Are Tortoises Picky Eaters?

Maybe your tortoise has begun to ignore a food that it seemed to enjoy in the past, or perhaps it’s been turning up its nose at absolutely everything you offer it. You might be wondering if your tortoise simply isn’t hungry or if it’s possible that it’s just being picky!

So are tortoises picky eaters? Although not always the case, tortoises can absolutely be picky eaters, but luckily there are a few things you can try to get your pet to eat a healthy diet.

Below, check out our tips on convincing a picky tortoise to eat a healthy and balanced diet. You’ll also be able to read about ways to keep a tortoise healthy even if it’s been refusing to eat. Make sure to take a look at our general feeding guide to ensure you’re providing your tortoise with everything that it needs to develop properly!

How Can I Get My Picky Tortoise to Eat?

Many tortoise owners have suggestions of foods that even the pickiest tortoises can’t turn down. These include:

    • Pumpkin puree (without spices and sugar) 
    • Romaine lettuce
    • Dandelion leaves and flowers

Keep in mind that these foods shouldn’t make up your tortoise’s entire diet! They should be used more as tools to help a picky tortoise get back into the habit of eating.

Mix a food that you know your tortoise likes (you can use one of the foods listed above) with some healthier food. Chop the healthy food into small pieces, or you can even use a blender so it’s more like a fine powder. Then mix it in with your pet’s favorite food. 

At first, you’ll want to make sure the mixture is mostly made up of your tortoise’s favorite food. Next, spritz the entire mixture with water to hold it together. Once your tortoise willingly eats that, try adding more and more of the healthy food and less of your tortoise’s food of choice. Over time, your tortoise should grow accustomed to eating a healthy diet.

How Can I Make Sure My Tortoise Stays Healthy if It Isn’t Eating?

One thing that’s important to remember is that tortoises can go months without eating in the wild. So even though it may seem like your tortoise has to be starving after not eating for a few days or a week, it most likely won’t cause any health problems to your pet.

Weigh Your Tortoise Weekly

Weighing your tortoise on a weekly basis to make sure it’s not consistently losing weight is very important. While tortoises are able to go long periods without food, excessive weight loss can indicate that your pet’s hunger strike has gone too far and is having negative effects on its health.

At this point, it’s best to take your tortoise to the vet. It’s possible you’ll have to force-feed your pet back to health, but this is a relatively rare situation. Typically you’ll be able to eventually convince your tortoise to eat, even if it’s pretty picky.

Soak Your Pet in Warm Water, an Electrolyte Supplement, or Carrot Juice

Warm water will keep your tortoise hydrated. You can also mix in carrot juice or an electrolyte supplement such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. This way, your tortoise will be able to absorb some of the nutrients that they aren’t currently getting through their diet. 

Continue to Provide Food and Water

You should always have plenty of fresh, clean water available for your tortoise. You’ll also want to make sure you give your pet opportunities to eat, even if they don’t always take advantage of it. Keep up your regular feeding schedule. Typically, your pet will eventually grow hungry enough to eat what you provide for them. 

General Feeding Guidelines

Overall, tortoises feed on leafy greens paired with the occasional piece of fruit. Their diet is low in protein and high in calcium. In the wild, tortoises are browsers that come across dozens of different types of foods, so their diet has a lot of variation. It’s a great idea to try to replicate that type of diet for your tortoise, even though it’s living in captivity.

How Often Should I Feed My Tortoise?

While babies and juvenile tortoises can eat daily, full-grown tortoises don’t need to be fed as often. Once every two or three days is usually sufficient. Keep in mind that tortoises are opportunistic feeders, which means that they’ll typically eat anything that you put in front of them.

This doesn’t mean that they’re starving, so don’t take it as an indication to continue feeding your tortoise more and more. 

How Much Should I Feed My Tortoise?

One rule of thumb to try is to feed your tortoise the amount of food it’s able to consume in a half hour. This can really vary from tortoise to tortoise. Try giving your pet more food that you know it will be able to eat, and see how much it has eaten and what is left after a half hour. After that, you’ll know what amount is generally sufficient for your tortoise’s meals. 

What Is a Balanced Diet for a Tortoise?

Generally, leafy greens make up about 80 percent of a tortoise’s diet, with vegetables making up most of the rest of their meals. Fruits can be included as an occasional treat. You can get plenty of greens from salad mixes at the grocery store, although you should avoid purchasing iceberg lettuce–it’s mostly water with very little nutritional content.

Greens

However, kale and baby leaf, and rocket mixtures are all good choices that can make up the bulk of your tortoise’s diet. Mix them up for some variety so that your pet doesn’t get bored.

You can also add in flowers and weeds from your yard as long as they aren’t toxic to tortoises (you can easily look this up online) and haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Some examples of safe plants that you likely have growing outdoors include dandelions, bramble leaves, and clover.

Vegetables

Vegetables are typically well-liked by tortoises, but you should try not to give your pet vegetables more than a couple of times per week. Peppers, butternut squash, broccoli, and cauliflower all make great additions to your tortoise’s diet.

Fruit

As we briefly mentioned before, fruits should be considered a treat, not a diet staple. Make sure not to feed your tortoise any citrus fruits. Instead, try melon, grapes, pear, peach, strawberries, mango, or cherries.

Too much fruit can lead to too much sugar in your tortoise’s system. Since tortoises’ digestive systems aren’t intended to process large amounts of sugar, feeding your pet too much fruit could ultimately lead to health problems. 

Dry Food

Another option to add in some variety to your tortoise’s diet is dry food. Dry food typically contains mixtures of plants that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to find otherwise. However, dry food should be more of a supplementary item instead of making up the bulk of your pet’s diet. 

Supplements

To ensure that your tortoise is receiving all the nutrition it needs to stay healthy and strong, experts recommend adding various supplements to your pet’s diet. A calcium supplement is the most important, and you can supply extra calcium through powder supplements, cuttlebone, or a tortoise block.

A lack of calcium can affect the strength of your tortoise’s bones and shell.

What Foods Are Toxic to Tortoises?

It’s great to mimic a tortoise’s natural diet, but there are definitely some plants and other foods to stay away from. 

  • Food that is very rich in protein is very hard for tortoises to digest, and because they’re primarily vegetarians, their bodies aren’t used to processing large amounts of protein.
  • Citrus fruits contain too much sugar and are too acidic for tortoises–your pet will end up with an upset stomach.
  • Certain flowers such as foxgloves, daffodils, and buttercups are toxic to tortoises. 

Conclusion

Tortoises can definitely be picky eaters, but it’s important to figure out a way to help your picky pet get back to a healthy and balanced diet! Try feeding your tortoise pumpkin puree or romaine lettuce with chopped up leafy greens mixed in.

If your tortoise refuses to eat for an extended period of time, make sure to weigh it weekly to see if it’s losing weight. You’ll want to soak your pet in warm water mixed with carrot juice or an electrolyte supplement to help it absorb some nutrients. Always provide plenty of fresh water as well.

As a general rule, leafy greens should make up about 80 percent of your tortoise’s diet, with vegetables and fruit mixed in occasionally. You can also add in dry food for variety. Don’t forget to provide a calcium supplement!

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