Last updated: March 11, 2021
In a perfect world full of perfect people, we would effortlessly meet our daily nutrition requirements, never overeating. We would intuitively balance our reptiles’ diets to make sure they always get the right balance and quantities of reptile calcium, vitamins, etc.
Boy, does that ever sound nice…
It’s not a perfect world, and we’re definitely not perfect people. That’s why we take daily multivitamins, and that’s why our reptiles need their own supplements of calcium and vitamins.
Types of Reptile Supplements
There’s all kinds of reptile calcium, vitamins, and other supplements available on today’s market:
- Liquid spray
- Salad dressing
- Gut load
- Vita-sand (for the love of all that is holy, please do not use this)
- “Natural” supplements
When shopping for your own multivitamins, do you grab the first bottle labeled “Daily Multivitamin” you see, or do you carefully examine labels before making your choice? You don’t want to pay for low-quality vitamins, so why do we trust the first product we see labeled as a “reptile vitamin” or “reptile calcium”?
How to Tell Good Vitamins from Bad Vitamins
Unlike human vitamins, reptile supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so technically a company can put anything in a bottle and label it as a reptile vitamin (scary, right?). As you research and compare labels, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there fillers in the ingredient list?
- Is it easy to tell how much vitamin or calcium your reptile is getting?
- How much does it cost? (keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for)
- Would you eat it/use it as a multivitamin?
For example, let’s look at the ingredients label on a bottle of Nature Zone Reptile Salad Dressing.
Although the label designates this product as a “salad dressing” rather than a supplement, it can still easily be confused for a reptile supplement because of its description. The label reads: “Pour Nature Zone Reptile Salad Dressing on top of your reptile’s daily food ration to provide calcium and Vitamin D3 for healthy bones PLUS carotenoids, lycopene, and lutein to promote and maintain natural vivid coloration. Available in delicious strawberry flavor for Bearded Dragons, cantaloupe flavor for Tortoises and musk melon flavor for Iguanas. Not for human consumption.”
- Water = filler, no nutritional value
- Sucrose = table sugar
- Natural fruit flavor = lab-made chemical equivalent of naturally-occurring fruit flavor compounds, not from real fruit
- Calcium lactate = calcium carbonate mixed with lactic acid to make it more easily absorbed
- Xanthan gum = thickening agent and stabilizer
- Citric acid = preservative and emulsifying agent
- Potassium sorbate = preservative
- Lycopene = naturally-occurring carotenoid and antioxidant found in tomatoes and other red produce. Protects against cancer. May boost color.
- Lutein = naturally-occurring carotenoid and antioxidant found in vegetables. Protects eye health. May boost color.
- Canthaxanthin = naturally-occurring carotenoid found in some edible mushrooms. Primarily used as a coloring agent.
- Methylparaben = preservative
- Vitamin D3 = necessary vitamin for proper absorption of calcium and bone strength
CONCLUSION: Out of 12 ingredients, Nature Zone Reptile Salad Dressing contains 4 fillers, 3 preservatives, 3 carotenoids, and 2 nutrients.
- Since it only contains calcium and vitamin D3, this is not a complete multivitamin, despite what its advertising leads consumers to believe.
- It may be an adequate source of calcium, but calcium should be dusted on insects to balance the calcium-phosphorus ratio, not poured on salads.
- The carotenoids/antioxidants may enhance color, but overall they provide little nutritional value.
- The antioxidants may as well be canceled out because they are mixed with preservatives, artificial flavoring, and potentially harmful filler agents.
- As #2 on the ingredients list, there is more sugar in this product than any other ingredient except water. No wonder reptiles are supposed to like it — this stuff is basically candy.
- Water is a neutral player, just another filler.
- The label warns, “NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.”
Although Nature Zone Reptile Salad Dressing technically meets the claims advertised on its label, the sheer quantity of fillers, preservatives, artificial flavors, and sugar present in this product make it worthless as a reptile supplement. In addition, the dosing application is inappropriate for the nutrients that it does contain, further making it ineffective.
