“Gut loading” refers to the practice of feeding insects a nutritious diet before they are eaten by your pet. Most commercially-available prey insects are deficient in many nutrients that our insectivorous pets require. Gut loading enhances our pets’ nutrition in two ways:
First, insects that have an inadequate diet may not contain appropriate fat, protein, or other nutrients. Providing a good diet to insects alters their nutritional content and makes them more nutritious food for your pet. Insects can be fed manufactured diets and/or a variety of produce such as dark leafy greens, squash, potatoes, carrots, oranges, or apples. Insects also need to stay hydrated by ingesting fresh fruits or vegetables, commercially-available hydration gels, or fresh water. Insects can drown in even shallow water dishes, so an escape route must be provided and the water changed frequently to reduce bacterial contamination.
Second, specific nutrients can be fed to insects shortly before feeding them to your pet. Even if the insect cannot properly digest the nutrient itself, the nutrient may still be present within their gastrointestinal system when eaten. Insects are especially deficient in calcium, which is an important nutrient for reptile health. Some commercial gut loading diets contain high calcium (5-8%) to better balance the insects’ nutritional value. However, these diets are often imbalanced for the insects and cannot be fed long-term. High calcium diets should only be fed to insects 24-48 hours before feeding them to your pets. Insects provided with fresh produce for hydration consume less of the high calcium commercial diets, so fresh water should be provided for them during this period instead.
Not every gut loading diet is effective at balancing the nutritional content of prey insects. Even with gut loading, we recommend providing additional supplementation of vitamins and minerals through dusting of food items or lick dishes, providing a variety of prey insects for insectivores, and balancing the diet with greens and vegetables for omnivorous species. Your veterinarian can provide you with more information about your pet’s specific dietary needs during your visit.