Food provides an
organism the materials it needs for energy,
growth, repair, and reproduction. These materials are called
nutrients. They can be divided into two main groups: macronutrients
and micronutrients. Macronutrients, or nutrients required
in large amounts, include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
These are the foods used for energy, reproduction, repair
and growth. Micronutrients, or nutrients required
in only small amounts, include vitamins and minerals. Most
foods contain a combination of the two groups. A balanced diet must contain all the
essential nutritional elements such as proteins, carbohydrates,
fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. If a diet is deficient
in any of these nutrients, health becomes impaired and diseases
may be the result.
not a nutrient per se, water is essential to the body for
the maintenance of intracellular and extra cellular fluids.
It is the medium in which digestion and absorption take
place, nutrients are transported to cells and metabolic
waste products are removed. The quality of water provided
to reptiles should be of utmost concern. Water and “soft
foods” (foods containing >20% moisture) are frequently implicated
in exposures to high concentrations of bacteria. An open
water container that becomes contaminated with fecal material
or food will promote rapid bacterial proliferation. In water
containing added vitamins, there can be a 100-fold increase
in the bacterial count in 24 hours. Changing the water and
rinsing the container will obviously decrease the bacterial
load, but an active biofilm remains on the container walls
unless it is disinfected or washed thoroughly. Contamination
in the water container, in addition to the aqueous medium
and compatible environmental temperatures, provide all the
requirements for microorganisms to thrive. Likewise, high-moisture
foods such as canned foods, paste foods, sprouts, fruits
and vegetables provide excellent growth media for microorganisms.
At warm environmental temperatures, these types of foods
can become contaminated in as little as four hours. Water
intake will be greatly influenced by the type of diet provided.
Most reptiles can derive the majority of their water requirement
from foodstuffs when the diet consists primarily of fruits,
vegetables or moist foods. Processed diets tend to increase
the reptile’s water intake because they generally are dry,
lower in fat and tend to have overall higher nutrient levels.
Slightly moister feces are often observed in reptiles on
a formulated diet.
Protein is the group of highly complex
organic compounds found in all living cells. Protein is
the most abundant class of all biological molecules, comprising
about 50% of cellular dry weight. Proteins are large molecules
composed of one or more chains of varying amounts of the
same 22 amino acids, which are linked by peptide bonds.
Protein chains may contain hundreds of amino acids; some
proteins also incorporate phosphorus or such metals as iron,
zinc, and copper. There are two general classes of proteins.
Most are Globular (functional) like enzymes (see 2.3.2),
carrier proteins, storage proteins, antibodies and certain
hormones. The other proteins, the structural proteins,
help organize the structure of tissues and organs, and give
them strength and flexibility. Some of these structural
proteins are long and fibrous. Dietary protein is food that contains
the amino acids necessary to construct the proteins described
above. Complete proteins, generally of animal origin, contain
all the amino acids necessary for reptile growth and maintenance;
incomplete proteins, from plant sources such as grains,
legumes, and nuts, lack sufficient amounts of one or more
essential amino acid.
Fibrous or structural proteins
The protein collagen is the most
important building block in the entire animal world.
More than a third of the reptile's protein is collagen
and makes up 75% of the skin. It controls cell shape
Vitamin C is required for the production
and maintenance of collagen, a protein substance that
forms the base of connective tissues in the body such
as bones, teeth, skin, and tendons. Collagen is the
protein that helps heal wounds, mend fractures, and
support capillaries in order to prevent bruises.
Collagen is the fibrous protein constituent of skin,
cartilage, bone, and other connective tissue.
Keratin produces strong and elastic
tissue, the protein responsible for forming scales and
claws in reptiles. These scales protect the reptile
body from the effects of both water and sun, and prevent
them from drying out.
Elastin is the structural protein
that gives elasticity to the tissues and organs. Elastin
found predominantly in the walls of arteries, in the
lungs, intestines, and skin, as well as in other elastic
tissues. It functions in connective tissue in partnership
with collagen. Whereas collagen provides rigidity, elastin
is the protein, which allows the connective tissues
in blood vessels and heart tissues, for example, to
stretch and then recoil to their original positions.
Hemoglobin is the respiratory pigment
found in the red blood. It is produced in the bone marrow
and carries oxygen from the lungs to the body. An inadequate
amount of circulating hemoglobin results in a condition
Myoglobin is close related to hemoglobin.
It transports oxygen to the muscle tissues. It is a
small, bright red protein which function is to store
an oxygen molecule (O2), which is released
during periods of oxygen deprivation, when the muscles
are hard at work.
Albumins are widely distributed in
plant and animal tissues, e.g., ovalbumin of egg, lactalbumin
of milk, and leucosin of wheat. Some contain carbohydrates.
Normally constituting about 55% of the plasma proteins,
albumins adhere chemically to various substances in
the blood, e.g., amino acids, and thus play a role in
their transport. Albumins and other blood proteins aid
in regulating the distribution of water in the body.
Actin & myosin
Actin is found in the muscle tissue
together with myosin where they interact to make muscle
contraction possible. Actin and myosin are also found
in all cells to bring about cell movement.
Ferritin is found predominantly in
the tissue of the liver, used for the storage of iron.
Binds with iron and transports it
for storage in the liver, or to bone marrow, where it
is used for the formation of hemoglobin.
Ferredoxin acts as a transport protein
for electrons involved in photosynthesis.
supply a reptile with the energy it needs to function. They
are found almost exclusively in plant foods, such as fruits,
vegetables, peas, and beans. Milk and milk products are
the only foods derived from animals that contain a significant
amount of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates
are divided into two groups, simple carbohydrates and complex
are the main source of blood glucose, which is a major fuel
for all of the cells and the only source of energy for the
brain and red blood cells. Except for fibre, which cannot
be digested, both simple and complex carbohydrates are converted
into glucose. The glucose is then either used directly to
provide energy, or stored in the liver for future use. Carbohydrates
take less oxygen to metabolize than protein or fat.
Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharide)
carbohydrates, include fructose, sucrose, and glucose,
as well as several other sugars. Fruits are one of the
richest natural sources of simple carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are the main source of blood glucose,
which is a major energy source and the only for the
brain and red blood cells. When a reptile consumes more
single carbohydrates than it uses, a portion may be
stored as fat.
carbohydrates are also made up of sugars, but the sugar
molecules are strung together to form longer, more complex
chains. Complex carbohydrates include fibre, cellulose,
starch, glycogen, etc.
occurs in animal tissues, especially in the liver and
muscle cells. It is the major store of carbohydrate
energy in animal cells.
The liver removes glucose from the blood when blood
glucose levels are high. Through a process called glycogenesis,
the liver combines the glucose molecules in long chains
to create glycogen. When the amount of glucose in the
blood falls below the level required, the liver reverses
this reaction, transforming glycogen into glucose.
consists of two glucose polymers, amylose and amylopectin.
It occurs widely in plants, especially in roots, seeds,
and fruits, as a carbohydrate energy store. Starch is
therefore a major energy source, when digested it ultimately
is the part of plants and insects that are resistant to
digestive enzymes. As a result, only a relatively small
amount of fibre is digested or metabolized in the stomach
or intestines. Instead, most of it moves through the gastrointestinal
tract and ends up in the faeces.
Although most fibre is not digested, it delivers several
important benefits. Fibre retains water, resulting in softer
and bulkier faeces that prevent constipation and, fibre
binds with certain and eliminates these substances from
the body. Dietary fibre falls into four groups: celluloses,
hemicelluloses, lignins, and pectins.
is the major substance of the cell wall of all plants,
algae and some fungi. With some exceptions among insects
(see chitin), true cellulose is not found in animal
a form of cellulose, naturally occurs in the exoskeleton
of insects. It speeds the transit of foods through the
digestive system and promotes the growth of beneficial
bacteria in the intestines. Chitin can thereby improve
digestion, cleanse the colon, and prevent diarrhea and
constipation. Chitin is known to differ from other polysaccharides
in that it has a strong positive charge that lets it
chemically bond with fats. Because it is mostly indigestible,
it can then prevent lipids from being absorbed in the
digestive tract. Chitosan is derivative from chitin,
more soluble in water.
Fat is an essential nutrient and plays
several vital roles. Fat insulates internal organs and nerves,
carries fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body, helps
repair damaged tissue and fight infections, and provides
a source of energy. Fats are the way a reptile stores up
energy. Fats are stored in adipose tissues. These tissues
are situated under the skin, around the kidneys and mainly
in the tail (squamata and crocodilia). Amphibians store
fat in an organ attached to the kidneys, the fat body. Some
reptiles and amphibians depend on their fat stores during
hibernation. During growth, fat is necessary for normal
brain development. Throughout life, it is essential to provide
energy. Fat is, in fact, the most concentrated source of
energy available. However, adult animals require only small
amounts of fat, much less then is provided by the average
diet. Fats are composed of building blocks
call fatty acids. There are three major categories of fatty
acids: saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated.