This may seem like an extreme example, but there are many low-quality reptile “vitamins” and “supplements” being sold in pet stores and throughout the Internet. Choose wisely.
Why do reptiles need calcium powder?
Have you heard of calcium to phosphorus ratios? Like UVB and vitamin D3, knowing how to balance calcium and phosphorus intake is critical to managing a reptile’s health.
Phosphorus is an element that can be found in high levels in animal and insect prey. In order to properly metabolize (or digest) the phosphorus from meal, a reptile needs to have enough calcium in its system — twice as much, to be exact. This is a Ca:P ratio of approximately 2:1. When there isn’t enough calcium for the reptile’s body to properly process phosphorus, it will steal calcium from bones and other stores. Over time, this repeated robbery of calcium can lead to MBD.
Most insects and meats contain more phosphorus than they do calcium, which is why we dust. Calcium supplements are designed to correct the natural imbalance between calcium and phosphorus. When choosing a dust, make sure that it does not contain phosphorus.
Calcium supplementation is not required for whole prey items and high-calcium invertebrates (although it can be helpful to dust some calcium and multivitamin powder on rodents every once in a while for snakes). Calcium powder does not need to be dusted on vegetables or fruits, and can contribute to overdose if dosed as such.
Which is better — calcium with or without D3?
Both are good in different contexts:
If you’re using UVB, your pet is making all the D3 its body needs. Using a calcium supplement with D3, while is seems like a good failsafe, actually risks overdose, since the reptile will be getting D3 from two sources. So as long as your reptile is getting the right amount of UVB, it’s best to use just plain calcium. If you’re concerned about your reptile’s D3 levels, you can use calcium with D3 once or twice a month to top things off.
**NOTE — The caveat here is that you must be using UVB correctly in order for your reptile to be able to make enough vitamin D3 that you don’t need to supplement. Not all UVB bulbs are equally effective, and some brands are better than others. ReptiFiles strongly recommends using UVB lighting for all captive reptiles. For information on which bulbs are best and how to use UVB effectively in your pet’s enclosure, we recommend reading the following:
- Understanding UVB: What is It, Why it Matters & How to Use It in Reptile Husbandry
- The Importance of UVB with Reptiles (YouTube)
- Fire: The Sun, Its Use & Replication Within Reptile Keeping
Specific UVB recommendations can be found in our Reptile Care Guides.
If you’re not using UVB, then your reptile isn’t making their own D3 and needs supplementation. Choose a calcium supplement with D3. Different supplements, however, contain different concentrations of vitamin D3. Some provide fairly little, while others provide A LOT:
|Brand||Product||Vitamin D3 content|
|Rep-Cal||Calcium with Vitamin D3||400,000 IU/kg|
|Fluker’s||Calcium with Vitamin D3||222,222 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal HyD||111,111 IU/kg|
|Exo Terra||Calcium + D3||72,000 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal MeD||55,556 IU/kg|
|Pisces Jurassic Natural||Calcium with D3||22,907 IU/kg|
|Zoo Med||Repti Calcium with D3||22,907 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal LoD||22,222 IU/kg|
|Sticky Tongue Farms||Miner-All Indoor||4,400 IU/kg|
ReptiFiles recommends supplements with less than 23,000 IU/kg of vitamin D3 for regular use with reptiles that already receive UVB, as this quantity seems most likely to prevent overdose while helping fill in any nutritional gaps that occur. Supplements with a higher concentration are best for reptiles that are not receiving UVB at all.
Pertaining to calcium supplements with extraordinarily high levels of vitamin D3 these are likely to be best used with reptiles that are recovering from metabolic bone disease (MBD).
If you leave a dish of calcium out for your reptile to lick at will, make sure it doesn’t contain vitamin D3. Reptiles are possibly able to self-regulate their calcium intake, but they’re less able to do so with D3, and can accidentally overdose. ReptiFiles does not recommend this practice for any reptile, however.
