As a new tortoise owner, one of the most difficult topics can be what to feed their Testudo tortoises safely. Introduced too early can alter their eating patterns permanently and lead to ongoing issues later.
Grocery store greens, lettuces and other salad items contain very little fiber, so should only be eaten occasionally. To increase fiber intake further, combine these items with dried salad hay or other plants that contain high levels of it such as dried chia.
Feeding Dry Dog Food
While tortoises may enjoy eating dog and cat food as treats in captivity, such foods should not become their main meal source. Tortoises have distinct nutritional needs from dogs and cats and consuming incorrect diets could result in serious health problems for them.
Tortoises require a varied diet consisting primarily of vegetables such as alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, carrot tops, radish greens, turnip greens, kale, dandelion leaves and Chinese cabbage; though some keepers add fruit like melons and apples for variety.
Tortoises need grasses such as parsley, dandelion leaves and prickly pear cactus to provide them with essential fiber, while providing shallow bowls of fresh water daily is enough to keep them hydrated. Many owners add calcium powder made specifically for tortoises (Repti-cal is one popular brand); other sources of calcium include cuttlebone or nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica or Indian fig opuntia), also formerly known as mission cactus), as this plant provides both calcium and phosphorus sources necessary for tortoises diets.
Mushrooms are fungi, and some species contain toxins which may lead to serious health issues in tortoises. These toxins may cause vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage and other symptoms in tortoises.
Tortoises should generally avoid feeding any type of mushroom to their diets. Instead, focus on offering a wide selection of approved fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens such as kale, dandelion leaves, collard greens and romaine lettuce (not iceberg) that should form part of its daily meal. Furthermore, fibrous vegetables like bell peppers and squash should also be part of its regular food source as well as powdered vitamin supplements designed for reptiles that can be sprinkled onto their leafy green meals as needed.
Tortoises tend to be herbivorous creatures, though some species such as Red-eared Sliders and Box Turtles can be fed meat, insects and earthworms as part of their diet. When selecting food items appropriate for your species of tortoise, consult a veterinarian as high-protein calcium deficient diets can lead to severe shell deformities or other developmental issues in tortoises.
Tortoises fed high-sugar diets often become obese, disrupting normal digestive functioning. Overweight tortoises also often experience fatty infiltration of their livers; this issue is especially prevalent among grazing species like Leopard Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) and Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata).
Tortoises require a home prepared vegetarian diet. Alongside providing them with Timothy or orchard grass hay, provide them with an assortment of leafy greens and desert plants such as sow thistles, plantain weeds and spineless Opuntia cactus pads – also incorporating salad items such as mustard greens, escarole lettuce and romaine lettuce as well as dandelion greens, turnip greens and collard greens into their diet.
Avoid feeding your tortoise iceberg lettuce, as this contains minimal nutrients, and offer cilantro (coriander) only occasionally due to its high oxalic acid content. Make sure that he or she is receiving sufficient protein by monitoring his or her feces; they should appear dark green and firm.
Tortoises should meet all their protein requirements from their vegetable matter diet, such as flowers, leaves and seeds. All are safe protein sources with low enough levels for tortoises to consume safely; in many ways plants provide superior nutrition than meat due to providing higher levels of slow-burning fiber that supports their fermentation-based digestive systems.
Tortoises living in rain forest environments will benefit from access to soil rich with calcium and other essential trace minerals naturally present, along with access to sunlight for basking. They need this exposure in order to produce enough vitamin D3 internally in order to utilize all of the calcium they ingest from food sources.
An experienced vet specializing in reptile care should be able to create a care plan to ensure tortoises get the proper amount of calcium without over-supplementation, which can cause health complications. Repashy calcium blocks are designed for reptiles with UVB lighting and are free from phosphorous; Nutrobal contains high calcium balancers as well as vitamin D3.