Amino acids are the basic chemical building
blocks of life, needed to build all the vital proteins,
hormones and enzymes required by all living organisms, from
the smallest bacterium to the largest mammal. Proteins are
needed to perform a host of vital functions, and can only
exist when an organism has access to amino acids that can
be combined into long molecular chains. An organism is continuously at work,
breaking dietary proteins down into individual amino acids,
and then reassembling these amino acids into new structures.
Amino acids are linked together to form proteins and enzymes.
Reptiles to construct muscles, bones, organs, glands, connective
tissues, nails, scales and skin use these proteins. Amino
acids are also necessary to manufacture protein structures
required for genes, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters
and body fluids. In the central nervous system, amino acids
act as neurotransmitters and as precursors to neurotransmitters
used in the brain to receive and send messages. Amino acids
are also required to allow vitamins and minerals to be utilized
properly. As long as a reptile has a reliable source
of dietary proteins containing the essential amino acids
it can adequately meet most of its needs for new protein
synthesis. Conversely, if a reptile is cut off from dietary
sources of the essential amino acids, protein synthesis
is affected and serious health problems can arise.
Depending upon the structure, there are
approximately twenty-nine commonly known amino acids that
account for the thousands of different types of proteins
present in all life forms. Many of the amino acids required
maintaining health can be produced in the liver from proteins
found in the diet. These nonessential amino acids are alanine,
aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine,
proline, and serine. The remaining amino acids, called the
essential amino acids, must be obtained from outside sources.
These essential amino acids are arginine, histidine, isoleucine,
leucine, Iysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan,
Essential Amino Acids
is an amino acid which becomes an essential amino acid
when under stress or is in an injured state. Depressed
growth results from lack of dietary arginine.
Arginine increases collagen; the protein providing the
main support for bone, cartilage, tendons, connective
tissue, and skin. It increases wound breaking strength
and improves the rate of wound healing. The demand for
arginine in animals occurs in response to physical trauma
like; injury, burns, dorsal skin wounds, fractures,
physical pain registered by the skin, malnutrition and
muscle and bone growth spurts.
is intricately involved in a large number of critical
metabolic processes, ranging from the production of
red and white blood cells to regulating antibody activity.
Histidine also helps to maintain the myelin sheaths
which surround and insulate nerves. In particular, Histidine
has been found beneficial for the auditory nerves, and
a deficiency of this vital amino acid has been noted
in cases of nerve deafness.
Histidine also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter,
supporting resistant to the effects of stress.
Histidine is naturally found in most animal and vegetable
is an essential amino acid found abundantly in most
foods. Isoleucine is concentrated in the muscle tissues
and is necessary for hemoglobin formation, and in stabilizing
and regulating blood sugar and energy levels. A deficiency
of isoleucine can produce symptoms similar to those
of hypoglycemia. Isoleucine is a branched chain amino
acid (BCAA), the others are Isoleucine, Leucine and
Valine. They play an important roll in treating injuries
and physical stress conditions.
is an essential amino acid which cannot be synthesized
but must always be acquired from dietary sources. Leucine
stimulates protein synthesis in muscles, and is essential
for growth. Leucine also promotes the healing of bones,
skin and muscle tissue.
Leucine, and the other branched-chain amino acids, Isoleucine
and Valine, are frequently deficient and increased requirements
can occur after stress.
is one of the essential amino acids that cannot be manufactured
by reptiles, but must be acquired from food sources
or supplements. It has an immune enhancing, high doses
of Lysine stop viral growth and reproduction through
the production of antibodies, hormones and enzymes.
In juveniles lysine is needed for proper growth and
bone development. Its aids calcium absorption and maintains
nitrogen balance in adults. It is also instrumental
in the formation of collagen, which is the basic matrix
of the connective tissues, skin, cartilage and bone.
Lysine aids in the repair of tissue, and helps to build
muscle protein, all of which are important for recovery
from injuries. Lysine deficiencies can result in lowered
immune function, loss of energy, bloodshot eyes, shedding
problems, retarded growth, and reproductive disorders,
and increases urinary excretion of calcium. Lysine has
no known toxicity.
is an essential amino acid that is not synthesized and
must be obtained from food or supplements. It is one
of the sulphur containing amino acids and is important
in many functions. Through its supply of sulphur, it
improves the tone and pliability of the skin, conditions
the scales and strengthens claws. The mineral sulphur
is involved with the production of protein. Methionine
is essential for the absorption and transportation of
selenium and zinc in the body. It also acts as a lipotropic
agent to prevent excess fat buildup in the liver, and
is an excellent chelator of heavy metals, such as lead,
cadmium and mercury, binding them and aiding in their
is one of the amino acids which reptiles cannot manufacture
themselfs, but must acquire from food or supplements.
Phenylalanine is a precursor of tyrosine, and together
they lead to the formation of thyroxine or thyroid hormone,
and of epinephrine and norepinephrine which is converted
into a neurotransmitter, a brain chemical which transmits
nerve impulses. This neurotransmitter is used by the
brain to manufacture norepinephrine which promotes mental
alertness, memory, and behavior.
an essential amino acid, is not manufactured by reptiles
and must be acquired from food or supplements. It is
an important constituent in many proteins and is necessary
for the formation of tooth enamel protein, collagen
and elastin. It is a precursor to the amino acids glycine
and serine. It acts as a lipotropic in controlling fat
build-up in the liver.
Nutrients are more readily absorbed when threonine is
present. Threonine is an immune stimulant and deficiency
has been associated with weakened cellular response
and antibody formation.
an essential amino acid, is one of the amino acids which
reptiles cannot manufacture them self, but most acquire
from food or supplements. It is the least abundant in
proteins and also easily destroyed by the liver. Tryptophan
is necessary for the production of the B-vitamin niacin,
which is essential for your brain to manufacture the
key neurotransmitters. It helps control hyperactivity,
relieves stress, and enhances the release of growth
hormones. Tryptophan to control aggressive behavior
in some reptiles.
is one of the amino acids which reptiles cannot for
manufacture them self but must acquire from food sources.
Valine is found in abundant quantities in most food.
Valine has a stimulant effect. Healthy growth depends
on it. A deficiency results in a negative hydrogen balance.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Valine can be metabolized to produce energy, which spares
amino acid that can be manufactured by reptiles from
other sources as needed. Alanine is one of the simplest
of the amino acids and is involved in the energy-producing
breakdown of glucose. In conditions of sudden anaerobic
energy need, when muscle proteins are broken down for
energy, alanine acts as a carrier molecule to take the
nitrogen-containing amino group to the liver to be changed
to the less toxic urea, thus preventing buildup of toxic
products in the muscle cells when extra energy is needed.
No deficiency state is known.
is a nonessential amino acid and structurally similar
to aspartic acid, with an additional amino group on
the main carbon skeleton. Asparaginine aids in the metabolic
functioning of brain and nervous system cells, and may
be a mild immune stimulant as well.
Acid is a nonessential amino acid that the body can
make from other sources in sufficient amounts to meet
its needs. It is a critical part of the enzyme in the
liver that transfers nitrogen-containing amino groups,
either in building new proteins and amino acids, or
in breaking down proteins and amino acids for energy
and detoxifying the nitrogen in the form of urea.
Its ability to increase endurance is thought to be a
result of its role in clearing ammonia from the system.
Aspartic acid is one of two major excitatory amino acids
within the brain (The other is glutamic acid).
Depleted levels of aspartic acid may occur temporarily
within certain tissues under stress, but, because the
body is able to make its own aspartic acid to replace
any depletion, deficiency states do not occur. Aspartic
acid is abundant in plants, especially in sprouting
seeds. In protein, it exists mainly in the form of its
amide, asparagine. Aspartic acid is considered nontoxic.
is a dipeptide - an amino acid made from two other aminos,
methionine and lysine. It can be synthesized in the
liver if sufficient amounts of lysine, B1, B6 and iron
are available. Carnitine has been shown to have a major
role in the metabolism of fat and by increasing fat
utilization. It transfers fatty acids across the membranes
of the mitochondria where they can be utilized as sources
of energy. It also increases the rate at which the liver
Carnitine is stored primarily in the skeletal muscles
and heart, where it is needed to transform fatty acids
into energy for muscular activity.
is a high sulphur containing amino acid synthesized
by the liver. It is an important precursor to Glutathione,
one of the body's most effective antioxidants and free
radical destroyers. Free radicals are toxic waste products
of faulty metabolism, radiation and environmental pollutants
which oxidize and damage body cells. Glutathione also
protects red blood cells from oxidative damage and aids
in amino acid transport. It works most effectively when
taken in conjunction with vitamin E and selenium.
