Obesity: A Preventable Problem in our Hobby
Let’s talk about the “elephant in the room” for a minute. One of the most widespread health issues facing reptiles kept in captivity these days that is way, way more common than anybody wants to admit. It is absolutely 100% preventable and our fault. I’m talking about over feeding, and obesity. Judging by the comments you will see on just about any forum for any species, many keepers don’t even realize how bad this issue is, let alone how common it is. Every picture posted of a reptile that is way overweight for its size, is followed by tons of comments romanticizing it with descriptions of how cute it is. But the reality is that many animals are not reaching their potential life spans, and far to often it can be directly attributed to obesity.
So what gives? Why is this such a common thing? The truth is that it’s a combination of things. Part of it may stem from the ideology that these animals are not in the wild, so they don’t need to be starving all the time. But the truth is, many of these species that the hobby is guilty of over feeding, have evolved to be biologically optimal on far less food then we provide them. A side note to this, would be keepers who blanket all similar reptiles with the same type of feeding regime, because they simply do not understand…not everything is created equal. This can actually be so bad, that a keeper will be accused of animal cruelty for feeding their adult male snakes once a month, because the uneducated believe all snakes should be fed weekly. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the popularity of power feeding to hurry animals to a perceived weight for reproduction, has also contributed to this. Sexual maturity is and has always been based off of age, not the number of grams on the scale. If you are in that big of a rush to breed animals where you’re willing to risk their health and lives, please promptly get out of working with animals. We are better than that.
Sadly, the current state of the hobby where people can become a celebrity on social media has also hurt this serious issue. Why? Well let’s talk reality. There are multiple very popular personalities out there who have huge followings. Unfortunately instead of promoting the best and most health conscious care for their species…they go the road of bigger means more fans. People love very large reptiles. Even if they never want to work with them, they love to see huge snakes, and massive lizards. Maybe this goes back to many keepers passion for dinosaurs as children, or other deep rooted things. I certainly get it. It’s always an impressive sight to see such an animal. But the problem is, reticulated pythons are not supposed to be stuffed with food until they are indistinguishable from a Burmese python from the neck down. They are agile athletic predators. Same goes for large species of monitor lizards. They should not be lethargic, belly dragging huggable teddy bears. They have evolved to be efficient predators that are lean and muscular animals adept at moving very quickly.
The time has come for us as a hobby to come together, and stop romanticizing obesity. It’s not good for the animals to keep sweeping this under the rug. It shortens their life span by quite a bit. Your not spoiling your animal by feeding it to much, your slowly killing it. As with any other health issue in reptiles, it’s slow and doesn’t come to a head until it’s usually to late. This is a big part of why there are far, far fewer keepers with animals deep into their expected life spans than there should be. Now please understand, this is not a blog ment to hurt anybody’s feelings, or an attack at any specific keepers. This blog is aimed at bringing awareness to those that don’t realize how common, or how bad this is. Reptiles have evolved to be very efficient animals. As humans we have a tendency to over feed everything, including ourselves. One look at dogs and you can see we are not the only guilty group of animal lovers. The facts are simple here. Over feeding and obesity is a reality in our hobby. One that needs to stop for the animals sake. I can’t describe exactly what that looks like for every species obviously, because they all differ. But I encourage you to take a good hard look at what you keep, and what the optimal condition for that species looks like. Not what other big breeders necessarily say or show, but take into consideration scientific evidence as well as video or pictorial content of wild specimens. If your willing to do this, I promise your rate of success in keeping and breeding your animals will drastically improve. And if they could, your animals would thank you for their longer, healthier lives in your care. Remember, it’s the animals welfare that is your responsibility. First, last, ALWAYS.