Feeding of Casualty Reptiles (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty & Convalescent Feeding which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Coronella austriaca - Smooth snake, Natrix natrix - Grass snake, Vipera berus - Common viper, Anguis fragilis - Slow worm, Lacerta agilis - Sand lizard, Lacerta vivipara - Viviparous lizard.

These species are from the families Colubridae, Viperidae, Anguidae, Lacertidae

(Sea turtles are not commonly presented as wildlife casualties in the UK and their requirements have not been included in this module. If a live turtle requires rescue and rehabilitation, expert assistance should be sought from an organisation with appropriate expertise and facilities: Sea Life Centres, zoos (which may be contacted via the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland) and large aquaria.))

Fluids (water):

  • Offer a rehydration (electrolyte) solution such as Lectade (Pfizer Limited) to drink on admission.
  • Water should be freely available at all times unless the casualty is unconscious or severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Both water and a rehydration (electrolyte) solution, in separate containers, should be made available initially.
  • (V.w5, V.w26)

Convalescent Diet:

If reptiles are anorexic they may need force-feeding or tube feeding. Specialist advice should be obtained in this situation.

  • Small mice can be used for force-feeding.
  • Liquid high protein meat-based diet can be used for tube-feeding.
  • (V.w6)

Short term Maintenance Diet:

Suggested short term maintenance diets include:


  • Small brown mice, slightly warmed and moved around in front of the snake on a piece of string (to simulate live prey).
  • Insect larvae e.g. mealworms may be offered.
  • Dead day-old chicks may be offered.
  • N.B. often refuse to feed in captivity, particularly the adder (Vipera berus - Common viper).


  • Flies, maggots, crickets.
  • Dust food with calcium/phosphorus supplement (e.g. Cricket Diet Calci-Paste, International Zoo Veterinary Group, or Nutrobal, Vetark Animal Health).

Slow worms:

  • Limax agrestis slugs (small and grey in appearance), found under rocks/pieces of wood in gardens.
    • Only take from gardens where no molluscicides have been used.

(B151, B169.48.w48, B199)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Fresh drinking water should always be available in a container of an appropriate size and type for the species concerned.
  • Fluid replacement therapy other than oral fluids may be required for casualties which are extremely dehydrated on admission or are unable to take in and absorb oral fluids.
    • Fluid therapy should continue until the animal is no longer dehydrated, even if it is self feeding.
  • Feeding of convalescents should take into account their requirement for additional nutrients for healing as well as maintenance requirements.
  • The required fluid intake for maintenance should be considered when designing convalescent diets.
  • Energy requirements for maintenance and healing should be calculated and used to determine the quantity of food required for both convalescence and short-term maintenance diets.
  • Convalescent diets should be easily absorbed/digested.
  • Care should be taken not to under or over supplement with vitamins/minerals.
  • Diets intended for feeding from a syringe or by stomach tube (gavage) must be of a sufficiently fluid consistency to pass through the syringe nozzle or down the tube without it becoming blocked.
  • The natural diet should be considered when deciding on suitable ingredients, including consideration of taste/smell.
  • Fresh food must be provided daily.
  • Regular cleaning of food and drinking water containers (e.g. daily) is important to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Food and water containers should be sited to minimise the risk of contamination with droppings/faeces/urine. 
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Water bowls should not be left in the accommodation of a casualty which is unconscious or is severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Dehydrated and malnourished individuals sometimes drink rehydration fluids but refuse plain water initially; other will drink water but not rehydration fluids. Both should be made available.
  • No diet, however well balanced nutritionally, is useful if the animal does not eat it, for example because it is not recognised as food.
  • Ingestion of food should be monitored, not assumed. This may include weighing food before presentation and weighing waste food after removal, and periodic weighing of the animal.
  • Monitoring of weight/body condition is particularly important for group housed/group fed animals, within which some individuals may take more food and others not get the food they require.
  • Diets suggested on this page are intended for short term use for wildlife casualties; they are not necessarily suitable for long-term use or in individuals which are breeding.
  • Diets suggested on this page are not necessarily suitable for feeding juveniles.
  • If naturally-available food items are gathered for feeding to casualties it is important to be aware of the possibility of contamination with chemical such as herbicides and pesticides.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Oral rehydration (electrolyte) solutions are widely available from veterinary suppliers and chemists. 
  • A basic oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution may be made by dissolving one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in one litre of water.(B203)
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Considerable expertise may be required when dealing with reptiles and encouraging them to feed in captivity. Only experienced personnel should be responsible for the care of venomous species.
Cost/ Availability
  • Food items gathered from the garden or pond cost only time but are not always available.
  • Live food (invertebrates) is generally available from e.g. pet shops and is not expensive if only small quantities are required.
  • Mice are often available frozen from pet stores; the cost is variable.
  • Supplements are available from pet stores or veterinary suppliers; the cost is variable.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000 it is an offence not to provide animals (including captive wild animals) with necessary food and water. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, P19.2.w1)
  • Care should be taken not to let an individual become accustomed to a single food item as this may result in difficulties in feeding the animal if the food item becomes unavailable, and in preparing it for release.
  • Every effort should be made to provide appropriate natural, locally available foods to animals which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods before they are released, in order to re-accustom them to a natural diet and reduce the chance of digestive problems following release.(P24.233.w11)
  • The release of animals which, by virtue of an inadequate or inappropriate diet whilst in captivity, are not fit to survive when released may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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