Through this antioxidant enzyme process, cysteine may
contribute to a longer life. It has immune enhancing
properties, promotes fat burning and muscle growth and
also tissue healing after injury or burns. 8% of the
scales consists of cysteine.
is a stable form of the amino acid cysteine. A reptile
is capable of converting one to the other as required
and in metabolic terms they can be thought of as the
same. Both cystine and cysteine are rich in sulphur
and can be readily synthesized. Cystine is found abundantly
in scale keratin, insulin and certain digestive enzymes.
Cystine or cysteine is needed for proper utilization
of vitamin B6. By reducing the body's absorption of
copper, cystine protects against copper toxicity, which
has been linked to behavioral problems. It is also found
helpful in the healing of wounds, and is used to break
down mucus deposits in illnesses such as bronchitis
and cystic fibrosis.
Gamma aminobutyric acid
aminobutyric acid is an important amino acid which functions
as the most prevalent inhibitory neurotransmitter in
the central nervous system. It works in partnership
with a derivative of Vitamin B-6, and helps control
the nerve cells from firing too fast, which would overload
acid is biosynthesized from a number of amino acids
including ornithine and arginine. When aminated, glutamic
acid forms the important amino acid glutamine. It can
be reconverted back into glutamine when combined with
ammonia can create confusion over which amino acid does
Glutamic acid (sometimes called glutamate) is a major
excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and spinal
cord, and is the precursor to glutathione and Gamma-Aminobutyric
Acid (GABA). Glutamic acid is also a component of folic
acid. After glutamic acid is formed in the brain from
glutamine, it then has two key roles. The body uses
glutamic acid to fuel the brain and to inhibit neural
excitation in the central nervous system. Besides glucose,
it is the only compound used for fuel by the brain.
The second function is detoxifying ammonia in the brain
and removing it. It then reconverts to its original
form of glutamine.
is an amino acid widely used to maintain good brain
functioning. Glutamine is a derivative of glutamic acid
which is synthesized from the amino acids arginine,
ornithine and proline. Glutamine improves mental alertness
and mood. It is found abundantly in animal proteins
and needed in high concentrations in serum and spinal
fluid. When glutamic acid combines with ammonia, a waste
product of metabolic activity, is converted into glutamine.
is an amino acid that is a major part of the pool of
amino acids which aid in the synthesis of non essential
amino acids in the body. Glycine can be easily formed
in the liver or kidneys from Choline and the amino acids
Threonine and Serine. Likewise, Glycine can be readily
converted back into Serine as needed. Glycine is also
one of the few amino acids that can spare glucose for
energy by improving glycogen storage.
Glycine is required by the body for the maintenance
of the central nervous system, and also plays an important
function in the immune system were it is used in the
synthesis of other non-essential amino acids. Glycine
can reduce gastric acidity, and in higher doses, can
stimulate growth hormone release and contribute to wound
healing. Glycine comprises up to a third of the collagen
and is required for the synthesis of hemoglobin, the
oxygen-carrying molecule in the blood.
is made from the amino acid arginine and in turn is
a precursor to form glutamic acid, citruline, and proline.
Ornithine's value lies in its ability to enhance liver
function, protect the liver and detoxify harmful substances.
It also helps release a growth hormone when combined
with arginine, this growth hormone is also an immune
Arginine and ornithine have improved immune responses
to bacteria and viruses. Ornithine has been shown to
aid in wound healing and support liver regeneration.
is synthesized from the amino acids glutamine or ornithine.
It is one of the main components of collagen, the connective
tissue structure that binds and supports all other tissues.
Proline improves skin texture but collagen is neither
properly formed nor maintained if Vitamin C is lacking.
is an amino acid naturally found in vegetables, fruits,
and insects. It is also normally present in large amounts
in the bone marrow and blood. Pyroglutamate improves
memory and learning in rats, but it is not known it
has any effect on reptiles.
is synthesized from the amino acids glycine or threonine.
Its production requires adequate amounts of B-7 (niacin),
B-6, and folic acid. It is needed for the metabolism
of fats and fatty acids, muscle growth and a healthy
immune system. It aids in the production of immunoglobulins
and antibodies. It is a constituent of brain proteins
and nerve coverings. It is important in the formation
of cell membranes, involved in the metabolism of purines
and pyrimidines, and muscle synthesis.
is one of the most abundant amino acids. It is found
in the central nervous system, skeletal muscle and is
very concentrated in the brain and heart. It is synthesized
from the amino acids methionine and cysteine, in conjunction
with vitamin B6. Animal protein is a good source of
taurine, as it is not found in vegetable protein. Like
magnesium, taurine affects cell membrane electrical
excitability by normalizing potassium flow in and out
of heart muscle cells. It has been found to have an
effect on blood sugar levels similar to insulin. Taurine
helps to stabilize cell membranes and seems to have
some antioxidant and detoxifying activity. It helps
the movement of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium
in and out of cells, which helps generate nerve impulses.Taurine
is necessary for the chemical reactions that produce
is an amino acid which is synthesized from phenylalanine.
It is a precursor of the important brain neurotransmitters
epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. Dopamine is
vital to mental function and seems to play a role in
Tyrosine is also used by the thyroid gland to produce
one of the major hormones, Thyroxin. This hormone regulates
growth rate, metabolic rate, skin health and mental
health. It is used in the treatment of anxiety. Animals
subjected to stress in the laboratory have been found
to have reduced levels of the brain neurotransmitter
norepinephrine. Doses of tyrosine prior to stressing
the animals prevents reduction of norepinephrine.
are naturally occurring elements found in the earth and
work in reptiles as coenzymes to allow the reptile to perform
vital functions. Minerals compose body fluids, blood and
bone, and the central nervous system functions.
The dependence on specific minerals is based upon millions
of years of evolutionary development that can be traced
back to the earliest living organisms. Over time mineral
salts have been released into the environment by the breakdown
and weathering of rock formations rich in elemental deposits.
Accumulating in the soil and oceans, minerals are passed
from micro organisms to plants and on to herbivorous creatures.
Reptiles then obtain minerals primarily from the plants,
insects and animals that make up their diet.
Minerals can be broken down into two basic groups: bulk,
or macro minerals, and trace, or micro minerals. The macro
minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, sodium (salt), potassium
and phosphorus are needed in fairly substantial amounts
for proper health. By comparison, the trace minerals are
needed in far smaller quantities and include substances
such as zinc, iron, copper, manganese, chromium, selenium,
After ingestion, dietary minerals enter the stomach where
they are attached to proteins in order to enhance absorption
into the blood stream. After minerals are absorbed they
are delivered by the blood stream to individual cells for
transport across cell membranes. Minerals must often compete
with other minerals for absorption, and in certain cases
must be in a proper balance with other minerals to be properly
utilized. For example, an excess of zinc can cause a depletion
of copper, and too much calcium can interfere with the absorption
of magnesium and phosphorus.
Minerals are generally considered safe, though high dosages
for long periods can lead to toxic effects.
is the most abundant mineral in a reptile and one of
the most important. This mineral constitutes about 1.5-2.0
percent of their body weight. Almost all (98 percent)
calcium is contained in the bones and the rest in the
other tissues or in circulation.
Many other nutrients, vitamin D-3, and certain hormones
are important to calcium absorption, function, and metabolism.
Phosphorus as well as calcium is needed for normal bones,
as are magnesium, silicon, strontium and possibly boron.
The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in bones is about
2.5:1; the best proportions of these minerals in the
diet for proper metabolism are currently under question.
Calcium works with magnesium in its functions in the
blood, nerves, muscles, and tissues, particularly in
regulating heart and muscle contraction and nerve conduction.
Vitamin D-3 is needed for much calcium (and phosphorus)
to be absorbed from the digestive tract.
Maintaining a balanced blood calcium level is essential
to life. If there is not enough calcium in the diet
to maintain sufficient amounts of calcium in the blood,
calcium then will be drawn out of the bones and increase
intestinal absorption of available calcium. So even
though most of the calcium is in the bones, the blood
and cellular concentrations of this mineral are maintained
Various factors can improve our calcium absorption.
Besides vitamin D-3, vitamins A and C can help support
normal membrane transport of calcium. Protein intake
helps absorption of calcium, but too much protein may
reduce it. Some dietary fat may also help absorption,
but high fat may reduce it.
A fast-moving intestinal tract can also reduce calcium
absorption. Stress also can diminish calcium absorption,
possibly through its effect on stomach acid levels and
digestion. Though calcium in the diet improves the absorption
of the important vitamin B-12, too much of it may interfere
with the absorption of the competing minerals magnesium,
zinc, iron, and manganese.
