Calcium And Your Reptile
Calcium supplementation, as well as the supplementation of other nutrients, is something that has largely been guesswork for the reptiles that we keep in captivity. Over time we have been able to monitor our reptilian friends and the effects that supplementation has on their health and this has led us to be able to deduce the best kind of supplements to use as well as how much and how often.
Why Is Calcium Important?
Calcium is one of the most essential minerals that any vertebrate requires, not just reptiles. Calcium is responsible for healthy bone growth, nerve functions, synthesizing hormones, it is also used for the production of viable eggs in females. Certain species of reptiles do not need to have calcium supplemented in their diet, for example, snakes swallow their prey whole, absorbing every nutrient that comes from their food. This includes the endoskeleton of their prey which provides all the calcium necessary to provide proper bone growth and any egg-laying needs they may have. Therefore there is no reason that you need to supplement the diet of a snake in captivity although this is down to the preference of a keeper or breeder depending on what they choose to do.
Lizards in captivity, on the other hand, do need to have their diet supplemented with calcium. Herbivores and insectivores are kept to the best of our ability but it is difficult for us to replicate the exact diet that they would have in the wild. That being said, a lot of reptiles in captivity actually live longer when compared to their wild counterparts, this is down to the fact that we are able to provide them with a better combination of nutrients that is beneficial for their health and longevity.
While every effort should be made to replicate the natural diet of the reptile in question, most will be existing on what they can find, being opportunistic, they will usually eat pretty much anything they come across. This means grass, seeds, plants, roots, flowers and you get the gist. Your pet in the wild isn't heading to Whole Foods to buy their bagged spring greens mix to make their salad, and buying calcium supplements to sprinkle on their greens, they are just eating what they can find. Humans, being creatures of comfort will find the easiest route that will also provide a diet as close as we can provide that replicates their natural diet, so we will head to the grocery store and buy what is available to us to keep our pet healthy, rather than going out into the forest or wherever to collect seeds and plants that they would usually eat. So in order to give them the correct nutrients, vitamins, and minerals we also need to use supplementation as part of their diet to ensure they get the right ones in the correct amounts. As responsible owners it is down to us to see that our pet gets the absolute best diet that will enable them to stay happy and healthy, but we have also discovered how to do this at the minimum expense and labor to us, because that is human nature.
How Much Calcium Does My Pet Need?
This is a difficult question to answer, while in some respects it may seem easy enough, calcium is calcium and we give some to our pets so that they can get enough of it. But a lot for what we know about the dosage of calcium needed for our reptiles is extrapolated from what we know about it with regards to how it affects humans and also mammals in general. There has not been a lot of study into calcium and how it is processed when it comes to reptiles.
There are certain things we do know, like the fact that there is such thing as too little calcium as is evident by a lack of calcium being a contributing factor towards metabolic bone disease in reptiles. There are several factors that come into play when examining metabolic bone disease, calcium intake is a large part of what can cause the condition, as well as incorrect UVB. We also know that there is such a thing as too much calcium, which causes a condition known as Hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia can cause serious health issues in reptiles, such as renal failure. Overdoing on calcium is always caused by either too much calcium in the general diet or over-supplementation of calcium on top of the regular diet.
When it comes to knowing exactly how much calcium is too little and how much calcium is too little, that is a difficult question to answer because there is simply no clear answer since we do not know the exact answer to that question. There are many variations of products on the market to choose from that contain calcium, when choosing a product correct for your reptile you will see that where are liquids, powders, some that contain other nutrients, some that contain vitamin D3 specifically, some that are just plain calcium, others that are flavored and others not; this can make it difficult to decide which one to buy for your pet. Liquid calcium can be a good choice because just like liquid medicines for humans, it is dissolved easily into the system of an animal and can also be added to most things without the reptile's knowledge such as their water or dripped onto their salads or even bugs. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to measure with the different products containing varying amounts and wastage being an issue where you could be unsure if your pet has actually ingested the liquid. Calcium carbonate is the most pure form of calcium powder on the market and is pretty much just powdered eggshell. This is ideal for giving reptiles the boost of calcium that they need without needlessly adding anything else to their diet. Fortified calcium powder is calcium carbonate which has trace elements such as a mix of multivitamins or sometimes just vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is a by-product of your reptiles' ability to absorb and process calcium naturally. Using a supplement with calcium plus other minerals depends on whether your reptile needs to have anything other than calcium in their diet on top of calcium.
Calcium Absorption Into The Body
Calcium is absorbed in a couple of ways, when it is processed into the body without vitamin D3 the process is known as fusion absorption. Fusion absorption is not the most efficient way that calcium is absorbed, in fact, most of the calcium is wasted when this happens and the calcium is expelled in waste produce. Vitamin D3 is invaluable when it comes to the efficiency of how calcium is absorbed, making it easier to be absorbed across cell membranes.
This brings us to another aspect which is a point that is somewhat debated among experts in the reptile industry. It is well known that UVB promoted vitamin D3 production within the body and that vitamin D3 is vital for proper calcium absorption into the body. A number of reputable herpetologists have reported that with the correct dosage of vitamin D3 along with the right amount of calcium, there is no need for artificial or natural UVB to be applied to the reptile in order to keep them from suffering from lack of calcium. There have been many findings that have supported this theory in real-world practical applications so it is widely accepted to be true. That being said it is not advised to try this for inexperienced owners to use this method instead of using UVB, there has not been a lot of real research done and no instructions as to how exactly to go this are easily available; experimenting on a captive reptile could be risky with regards to the animal's health and life.
Oxalates and Other Calcium Blockers
If you are new to reptiles, you may not have heard of oxalates and also goitrogens, but chances are that you have at least heard the terms, if you are a veteran reptile keeper then you will know what they are. There are certain foods that are high in oxalates or goitrogens that are known to inhibit the absorption of calcium into the body of your pet, this is a well-known fact and as such should always be taken into account when selecting the diet for your pet. This is something that will already be factored into the research done for the various diet sheets that are available for all species that can be owned as a pet, so all you need to do is research what foods are staples, what are occasional foods and what should be avoided and follow these instructions.
All in all the conclusion is that it is hard to pinpoint an exact amount of calcium that you should be giving your reptile, amphibian or whatever species you have chosen. Each species is different, then you have to take age, size, weight and also other external factors into account. The good news is that there are so many resources available for you now that we have kept animals in captivity for so long, and honestly, it is pretty hard for you to over it with the calcium products that are available on the market. Your animal still gets most of it's nutrients from their diet, so a proper diet is always key to their health. Always do your research and try to find out what others do, and what is in the recommended literature on your species for what you should be offering them calcium supplement wise.
Here are some instructions that have been provided by a manufacturer of calcium supplements "Place two spoonfuls into a bag with insects and shake well until coated. For mice, dip only the hindquarters in the supplement. May also be sprinkled over fruits and vegetables. For daily use." - This is a common example of how a calcium supplement should be used for reptiles and this is how simple it can be. There are ways to tell whether your reptile is getting too much calcium, or is not getting enough calcium in their diet. The key factor in everything we do with regards to reptile keeping is always research is your most important tool.