly eaten along with the “stuffed” insect by a carnivore which would normally not give vegetarian food a second glance. For those who don’t want to touch the food animals or risk getting bitten by their terrarium pets when they bite their prey can use a pair of long pincers ( JBL ProScape Tool P straight or JBL ProScape Tool P slim line ) to offer the live feed.
In summer, the menu offered to insect eaters can be improved and broadened to include meadow plankton which you can gather yourself. Of course, these should not be picked from areas with intensive agricultural cultivation using herbicides or similar. Likewise, protected species should be released if caught. Obtaining prior permission from the property owner may prevent trouble.
Food for vegetarians
Pets which are solely or primarily vegetarian, e.g. common iguana, chuckwallas or European tortoises, can also be fed with meadow plants (such as dandelion, clover, ribwort plantain), various salad plants and sprouting seeds, chopped vegetables or dried herb mixtures, straw and Lucerne pellets in a terrarium. JBL offers three high-grade readymade foods for vegetarian terrarium pets, JBL Iguvert for iguana and JBL Agivert and JBL Herbil NEW for tortoises. These foods intentionally contain only vegetable ingredients with a high fibre content and only little protein. Spiny-tailed lizards can also be fed various seeds, e.g. from the bird food shelves. As a rule, animals which are distinctly plant-eating need low-protein food that is rich in fibre and high in roughage to remain healthy.