Because of the many complex factors affecting calcium
absorption, anywhere from 30-80 percent may end up being
excreted. Some may be eliminated in the feces. The kidneys
also control calcium blood levels through their filtering
and reabsorption functions.
makes up about 0.15 percent of the weight and is found
mainly in the extracellular fluid along with sodium.
As one of the mineral electrolytes, chloride works closely
with sodium and water to help the distribution of body
Chloride is easily absorbed from the small intestine.
It is eliminated through the kidneys, which can also
retain chloride as part of their finely controlled regulation
of acid-base balance.
is a very important essential macro mineral, even though
it is only 0.05 percent of the body weight. It is involved
in several hundred enzymatic reactions, many of which
contribute to production of energy. As with calcium,
the bones act as a reservoir for magnesium in times
of need. The remaining magnesium is contained in the
blood, fluids, and other tissues. The process of digestion
and absorption of magnesium is very similar to that
of calcium. Diets high in protein or fat, a diet high
in phosphorus or calcium (calcium and magnesium can
compete), may decrease magnesium absorption.
Usually, about 40-50 percent of the magnesium is absorbed,
though this may vary from 25-75 percent depending on
stomach acid levels, body needs, and diets. Stress may
increase magnesium excretion. The kidneys can excrete
or conserve magnesium according to body needs. The intestines
can also eliminate excess magnesium in the faeces.
is the second most abundant element (after calcium)
present in a reptile’s body, makes up about 1 percent
of the total body weight. It is present in every cell,
but 85 percent of the phosphorus is found in the bones.
In the bones, phosphorus is present in the phosphate
form as the bone salt calcium phosphate in an amount
about half that of the total calcium. Both these important
minerals are in constant turnover, even in the bone
A reptile uses a variety of mechanisms to control the
calcium-phosphorus ratio and metabolism. Phosphorus
is absorbed more efficiently than calcium. Nearly 70
percent of phosphorus is absorbed from the intestines,
although the rate depends somewhat on the levels of
calcium and vitamin D. Most phosphorus is deposited
in the bones, the rest is contained in the cells and
other tissues. Much is found in the red blood cells.
Iron, aluminium, or magnesium, which may all form insoluble
phosphates and be eliminated in the faeces. This results
in a decrease of phosphorus absorption.
Phosphorus is involved in many functions besides forming
bones. Phosphorus is important to the utilization of
carbohydrates and fats for energy production and also
in protein synthesis for the growth, maintenance, and
repair of all tissues and cells. It helps in kidney
function and acts as a buffer for acid-base balance
in the body. Phosphorus aids muscle contraction, including
the regularity of the heartbeat, and is also supportive
of proper nerve conduction. This important mineral supports
the conversion of niacin and riboflavin to their active
There is no known toxicity specific to phosphorus; however,
high dietary phosphorus, can readily affect calcium
metabolism. Potential calcium deficiency symptoms may
be more likely when the phosphorus dosage is very high.
Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency may include weakness,
weight loss, decreased growth, poor bone development,
and symptoms of rachitis may occur in phosphorus-deficient
is a very significant mineral, important to both cellular
and electrical function. It is one of the main blood
minerals called "electrolytes" (the others are sodium
and chloride), which means it carries a tiny electrical
charge (potential). Potassium is the primary positive
ion found within the cells, where 98 percent of potassium
is found. Magnesium helps maintain the potassium in
the cells, but the sodium and potassium balance is as
finely tuned as those of calcium and phosphorus or calcium
and magnesium. Potassium is well absorbed from the small
intestine, with about 90 percent absorption and is one
of the most soluble minerals. Most excess potassium
is eliminated in the urine.
Along with sodium, it regulates the water balance and
the acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. Potassium
is very important in cellular biochemical reactions
and energy metabolism; it participates in the synthesis
of protein from amino acids in the cell. Potassium also
functions in carbohydrate metabolism; it is active in
glycogen and glucose metabolism, converting glucose
to glycogen that can be stored in the liver for future
energy. Potassium is important for normal growth and
for building muscle.
Elevations or depletions of this important mineral can
cause many problems. Maintaining consistent levels of
potassium in the blood and cells is vital to function.
Even with high dosages of potassium, the kidneys will
clear any excess, and blood levels will not be increased.
Low potassium may impair glucose metabolism. In more
severe potassium deficiency, there can be serious muscle
weakness, bone fragility, central nervous system changes,
and even death.
is another mineral that is not commonly written about
as an essential nutrient. It is present in the soil
and is actually the most abundant mineral in the earth's
crust, as carbon is the most abundant in plant and animal
tissue. Silicon is very hard and is found in rock crystals
such as quartz or flint. Silicon molecules in the tissues,
such as the nails and connective tissue, give them strength
and stability. Silicon is present in bone, blood vessels,
cartilage, and tendons, helping to make them strong.
Silicon is important to bone formation, as it is found
in active areas of calcification. It is also found in
plant fibres and is probably an important part of their
structure. This mineral is able to form long molecules,
much the same as is carbon, and gives these complex
configurations some durability and strength. Retarded
growth and poor bone development is the result of a
silicon-deficient diet. Collagen contains silicon, helping
hold the body tissues together. This mineral works with
calcium to help restore bones.
It deeply penetrates the tissues and help to clear stored
toxins. The essential strength and stability this mineral
provides to the tissues should give them protection
is the primary positive ion found in the blood and body
fluids; it is also found in every cell although it is
mainly extracellular, working closely with potassium,
the primary intracellular mineral. Sodium is one of
the electrolytes, along with potassium and chloride,
and is closely tied in with the movement of water; "where
sodium goes, water goes." Sodium chloride is present
in solution on a large part of the earth's surface in
ocean water. Along with potassium, sodium helps to regulate
the fluid balance both within and outside the cells.
Through the kidneys, by buffering the blood with a balance
of all the positive or negative ions present, these
two minerals help control the acid-base balance as well.
Sodium and potassium interaction helps to create an
electrical potential (charge) that enables muscles to
contract and nerve impulses to be conducted. Sodium
is also important to hydrochloric acid production in
the stomach and is used during the transport of amino
acids from the gut into the blood.
Since sodium is needed to maintain blood fluid volume,
excessive sodium can lead to increased blood volume,
especially when the kidneys do not clear it efficiently.
In the case of sodium, there is more of a concern with
toxicity from excesses than with deficiencies.
Sodium deficiency is less common than excess sodium,
as this mineral is readily available in all diets, but
when it does occur, deficiency can cause problems. The
deficiency is usually accompanied by water loss. When
sodium and water are lost together, the extracellular
fluid volume is depleted, which can cause decreased
blood volume, increased blood count and muscle weakness.
When sodium is lost alone, water flows into the cells,
causing cellular swelling and symptoms of water intoxication.
With low sodium, there is also usually poor carbohydrate
is an interesting non-metallic element that is found
mainly as part of larger compounds. Sulphur is present
in four amino acids: methionine, an essential amino
acid and the nonessential cystine and cysteine and.
Sulphur is also present in two B vitamins; thiamine
is important to skin and biotin to the scales. Sulphur
is also available as various sulphates or sulphides.
But overall, sulphur is most important as part of protein.
Sulphur is absorbed from the small intestine primarily
as the four amino acids or from sulphates in water,
fruits and vegetables. Sulphur is stored in all cells,
especially the skin, scales, and nails. Excess amounts
are eliminated through the urine or in the faeces.
As part of four amino acids, sulphur performs a number
of functions in enzyme reactions and protein synthesis.
It is necessary for formation of collagen, the protein
found in connective tissue. Sulphur is also present
in keratin, which is necessary for the maintenance of
the skin, scales, and nails, helping to give strength,
shape, and hardness to these protein tissues. There
is minimal reason for concern about either toxicity
or deficiency of sulphur. No clearly defined symptoms
exist with either state. Sulphur deficiency is common
with low-protein diets, or with a lack of intestinal
bacteria, though none of these seems to cause any problems
in regard to sulphur functions and metabolism.
Essential Trace Minerals (Trace elements)
is a vital molecule in regulating carbohydrate metabolism
by enhancing insulin function for proper use of glucose.
Together with two niacin molecules, and three amino
acids; glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.
Chromium is really considered an "ultra-trace" mineral,
since it is needed in such small quantities to perform
its essential functions. The blood contains about 20
parts per billion (ppb), a fraction of a microgram.