As you’re choosing a calcium powder, make sure to check the Ingredients label for phosphorus. Phosphorus reduces the benefit of the calcium and should be avoided at all costs.
Warning: Calcium powders can be derived from a variety of sources, including limestone, mineral-rich clay, oyster shells, and lab-created calcium carbonate. If you have a shellfish allergy, avoid using calcium powders made from oyster shells, as this can make you “allergic” to your reptile!
Vitamin A vs. Beta Carotene
In the early days of the American reptile hobby, there was a scare about vitamin A overdose in chameleons. Since then the study has been proven false, but there’s still argument as to whether vitamin A supplementation is a danger.
Vitamin A usually comes in the form of retinol. It is found in animal sources like liver, eggs, and dairy products. It is fat soluble, which means that excess can be stored in a reptile’s fat cells rather than excreted (thus the danger of toxicity).
Carotenoids are what the human body uses to make its own vitamin A as needed. Beta carotene (the most common carotenoid) is found in colorful plant sources like carrots, collard greens, and bell peppers. There is some debate as to whether reptiles are capable of synthesizing vitamin A from beta carotene, but I don’t think it’s fair to apply a statement like that to an entire class, because herbivorous reptiles like tortoises and uromastyx would have to be able to make vitamin A from carotenoids or else die from vitamin A deficiency.
My conclusion is that, like calcium, the right supplement depends on the reptile. Herbivorous and omnivorous reptiles should receive carotene supplementation, and insectivores/carnivores should receive vitamin A.
How to Dose Reptile Vitamins
Lizards — Dust all insects with the appropriate calcium powder. Salads should not be dusted with calcium (unless your lizard is a strictly herbivorous species), but they should be dusted with a multivitamin 1x/week for juveniles and 1-2x/month for adults.
Snakes – Dust feeders with a calcium + D3 powder at every other feeding, especially if you aren’t using UVB. Add multivitamin powder once a week for juveniles and once a month for adults. Make sure to buy the highest-quality feeders available to you (ex: Layne Labs), because not all rodents have the same nutrient value.
Turtles – Because turtles eat in the water, supplementing their diet can be difficult. Make sure to use a good fortified turtle pellet (ex: Rep-Cal Aquatic Turtle Food) complemented by high-quality feeders, and you shouldn’t have problems. A calcium block (cuttlebone) may be beneficial as an additional source of calcium.
Tortoises – Salads should be lightly dusted with calcium, as well as a multivitamin 1x/week for juveniles and 1-2x/month for adults. Dust all high-protein foods with calcium powder containing low levels of D3. Providing a calcium block is also helpful for keeping their beak filed and meeting any additional calcium needs.
ReptiFiles’ Recommended Reptile Calcium and Vitamins
All reptile calcium and vitamin supplement manufacturers create their products under the assumption that they will be used together. For example, Repashy’s calcium and multivitamin are designed to go together, Arcadia’s calcium and multivitamin are designed to go together, etc. For best results, buy your reptile calcium and multivitamin from the same brand.
Miner-ALL is made from human-grade calcium as well as 50 vital trace minerals to ensuring optimum health and bone strength. This product is ground into a superfine powder which sticks well to any feeder, and comes in two formulas: Indoor (with added D3), and Outdoor (no D3).
Sticky Tongue Farms also offers a vitamin supplement called Vit-All. This supplement is not intended to be dusted on feeders, but rather used as a nutritious gutload instead. This is arguably the most natural way to provide a multivitamin to your reptile.
Arcadia Pro Supplements
Arcadia is known for offering top-of-the-line reptile supplies, and their supplements are no different. I am ridiculously excited about these products, and you should be, too! They offer 4 different supplements to meet your reptile’s needs:
- Earthpro CA (calcium powder)
- Calciumpro MG (a more complete calcium powder with magnesium)
- Earthpro A (multivitamin with a wide spectrum of carotenoids — *includes calcium*)
- RevitaliseD3 (multivitamin pre-formed vitamin A, vitamin D3, and vitamin E — *includes calcium*)
- ShedSupport (multivitamin specifically for reptiles with shedding issues)
For instructions on how to use Arcadia supplements most effectively, check out their in-depth feeding program!
