Frequently Asked Questions - Nutrition

Nutrition FAQ
This FAQ is a reflection of my experience and educated opinions on the matter and generally reflects the general consensus of the experienced forum members and experienced enthusiasts. Much credit is given to those with more experience than I who are always offering their expertise such as Kinyonga, Laurie, Jannb, Carol, Chris Anderson, Olimpia, Sandrachameleon, Trace etc.

Q: What can I feed my chameleon?
A: Chameleons are insectivores and will only eat live insects. Some veiled chameleons (and a few panthers) will readily eat veggies and fruit as well. Crickets are probably the most widely used feeder as they are easy to get, easy to maintain and easy to gutload. Other great feeder options are commercially raised hornworms (those that eat tomato plants are toxic to chams), silkworms, butterworms, phoenix worms, gutloaded hornworms, etc. Mealworms are high in chitin and not much else so they are not a good regular addition to a chameleon diet. A varied diet is key to providing your chameleon with a variety of vitamins, nutrients and enrichment. Sandrachameleon has a great blog on different feeder options.

Q: What is gutloading and why is it important?
A: Gutloading is the process of working through the food chain to feed the prey animals the nutrition that your insectivore pet needs to replicate what they would eat in nature. Crickets are basically just water and chitin (not very nutritious) and the pet stores only feed them cardboard, or potato at most, so feeding crickets directly after you get them from the pet store or vendor is not providing much in the way of nutrition to your pet. Supplementing with a calcium and/or multivitamin powder is important, but not sufficient alone for proper nutrition in any species. Gut loading can't be done in all feeders but is very easy in crickets and super worms - two common feeder bugs.

How do you chose what to use? Gutloading ingredients should be chosen that are higher in calcium than phosphorus. High phosphorus levels in the food impedes calcium absorption. Inadequate dietary calcium leads to metabolic bone disease. Commercially available gutloads (such as Fluker Farms Cricket Food) are not balanced or sufficient to be the sole gutload for good nutrition in any species. Ideally there should be a wet and dry component to your gut load:

Good Wet Gutloading Ingredients: dandelion leaves, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole lettuce, butternut squash, carrots, mango, etc.

Good Dry Gutload Ingredients: bee pollen, alfalfa powder, kelp powder, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, raw uncooked sunflower seeds, raw uncooked pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, small amounts of whole grain cereals, spirulina algae, tortoise pellets, etc.

Foods to AVOID: Broccoli, spinach, beets, and parsley, have large amounts of oxalic acids which bind calcium absorption. Lettuces and cabbage do not have any significant nutritional value. Also, avoid things like dog food, cat food, and fish flakes which are high in animal proteins which can cause kidney damage.

This site has nutritional info on many commonly available fruits and veggies to help guide you in choosing good gut loading ingredients: http://www.greenigsociety.org/foodchart.htm
Sandrachameleon has an excellent gutloading blog: http://www.chameleonforums.com/blogs/sandrachameleon/75-feeder-nutrition-gutloading.html

Q: What do you mean by "dusting"? How do I do it?
A: "Dusting" refers to coating the feeder bugs with a powdered calcium or vitamin supplement so that your chameleon gets the supplement directly when it eats the bug. The easiest way I have found is to drop the crickets into a cup with a pinch of powdered supplement at the bottom. Swirl the bugs around until they have a thin coating of powder on them, and then dump them in your chameleon's cage or feeder cup. The crickets should only be a lighter shade of brown, not little ghosts running around!

Q: Which supplements should I use and when?
A: Dusting refers to coating the crickets with a powdered vitamin/mineral supplement. The crickets should only be a lighter shade of brown when dusted, not little ghosts running around the cage. This is the tried and true supplement schedule recommended by the majority of forum members based on long time enthusiasts’ experience:

Calcium (without D3 or phosphorus) – almost every feeding
Calcium with D3 (without phosphorus) – once every two weeks
Multivitamin – once every two weeks
*This may change depending on which brand of supplement you have. While this is recommended for panthers and veileds, montane species like Jackson's need a less frequent dusting schedule.

Q: Chams don’t get supplements in the wild so why do we have to give them?
A: We are limiting our captive chams to one or two types of feeders that may not even be part of their natural diet and they are limited to only what we feed them, whereas in a jungle there are hundreds of types of bugs feeding on even more diverse plant life. We are trying to recreate what they would normally eat, which is obviously working well for them since they are so abundant in the wild. So what they would get naturally is incredible diversity in food and gutloading that we just can't replicate. Excess calcium is easily excreted whereas a deficiency can be very detrimental so in my eyes supplementing should not be stopped even with great gutloading.

Q: When should I feed my chameleon?
A: As ectotherms chameleon need to be able to bask to digest their food properly. For this reason it is best to offer food in the first half of the day to give them time to digest their food under the basking light instead of later in the day when they would have undigested food sitting in their bellies all night.

Q: How much should I feed my chameleon?
A: Young chameleons should be fed every day with hatchlings even fed multiple times a day. Adult chameleons should be fed every other day or small amounts every day as that is what they how they would be feeding in the wild. The amount depends on the individual animal’s age and metabolism and what feeders you are using.

Q: Should I feed my chameleon vertebrates like pinky mice or anoles?
A: Pictures of chameleons eating pinkies or anoles are present on the internet and youtube. But so are countless videos of people hitting themselves in the nuts, so consider the source. People may think that a chameleon knows best for itself and will only eat what is good for it so since they eat vertebrates it must be okay. If you offer your dog a bucket of toxic chocolate is it going to eat it with joy or turn away? Mine would scarf it down like it’s the best birthday ever (and then probably have seizures soon after). (Off soapbox now...) Vertebrates are not a notable part of chameleon's normal diet in the wild and too many animal proteins in the diet of an animal that's not a carnivore can wreak havoc on their kidneys leading to kidney damage and gout. Pinkies are very high in fat and very low in calcium (they don’t have bones yet) so they have little to no health benefits. Gout is a very painful incurable buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. Everything your chameleon needs can be obtained through an all-insect diet with good gutloading and many very successful enthusiasts and breeders have sustained multiple generations with an all-insect diet.
Dietary analysis of “wild” jacksons on Hawaii.

Comments

Good blog entry :)
I literally burst out in a laugh when I read "...but so are countless videos of people hitting themselves in the nuts" Too Funny.
 
Lol, it's my first response to people who argue that they saw something on YouTube so it must be correct. I usually get a dumbfounded expression in response as people think about that one. ;) This blog would be kind of crappy without the links to all your awesome blogs!
 
Another great blog! I too laughed at the YouTube reference but I got a bigger chuckle with the dog vs. chocolate analogy - been there, done that and had a convulsing beagle when she got into a box of Christmas chocolates! Ugh!! Can laugh now but at the time it was an expensive box of chocolates!!
 

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