Even though it is in such small concentrations, this
mineral is important to a reptile’s health. The kidneys
clear any excess from the blood, while much of chromium
is eliminated through the faeces. This mineral is stored
in many parts, including the skin, fat, muscles and
kidneys. Because of the low absorption and high excretion
rates of chromium, toxicity is not at all common in
reptiles, but it is in amphibians.
is another essential mineral needed in very small amounts
in the diet.
Cobalt, as part of vitamin B12, is not easily absorbed
from the digestive tract. It is stored in the red blood
cells and the plasma, as well as in the liver, and kidneys.
As part of vitamin B12, cobalt is essential to red blood
cell formation and is also helpful to other cells.
Toxicity can occur from excess inorganic cobalt found
as a food contaminant. High dosage may affect the thyroid
or cause overproduction of red blood cells, thickened
blood, and increased activity in the bone marrow.
Deficiency of cobalt is not really a concern with enough
vitamin B12. As cobalt deficiency leads to decreased
availability of B12, there is an increase of many symptoms
and problems related to B12 deficiency, particularly
is important as a catalyst in the formation of haemoglobin,
the oxygen-carrying molecule. It helps oxidize vitamin
C and works with C to form collagen (part of cell membranes
and the supportive matrix in muscles and other tissues),
especially in the bone and connective tissue. It helps
the cross-linking of collagen fibres and thus supports
the healing process of tissues and aids in proper bone
formation. An excess of copper may increase collagen
and lead to stiffer and less flexible tissues.
Copper is found in many enzymes; most important is the
cytoplasmic superoxide dismutase. Copper enzymes play
a role in oxygen-free radical metabolism, and in this
way have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Copper also
functions in certain amino acid conversions. Being essential
in the synthesis of phospholipids, copper contributes
to the integrity of the myelin sheaths covering nerves.
It also aids the conversion of tyrosine to the pigment
melanin, which gives scales and skin their colouring.
Copper, as well as zinc, is important for converting
T3 (triiodothyronine) to T4 (thyroxine), both thyroid
hormones. Low copper levels may reduce thyroid functions.
Copper, like most metals, is a conductor of electricity;
it helps the nervous system function. It also helps
control levels of histamine. Copper in the blood is
fixed to the protein cerulosplasmin, and copper is part
of the enzyme histaminase, which is involved in the
metabolism of histamine.
Problems of copper toxicity may include stress, hyperactivity,
nervousness, and discoloration of the skin and scales.
Copper deficiency is commonly found together with iron
deficiency. High zinc dosage can lead to lower copper
levels and some symptoms of copper deficiency. The reduced
red blood cell function and shortened red cell life
span can influence energy levels and cause weakness
and may also affect tissue health and healing. Weakened
immunity, skeletal defects related to bone demineralization,
and poor nerve conductivity, might all result from copper
depletions. Copper deficiency results in several abnormalities
of the immune system, such as reduced cellular immune
response, reduced activity of white blood cells and
an increased infection rate.
is an essential nutrient for production of thyroid hormones
and therefore is required for normal thyroid function.
The thyroid hormones, particularly thyroxine, which
is 65 percent iodine, are responsible for basal metabolic
rate, the reptile’s use of energy. Thyroid is required
for cell respiration and the production of energy and
further increases oxygen consumption and general metabolism.
The thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine,
are also needed for normal growth and development, protein
synthesis, and energy metabolism. Nerve and bone formation,
reproduction, and the condition of the skin, scales,
and nails. Thyroid and, thus, iodine also affect the
conversion of carotene to vitamin A and of ribonucleic
acids to protein; cholesterol synthesis; and carbohydrate
There is no significant danger of toxicity of iodine
from a natural diet, though some care must be taken
when supplementing iodine. High iodine dosage, however,
may actually reduce thyroxine production and thyroid
function. Deficiencies of iodine have been very common,
especially in areas where the soil is depleted, as discussed
earlier. Several months of iodine deficiency leads to
slower metabolism, decreased resistance to infection,
and a decrease in sexual energy.
function of iron is the formation of haemoglobin. Iron
is the central core of the haemoglobin molecule, which
is the essential oxygen-carrying component of the red
blood cell (RBC). In combination with protein, iron
is carried in the blood to the bone marrow, where, with
the help of copper, it forms haemoglobin. The ferritin
and transferrin proteins actually hold and transport
the iron. Haemoglobin carries the oxygen molecules throughout
the body. Red blood cells pick up oxygen from the lungs
and distribute it to the rest of the tissues, all of
which need oxygen to survive. Iron's ability to change
back and forth between its ferrous and ferric forms
allows it to hold and release oxygen. Myoglobin is similar
to haemoglobin in that it is an iron-protein compound
that holds oxygen and carries it into the muscles, mainly
the skeletal muscles and the heart. It provides higher
amounts of oxygen to our muscles with increased activity.
Myoglobin also acts as an oxygen reservoir in the muscle
cells. So muscle performance actually depends on this
function of iron, besides the basic oxygenation by haemoglobin
through normal blood circulation.
Usually, it takes moderately high amounts over a long
period with minimal losses of this mineral to develop
any iron toxicity problems.
Iron deficiency occurs fairly commonly when a rapid
growth period increases iron needs, which are often
not met with additional dietary intake. Females need
more iron than males. Symptoms are weight loss from
decreased appetite, loss of energy, lowered immunity
(a weakened resistance), and may cause a strange symptom;
eating and licking inedible objects, such as stones,
mud, or glass.
is involved in many enzyme systems-that is, it helps
to catalyze many biochemical reactions. There are some
biochemical suggestions that manganese is closer to
magnesium in more than just name. It is possible that
magnesium can substitute for manganese in certain conditions
when manganese is deficient.
Manganese activates the enzymes necessary for a reptile
to use biotin, thiamine (B1), vitamin C, and choline.
It is important for the digestion and utilization of
food, especially proteins, through peptidase activity,
and it is needed for the synthesis of cholesterol and
fatty acids and in glucose metabolism.
Manganese may be one of the least toxic minerals.
Manganese deficiency can lead to sterility, and to infertile
eggs or to poor growth in the offspring. There is decreased
bone growth, especially in length.
is a vital part of three important enzyme systems—xanthine
oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and sulphite oxidase—and
so has a vital role in uric acid formation and iron
utilization, in carbohydrate metabolism, and sulphite
detoxification as well. Xanthine oxidase (XO) helps
in the production of uric acid, an end product of protein
(purine) metabolism and may also help in the mobilization
of iron from liver reserves. Aldehyde oxidase helps
in the oxidation of carbohydrates and other aldehydes,
including acetaldehyde produced from ethyl alcohol.
Sulphate oxidase helps to detoxify sulphurs.
Animals given large amounts experience weight loss,
slow growth, anaemia, or diarrhea, though these effects
may be more the result of low levels of copper, a mineral
with which molybdenum competes. Molybdenum-deficient
diets seem to produce weight loss and decreased life
has a variety of functions; its main role is as an antioxidant
in the enzyme selenium-glutathione peroxidase. Selenium
is part of a nutritional antioxidant system that protects
cell membranes and intracellular structural membranes
from lipid peroxidation. It is actually the selenocysteine
complex that is incorporated into glutathione peroxidase
(GP), an enzyme that helps prevent cellular degeneration
from the common peroxidase free radicals, such as hydrogen
peroxide. GP also aids red blood cell metabolism and
prevent chromosome damage in tissue cultures. As an
antioxidant, selenium in the form of selenocysteine
prevents or slows the biochemical aging process of tissue
degeneration and hardening-that is, loss of youthful
elasticity. This protection of the tissues and cell
membranes is enhanced by vitamin E. Selenium also protects
reptiles from the toxic effects of heavy metals and
other substances. Selenium may also aid in protein synthesis,
growth and development, and fertility, especially in
the male. It has been shown to improve sperm production
High doses of selenium can lead to weight loss, liver
and kidney malfunction, and even death if the levels
are high enough. With selenium deficiency, there may
be increased risk of infections. Many other metals,
including cadmium, arsenic, silver, copper, and mercury,
are thought to be more toxic in the presence of selenium
involved in a multitude of functions and is part of
many enzyme systems. With regard to metabolism, zinc
is part of alcohol dehydrogenase, which helps the liver
detoxify alcohols (obtained often from eating rotten,
high sugar fruits), including ethanol, methanol, ethylene
glycol, and retinol (vitamin A). Zinc is also thought
to help utilize and maintain levels of vitamin A. Through
this action, zinc may help maintain healthy skin cells
and thus may be helpful in generating new skin. By helping
collagen formation, zinc may also improve wound healing.
Zinc is needed for lactate and malate dehydrogenases,
both important in energy production. Zinc is a cofactor
for the enzyme alkaline phosphatase, which helps contribute
phosphates to bones. Zinc is also part of bone structure.