Note: Some of these supplements may not be available in the United States (yet!).
Repashy Supercal & Supervite
What I like about Repashy’s calcium and multivitamin powders is that they offer different levels of vitamin D3 supplementation to meet different reptiles’ needs.
- Supercal NoD — for reptiles that are kept outdoors or otherwise receive high levels of UVB.
- Supercal LoD — for reptiles that receive moderate levels of UVB.
- Supercal MeD — for reptiles that receive little to no UVB.
- Supercal HyD — for reptiles that don’t receive UVB. Most suitable for animals with vitamin D deficiency.
Repashy also offers a line of multivitamins:
- Repashy Calcium Plus NoD — multivitamin with calcium and no D3
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD — multivitamin with calcium and low quantity of D3
- Repashy Calcium Plus — multivitamin with calcium and moderate quantity of D3
- Repashy Calcium Plus HyD — multivitamin with calcium and high quantity of D3
- Repashy Supervite — multivitamin without calcium or D3, but contains both retinol and carotene
For best results, always use reptile supplements according to manufacturer directions!
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If UVB is not provided, vitamin D3 supplementation is absolutely required for the animal’s survival. Use a calcium supplement with medium to high levels of D3.
In theory it should not be necessary, but it shouldn’t hurt to use a supplement with low quantities of D3 in addition. Calcium supplementation, of course, is always necessary regardless of lighting.
If you provide your reptile/amphibian with uvb, should you supplement with calcium with d3?
Hi, I’m getting a pacman frog very soon and I have done a lot of research. However, I wondering about supplementation. Most articles say a calcium supplement every feeding, and multivitamin once a week. If you don’t provide your animal with uvb, should you also supplement with calcium with d3? Thanks
While I make sure to always cite my sources now, this was not always my practice (to my shame) when ReptiFiles was first started. As you can see, this particular article was originally written in 2017, back when I approached ReptiFiles more as a blog than anything and didn’t prioritize providing sources or references. If I remember correctly, this article at its time of writing was primarily written “off the top of my head,” as you put it, not consulting many sources aside from product labels and manufacturer websites. However, if you want to learn more about this topic, I recommend “The Arcadia Guide to Reptile & Amphibian Nutrition” by John Courteney-Smith.
I am just curious on the resources that you used. I do alot of research and notice that you never cite your resources. Did you write all of this from the top of your head and by studying different labels, coming to your own suggestive opinion? Or did you incorporate scientific research and evidence along with your own studies in which supports the article you’ve written?
I would greatly appreciate it if your articles contained resources, allowing the proper credit to the authors who previously wrote on the subject, as well, that an individual can locate and use to further educate themselves.
If you do have resources listed, please direct me as to where I may find them.
You may have missed it, but toward the bottom of the article, Arcadia’s supplement line is covered under “ReptiFiles’ Recommended Reptile Calcium and Vitamins”. Pertaining to your question regarding leopard geckos, as far as I’m aware, the Earthpro Insectivore Feeding Program coupled with an appropriately-distanced ShadeDweller UVB kit has been successfully used with leopard geckos.
Thank you for the informative article. I don’t know about the time of publication, but—at least today—Arcadia has an “EarthPro” supplement line and 8-step advice for supplementing specific to insectivores. https://www.arcadiareptile.com/earthpro/feeding-programme/insectivore/ The baseline EarthPro-A includes only cartenoids, so that’s 6 of 8 feedings that get dusted without retinol. The eighth feeding would get RevitaliseD3 with some retinol; but, as the name suggests, it also includes D3. As leading proponents of UVB lighting, I have to assume Arcadia is expecting its customers’ reptiles are getting UVB and getting the D3 supplement every eighth feeding. I view Arcadia as more scientific than any other reptile-related company, so I am inclined to take their advice and buy their system. But your advice here on preferring retinol for insectivores and avoiding double-D3 with UVB+powder also makes sense. Do you have any concerns about using Arcadia’s Shadedweller UVB and EarthPro cycle of supplements with a leopard gecko? Cheers!
