Feeding your BTS

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Fatal_S
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Feeding your BTS

Postby Fatal_S » Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:09 pm

The topic of BTS food can be very confusing for new BTS owners. I will try to give a summary of the basics for skink food, but make sure to read the caresheet and lots of posts on the forum. The more you learn the better you'll be able to provide for your new skink.

What to feed:
Blue Tongue Skinks are omnivores. They need a diet of meat, vegetables, greens and fruits. A varied diet is best, but there are some basic staples that make for healthy meals. Be sure to check out the diet section of the BTS.net caresheet HERE for more information. I'll try to provide some basics here.
Meat should make up about 60% of a BTS diet. Meats can include human-meats, eggs, dog/cat food, bugs, snails, worms and rats.
- Human meats like chicken, beef and liver are tasty protein for BTS and make a good protein for a meal. Remember that most meats aren't good for calcium, so try to balance it out.
- Egg is often loved by skinks and can be fed raw, whole-in-shell, or cooked. It's something to feed once in a while for variety. Be warned though that egg tends to lead to a big, stinky mess later on.
- Dog and cat food are pre-balanced diets for out fuzzy friends but can also be used for our scaley ones. Keep in mind dog food is an onmivorous diet (already has some veggies) while cat food is carnivorous and contains added taurine. I prefer dog food for my skinks, but use cat food occasionally too.
- Bugs and worms are very natural proteins for lizards and can be a fun to feed. Consider using them as treats when you're playing with your skink.
- Snails are pretty much a BTS-addiction, but they're healthy so feel free to indulge. Snails with shell are full of calcium; if you buy pre-shelled watch out for added salt.
- Rodents like rats and mice can be a neat protein source to use occasionally. Offer only pre-killed rodents to your skink; living animals suffer and can badly injure your pet.
Vegetables and greens are an important part of your skinks diet but many skinks won't willingly eat them unless finely-chopped and mixed with meat. You can buy these foods fresh or frozen, or grow your own. Be careful not to feed anything that may have pesticides on it (ex: dandelions from your yard).
- Collard, mustard, and dandelion greens are very healthy greens. There are lots of greens listed on the food chart for you to experiment with.
- Squashes are fantastic vegetables that many skinks seem to like. Again, be sure to look at the food chart to see all the different vegetables you can offer your BTS.
Fruits are a delicious snack for your skink. Consider using them as a snack when you play with your skink instead of mixing it into the normal meals.
- Bananas are a skink-favorite, but like egg tend to lead to a nasty mess later on. Every skink has it's own likes and dislikes, so try different fruits to find out what makes your skink happy.

How much to feed:
In general I find a skink can eat a meal about equal to the size of it's own head. So a baby skink will only be able to eat a teaspoon or so of food, while a big adult skink could eat a couple tablespoons of food.
There are also some general food-rules such as:
- Hard-food (ex: vegetable) pieces should not be bigger than the space between the lizards eyes.
- Skinks should have some foods they need to bite down on, not just soft, liquid foods.

When to feed:
If you want to know what time of day is best to feed your skink, keep in mind that it needs some time to bask after eating. Offer food any time of day up until about 2 hours before lights out. However this isn't a huge deal, some skinks like to eat at night and will bask the next day. Food can be left in the tank for around 24 hours before it should be removed (some skinks like it fresh, some prefer it warm and stinky).
How often you feed your skink it's usual meal depends on the age of the skink and whether it is overweight or very skinny. Babies need to eat frequently, while adults only need food once a week. Healthy adult BTS can survive several weeks (or even months during brumation) without food.
General guidelines:
- Skinks up to a month old should be offered food daily.
- Skinks from ages 1-6 months should be offered food every second or third day.
- Skinks ages 6 months and up should be offered food once or twice a week.
- Overweight skinks should be fed smaller, healthier meals (more greens, less protein) once a week.
- Skinny skinks should be offered food every day or so until they are a more normal size. If they do not gain weight visit a vet, as there may be a medical issue (internal parasites are common and very easily treated).
- Very skinny skinks should visit a vet right away. Only a vet will be able to tell you why the skink is emaciated and what needs to be done (medicine for parasites, special fattening diet, etc).
If you're wondering if your skink is overweight, look at the belly, the tail, and the jowls (chin). Skinks gain weight in these areas depending on their species. A healthy adult skink should look very streamlined and snake-like. If your young skink is overweight don't worry too much, but if an adult is overweight it's time for a diet.
If you're wondering if your skink is skinny look at the hips, legs, and neck. These areas tend to look very boney in underweight skinks. Normal healthy skinks have the hip-bones slightly visible but well-fleshed. Skinks that are extremely skinny or that won't gain weight despite eating need to see a vet to be diagnosed right away.