Zinc is important to male sex organ function and reproductive
fluids. It is in high concentration in the eye, liver,
and muscle tissues suggesting its functions in those
Zinc in carboxypeptidase (a digestive enzyme) helps
in protein digestion. Zinc is important for synthesis
of nucleic acids, both DNA and RNA. Zinc has also been
shown to support immune function.
Zinc is fairly non-toxic. There are many symptoms and
decreased functions due to zinc deficiency. It may cause
slowed growth or slow sexual behaviour. Lowered resistance
and increased susceptibility to infection may occur
with zinc deficiency, which is related to a decreased
cellular immune response. Sensitivity and reactions
to environmental chemicals may be exaggerated in a state
of zinc deficiency, as many of the important detoxification
enzyme functions may be impaired.
Reptiles with zinc deficiency may show poor appetite
and slow development. Dwarfism and a total lack of sexual
function may occur with serious zinc deficiency. Fatigue
is common. Sterility may result from zinc deficiency.
Birth defects have been associated with zinc deficiency
during pregnancy in experimental animals. The offspring
showed reduced growth patterns.
Other Trace minerals
is an important trace mineral necessary for the proper
absorption and utilization of calcium for maintaining
bone density and the prevention of loss of bone mass.
It possibly affects calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus
balance and the mineral movement and makeup of the bones
by regulating the hormones.
helps strengthen the crystalline structure of bones.
The calcium fluoride salt forms a fluorapatite matrix,
which is stronger and less soluble than other calcium
salts and therefore is not as easily reabsorbed into
circulation to supply calcium needs. In bones, fluoride
reduces loss of calcium and thereby may reduce osteoporosis.
No other functions of fluoride are presently known,
though it has been suggested to have a role in growth,
in iron absorption, and in the production of red blood
Toxicity from fluoride is definitely a potential problem.
As stated, fluoridated water must be closely monitored
to keep the concentration at about 1 ppm. At 8 to about
20 ppm, initial tissue sclerosis will occur, especially
in the bones and joints. At over 20 ppm, much damage
can occur, including decreased growth and cellular changes,
especially in the metabolically active organs such as
the liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs. More than
50 ppm of fluoride intake can be fatal. Animals eating
extra fluoride in grains, vegetables or in water have
been shown to have bone lesions. Fat and carbohydrate
metabolism has also been affected. There are many other
concerns about fluoride toxicity, including bone malformations.
Sodium fluoride is less toxic than most other fluoride
salts. In cases of toxicity, extra calcium will bind
with the fluoride, making a less soluble and less active
Fluoride deficiency is less of a concern. It is possible,
that traces of fluoride are essential, but it is not
clear whether it is a natural component of the tissues.
Low fluoride levels may correlate with a higher amount
of bone fractures, but that is usually in the presence
mineral germanium itself may be needed in small; however,
research has not yet shown this. It is found in the
soil, in foods, and in many plants, such as aloe vera,
garlic, and ginseng. The organo-germanium does not release
the mineral germanium to the tissues for specific action,
but is absorbed, acts, and is eliminated as the entire
not yet known what particular function of lithium may
make it an essential nutrient. It is thought to stabilize
serotonin transmission in the nervous system; it influences
sodium transport; and it may even increase lymphocytic
(white blood cell) proliferation and depress the suppressor
cell activity, thus strengthening the immune system.
Deficiency of lithium is not really known. Symptoms
of lithium toxicity include diarrhea, thirst, increased
urination, and muscle weakness. Skin eruptions may also
occur. With further toxicity, staggering, seizures,
kidney damage, coma, and even death may occur.
function of nickel is still somewhat unclear. Nickel
is found in the body in highest concentrations in the
nucleic acids, particularly RNA, and is thought to be
somehow involved in protein structure or function. It
may activate certain enzymes related to the breakdown
or utilization of glucose. Low nickel can lead to decreased
growth, dermatitis, pigment changes, decreased reproduction
capacities, and compromised liver function.
are currently no known essential functions of rubidium.
In studies with mice, rubidium has helped decrease tumour
growth, possibly by replacing potassium in cell transport
mechanisms or by rubidium ions attaching to the cancer
cell membranes. Rubidium may have a tranquilizing or
hypnotic effect in some animals.
There is no known deficiency or toxicity for rubidium.
may help improve the cell structure and mineral matrix
of the bones, adding strength and helping to prevent
soft bones, though it is not known if low levels of
strontium causes these problems.
There have been no cases of known toxicity from natural
strontium. Strontium deficiency may correlate with decreased
growth, poor calcification of the bones.
has a function, it may be related to protein structure
or oxidation and reduction reactions, though tin is
generally a poor catalyst. Tin may interact with iron
and copper, particularly in the gut, and so inhibit
Though tin is considered a mildly toxic mineral, there
are no known serious diseases. Studies in rats showed
mainly a slightly shortened life span. There are no
known problems from tin deficiency.
is known about vanadium function. Vanadium seems to
be involved in catecholamine and lipid metabolism. It
has been shown to have an effect in reducing the production
of cholesterol. Other research involves its role in
calcium metabolism, in growth, reproduction, blood sugar
regulation, and red blood cell production. The enzyme-stimulation
role of vanadium may involve it in bone formation and,
through the production of coenzyme A, in fat metabolism.
Vanadium has been thought to be essentially non-toxic,
possibly because of poor absorption. In reptiles, vanadium
deficiency causes some problems with the scales and
shedding, bone development, and reproduction.
Toxic Trace Minerals
has only recently been considered a problem mineral.
Though it is not very toxic in normal levels, neither
has it been found to be essential. Aluminium is very
abundant in the earth and in the sea. It is present
in only small amounts in animal and plant tissues. The
best way to prevent aluminium build-up is to avoid the
sources of aluminium. Some tap waters contain aluminium;
this can be checked. Avoiding aluminium water dishes
and replacing it with stainless steel, ceramic, or plastic
is a good idea.
arsenic's reputation as a poison, it actually has fairly
low toxicity in comparison with some other metals. In
fact, it has been shown to be essential animals. Organic
arsenic as and elemental arsenic both found naturally
in the earth and in foods do not readily produce toxicity.
In fact, they are handled fairly easily and eliminated
by the kidneys. The inorganic arsenites or trivalent
forms of arsenic, such as arsenic trioxide seem to create
the problems. They accumulate in the body, particularly
in the skin, scales, and nails, but also in internal
organs. Arsenic can accumulate when kidney function
is decreased. Luckily, absorption of arsenic is fairly
low, so most is eliminated in the faeces and some in
In some studies, arsenic has been shown to promote longevity
Like lead, it is an underground mineral that did not
enter our air, food, and water in significant amounts
until it was mined as part of zinc deposits. As cadmium
and zinc are found together in natural deposits, so
are they similar in structure and function. Cadmium
may actually displace zinc in some of its important
enzymatic and organ functions; thus, it interferes with
these functions or prevents them from being completed.
The zinc-cadmium ratio is very important, as cadmium
toxicity and storage are greatly increased with zinc
deficiency, and good levels of zinc protect against
tissue damage by cadmium. The refinement of grains reduces
the zinc-cadmium ratio, so zinc deficiency and cadmium
toxicity are more likely when the diet is high in refined
Besides faecal losses, mainly the kidneys excrete it.
This mineral is stored primarily in the liver and kidneys.
In rat studies, higher levels of cadmium are associated
with an increase in heart size, higher blood pressure,
progressive atherosclerosis, and reduced kidney function.
And in rats, cadmium toxicity is worse with zinc deficiency
and reduced with higher zinc intake.
Cadmium appears to depress some immune functions, mainly
by reducing host resistance to bacteria and viruses.
Cadmium also affects the bones. It was associated with
weak bones that lead to deformities, especially of the
spine, or to more easily broken bones.
metal lead is the most common toxic mineral, it is the
worst and most widespread pollutant, though luckily
not the most toxic; cadmium and mercury are worse. Though
this is not completely clear, lead most likely interferes
with functions performed by essential minerals such
as calcium, iron, copper, and zinc. Lead does interrupt
several red blood cell enzymes. Especially in brain
chemistry, lead may create abnormal function by inactivating
important zinc-, copper-, and iron-dependent enzymes.
Lead affects both the brain and the peripheral nerves
and can displace calcium in bone. Lead also lowers host
resistance to bacteria and viruses, and thus allows
an increase in infections.
Calcium and magnesium reduce lead absorption. Iron,
copper, and zinc also do this. With low mineral intake,
lead absorption and potential toxicity are increased.
