Whether you’ve owned a reptile before or not, it doesn’t matter, you still have plenty to learn about tortoises either way. That’s because whatever applies to most reptiles doesn’t necessarily apply to tortoises as well.
Today, we will discuss the tortoise diet and how to feed your tortoise pet properly. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!
What do Pet Tortoises Eat?
Most tortoises are omnivores, but their diet is primarily herbivorous. They consume some insects, worms, fish, and even carrion in times of need, but only sparingly.
These animals typically thrive on an herbivorous diet with a lot of diversity.
To understand these animals’ dietary requirements and preferences, consider the following:
- Basic dietary requirement – Captive-bred tortoises require diverse diets with a lot of moving parts. Their basic vitamin and mineral requirements include vitamin E, vitamin D3, calcium, vitamin A, iron, phosphorus, and many others. Some foods are richer in some nutrients rather than others, so dietary balancing is key for keeping your turtle healthy in the long run. Leafy greens are probably the most important assets thanks to their high calcium content.
- Fresh vegetables and fruits – Veggies and fruits like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, or berries also play defining roles in the reptile’s diet. However, you should feed your tortoise veggies and fruits in moderation due to the high sugar content.
- Nutrition supplements – Your tortoise may require food supplementation, depending on its dietary profile. Reptiles, in general, are prone to calcium deficiency, so you might want to look into it more closely. Your vet should be able to recommend targeted food supplements based on your tortoise’s dietary requirements.
- Types of foods that should be avoided – You need to stay clear of several foods when it comes to feeding tortoises. These include avocados, nightshade plants (tomatoes and potatoes, along with everything else that contains solanine,) citrus fruits, and highly processed foods. I recommend sticking to a diet that mimics the tortoise’s eating patterns in the wild. Avoid cat food, dog food, or processed items that contain plenty of artificial additives, colorants, and sugars.
Now that you know the basics of tortoise dietary plants, how exactly do you feed the reptile?
Preparing Fresh Food for Your Tortoise
Preparing your tortoise’s meal involves several key steps, such as:
How to Select the Right Fruits and Vegetables
Not all fruits and veggies are healthy and safe for your tortoise. Your job is to trim the weed from the chaff and prepare your tortoise a healthy and nutritious meal.
Write down some of the following options:
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Strawberries, etc.
You should speak to a reptile nutritionist to find out more about your particular tortoise’s natural preferences. Remember, not all tortoises have the same diets because they live in different environments with different feeding opportunities.
Most importantly, always write down the acceptable and unacceptable foods. You may think you can remember the essentials, but you don’t want to mess up, forget, and feed your tortoise a forbidden food item.
Also, all of the greens, fruits, and veggies should be fresh and healthy. Make sure that they haven’t been contaminated with any chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, or anything along these lines.
Washing and Cutting the Fruits and Vegetables Properly
This isn’t exactly rocket science. Once you’ve determined the right food items, wash, unpeel, and cut them properly for your tortoise to consume them with ease.
I recommend removing the peel whenever possible, as is the case with apples, carrots, melons, or similar products.
Especially if you know that the said foods have been treated with various chemicals to protect them from pests. These chemicals are usually contained in the fruit or veggie’s skin, and simply washing them may not remove them entirely.
When it comes to the cutting process itself, there isn’t much to know. You can’t serve your tortoise a full carrot or apple, so some processing is necessary. However, you shouldn’t cut the items too small.
Tortoises like to have healthy and chewy bites so that they can eat normally. If the bites are too small, your turtle may not even eat them.
The problem is that I cannot recommend the exact bite-size to go for, as this depends on your tortoise’s preferences, size, and eating behavior. Test it out and see what your pet prefers.
Using Different Preparation Methods to Make Different Meals
Fortunately, there are not too many preparation methods when it comes to feeding tortoises. Simply washing, cutting, and portioning the food properly should do the trick just fine.
Only commercial pellets require more preparation due to them being dry. And tortoises can’t really consume dry food.
So, you need to pre-soak the pellets before feeding them to your tortoise. The whole process is pretty much automatic since all you need to do is watch the pellets take in water and expand.
Portion the pellets according to your tortoise’s meal size preference, soak them to where they become mush, and use your hands to blend them into a paste.
You can then place the pate onto a flat plate, mold it into a ridge for ease of consumption, and ring the bell. Once your tortoise is done eating, clean everything, and you’re good to go.
As a plus, make sure that your tortoise has sufficient water available. Commercial pellets contain plenty of fibers that require water to ensure proper digestion.
Keeping Food Nutritious and Healthy for Your Pet Tortoise
Consider the following recommendations:
- Always go for fresh food – Since we’re talking mostly about veggies and greens, you probably need to resupply your tortoise’s food reserves fairly regularly. Greens especially won’t stay in mint condition for longer than a couple of days.
- Check the food quality – The food items themselves should be healthy and free of contaminants or any artificial additives.
- Don’t experiment – I understand the drive to want to experiment with various foods to see whether your tortoise will accept anything other than what it eats naturally. Here’s a spoiler: it most definitely will. Tortoises will happily eat junk food like crackers, potato chips, and other similar products. But just because the tortoise will eat them doesn’t mean that they should. Stick to what the tortoise would naturally eat in its native habitat.
- Consider supplementation – Discuss your tortoise’s diet with your vet to determine your reptile’s nutritional profile. Maybe the animal requires additional supplementation, or maybe not. This may sound like an easy-to-tackle topic, as most people simply supplement their animal’s diet without consulting anyone. And without realizing that even supplements can have drastic side effects when going overboard.
Serving the Meal to Your Pet Tortoise
When mealtime comes, you need to consider the following:
- Making the environment safe – Provide your tortoise easy access to its food and remove everything that could interfere with the animal’s feeding. Also, remove everything close to the food items that the tortoise may ingest by mistake. Tortoises aren’t exactly the cleanest or most proficient eaters, as they are rather sloppy and careless.
- Properly cleaning the eating area – Always clean the eating zone before and after mealtime ends. It’s best to have your tortoise eat from a hygienic environment to prevent contaminating the food with bacteria, fungi, or any other unwanted chemical or microorganism. Post-meal cleaning is also necessary to prevent food leftovers from rotting and contaminating the reptile’s habitat.
- Serving the meal appropriately – How you serve the meal itself varies depending on the food item itself and how much food you have altogether. Larger tortoises eat more in one sitting, in which case you need a lot more food overall. I recommend using a flat surface as plating, as this allows the turtle to pick up the items more easily. When it comes to mushy foods, like soaked pellets or other types of foods, shape the bulk of food in an easy-to-eat shape.
Finally, you should always watch the tortoise as it eats if the time allows you to. This way, you can help the animal pick up food items that it may be missing and remove leftovers immediately after the session.
Tortoises and turtles have the most diverse meals in the reptile kingdom. Most tortoises are omnivorous animals, so they require food variety and high nutritional content above all else.
If you’ve never owned a turtle or a tortoise before (no, they’re not the same thing), gather information about their eating habits from more knowledgeable experts.