Supplementing vitamins when you feed:
Supplements can be a topic of contention. Some people say that a balanced diet needs no supplements, while other argues it never hurts to be on the safe side or that supplements have shown good results. Read up on this topic and decide for yourself. Whatever you use, make sure it's a reptile-safe supplement.
In general there are two kinds of supplements: multivitamins and calcium.
Multivitamins are there to make sure no essential vitamin is being missed in your diet. If your worried your skink might not be getting everything it needs you can add a bit of multivitamin powder every few meals. Use only reptile-safe multivitamins and follow the directions on the container.
Calcium supplements come in two varieties: pure calcium and calcium + D3. Calcium is needed in the diet to keep bones strong, and D3 is needed to make calcium usable by the body. Skinks can calcium from calcium-rich foods, and D3 is obtained either from basking in UVB light or from being added to the diet.
Generally it is considered better to err on the side of caution and provide calcium + D3 every couple meals. There have been no negative side effects shown in providing too much calcium/D3 to a BTS (so far, though it is possible to overdose) but if a skink doesn't have enough usable calcium the bones weaken and bend (called Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD and it can be deadly). I personally powder every second meal with calcium + D3 powder.

What if a skink is picky about food?
This tends to be the biggest issue new BTS owners face. Just like with children, skinks can be very stubborn about eating healthy foods. It is important for you to be firm about your skink eating healthy foods. Unless a skink is sick or underweight you don't need to worry about it starving. Only offer healthy meals; eventually the skink will get hungry and eat what's offered. Do not offer any treat foods until the skink is eating healthy foods.
Even skinks who've previously been good eaters may start refusing healthy food in favor of treats. Simply stop feeding treats until the skink is eating well again.

What if a skink refuses to eat?
There are times when it's normal for BTS to stop eating:
- When you first bring your skink home it may be scared or stressed. Some skinks can take a couple weeks before they settle in and start eating. Unless the skink is sick or underweight just let it come around on it's own time.
- During the winter blue tongues naturally brumate (slow down/sleep). Not all BTS will brumate, but do some research on brumation so you know what to expect. Skinks brumating may stop eating, but as long as your skink isn't losing much weight don't worry.
- During the spring BTS have their minds on one thing, and other things like food are often ignored. As long as your skink isn't losing much weight, just keep offering food occasionally and wait it out.
If none of these scenarios fit your situation, make a post in the General Discussion Forum. Keep in mind that unless your skink is sick, skinny, lethargic, or losing lots of weight you probably don't need to worry.

Providing Water:
Water is an important topic for our Blue Tongue Skinks. I'll try to summarize all the basics about what your skink will need.
- All animals need water regularly. Skinks are capable of going longer without water than many animals, but try to provide a dish of clean water to drink at all times.
- The exception to the previous rule is that some species (shinglebacks, centralians & westerns) can get sick if the humidity is too high. So if you have one of those species you'll need to offer water every couple of days instead of leaving it in the tank.
- Many skinks also enjoy sitting in their water dishes, especially while shedding, so having a water dish big enough for them to soak in is advised.
- Some reptiles like to use their water dish as a toilet. Be sure to check the water daily and clean it out if it's dirty. In my experience skinks will not drink from dirty water; they wait until you come clean it out.
- Skinks are capable of going without water for up to a week without problems. They can go longer, but it's not recommended. If you know you won't be able to change the water for a few days (vacation, weekend outing) just make sure there's clean water beforehand and change it when you're back.
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Re: Feeding your BTS

Postby Katrina » Sat Mar 31, 2012 11:53 am

To add to Mel's great feeding advice...

I try to offer as much variety as possible. So I don't really have staple foods, I mix it up as much as possible. Canned dog food would be one of the most common protein sources I feed, but I mix the brand up often.

For adults that are in good condition and not gravid I feed approximately weekly, although that is subject to change based on my schedule and the time of year (they will eat less in winter). Sometimes they eat 3-4 times a week and sometimes they eat every 2 weeks, if they are brumating I don't feed. I feed about 50% greens and veggies and 50% protein, I give fruit as occasional treats but not with every meal (this ratio will be difference for Shinglebacks). I feed a larger amount of the very healthy foods as opposed to the "Occasional" foods - for example, if I have dandelion, green beans, tomato and broccoli on hand I will make up most of the veggie part with dandelion and green beans because they are healthiest. I'll add some tomato and broccoli in for variety, but maybe 20-30% of those two and 70-80% dandelion and green beans. I still add in some of the "occasional" foods for variety, generally if I have it on hand, it isn't a "Do not feed" and I haven't fed a ton of it recently I'll throw some in (if i have time to chop it up). For babies and juveniles, I will feed less food and more often - daily to every 3 days until about 6-8 months old.

