Reptile Food Ahead of Whole, Fresh and Frozen Prey Trends

Whole prey diets are past for reptile pets. Fresh and frozen snake food has been strictly for decades. Insect-based pet foods are nothing new to lizard owners. Human-grade overripe fruit was recycled into turtle food long before the term recycled existed. While these established reptile food trends remain on the fringes of dog and cat foods, the two dominant trends in mammalian pet foods are not as evident in reptile foods. Still, premiumization and humanization influence reptile food also, just at a different level of the food chain.

The premiumization of reptile pets is expressed in the quality of food consumed by the prey of snakes, lizards and crocodilians. For herbivorous reptiles, premiumization plays out in fruits and vegetables fed to turtles and lizards, or used as ingredients to make pellets and other extruded diets and treats.

Humane treatment of prey as food for reptiles

Along with their diet, the quality of life of prey animals plays a major role in the premiumization of reptile food. Rats and mice serve as pets themselves, and many reptile owners want to know that prey rodents live as comfortably and hygienically as any pet before becoming food. The food eaten by these rats and mice eventually becomes food for reptiles, as well as insects fed to small carnivorous reptiles. Any deficiency or contamination in the diet of prey is transmitted to pets.

For insect prey, reptile pet owners use a process known as gut loading. This involves giving insects a nutritious diet before feeding them to pets. This ensures that insects provide a healthy range of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to reptiles. Some sellers advertise that their insects have been gutted before sale.

Feeding black soldier fly larvae full of intestines to a leopard gecko doesn’t tend to raise any red flags for animal welfare, but rodents can be more controversial. Reptile pet owners debate whether feeding pre-killed prey is natural, but few debate that it’s both more humane for rodents and safer for reptile pets. . Snake owners demand that these rodents die quickly and painlessly. In most cases, rodents are suffocated by carbon dioxide, causing unconsciousness within a minute at high levels. Humans who have been knocked out by high concentrations of CO2 describe feeling nothing before passing out. While this makes the gas particularly dangerous for dry ice plant workers, it does mean that mice and rats can be killed quickly and probably painlessly. The rodents can then be frozen and stored for sale by retailers. Many companies sell frozen, pre-killed rodents online, delivered by mail. These rodent companies differentiate themselves by marketing the speed of delivery, the cleanliness of production facilities, the nutritional quality of food given to prey, and the quality of life of prey.

Sausage for snakes and recycled food for turtles

For reptile owners who want to avoid staring pet food in the eye, one company offers reptile sausages. Reptilians makes sausages from whole animals, including bullfrogs, rabbits, quails and iguanas. The company also makes whole sausages for dogs. There aren’t many other examples of carnivorous reptile food designed to look like human food, unless you count animals like crickets that are eaten by humans and reptiles.

Insects blur the line between food for reptiles and food for humans, but fruits and vegetables cross that line. Many turtle or lizard owners feed their pets produce from the grocery store. Some pamper their box turtles and bearded dragons with choice foods, but the reptiles eat oddly shaped berries and overripe bananas with just as much enthusiasm. Upcycling is nothing new for reptile owners.

Premiumization trends have entered the reptile and other pet food markets largely because pet owners increasingly view animals as family on an equal footing with human members. However, pet humanization is not as new a trend as people tend to think. Since prehistoric times, people have attributed human attributes to animals and vice versa. Long before there was a web-slinger in New York or a dark knight in Gotham, there was Anansi the spider-man in West Africa and Camazotz the bat-man in Central America. The Pucá blurred the boundaries between man and animal in Ireland and other Celtic lands. Sobek, the crocodile-headed Egyptian god, mixed human and reptile. Even in generally anti-serpent Christianity, Jesus compared himself to a serpent in John 3:14-15, referring to Moses’ saving bronze serpent on a staff from Exodus, leading to images of serpents crucified in the Medieval and Renaissance Art.

Humanization of Reptile Pets

Despite the historical humanization and deification of reptiles, the animals lack one characteristic essential to being fur babies. Nevertheless, pet owners regard their cold-blooded animals with warmth. In a survey by Packaged Facts, 85% of owners of “other pets,” a catch-all category that included reptile owners, considered their pets to be members of the family, in the 2020 report”Reptile Products: US Pet Market Trends and Opportunities.”

“The trend of ‘reptiles as a family’ further suggests new opportunities for premiumization in the direction of supplies that are increasingly reminiscent of what a reptile would experience in the wild,” the Packaged Facts analyst wrote.

Packaged Facts analysts noted that reptiles take up less space in a home and therefore meet the demands of younger, urban pet owners for smaller pets. Food and other expenses for pets tend to be lower than for dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals. Economic considerations are now pressing as unprecedented unemployment weakens already sick communities.

The humanization of reptile pets provides another step toward understanding the similarities between all living things. Reptile pets teach people what scientists also observe: animals differ from humans by degrees, but not by nature. Similar nerve pathways fire in the brains of reptiles and humans, a point popularized by neuroscientist Paul MacLean, Ph.D., with the triune brain model. In this model, the reptile part of our brain corresponds to regions responsible for basic survival. These behaviors consist of the four Fs: feeding, flight, foraging, and fornication.

Considering feeding is one of those behaviors, premiumizing reptile food along with other pet foods makes sense. The emotional state of a leopard gecko after finding plump, well-hydrated mealworms may not be so different from that of a human staring at a well-stocked buffet.

The humanization of animals and the premiumization of pet food go hand in hand, even for legless animals.

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