Some reptiles have been known to lick calcium powder from a dish (ex: leopard geckos), but providing calcium this way is not optimal, as calcium supplementation is not for correcting any calcium deficiency inherent to reptiles, but for correcting the imbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio in feeder insects. Letting the animal lick calcium from a dish at will has the potential to neutralize stomach acid and contribute to calcium or vitamin D3 toxicity. It’s best to just gutload your feeders well and dust them with calcium at each feeding.
As for your second question, that depends on the snake and the calcium powder that you’re using. Using an unscented supplement powder (for example, Miner-All is berry flavored/scented) is less likely to affect feeder acceptance than using one that has a particular scent. If you have a snake that absolutely will not take a feeder that has supplement powder on it, you can periodically inject a small amount of paste made from the powder into the feeder’s rodent’s mouth.
Got a couple questions about vitamin supplementation.
One, would reptiles and amphibians actually lick calcium powder that’s put out on a dish for them?
Two, wouldn’t dusting rodent feeders have the potential to deter snakes from eating due to scenting issues?
Thank you so much for answering me! I so appreciate it. His primary diet is dog food so I’m going to follow your advice. I just want to take care of him right. Thank you again!
Hi Quinn, I’m sorry you’ve had to experience so much confusion. Reptile supplementation is particularly complicated, and to be honest, science doesn’t have a concrete answer on dosing for pet reptiles quite yet. However, for a blue tongue skink with access to high quality UVB, and assuming you’re using dog food/cat food as the primary basis of its diet, you shouldn’t need a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D3, as your skink should get plenty from the dog/cat food and UVB exposure. However, if you’re worried, Repashy Calcium LoD is unlikely to be harmful.
I have done a ton of research that my mind hurts. Everything and everybody says different things. Im hurting more about the d3 in calcium supplements. I have a 4x2x2 enclosure for a blue tongue skink. 12% T5 HO bulb. Im confused if I should only use repashy calicum loD or mix it up. He burrows alot. Please help! Thank you.
Nope! Most foods and supplements marketed for animals are not approved for human consumptions simply because the manufacturer has to go through the FDA in order to get approval for the “human-grade” label. Although it’s certainly ideal for a reptile food or supplement to be “human-grade,” being marked as “not for human consumption” is not really anything to worry about. It’s more important to pay attention to the ingredients, formulation process, and reputability of the manufacturer. Fortunately, Repashy has earned a great reputation in the reptile hobby for creating high-quality products.
Hello, repashy says not for human consumption. Should i be worried about this?
Thanks for the reply. I’ve got a bottle of calcium plus right here and it says 20,000 UI per lb, not kg. Per kg thats 44,000 UI. I have like four different supplements in front of my ive been using over the years just to compare, and i noticed a lot of them go either by lb or kg, which has added another level of confusion for me since that 20,000 vs 40,000 seems like a significant difference
Hi Scott, I’m not sure where you got the 40,000 IU/kg number from, but standard Repashy Calcium Plus contains just 20,000 IU/kg and has been safely used with leopard geckos for quite some time now, even without UVB. If you want to incorporate UVB into your leopard gecko’s enclosure, that would be the best way to make sure it gets all of the D3 that its body needs — oral supplementation will never equal the effectiveness of “homemade” vitamin D. Then you could step down to Calcium Plus NoD, or LoD if you want to be careful. It’s hard to overdose vitamin D when adequate UVB is provided, as some experts (I can’t quite remember the source right now — possibly Dr. Gary Ferguson?) suggest that UVB may play a role in breaking down excess vitamin D in the body.
