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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 vitamins and minerals.
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 Vitamins
There’s all kinds of reptile vitamins 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 vitamins 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.
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||45,359 IU/kg|
|Zoo Med||Repti Calcium with D3||22,907 IU/kg|
|Pisces Jurassic Natural||Calcium with D3||22,907 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal HyD||22,680 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal MeD||11,340 IU/kg|
|Exo Terra||Calcium + D3||6,686 IU/kg|
|Repashy||Supercal LoD||4,536 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. Those with a higher concentration (Zoo Med, Pisces Jurassic Natural, and Repashy’s HyD formula) are best for reptiles that are not receiving UVB at all. Those with a lower concentration are more suitable for occasional use with reptiles that are already receiving UVB.
Pertaining to calcium supplements with extraordinarily high levels of vitamin D3 (Rep-Cal, Flukers) these are best for use 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 may be 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.
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
A long time ago 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 Vitamins
All reptile supplement manufacturers create their supplements 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*)
- ShedSupport (multivitamin specifically for reptiles with shedding issues)
Note: None of these supplements provide vitamin D3, and some may not be available in the United States (yet!).
Repashy Supercal & Supervite
What I like about Repashy’s calcium 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.
In terms of reptile vitamins that contain preformed vitamin A, I only recommend Repashy Supervite. Supervite is a general multivitamin that contains both beta carotene and vitamin A, although it doesn’t have the same spectrum of nutrients offered by Arcadia Earthpro-A.