Gut Loading – What and How

Nutritional Issues
There were a lot of talks on nutrition at the recent conference for the Association of Reptile and Amphibians Veterinarian (ARAV). A subject that came up a number of times was how to improve nutrition in our insectivores (insect eaters).

The key to a good diet is diversity. Don’t just feed crickets or mealworms. There are lots of different insects out there and many can be delivered to your door. Consider super worms, Phoenix worms, king worms, Dubai cockroaches, fruit flies, grasshoppers, land crustaceans such as folly-polices or pillbugs…there are many to offer. Some of these guys will even eat pinkies.

Aside from our land crustaceans, all insects have an inverse calcium to phosphorous ratio and that needs to be fixed or your little critter will develop painful debilitating disease.

Ca:P =?
There is a complex relationship between calcium, phosphorus and a few other nutrients in the body.

To simplify, we know that most reptiles need at least a 2:1 ratio (recent studies suggest even that may be too low…). This means 2 parts calcium (Ca) to every 1 part phosphorus (P). Most crickets, while high in protein and low in fat, have a Ca:P ratio of 0.14:1. Now that’s quite a bit less than 2 to 1.  Silkworms are considered a better option but they only have a 0.8:1 ratio.

So what do we do?
Dusting and gut loading!

Most of my clients are familiar with the old “shake and bake ” treatment. Put some insects in a bag with powdered calcium and shake away. But many haven’t heard of gut loading.

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Gut loading refers to the process of feeding the insects a calcium rich food and then feeding that insect to your reptile while the calcium is still in the insect’s gut. We know that gut loading requires feeding for 12 to 24 hours to get the food into the gut. We also know that by 48 hours the calcium levels start to drop off. So you have a window to work within.

Kale! Collard Greens!
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Unfortunately you can’t overcome a 0.14:1 ratio with good calcium rich foods such as in certain greens. You have to use a diet specifically designed with tons of calcium for this to work. Mazuri has two such diets (A Better Bug and High Calcium Gut Loading Diet). We also know that you can’t out any other food in the cage – apparently good gut loading diets taste terrible and the insects will only eat them if there is no other food source. Of course you still need water.

If you are raising your own insects – keep in mind that gut loading foods are only given prior to feeding the insects to your reptile. They have too much calcium and will result in the death of your colony.

Also, if you buy pre-gut loaded insects…how do you know when they last ate? What was fed? Can you be certain these insects are ready for consumption? It’s best to be sure and gut load yourself!

One last note – fireflies are known to be toxic to bearded dragons so don’t feed them.

Halloween Hazards

Halloween Banner

Fright Night is Almost Here!

What’s fun for most of us can be scary or dangerous for our pets.  Here’s a few thoughts to mull over this Halloween.

  • Toxins – many of our exotic pets love to chew.  Chocolate, sugary treats and caffeine are common items this weekend that should be kept out of reach. Keep an eye on that bowl of candy or decorations.  autumn-candy-mix
  • Costumes and Decorations – watch out for flying hazards, novel items to chew or hiding places that your little critter could get stuck in.  String, buttons, toxic bits of dangling costumes or decorations are attractive but could cause serious health issues.  Don’t allow access to anything you aren’t sure is healthy.
  • Activity – stress from the constantly ringing doorbell, loud party noises or exciting decorations that make noise can all result in an unhappy or sick pet.  Make sure your pet has a quiet and calm place to wait out the storm.
  • Pumpkins  – while pumpkins are more of a concern for the active and larger pet (dogs, cats, large bunnies) they can be a tasty treat for others (birds, turtles, tortoises….).  Just make sure no toxic paints or decorations are left on the item to be eaten.  Also, if that pumpkin was carved and set out a few days ago…it’s probably not something you want to eat.  hot-head-pumpkin-
  • Candles – the main concern here is a fire hazard if your frightened pet knocks one over.  It’s never a good idea to leave unattended candles in a house.

Happy Haunting!

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Rabbit Ears

Lop eared rabbits are really prone to ear infections – but why?rabbit-2531800_1280
What is going on with these ears?

Types of ear infections
Otitis external, otitis media and otitis interns – the external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. This discussion is all about the external or outer ear. In fact, it’s the only part of the ear we can see without more advanced testing.

The outer ear consists of the pinna and the ear canal.  It stops at the eardrum, or tympanic membrane. The middle ear is just on the other side of that thin structure…and hopefully we can’t see into it during a regular ear exam. That would mean your eardrum was ruptured (ouch!).

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In many species the ear canal is broken into two parts – the vertical canal and the horizontal canal. Mainly because part goes up and down while the other is oriented sideways. This doesn’t hold true in rabbits. It’s basically just a slant down to the eardrum. In standard rabbits this canal has cartilage which allows it to maintain its shape – just like in our ears and nose- it’s bendy but holds shape.

In lops, there is cartilage in the outer portion of the canal, but not the inner…so the ear flops over.  Keep in mind that ear canals are designed to help material and debris exit the ear by moving things up and out. Imagine what happens when material starting at the eardrum try’s to get out of a lops’ ear…it hits that right angle bend and comes to a halt.

So what happens?
…debris builds up, bacteria or yeasts get stuck, maybe things get a little moist…and you get an infection.

Sometimes this infection starts in the middle ear and bursts through the ear drum to extend into the outer ear. Sometimes the reverse happens. But we can’t see the ear drum once debris or infection has set up shop. In order to find out more we can try to flush and clean the ear canal under anesthesia or image it using CT scans. X-rays of the skull can provide us with some info but a CT really gives you a great view of what is going on.

Now I know that a CT scan for your bunny may be out of reach financially. But I look forward to when they become cheaper and more common. Already there are researchers studying how to take awake CT scans. This helps both your pocketbook and your bunny since no matter how hard we try to minimize it…there is always some health risks with anesthesia.

So what do we do?
The answer is not clear but the more we look into it, the better our chance of figuring this out.  Right now, there is some thought that prophylactic ear cleaning may be helpful. Products containing tris-EDTA are a good choice. Please be careful what you put in your bun’s ears and check with your rabbit vet. I’ve heard of stories of folks putting bleach in animal ears and I’m sure they wouldn’t have done so if they knew just what pain and damage they were causing.