Really informative article. Do you know what level of d3 should be used for leopard geckos? I read somewhere they can be sensitive to D3 overdoses despite D3 being really important to their diet. You recommend a d3 with less than 23,000 IU/kg, what i’ve read is the one of the best calcium/vitamin combos for leos is the rapashy calcium plus but the d3 level on that is like 40,000 IU/kg and the bottle even has a pic of a leopard gecko on it (i know, marketing. but it’s also sold by tons of ppl as the best leo supplement. The balance of vitamins and everything else seems to be OK in the ingredients, i was thinking of just taking rapashy calcium noD, and mixng it with the calcium plus 1:1, so i have a like a 23% calcium powder with 20,000 IU/kg D3 that still contains a decent amount of vitamin A, E. I have previously been using a 1:1 ratio of Osteoform and Vionate which despite seeming to have the right balance of vitamins, calcium, and D3, both contain phosphorous! The osteoform/vionate combo was first recommended to me by a big breeder i got some leopard geckos from. Since then, i have talked to 3 other breeders who seem to know what they are doing who use the same regimen although your article has my convinced that isn’t the best route. Thanks again
I prefer to plan for success, not plan for failure. This article was written under the assumption that if the reader is using UVB, they are using ReptiFiles’ advice for doing so. However you have brought up a valid concern, and I will be adjusting the article to add a bit of education about using UVB correctly, as according to John Courteney-Smith’s, “The Arcadia Guide to Reptile & Amphibian Nutrition,” sunlight is part of the available nutrition in a reptile’s environment.
Good points where made. That salad dressing idea was good to help reptiles that didnt eat their greens, get into it, but to her point, novice reptile keepers would be thinking that this is enough as calcium and vitamins.
The bad point: Eventhough a reptile may be kept with a UVB bulb, its best to still give a calcium with VD3, UNLESS the reptile is kept outdoors in with access to direct sunlight. In my experience, novices reptile keepers usually dont even know what percent UVB their reptile needs. Not to mention that the UVB light needs to be changed. So its best to do VD3 even if you are providing the light, unless you are keep records of when you changed the bulbs and take readings of the uvb output
Fair point — I did not take that into consideration.
You’re missing the point of this article — the point here is to educate people on reptile nutrition, and your comment leads me to believe that you probably didn’t read the whole thing. It’s true that this product is meant as a “dressing” and appetite stimulant, rather than a true multivitamin supplement. However, there are many *far* better multivitamins on the market, and the fact that it’s advertised to contain vitamins means that it preys on ignorant reptile owners who likely don’t know how to choose a good human multivitamin for themselves, much less for their pet, and are likely to grab whatever looks most appealing to check off the “multivitamin” box on their list. The packaging and concept of a “salad dressing” uses a marketing tactic that is designed to appeal more to human senses rather than the practicality of whether it’s actually a valuable addition to their reptile’s diet. It may not be the worst thing on the reptile supply market, but compared to other multivitamin options, it’s far from the best.
You might think Calcium Lactate has “less” content of calcium as a whole. But surprisingly, calcium Lactate is more bioavailability than the Carbonate.
That means, most of your calcium carbonate with be excreted through the body while most of Lactate will be readly available for metabolism.
I don’t see how you might think that water is a Filler.
The fact it doesn’t have and intrinsic nutritional value doesn’t make it a Filler.
Water is so much necessary for the transport of Water soluble vitamins.
About the.sugar. maybe your right, it might contain a lot, but you have to keep in mind that this is just a dressing, not a complete diet.
And last but not least. There were not visible claim on that product about any vitamins content. The main goal of this product is stimulate appetite.
There’s nothing wrong about the labeling.
Maybe not the safest and properly way yo to it but it’s not the end of the world on nutrition.
I think it’s better if everyone educate themselves about nutrition instead of making this kind of post trying to denigrate some product that might not be what you think it is.