I usually offer 2-3 tablespoons of a mix of the chopped veggies and greens and protein. Generally, I let them eat their fill and then remove the plate. The exception to this is if I feel they are getting chunky, then I will offer less food to begin with. Every second feeding or so I sprinkle some calcium powder on, sometimes calcium with D3 and sometimes just finely crushed egg shell (almost pure calcium). Every 4-5 feedings I add a sprinkle of multivitamin.

They generally will pick out protein and leave the healthiest greens and veggies if given the choice - so chop finely and mix well so they can't spit out the items they don't prefer.

Some protein items I offer:

-canned dog food
-snails (I can't buy live ones, so I feed the human grade canned escargot with only snails, salt and water as ingredients. I rinse / soak well to get rid of excess salt)
-organ meat such as beef or chicken liver, heart etc.
-silk worms
-dew worms
-horn worms
-egg
-beef
-chicken (note - beef, chicken and egg have poor calcium to phosphorus ratios, so supplement calcium)
-pinky or fuzzie mice or rat pups (fatty, so don't overfeed these)
-super worms, meal worms etc.

I would feed more of the items at the top of the list than the later ones, but I still feed all of them occasionally as I have them and it is convenient.

Some common greens / veggies I feed:

-squashes of all kinds
-dandelion, collard greens, bok choy, mustard greens, endive, arugula, etc.
-green beans / snap peas
-mushrooms
-whatever else is in the fridge and NOT avocado, rhubard, onion

For BTS that aren't eating - generally, if they are in good health, don't worry. The sometimes go off food for a while for no reason. As reptiles, they don't need to eat regularly, so a few weeks of not eating is no big deal. If they are new, they might not be interested in food for the first few days or even weeks as they settle in. If they are used to a different diet, maybe one that isn't ideal but was fed to them in a previous home, then don't worry - just offer healthy foods every few days (depending on size / age) and they will eat when hungry. They won't starve themselves so don't give in and give them what they want. Another option is giving them some of the old diet mixed in with healthier options and then slowly adding more and more of the healthier foods. The exception to this is for skinny or lethargic reptiles - if you suspect a health problem, then that is more serious and needs to be addressed right away. If you aren't sure, then start a thread and get some opinions on whether your skink is healthy and just being picky or it might be a health issue. :D
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Re: Feeding your BTS

Postby Katrina » Wed Apr 04, 2012 3:43 pm

I made a big batch of BTS food to freeze today and took pictures for a bit of a DIY. :D Because lots of greens and veggies go bad too soon to realistically have a lot of variety on hand it might be worth considering buying several healthy items, chopping and freezing in small portions. When making meals I will often thaw a few cubes out, add in a bit of fresh greens or veggies that I have in the fridge (if I have time), add some dog food and a healthy meal is ready very quickly. The downside to frozen greens / veggies is the thiamine is lost, so I don't rely only on frozen food but it is a great way to offer a large variety of foods without wasting any.

I bought LOTS of different veggies in order to show possibilities and give people ideas. I also have lots of mouths to feed, so big batches won't get freezer burnt before I use them up. Please don't see this and assume that BTS are difficult to feed or require this kind of time, effort and variety. They are actually very, very easy to feed - a healthy meal could be canned dog food and thawed frozen greens beans with some calcium powder. I offer a large variety because I have time and enjoy doing so and because I think a variety will be healthiest... but one of the best things about them is that the diet can be very simple. I also only feed once or twice a week, so I can choose to feed on days convenient to me. Again - this is only meant to give some ideas and not to give the impression that you need a dozen ingredients per meal. But don't be afraid to switch up the foods or add in new items for them.

I went through the produce section and bought most anything that was healthy for blueys as well as some "in moderation" type foods. I bought:

- dandelion
- collard greens
- bok choy
- endive
- green beans
- acorn squash
- butternut squash
- zucchini
- sweet potato
- parsnip
- brown and white mushrooms
- yellow bell pepper (also known as capsicum)

DSC_0109.JPG


I washed everything and peeled the ones that I would peel if I were eating them. So the squashes mainly, the zucchini and parsnip got washed well and added whole. I have a food processor so I used that to chop it fairly finely (probably a bit smaller than ideal, but it was much faster!).

DSC_0111.JPG


I also bought some beef liver. It is really cheap and super healthy. I find it pretty gross and the BTS don't seem to love meals where that is the only protein source, so instead of feeding just liver I mixed it into the veggies mix. First I simmered it in a tiny bit of water until cooked and then added it and the bit of water into the food processor as well. It comes out a dog food / pate kind of texture, seen on top in the bowl.

