Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Arrrrgh!! My lizard won't eat it's greens! HELP!!

Arrrrgh!! My lizard won't eat it's greens! HELP! I hear this all the time as it's one of the most common complaints people have regarding their bearded dragons, skinks, iguanas and various other veggie eating lizards. First of all, take a deep breath and RELAX.......... Breathe in and out.

Let's first discuss the importance of a fresh daily salad. Store bought man made pellets are not necessary for your lizard and they should never be used as staple food. We have jars and jars of pellet food for iguanas, bearded dragons, tortoises etc. at the rescue that always come with the lizards we take in. We only keep those for absolute emergency purposes. We have never used them in our lizard's diets for the rescues or our personal pets. The best diet you can provide for your lizard is fresh veggies and fruits (fruits in moderation) with supplements lightly dusted on top.

When preparing your lizard's daily salad, try not to overcomplicate things by mincing up a bunch of ingredients to mask the highly nutritional veggies you think they won't eat with fruits or other ingredients you think they will eat. You don't need fancy dressings, lots of fruits or the man made foods to bait your lizard and you certainly shouldn't be cooking them food. All you will succeed at is instilling bad habits. If you want to discipline your lizard to eat greens you must first discipline yourself to prepare them so they are highly nutritional and presented in a simple fashion. They do like to pick and choose their favorite foods. I don't blame them either. I really dislike having all my meals mixed up into a mushy mess. You will quickly learn what veggies your lizards gravitate more towards if you dice them up small but don't mince them up.

Start with a nice base layer like you would when preparing a salad for yourself. Collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, cactus, turnip greens etc. These are all excellent staple feeders that should be included in their daily salads. Variety is key and when referring to food charts, remember that it's ok to add in veggies that are on the feed occaisionally or rarely section. You don't want to get in the habit of offering the same greens and veggies day in and day out. There are many benefits other than calcium to phosphorus ratios to consider when offerimg food to your lizards 

Chop the greens up to an appropriate size for your lizard. Next, we throw on some squash of some sort on top. Butternut squash lightly steamed to soften it a bit is a huge hit with all the veggie eating lizards we have. To offer a variety switch out the type of squash or offer beans and or peas. Green beans, snow peas etc. are another nice addition and highly nutritious to add to their salads. Remember to chop them up to a nice size for your particular lizard. You can also use a peeler too to see if they like their veggies finely peeled. A few days a week we will add some fruit to the top of the salad. No more than 2-3 days a week as fruit should only be offered as a treat and just a little at a time. The lizards we have that really enjoy fruit will generally pick the fruit off the top of the salad right away and take a break. So you see, it's not beneficial to offer them fruit everyday as they will get in the habit of only eating the fruit off the top and not the more nutritional greens/veggies.

Lightly dust with a calcium supplement 3-5 days a week, depending on the age of the lizard, and a multivitamin supplement 2 days a week. A good way to remember your supplement schedule would be to stick to calcium supplements during the week and multivitamins during the weekend. That's it! Just repeat this process and follow the schedule below for offering your salad and live feeders for the insectivorous lizards. Remember when referring to the food charts, it's ok to dabble in the non-staple foods to offer a variety. But do not get in the habit of offering the less nutritious foods because you think your lizard likes it. My kids would love pancakes every morning, noon, and night but I am a responsible parent and offer what's good for them, not what they want. You need to be a responsible owner to your reptiles as well and do not let them dictate what they eat.