Algin, as from kelp (seaweed) or the supplement sodium
alginate, helps to bind lead and other heavy metals
in the gastrointestinal tract and carry them to elimination
and reduce absorption. With this, though, essential
vitamins and minerals, such as the Bs, iron, calcium,
zinc, copper, and chromium, help decrease lead absorption.
or "quicksilver," is a shiny liquid metal that is fairly
toxic, though the metallic mercury is less so. Especially
a problem is methyl or ethyl mercury, or mercuric chloride,
which is very poisonous.
Some mercury is retained in the tissues, mainly in the
kidneys, which store about 50 percent of the body mercury.
The blood, bones, liver, spleen, brain, and fat tissue
also hold mercury. This potentially toxic metal does
get into the brain and nerve tissue, so central nervous
system symptoms may develop. But mercury is also eliminated
daily through the urine and faeces. Mercury has no known
essential functions and probably affects the inherent
protein structure, which may interfere with functions
relating to protein production. Mercury may also interfere
with some functions of selenium, and can be an immunosuppressant.
Algin can decrease absorption of mercury, especially
inorganic mercury. Selenium binds both inorganic and
methyl mercury; mercury selenide is formed and excreted
in faecal matter. Selenium is, for many reasons, an
important nutrient; it does seem to protect against
heavy metal toxicity.
Vitamins are essential for the proper
regulation of reproduction, growth, and energy production.
Since reptiles are unable to manufacture most of the vitamins
required for good health, they must be obtained from dietary
sources, either from food or from supplements.Vitamins are commonly referred to as
micronutrients because of the extremely small amounts required
to maintain optimal health, as compared to macronutrients
such as fats, protein and carbohydrates, which are required
in much greater amounts. Vitamins, unlike the macronutrients,
are not a source of calories, but without adequate amounts,
reptiles cannot utilize the macronutrients, and health and
energy levels will suffer.Vitamins are divided into two sub-categories,
fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. The four
fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E and K, share a chemical
relationship, based on the common need for cholesterol in
their synthesis. The fat-soluble vitamins can be stored
in fatty tissues and be released at a later time as needed.
The vitamin B complex consists of a family of nutrients
that have been grouped together due to the interrelationships
in their function in enzyme systems, as well as their distribution
in natural food sources. All of the B vitamins are soluble
in water and are easily absorbed. Unlike fat-soluble nutrients,
the B-complex vitamins cannot be stored in the body, and
must therefore be replaced daily from food sources or supplements.
Unlike humans, reptiles are able to synthesize
their need of vitamin C.
Water Soluble Vitamins
bios, vitamin B8, vitamin H, protective factor
X, and coenzyme R.
is a water-soluble vitamin and member of the B-complex
family. Biotin is an essential nutrient that is required
for cell growth and for the production of fatty acids.
Biotin also plays a central role in carbohydrate and
protein metabolism and is essential for the proper utilization
of the other B-complex vitamins. Biotin contributes
to healthy skin and scales. A biotin deficiency is rare,
as biotin is easily synthesized in the intestines by
bacteria, usually in amounts far greater than are normally
require for good health. Those at highest risk for biotin
deficiency are reptiles with digestive problems that
can interfere with normal intestinal absorption, and
those treated with antibiotics or sulfa drugs, which
can inhibit the growth of the intestinal bacteria that
vitamin M and vitamin B9
Acid is a water-soluble nutrient belonging to the B-complex
family. The name folic acid is derived from the Latin
word "folium", so chosen since this essential nutrient
was first extracted from green leafy vegetables, or
foliage. Among its various important roles, folic acid
is a vital coenzyme required for the proper synthesis
the nucleic acids that maintain the genetic codes and
insure healthy cell division. Adequate levels of folic
acid are essential for energy production and protein
metabolism, for the formulation of red blood cells,
and for the proper functioning of the intestinal tract.
Folic acid deficiency affects all cellular functions,
but most importantly it reduces the reptile's ability
to repair damaged tissues and grow new cells. Tissues
with the highest rate of cell replacement, such as red
blood cells, are affected first. Folic acid deficiency
symptoms include diarrhea, poor nutrient absorption
and malnutrition leading to stunted growth and weakness.
is one of the bioflavonoids, naturally occurring nutrients
usually found in association with Vitamin C. The bioflavonoids,
sometimes called Vitamin P, were found to be the essential
component in correcting this bruising tendency and improving
the permeability and integrity of the capillary lining.
These bioflavonoids include Hesperidin, Citrin, Rutin,
Flavones, Flavonals, Calechin, and Quercetin.
Hesperidin deficiency has been linked with abnormal
capillary leaking causing weakness. Supplemental Hesperidin
may also help reduce excess swelling in the limbs due
to fluid accumulation. Like other bioflavonoids, hesperidin
works together with Vitamin C and other bioflavonoids.
No signs of toxicity have been observed with normal
B-1 is a nutrient with a critical role in maintaining
the central nervous system. Adequate thiamine levels
can dramatically affect physiological wellbeing. Conversely,
inadequate levels of B1 can lead to eye weakness and
loss of physical coordination.
Vitamin B1 is required for the production of hydrochloric
acid, for forming blood cells, and for maintaining healthy
circulation. It also plays a key role in converting
carbohydrates into energy, and in maintaining good muscle
tone of the digestive system.
Like all the B-vitamins, B-1 is a water-soluble nutrient
that cannot be stored in the body, but must be replenished
on a daily basis. B-1 is most effective when given in
a balanced complex of the other B vitamins.
A chronic deficiency of thiamine will lead to damages
of the central nervous system. Thiamine levels can be
affected in combination with antibiotics and sulfa drugs.
A diet high in carbohydrates can also increase the need
B-2 is an easily absorbed, water-soluble micronutrient
with a key role in maintaining health. Like the other
B vitamins, riboflavin supports energy production by
aiding in the metabolization of fats, carbohydrates
and proteins. Vitamin B-2 is also required for red blood
cell formation and respiration, antibody production,
and for regulating growth and reproduction. Riboflavin
is known to increase energy levels and aid in boosting
immune system functions. It also plays a key role in
maintaining healthy scales, skin and nails. A deficiency
of vitamin B-2 may be indicated by the appearance of
skin and shedding problems. Gravid females need Vitamin
B-2, as it is critical for the proper growth and development
of the eggs.
Niacin, Niacinamide and Nicotinic Acid
B-3 is an essential nutrient required by all animals
for the proper metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and
proteins, as well as for the production of hydrochloric
acid for digestion. B-3 also supports proper blood circulation,
healthy skin, and aids in the functioning of the central
nervous system. Because of its role in supporting the
higher functions of the brain and cognition. Lastly,
adequate levels of B-3 are vital for the proper synthesis
of insulin, and the sex hormones such as estrogen, testosterone,
A deficiency in vitamin B-3 can result in a disorder
characterized by malfunctioning of the nervous system,
diarrhea, and skin- and shedding problems.
acid is a water-soluble B vitamin that cannot be stored
in the body but must be replaced daily, either from
diet or from supplements.
Pantothenic acids' most important function is as an
essential component in the production of coenzyme A,
a vital catalyst that is required for the conversion
of carbohydrates, fats, and protein into energy. Pantothenic
acid is also referred to as an antistress vitamin due
to its vital role in the formation of various adrenal
hormones, steroids, and cortisone, as well as contributing
to the production of important brain neuro-transmitters.
B-5 is required for the production of cholesterol, bile,
vitamin D, red blood cells, and antibodies.
Lack of B5 can lead to a variety of symptoms including
skin disorders, digestive problems and muscle cramps.
B-6 is a water-soluble nutrient that cannot be stored
in the body, but must be obtained daily from either
dietary sources or supplements.
Vitamin B-6 is an important nutrient that supports more
vital functions than any other vitamin. This is due
to its role as a coenzyme involved in the metabolism
of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Vitamin B-6 is
also responsible for the manufacture of hormones, red
blood cells, neurotransmitters and enzymes. Vitamin
B-6 is required for the production of serotonin, a brain
neurotransmitter that controls appetite, sleep patterns,
and sensitivity to pain. A deficiency of vitamin B-6
can quickly lead to a profound malfunctioning of the
central nervous system.
Among its many benefits, vitamin B-6 is recognized for
helping to maintain healthy immune system functions.
Cobalamin and Cyanocobalamin
B-12 is a water-soluble compound of the B vitamin family
with a unique difference. Unlike the other B-vitamins
which cannot be stored, but which must be replaced daily,
vitamin B12 can be stored for long periods in the liver
Vitamin B-12 is a particularly important coenzyme that
is required for the proper synthesis of DNA, which controls
the healthy formation of new cells throughout the body.
B-12 also supports the action of vitamin C, and is necessary
for the proper digestion and absorption of foods, for
protein synthesis, and for the normal metabolism of
carbohydrates and fats. Additionally, vitamin B-12 prevents
nerve damage by contributing to the formation of nerve
cells insulators. B-12 also maintains fertility, and
helps promote normal growth and development.
