In order to give your exotic pet as varied and nutritious a diet as possible it is wise to consider adding vitamin supplements to the diet of insect-eating species. Feeding nothing but crickets for months or years on end risks nutrient deficiencies which the popular supplements on the market help to avoid.
In general there are three main ways to give vitamin supplements to your exotic pets – water-based supplements, gut-loaded supplements and dusting supplements – and the aim of this article to discuss the benefits and problems of each of these kinds of supplement to help you make a better decision about which form will be best for you and your pets.
Water-Based Vitamin Supplements
Just as they sound, water-based vitamin supplements are a liquid form of supplementation. You simply add a few drops of the supplement into your exotic pet’s water and when they drink they also receive some additional vitamins.
The problem that I see with this method is that your pet’s water should be changed daily and your pet should also have water available at all times and these two factors combined means that you end up throwing out a lot of water – and with it – a lot of supplement.
Combine this with the fact that many exotic pets such as most chameleons and a wide range of geckos will rarely or never drink from a water bowl if it is present in the cage and there are further potential problems with this technique.
While there are situations in which water-based liquid vitamin supplements can be useful for exotic pets I think there are better solutions for the hobbyist.
Gut Loading Supplements
The next way to supplement the diet of your exotic pets is through the use of “gut loading”. When you buy livefood from a pet store – locusts, crickets, mealworms etc. – they typically come in a small tub with some bran in the bottom as a basic source of food. Clearly bran isn’t the most nutritious of foods and so when it actually comes to feeding the insects to your pet there is a risk that they won’t be as nutritious as they could be.
This can certainly be improved by offering a range of food types to your livefood before feeding 0- and indeed I have even found this can be helpful for keeping your livefood alive for longer periods of time. I like to use a range of fruits and vegetables such as apple, carrot and cabbage for feeding my livefood but all the same I think gut-loading can be a good idea.
Gut-loading supplements typically come in powder form. You mix up a little of the powder with some water to make a porridge-like paste and then feed this to your livefood. In this way when your exotic pet eats the insect they will also get a shot of the vitamin-enriched supplement still in the insect’s gut – hence the phrase “gut loading”.
I have personally found though that this “paste” can quickly dry out – particularly in the warmer months – turning into something akin to concrete which has to be thrown away several times a day. Once again this means more wastage and lost money though from a purely supplemental point of view you know your pet is going to eat the insects you give them so there is a far greater chance of your pet getting the nutrition it needs with this method in comparison to water-soluble vitamin supplements.
Rather than gut-loading supplements where the supplement is within the body of the livefood dusting supplements work the other – way they are on the outside of the insects.
Before feeding your exotic pets you place the livefood you will be giving into a plastic bag or small plastic box with some dusting supplement and shake them gently so they get a decent coating on the powder in their bodies and then to feed them to your pets.
In this way your exotic pets get a decent dose of vitamins as soon as they eat the insects you give them and little or none is wasted as it is all on the insects. Any excess supplement will remain in the bag and can simply be reused next time.
Now there are still a number of potential downsides to dusting supplements. Firstly you need to feel comfortable handling the live insects in the first place to be able to transfer them into the bag for “dusting” and additionally many insects will try to groom themselves and remove the dust from their surface so this method works best if you use it immediately before feeding and your pets eat all the insects quickly.
So what is the best method of all? As you can see there are strengths and weaknesses to each method but in terms of being certain your exotic pets have received suitably supplementation and in terms of minimizing waste my own preference is to use dusting supplements rather than one of the other options.