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Feeding frozen/thawed foods

The use of live rodents to be fed to reptiles and amphibians (herps) is strongly discouraged for various reasons, especially the danger they can cause to your pet. Frozen foods are more beneficial and healthier for your pet and converting them to accept frozen foods after eating only live foods may not be as hard as you think.

Breaking the myth: Many pet stores, reptile experts and books often state that feeding live prey is the best choice of food. This is simply not true. Frozen/thawed foods are just as good as live foods.

  • Do not buy into the argument that your pet would have to kill its own food in the wild or that you would like your pet to feel the “thrill of the kill.” The fact is that animals in captivity act much differently than in the wild. Reptiles in captivity do not spend their days searching for food, hiding from predators and being vulnerable to other predators. Instead, they are housed in a comfy enclosure with all their habitat needs met for them.

Safety for your pet:Feeding frozen/thawed foods is also safer for your reptile. An animal that is not hungry will most likely not eat; it will ignore the prey animal. The prey animal on the other hand, left alone in a tank with a predator, may not be so relaxed. Rodents may become aggressive, attacking and injuring the disinterested reptile.

Even when a pet is hungry and trying to catch the prey, the prey may use its teeth and claws to defend itself, resulting in injury to your pet. Serious bites and scratches could lead to blindness, gashes and even death for your reptile. You are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your animals. That means keeping them properly housed, heated, humidified and fed, and keeping them safe from avoidable harm.

Benefits of frozen/thawed foods: There are many benefits to feeding frozen food to your reptile.

  • It takes much less room to store frozen foods than it does to house, feed and care for live foods before they are fed to your pet.
  • Live foods may have internal or external parasites; the freezing process removes most parasites that may be harmful to your reptile.
  • It costs less than purchasing live rodents.
  • All frozen foods are humanely euthanized according to a set of government-dictated guidelines.

Types of frozen foods:

  • Pinkies - Most commonly used. Young mice that are almost hairless and smallest in size.
  • Fuzzies - Second smallest. Juvenile mice with some fur.
  • Hoppers - Larger than a fuzzy, but about half the size of an adult mouse.
  • Adult mice and rats - Used in feeding larger reptiles.

How to thaw frozen foods:Never feed your pet food that is still frozen! You need to thaw it and warm it slightly (above room temperature) before feeding. Do NOT use a microwave to thaw frozen food, as it can leave cold spots in the middle, cook the inside of the prey or make the food explode. Since frozen food can carry germs that may cause illness in humans, it should not come into contact with places where human food is prepared.

Follow these steps to defrost:

  • Remove the appropriate number of food items from the bag.
  • Put the food in a dedicated thawing container (used only for frozen reptile food) filled with cold tap water.
  • Leave the food in the water until thawed.
  • Run water until the entire container is filled with warm water. Let stand 10-15 minutes.
  • Just prior to removal and feeding, run almost hot water into the container to warm the food to above room temperature.
  • Remove food from the container and shake off excess water.
  • You can also leave the frozen food in the refrigerator to slowly thaw. If time is an issue, pinkies are usually small enough that they can defrost by running them under warm tap water for a few minutes.

Converting to frozen/thawed feeding: If not immediately, most reptiles will take frozen/ thawed food eventually. If your pet is stubborn, converting to frozen/thawed feeding may take a little bit of time and patience. Many reptiles are easy to convert from live foods to eating frozen/ thawed foods.

Here are some techniques to try:

  • Try foods in different sizes or colors.
  • Make sure food is warm (soak in almost hot water prior to feeding).
  • Use long tongs (never use your fingers!) to dangle the food in front of your reptile.
  • Let your reptile get inside a hideaway. Then, using tongs, wiggle the warm food in the entrance.
  • Try different movements with your tongs; up and down, side to side, at different speeds, etc.
  • Using tongs, drag the food across the feeding container, giving it a little hops.
  • Feed a small live food and follow it immediately with a frozen/thawed item.

If your pet is still stubborn about accepting frozen/thawed foods, have patience and try leaving the food in the feeding habitat for longer periods of time. You may even try leaving the food in the feeding habitat overnight to encourage your reptile to explore the food and eventually accept it.

Look for positive reactions (head turning, tongue flicks, stalking behavior) while you are feeding your reptile. If the reptile appears stressed, stop and try again later. Remember, it is important to know that it will not hurt your reptile to miss a meal every once in a while. Don’t give in too easily and return to feeding live.

Core messages for the Zoonoses Education Coalition

  1. Healthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella and other germs that can make people sick.
  2. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles and amphibians and anything in the area where they live or roam such as their habitats, food or equipment.
  3. Reptiles and amphibians are not recommended for children under the age of five. This includes in households or school settings. Children younger than five years of age, people with weak immune systems, pregnant women and senior citizen should not handle or touch amphibians or reptiles or their environment because they are at a higher risk for serious illness and hospitalization from Salmonella germs.
  4. Keep your reptiles and amphibians and their equipment out of your kitchen or anywhere in your home where food is prepared, served or consumed. Never use food preparation areas to clean reptile and amphibian habitats or anything in their habitats. These items should be cleaned outside of your home. If you clean the habitat in the bathroom, clean and disinfect the area completely afterwards.
  5. Don’t cross-contaminate! You don’t have to touch a reptile or amphibian to get sick from their germs. Be aware that any reptile food such as frozen or live rodents, equipment, and materials, including the tank water, can be contaminated with Salmonella and other germs.
  6. Do not kiss or snuggle with reptiles and amphibians because this will increase your risk of getting sick.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for medical diagnosis. If you suspect you or a family member may be infected seek medical attention

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.