Since vitamin B-12 can be easily stored in the reptile’s
body, and is only required in tiny amounts, symptoms
of severe deficiency usually take time to appear. When
symptoms do surface, it is likely that deficiency was
due to digestive disorders or malabsorption rather than
to poor diet. The source of B-12 in herbivorous reptiles
is not known, since B-12 only comes from animal sources.
Due to its role in healthy cell formation, a deficiency
of B-12 disrupts the formation of red blood cells, leading
to reduced numbers of poorly formed red cells. Symptoms
include loss of appetite. B-12 deficiency can lead to
improper formation of nerve cells, resulting in irreversible
C is powerful water-soluble antioxidant that is vital
for the growth and maintenance of all body tissues.
Though easily absorbed by the intestines, vitamin C
cannot be stored in the body, and is excreted in the
urine. Reptiles are able to synthesize their need of
vitamin C, unlike humans, along with apes and guinea
pigs. One of vitamin C's most vital roles is in the
production of collagen, an important cellular component
of connective tissues, muscles, tendons, bones, scales
and skin. Collagen is also required for the repair of
blood vessels, bruises, and broken bones.
This easily destroyed nutrient also protects us from
the ravages of free radicals, destroying cell membranes
on contact and damaging DNA strands, leading to degenerative
diseases. The antioxidant activity of vitamin C can
also protect reptiles from the damaging effects of radiation.
Vitamin C also aids in the metabolization of folic acid,
regulates the uptake of iron, and is required for the
conversion of some amino acids. The hormone responsible
for sleep, pain control and well being, also requires
adequate supplies of vitamin C. A deficiency of ascorbic
acid can impair the production of collagen and lead
to retarded growth, reduced immune response, and increased
susceptibility to infections.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
retinol (=preformed vitamin A)
A is a vital fat-soluble nutrient and antioxidant that
can maintain healthy skin and confer protection against
diseases. Vitamin A is commonly found in two forms;
as preformed vitamin A (retinol) and as provitamin A,
Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness and defective
formation of bones and scales. In addition to promoting
good vision, other recognized major benefits of vitamin
A include its ability to boost the immune system, speed
recovery from infections, promote wound healing and
D-3 is required for the proper regulation and absorption
of the essential minerals calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin
D-3 can be produced photochemically by the action of
sunlight or ultraviolet light from the precursor sterol
7-dehydrocholesterol which is present in the epidermis
or skin of most higher animals. Adequate levels of Vitamin
D-3 are required for the proper absorption of calcium
and phosphorus in the small intestines. Vitamin D-3
further supports and regulates the use of these minerals
for the growth and development of the bones and teeth.
Because of this vital link, adequate intake of Vitamin
D-3 is critically important for the proper mineralization
of the bones in developing reptiles. Vitamin D-3 also
aids in the prevention and treatment of metabolic bone
disease and hypocalcemia in adults.
A prolonged Vitamin D-3 deficiency may result in rachitis,
a bone deformity, and in softening of the bone tissue.
Ultra violet rays (in the UVB range) acting directly
upon the skin can synthesis vitamin D-3, so exposure
to sunlight brief but regular is usually an effective
way to for assure adequate levels of Vitamin D-3.
Since the body can endogenously produce vitamin D-3
and since it is retained for long periods of time by
vertebrate tissue, it is difficult to determine with
precision the minimum daily requirements for this seco-steroid.
The requirement for vitamin D is also known to be dependent
on the concentration of calcium and phosphorus in the
diet, the physiological stage of development, age, sex
and degree of exposure to the sun (geographical location).
High levels of vitamin D-3 can be toxic and have the
same effects as a deficiency.
E functions as a powerful antioxidant to protect fatty
tissues from free radical damage. Free radicals are
extremely dangerous and reactive oxygen compounds that
are constantly being produced from a variety of natural
sources such as radiation and the breakdown of proteins
in the body. Left unchecked, free radicals course rupturing
cell membranes, causing massive damage to skin, connective
tissues and cells.
Vitamin E also plays an important reproduction and muscle
K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that is required
for the regulation of normal blood clotting functions.
Dietary vitamin K is found primarily in the form of
dark leafy vegetables, but most of the needs for this
micronutrient are met by micro organisms that synthesize
vitamin K in the intestinal tract.
Vitamin K's main function is in to synthesize a protein
vital for blood clotting. Vitamin K also aids in converting
glucose into glycogen for storage in the liver, and
may also play a role in forming bone formation. Vitamin
K deficiency can result in impaired blood clotting and
internal bleeding. A deficiency of vitamin K can be
caused by use of antibiotics, which can inhibit the
growth of the intestinal micro organisms required for
the synthesis of vitamin K.
are substances which are transformed to vitamins in
(sometimes known as provitamin D3) is a chemical
that, in the presence of ultraviolet light, is converted
by the body to previtamin D3 which is then
isomerized into Vitamin D3.
is an exciting and powerful fat-soluble antioxidant
with tremendous ability to neutralize free radicals
and fight infectious diseases. Beta-carotene is also
referred to as provitamin A because in its natural form
it is not readily available for use in reptiles. When
there is need for extra vitamin A, beta carotene undergoes
a transformation as powerful liver enzymes split each
molecule of beta carotene to form two molecules of vitamin
A. This unique feature enables beta carotene to be non-toxic
at high doses whereas vitamin A can produce toxic effects
in relatively low doses. In addition to promoting good
vision, beta-carotene also boosts immune functions,
speeds recovery from infections and promotes wound healing.
are an essential ingredient of the digestion process. From
the time food enters the mouth, enzymes are at work breaking
the food down into smaller and smaller components until
it can be absorbed through the intestinal wall and into
the blood stream. These enzymes come from two sources, those
found in the food itself, and those secreted in the body.Food
naturally contains the enzymes necessary to aid in its digestion.
When food is chewed enzymes are liberated to aid in digestion.
Enzymes called protease break down proteins into polypeptides
(smaller amino acids chains) and eventually into single
amino acids. Amylase reduces complex carbohydrates to simpler
sugars like sucrose, lactose, and maltose. The Lipase enzyme
turns fat into free fatty acids and glycerol. Cellulases
break the bonds found in fibre and liberate the nutritional
value of fruits and vegetables.A reptile
is capable of producing similar enzymes, with the exception
of cellulase, necessary to digest food and allow for the
absorption of nutrients. Most
food enzymes are functionally destroyed in processed food,
leaving them without natural enzyme activity. Reptiles need
a certain amount of enzymes to properly digest food and
thus must produce more of their own enzymes in order to
make up the difference. The digestive processes can be come
over-stressed leading to an inadequacy of enzymes production
in the organs designed to do so. This digestive inadequacy
can cause improper digestion and poor absorption of nutrients
having far reaching effects. The consequences of malabsorption
may include impaired immune system function, poor wound
healing and skin problems. Supplementing
with added enzymes can improve digestion and help assure
maximum nutrient absorption.
is responsible for digesting proteins in the food, which
is probably one of the most difficult substances to
metabolize. Because of this, protease is considered
to be one of the most important enzymes. If the digestive
process is incomplete, undigested protein can wind up
in the circulatory system, as well as in other parts
of the body.
is a group of enzymes that are present in saliva, pancreatic
juice, and parts of plants and catalyze the hydrolysis
of starch to sugar to produce carbohydrate derivatives.
Amylase, also called diastase, is responsible for digesting
carbohydrates in the food. It hydrolyzes starch, glycogen,
and dextrin to form in all three instances glucose,
maltose, and limit-dextrin. Salivary amylase is known
as ptyalin. Ptyalin begins polysaccharide digestion
in the mouth; the process is completed in the small
intestine by the pancreatic amylase, sometimes called
is an enzyme capable of degrading lipid molecules. The
bulk of dietary lipids are a class called triacylglycerols
and are attacked by lipases to yield simple fatty acids
and glycerol, molecules which can permeate the membranes
of the stomach and small intestine for use by the body.
is included to break down plant fibre (cellulose). Cellulase
is actually a complex consisting of three distinct enzymes
which together convert cellulose to glucose. Without
it plant fibre passes through undigested.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria
found in the mouth and intestines of healthy reptiles. These
microorganisms help defend against invading bacteria and
yeasts. Probiotic bacteria contribute to gastrointestinal
health by providing a synergistic environment and producing
health promoting substances including some vitamins. They
can regulate bowel movements and halt diarrhea while at
the same time enhancing the immune system. The use of antibiotics
kills the beneficial and the harmful bacteria. Supplemental
replenishment with probiotics can quickly return the flora
balance to normal, thus preventing many of the common side
effects associated with antibiotic treatment.