Please see Part I of this article for tips on using oyster shell for desert dwelling lizards and tortoises. Today we’ll explore the use of rabbit pellets for herbivorous reptiles and their important role in preventing leg deformities in hatchling tortoises.
Rabbit Pellets for Hatchling Tortoises
Rabbit pellets? Yes…surprisingly, rabbit pellets are useful to herp keepers in several ways.
Hatchling tortoises that are housed on hard, unyielding substrates (i.e. newspaper over a bare floor, packed bark-based products) very often develop splayed legs. Eventually, the animal is left in a fairly crippled condition; corrective measures are relatively ineffective after a certain point.
Rabbit pellets used as a cage substrate provide exactly the right consistency for all newly hatched tortoises. I have raised many broods of star (Geochelone elegans), leopard (G. pardalis), radiated (Astrochelys radiata) and other tortoises on rabbit pellets with great results.
Rabbit and Alfalfa Pellets as Food
Additionally, rabbit pellets are useful as a substrate for older tortoises, green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and other herbivorous lizards. Comprised largely of alfalfa, they are a fine food item for these creatures, and so can be swallowed with impunity by animals that drag damp salad out of their feed bowls. This fact is gaining acceptance among reptile keepers…so much so that R Zilla now manufactures an alfalfa pellet specifically for use as a reptile substrate.
Rabbit and alfalfa pellets clump when wet, quickly revealing areas in need of spot cleaning. As they are likely to be eaten, it is important that the pellets used as a substrate are kept fresh and clean. Alfalfa pellets support fungal growth, and therefore are not suitable for use with desert-dwelling reptiles (please see Part I of this article for further details).
Overconsumption of rabbit pellets reputedly results in overly high protein levels for some tortoises. Although I am not aware of any specific incidences of this, rabbit and other alfalfa pellets in and of themselves do not provide any tortoise with a balanced diet, so their intake should be monitored. In my experience, most tortoises eat rabbit pellets accidentally, along with salad, and do not specifically seek them out.