The use of live rodents to be fed to reptiles and amphibians (herps) is strongly discouraged for various reasons, especially the danger they can cause to the herps themselves. Frozen foods are more beneficial and healthier for your pet and converting them to accept frozen foods after eating only live may not be as hard as you'd think.
Breaking the Myth
Many pet stores, reptile experts, and help books often state that feeding live prey is the best choice of food. This is simply not true. Frozen/thawed foods are just as good as, if not better than, live foods. Do not buy into the argument of "My pet needs live prey, because in its natural environment it must hunt, stalk, and attack its prey for food. No one kills their prey for them in the wild." or "I'd like to give my pet a chance to hunt and kill because it naturally likes the 'thrill of the kill.'" The fact is that animals in captivity act much differently than animals in the wild. Reptiles in captivity do not spend their days searching for food or hiding from predators; instead they are housed in a safe and comfy enclosure with all their habitat needs met for them.
Safety for Your Pet
Feeding frozen/thawed foods are safer for your reptile. An animal that is not hungry will most likely not eat; it will ignore the prey animal. The prey animal on the other hand, left alone in a tank with a predator may not be so relaxed. Rodents may become aggressive and attack and injure the disinterested reptile. Even when your pet is hungry and trying to catch the prey, the prey may use its teeth and claws to defend itself, resulting in injury to your pet. Serious bites and scratches could lead to blindness, gashes, and even death for your reptile. You are responsible for the health and well being of your animals in captivity. That means keeping them properly housed, heated, humidified, fed and keeping them safe from avoidable harm.
Benefits of Frozen/Thawed Foods
There are many benefits to feeding frozen food to your reptiles.
- Increasing number of pet stores are selling frozen foods for reptiles.
- It takes much less room to store frozen foods than it does to house, feed, and care for live foods before they are fed.
- Live foods may have internal or external parasites; the freezing process removes most parasites that may be harmful to your reptile.
- Frozen/thawed food prices are also lower than that of purchasing live rodents.
- All frozen foods are humanely euthanized according to a set of government-dictated guidelines.
Types of Frozen Foods
- Pinkies - most commonly used, are young mice that are almost hairless and smallest in size. (30-45 min thaw time in cold water)
- Fuzzies - second smallest, are juvenile mice with some fur. (60-75 minute thaw time in cold water)
- Small Rats - larger than a fuzzy, but without the fur of adult rats. (75-90 minute thaw time in cold water)
- Adult mice and rats - used in feeding larger reptiles (2+ hours thaw time in cold water)
How to Thaw Frozen Food
Never feed your pet food that is still frozen! You do need to thaw it thoroughly and warm it slightly (above room temperature) before feeding. Warming up the food will enhance the smell and is more attractive to your reptile. Using the microwave to defrost is discouraged since it can leave cold spots in the middle. Follow these steps to defrost:
- Remove the number of food items from the bag.
- Put the food in a container filled with cold tap water.
- Leave the food items in the water for the suggested thaw time for the type/size of food.
- Run warm water until the entire container is filled with warm water. Let stand 10 - 15 minutes.
- Just prior to removal and feeding, run almost hot water into the container to warm the food to above room temperature.
- Remove from the container and shake off excess water.
- You can also leave the frozen food in the refrigerator to slowly thaw. If time is an issue, pinkies are usually small enough that they can defrost by running them under warm tap water for a few minutes.
Converting to Frozen/Thawed Feeding
If not immediately, most herps will take frozen/thawed foods eventually. If your pet is stubborn, converting to frozen/thawed feeding may take a little bit of time and patience. However, many herps easily convert from live to eating frozen/thawed foods. Here are some techniques.
- Try different size/color foods.
- Make sure food is warm (soak in warm water prior to feeding).
- Use long tongs (never use your fingers!) to dangle the food in front of your reptile.
- Let your reptile get inside a hide box, then using tongs, wiggle the warm food in the entrance.
- Try different movements: up and down, side to side, at different speeds with your tongs.
- Using tongs, drag the food across the substrates, giving it little hops.
- Feed a small live food and follow it immediately with a frozen/thawed item.
If your pet is still stubborn about accepting frozen/thawed foods, have patience and try leaving the food in the feeding habitat for longer periods of time. You may even try leaving the food in the feeding habitat overnight to encourage your reptile to explore the food and eventually accept it.
Look for positive reactions (head turning, tongue flicks, stalking behavior) while you are feeding your reptile. If the reptile appears stressed, stop and try again later. Remember, it is important to know that it will not hurt your reptile to miss a meal every once in a while. So don't give in too easily and return to feeding live.
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