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5 Signs that Your Omnivore’s Diet Isn’t as Balanced as You Think it Is

5 Signs that Your Omnivore’s Diet Isn’t as Balanced as You Think it Is

5 Signs that Your Omnivore’s Diet Isn’t as Balanced as You Think it Is

Written by Mariah Healey,

It can be tough to feed an omnivorous reptile. Unlike with herbivores and carnivores, which eat exclusively foods from one category, omnivores eat foods from both sides of the fence. This makes it hard to decide on the right balance between protein and plants, and given that there’s a lot of misinformation about reptile nutrition out there, plus the fact that omnivores like to play favorites with their food, it’s easy to get the ratio wrong. Here are five warning signs that you may need to reevaluate your omnivorous reptile’s diet:

Weight Gain

It’s not hard to get a fat pet: most animals like to eat, and since nature has programmed reptiles to be opportunists, most of them will eat as much as they’re given — or at least as much as their stomach can fit in one sitting. Eating their fill at every meal usually results in overeating, and that results in a caloric excess. Extra calories don’t get pooped out. Because animal bodies are designed to be resilient and starvation is more immediately life-threatening than obesity, they store extra calories in the form of fat.

Imagine living in a buffet: if you got to eat as much as you wanted every day, for every meal, then of course you’re going to end up overeating (for some of you, this may remind you of the campus cafeteria from your college years and the resulting “Freshman 15”). Now imagine if you had a personal dietician and chef who perfectly planned and portioned your every meal. The result is going to be very different! That’s why you want to be your pet’s dietician, not their buffet.

The most common cause of unhealthy weight gain in reptiles is excessive feeding of protein foods and/or fruit — too much leafy greens is rarely the cause. In fact, too much vegetable matter can cause the inverse, which leads me to the next topic…

Weight Loss

Generally speaking, unhealthy weight gain is more common in pet reptiles than unhealthy weight loss. But it still happens, especially among brand-new reptile owners who have been misinformed about what their pet is supposed to eat. Just as weight gain can be caused by a calorie excess, weight loss can be caused by a calorie deficit.

The most common dietary-related cause of unhealthy weight loss in omnivorous reptiles is too many greens in the diet — in other words, the animal isn’t getting enough protein (vertebrate and/or invertebrate prey). Increasing your pet’s portion of high-protein foods is likely to fix this problem.

Dental Problems

Did you know that reptiles can experience dental problems just like dogs and humans? A healthy lizard with a healthy diet doesn’t usually need its teeth brushed, but if its diet includes too many soft, sugary foods (ex: fruit), then it can get plaque buildup and tooth decay, which can lead to mouth rot. Next time you’re at the vet for an annual exam, have them take a look at your lizard’s teeth as part of the checkup.

Relatively few species of reptiles eat fruit as a regular part of their natural diet — New Caledonian geckos, day geckos, and red footed tortoises are a few common examples. If you have a type of reptile for whom regular fruit consumption hasn’t been documented in the wild, it’s best to leave that out of their diet or only use it in small quantities as a rare treat.

Excessive Follicle Development

Obesity isn’t the only danger of a high-calorie diet. When a female, egg-laying omnivore’s body gets overloaded with supplements and high-calorie foods, her body puts those extra nutrients into developing egg follicles. In the wild, this is a great survival strategy. In captivity, especially with non-breeding females, it can become a ticking time bomb. Egg follicles have the potential to turn into eggs if they get fertilized, but if they don’t, they just sit around inside the reptile’s body. If these follicles don’t get absorbed or turned into actual eggs, they can grow and grow until they burst.  When this happens, then it causes an infection called yolk peritonitis, also known as yolk coelomitis. This is best known as a condition that affects chickens, but it can also affect female bearded dragons and other egg-laying lizards.

Proper diet goes a long way toward preventing excessive follicle development. Keep an eye on your pet’s body condition, avoid overfeeding, use high-calorie foods as a treat rather than a regular menu item. Brumation is also helpful, if appropriate for your pet’s species.

Picky Eating

As much as we love to joke about spoiling our pets rotten, it’s a very real problem that can happen, and it causes problems. If you had a child that insisted on only drinking chocolate milk and eating macaroni and cheese at every meal, refusing every other food, you would intervene because that kind of diet does not provide the nutrition that a human needs. So why do reptile owners let their bearded dragon eat a diet of strictly superworms, kale, and strawberries? Because they fall into the trap of thinking: “Well eating something is better than nothing, and I don’t want this animal to starve to death because I deeply care for them, so I will give them what they want.”

Reptiles are smarter than many people give them credit for — and, honestly, it doesn’t take a terribly smart animal to figure out that performing a certain behavior (ex: ignoring undesirable food) gets rewarded (ex: receiving a favorite food). It’s basic reinforcement, and foundational to animal training. Taking away the reward, or refusing to supply your pet with its favorite foods, is a good way to undo this behavior. It’s likely to take time, and your pet may refuse to eat for days or even weeks. This can be alarming, but keep in mind that reptiles are also far more resilient than humans to starvation. Their metabolisms are far slower than ours, so a few days (or even weeks) of fasting are unlikely to be harmful.


Weight gain, weight loss, dental problems, excessive follicle development, and picky eating can all be warning signs that your omnivorous reptile’s diet needs a course correction. However, these symptoms can also hint at larger health problems, so if correcting your pet’s diet doesn’t resolve the issue(s) that you’re seeing, get help from a vet.

In particular, if your omnivorous reptile hasn’t eaten for >2 weeks and is visibly losing condition or you’re starting to see more of its skeletal structure than is healthy for the species, double-check your husbandry first. Use a reliable source of husbandry information, such as, to make sure your pet has what it needs in its environment, apply adjustments as needed, and make an appointment with an experienced reptile veterinarian for thorough examination.

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  • Josh Halter


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