Gutloading Basics

By Jason Descamps


Descamps, J. (2005). Gutloading Basics. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, June 2005. (

Gutloading is a term used more and more frequently in chameleon keeping today. However, many people are still not familiar with the process and it's many benefits. Gutloading refers to the process of feeding prey items a nutritious diet prior to feeding them to your chameleon. The nutrients found in the insect's gut are then passed on to the animal much as it would be in the wild. Gutloading prey items prior to feeding your chameleons offers a more nutritious meal, reduces the reliance on vitamin supplementation, and improves the overall health and vitality. Gutloading also provides the keeper with tools to help balance the natural mineral content of feeder insects. For example the poor calcium to phosphorus ratio in crickets. There are many commercially available gutloads available for purchase and almost as many "do it yourself" recipes found on the internet. While feeding your insects something is better than nothing at all, it is important to examine the ingredients and make decisions based on the needs of your animal. Many insect farmers utilize feed for their insects that is cheap and widely available such as chicken feeds, and many attempt to sell it as a complete diet along with their insects. While this diet is readily accepted by most insects it is not a suitable gutload for chameleons. Often times these mixes contain high levels of vitamins and minerals that could be dangerous to your chameleons along with products that are high in oxalates and phytates that will impede calcium absorption. They are also usually quite high in corn based content. Corn is difficult to digest and offers far less nutrients per serving than other grain products available.

When choosing a gutload you should examine not only the ingredients themselves but also the amounts of each ingredient included in the mix. Many gutload formulas contain beneficial ingredients but at level that far exceed the recommended daily intake for adult humans. Obviously this would not be an ideal situation for your chameleon with any nutrient. In choosing your gutload, it is important to check the levels of sodium, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and fat. These ingredients are all beneficial to your chameleon at the proper levels, however, these items will often be included at elevated levels due to the preparation process or poor ingredient choices. A word of caution, some gutloading mixes, particularly those that are all grain based products, can spoil and mold. If your gutload is moldy it should be disposed of immediately. Moldy grain can produce toxic substances that can be deadly in the right situations. The following is a listing of varying nutrients and their roles in gutload recipes available today.


Protein sources are extremely important in a gutload recipe. Protein provides the building blocks for skeletal and muscular growth. It also provides the amino acids that aid in body functions such as carbohydrate conversions. Many "do it yourself" mixes recommend cat or dog food as a primary source of protein. While these products are indeed high in protein, they are also usually very high in fats, oils and fillers and can often lead to digestive issues. Most commercial mixes available utilize a fish meal based protein. Fish meal is a very potent protein used in animal feeds of all kinds, most commonly chicken mash. There is some evidence that diets high in animal protein can lead to higher uric acid levels in the blood resulting in gout. Soy is another commonly used protein source in a few gutload recipes, and while soy is high in protein it is also high in oxalates and phytates, both of which will bind to calcium and prevent its absorption. Another protein source, although still relatively uncommon in gutloads, is alfalfa. Alfalfa is an easily digestible source of protein, B-complex vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium and is another safe choice for providing protein. Certain species of feeder insects, such as roaches, have higher protein requirements than other feeder insects. Often you will see diets specifically geared towards these higher protein requirements, the same precautions should be taken when choosing a higher protein mix for these types of animals. The type of protein is often times more important than the quantity.


Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy in the body. Complex carbohydrates are more readily usable by the body for energy purposes, they also contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than "simple" carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Many commercially available gutloads and cat or dog food based DIY recipes contain low levels of complex carbohydrates, instead providing difficult to digest carbohydrate sources such as corn. A gutload with varying nuts, fruits and grains will provide a better base for complex carbohydrates, and therefore energy to your chameleon.


Sodium plays an important role in the regulation of fluid levels as well as blood pressure. However, diets containing high amounts of sodium have been theorized to cause water retention resulting in edema. Stress can cause a loss in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and zinc also leading to high level of sodium. Many commercially available gutload mixes, especially dog or cat food based, contain very high levels of sodium. Levels that far exceed the recommended daily allowance for adult humans. The elevated levels can lead to chronic dehydration, kidney damage, and edema in captive chameleons.


Potassium is a mineral that assists in muscle function and maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance in cells. Most commercially available gutloads contain at least trace amounts of potassium.


Fat plays an important role in the body in all healthy animals. Sick or compromised chameleons can often be assisted by adding more fat calories to the diet. However, too much fat can lead to health problems. Many "do it yourself" recipes and commercial mixes utilize high fat ingredients for protein and filler sources and care must be taken to restrict large amounts of fat in the diet.

Along with a dry gutload mix, feeder insects should always have a moisture source available. Many keepers utilize fresh fruits and vegetables as this moisture source as they provide additional vitamins, minerals and nutrients to your feeders. Vegetables such as romaine, squash, sweet potato and carrot are readily accepted along with fruits such as apples, oranges and even watermelon rind. Uneaten fruits and vegetables should be removed every other day to help prevent mold in the feeder container. Potato is also utilized quite often as a moisture source in insect farms and by many keepers and while it is a decent moisture source, it provides very little in the way of additional nutrients. Water crystals and other gelatin type products are becoming increasingly popular with hobbyists due to the price and ease of use, however, many of these products contain no nutritional benefit and will only provide a source of moisture. If these types of products are utilized a proper dry gutload mix should be available at all times.

Armed with this information, you can make informed decisions regarding your choice in gutloading recipes. Chameleon nutrition has come a long way in the past 10 years but there is still a lot of research to be done in this field. Providing a nutritious gutload made with quality ingredients is one way to help provide this to your chameleons.

Jason Descamps

Jason Descamps has been keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians for over 12 years. To date he has worked with over 135 species of reptiles including breeding 18 species of chameleons. His current focus is creating a stable captive chameleon gene pool through the CCBTD and working with rarely bred chameleon species such as C. (Tr.) weidersheimi, C. (Tr.) werneri, and C. (Tr.) fuelleborni. Jason served as an assistant editor for the Chameleons! Online E-Zine from December 2005 through February 2008.


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