One mistake many people do make is giving their food/salads in the evenings after they get off work or home from school. Your lizards should have their lights on a timer and have a set schedule everyday if you want to promote good eating habits. Give their salads in the mornings for them to nibble on all day. Think about it. What's better for them, having the opportunity to eat greens all day long with good vitamins on top while you're away or nothing to stimulate them all day long and feeding them in the evening once they have stimulation and live feeders coming as well? That's a lot of time wasted and also a waste of their good lighting you should be providing for them to do the job of digesting good food and vitamins and turning it into D3 all day long. If you only give them a few hours at night to eat, they don't have much time to digest their food under their lights. If you have a bearded dragon, skink etc. that eats live feeders as well, do you think they are going to be encouraged to eat those salads when they know live feeders are coming in the evening too? Offer salads in the morning for them to eat all day and live feeders in the evening. Here's a good link to how the D3 cycle works in lizards. http://www.arcadia-reptile.com/the-d3-cycle/

Bearded dragons are the number one lizard we see people failing greatly at feeding them properly. Under the age of one they should be eating 20% greens and 80% live feeders. Even so, OFFER BABY DRAGONS A SALAD EVERYDAY if you want to instill good salad eating habits. The younger you get them used to it the better as when they reach over a year old they should be eating 80% greens and 20% live feeders. Do not feed your adult dragon live feeders everyday! Let me repeat that, do not feed your adult dragon live feeders everyday or they will not be encouraged or hungry enough to eat a salad. Try to steer away from putting bugs in their salad as well as it will again instill bad eating habits as they tend to pick them out of their salads. Offer live feeders 2-3 days a week for your bearded dragons and a salad everyday. Remember to give the salad in the morning always and the live feeders no later than two hours before their lights go out for proper digestion.

This feeding schedule has not failed us here at the rescue or myself with our personal pets. We've seen young dragons, old dragons, skinks, frilled lizards, and lots of iguanas. We have no problems with any of them eating their greens or their supplements lightly dusted on top. However several of them if not all of the bearded dragons and skinks had terrible eating habits when we took them in. Very frustrating as they would not eat their salads. It takes time. Perseverance and persistence are key. Do not give up and stick to this schedule and it will happen in time. I remember I used to throw some greens in my dragons mouth when they gaped or vented to get them to eat them. I was so worried and concerned and felt they would never eat their salads as fatty liver disease is one of the number one killers in dragons due to being fed too many live feeders and not enough greens. Remember that bearded dragons and skinks rarely engorge themselves on their salads but rather nibble on them. They are not iguanas which tend to be salad pigs and have an endless appetite. Your lizard knows how much food it needs and if you offer their live feeders on a set schedule, they will get hungry and won't be able to resist that salad staring them in the face all day long. Trust me, they will get curious and try it out. It may take time but please do not stop offering them salads and a variety. Even if you think they don't like a particular green at first, keep going back to that and offer it to them. Their tastes do change as well just like people. In the winter they cut back greatly on how much they will eat. Sometimes they will go for days without eating much salad or live feeders.

You can also prepare/chop up lots of greens for the week and store them in a ziploc or tupperware and as long as you keep them moist, they will last for nearly a week. Prepare your staple greens for the week and chop your squash, beans, fruit etc. daily and cut down on your daily time for making those salads. I hope this helps and eases your frustrations in getting your lizards to eat their greens. It has never failed us here at the rescue and we have some very healthy lizards of various species thriving and enjoying their salads daily.

There are links posted at the bottom to food charts for several lizards. You will see that many of the same greens are listed as a great staple feeder regardless of the lizard. Check their nutritional contents and you will see why.

This photo is one example of our salads at the rescue on berry day. There's a base layer of collard greens which are hard to see with all the squash and berries but there is quite a bit there, some butternut squash, zucchini, raspberries and supplements. You can see that I do cater to which lizards prefer what as some of them will eat more greens, squash or zucchini. This was before I started steaming the butternut squash and the top left bowl has none as Duke, our pet iguana, won't touch butternut squash unless it's steamed. Once I steamed it, he inhaled it and does not leave a morsel in his bowl. This is a special day as I generally don't offer them this many berries. :) They only get the fruits 2-3 days a week some weeks they rarely get fruits.

Bearded Dragon Food Chart http://www.beautifuldragons.com/Nutrition.html

Iguana Food Chart http://www.greenigsociety.org/foodchart.htm

Another Iguana Food Chart https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=960754752839&set=o.199074416797180&type=1&theater