DSC_0112.JPG


I stirred all of this together well and then got an empty ice cube tray and pressed it into there. Freeze until it will hold its shape, then empty it into a ziplock bag and add more to the tray. I make a couple large ziplock bags full of these cubes and then thaw out however many I need for each meal. I usually have some healthy, fresh foods on hand so I'll often use some frozen and some fresh, with the fresh being chopped into larger pieces to give more texture. Adding dog food, egg, chicken, beef etc and some calcium powder is a fairly quick and healthy meal.

DSC_0113.JPG
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Re: Feeding your BTS

Postby Richard.C » Wed Apr 04, 2012 7:11 pm

i have a completely different take on diet to most,but been doing it this way for over 20 years,and raised alot of babies indoors and out with this diet

first ill explain my thinking on why i do this,just remember there are so many ways to to do things and each has its pros and cons

ok,look at wild diets,omnivores,eat what they can find,some species from drier areas are forced to consume plant material when its around as there may not be much else available for them to survive,,stumpy tails,westerns for example,if they had access to snails,bugs ect year round you would see studies on wild ones consuming mostly that

just because they eat in the wild,doesnt mean they need that incaptivity,a classic example here is ,a few times ive found easterns and blotcheds eating dried dog poop in the wild,not something i plan to use in captivity,but then again,look on u tube and you see alot of wild ones filmed eating there pet dogs food,they eat what they can find,not nessacarilly for there health and nutrician,but for there survival,if they didnt eat it,alot would perish

i mostly feed dog food to mine,including stumpy tails,i know i know,they mostly eat vegetation in the wild,but why is that,if you look at alot of there natural habitat you will see why,its got nothing to do with staying in shape and vitamin/mineral intake,its about survival,reproduction,and surviving to do it again year after year,they arent the most agile of reptilians,so that rules out alot of live prey,would take alot out of them just to get a feed,let alone surving year after year,they eat what they can find

dog food is a quite balanced diet for omnivores,im not saying its the perfect solution for bluetongues,but ive used it predominatly in there diet for over 20 years,with animals kept indoors and out and with a few generations of some of those species,never had an animal with mbd,gout,ect ect and the majority of the babies born look perfect ,grow well into adult hood and produce just as nice babies to

my thinking on why dogfood based diets are said to not be good stems from the old days ,when folk used to use fatty minced meat as a dietry staple

i love the fact theres lots of different ways to do things,eg alot of folk feed way more vegies,and i think thats good to,i sometimes do add some to the dogfood,or just feed just vegies as well,but even with alot of vegies,you have to be careful they get a balanced diet out of it,vitamin mineral supplementation and vitamin d3/calcium supplementation is important to,for any diet,to cover what they may be lacking

important thing to remember,is there are alot of different ways of doing things,all having there pros and cons

some food for thought
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Re: Feeding your BTS

Postby Susann » Wed Apr 11, 2012 6:37 pm

MY SKINK IS NOT EATING or I HAVE A PICKY EATER

Blue tongue skinks are generally very good eaters and very easy to feed, but CAN easily turn very picky. In my opinion, you can fairly easily cure a picky skink because YOU CONTROL WHAT YOU SERVE.
--All you have to do is think of your skink as a spoiled child who only needs to eat once a week but won’t whine at you. :wink: --

Some suggestions:
1) Extend the time in between each turned down feeding by at least 2 days; the older he is the longer you can wait; you can easily go a week without offering him anything. A picky skink is only picky because he can be; a hungry skink is not picky!

2) Choose only healthy greens and veggies, and run them through a food processor until you have pulp. Mix about half and half with a good quality dog food. You now have a mush that he is not able to separate pieces out of. If he still turns up his nose after a few tries, and you are getting worried, then mix in a bit more of the canned meat until he does take it. But, offer him NOTHING else until he starts eating the healthy mix consistently; go several days to a week in between offering it to him. When he does start eating it, cut back on the meat.

3) Once he starts eating on a consistent basis, start processing the greens and veggies less, make it chunkier. I personally keep it to half greens and veggies, and half meat (cooked and chopped, canned), with fruit as treats.

4) THEN, when he's being a good boy and eating his vegetables, can he start getting treats again. I use fruits, worms, insects, and snails as treats in between meals.

If you have a picky eater it’s because you offer him lots to pick from. We all know what it's like to be worried about an animal you really care about, but if you truly care about him, now is the time to stop spoiling him and get tough--doesn't matter what his age is. It will be so much better for both of you in the long run!
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