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A beginner's primer

on Gut Loading &

Crickets for Pet Food

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Gut Loading and other Cricket Tips

You probably have heard the adage that "We are what we eat."
The same is true for our pets, of course. For insectivorous
reptiles and amphibian pets, this is very true. It is not
enough simply to feed them the correct prey for their
species. The correct preparation of their prey/food is
absolutely essential.

The most commonly seen metabolic disease in herptiles
(reptiles and amphibians) is "Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)."
This disease is caused by a diet that is deficient in the
necessary vitamins and minerals. In captive carnivorous and
insectivorous animals it is most often caused by a limited
diet of improperly nourished prey. Feeding your herptile a
starved cricket or other insect will provide only an empty
non-nutritious meal of chitin (the insect's exoskeleton).

Thus, the easiest way to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease and
other growth disorders is to begin with the prey. Most
insects raised for pet food are fed primarily on grains
because that is the cheapest feed for them, but insects fed
only on grains and vegetables won't provide your herptile
with enough calcium and phosphorus, among other things.
Feeding the prey for a few days with foods that are
nutritious for the herptile, known as "gut loading," before
feeding them to the herp ensures that your insectivorous pet
gets more than an empty insect dinner and is the easiest way
to get your pet to eat the vitamins and minerals it needs.

One of the easiest to provide and so one of the most popular
prey insects for herptiles is crickets, and crickets are the
easiest insects to gut load. The nutritional value of
crickets depends greatly on what they are fed. In general
crickets are about sixty-nine percent moisture, twenty-one
percent protein, six percent fat and three percent
carbohydrates. Crickets provide about twenty-one milligrams
of calcium per one hundred grams of crickets. But their
nutritional value is greatly improved by feeding them a high
quality diet and by gut loading.

You can gut load as simply as by feeding the crickets with
high protein cat or dog food ground to a powder for a few
days before feeding them to your pets, and at the last
minute dusting the crickets with a reptile calcium

Or you can go further and raise your own crickets and feed
them a quality diet of things such as dandelion and turnip
greens, carrots and their greens, parsley, Lucerne/alfalfa,
fish flakes, grated squash or sweet potato, or a commercial
gut loading preparation from the pet store, and a calcium
supplement for herptiles, or, even better, a mix you can
create yourself from grinding together human grade coral
calcium and vitamin D and adding small quantities of the
ground powder from multi-vitamin and amino acid capsules.
Then shake the crickets in a bag with still more of the
powdered calcium mixture just before feeding your herps.

Catching Crickets

Perhaps you are wondering how to get those crickets into the
bag for dusting, and then into your pet's vivarium, without
having a cricket hunt through your house every time.

If you buy your crickets every few days from the pet store,
you can probably dust them while they are still in the
container you brought them home in. But if you buy and keep
a large quantity of crickets, or you grow your own, you will
need to separate out a small quantity at a time to gut load
and feed to your pets.

If you use cardboard egg cartons or taped together toilet
paper rolls for hiding places for your crickets, an easy
thing to do is to carry your cricket cage outside or to a
room where escapees can be chased, and then carefully remove
one of the hiding packs from the cage and put it into a
clear plastic bag. Shake the crickets lose from their
hideout and remove it from the bag, then you can dust them
or move them wherever you want, and you shouldn't even have
to touch them if you are squeamish about insects.

Crickets and Herptiles

Only feed your Herptiles as many crickets as they will eat
in a few hours, and remove any crickets that they don't eat.
Crickets have in common with the Biblical locusts that they
will eat just about anything, and that may include small
parts of your pet if you leave them in the vivarium for a
long time.

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