You might be confused as to why your tortoise will eat absolutely everything you place in front of it, no matter how often or how much you feed it. You may be wondering whether your tortoise is starving or if there’s an underlying health issue.
So why is my tortoise eating so much? In the wild, a tortoise never knows where its next meal is coming from, so whenever it gets the chance, it’ll eat everything it possibly can. This doesn’t mean that your tortoise is extremely hungry, just that it is an opportunistic feeder.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly why tortoises eat so much and go over the types of food they eat in the wild. We’ll give you some easy tools to determine whether you’re feeding your pet too much or not enough. You’ll also be able to learn about some health problems that may lead to your tortoise not maintaining a proper diet. Be sure to check out our guide to creating healthy meals for your pet as well!
Why Do Tortoises Eat So Much?
The fact that tortoises are capable of eating such large quantities of food doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re extremely hungry. In its natural habitat, a tortoise can never predict when it will be able to eat its next meal.
Because of this, it will eat as much as it possibly can whenever it’s presented with food! This means it can be very easy to overfeed your tortoise, because it will never refuse food.
What Do Tortoises Eat in the Wild?
Generally, tortoises are vegetarians that eat plants. Some tortoises are omnivorous, meaning that along with plants, they also eat insects and other small creatures. But for the most part, tortoises that live in the wild adapt to the types of plants that commonly grow in their environment. These can vary quite a bit based on location.
Tortoises that live in the forest eat mainly succulents, grasses, and legumes. You may also see a tortoise eating shrubs, herbs, dry plant material, and even rabbit feces on occasion. (Although it’s great to imitate a tortoise’s natural diet, you’ll want to avoid the rabbit feces, which can contain parasites and cause health problems for your pet.)
Desert-dwelling tortoises have a slightly different diet. They consume mostly leafy plants, flowers, and desert grasses. While store-bought produce can seem like a good choice for your pet, it’s better to stick to dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, parsley, and collard greens.
How Do I Know if I’m Feeding My Tortoise Too Much?
Remember this: It’s much better to underfeed your tortoise than to overfeed it. Feeding your tortoise too much and too often can actually have very dangerous effects on its health. These symptoms can develop as a result:
- Premature sexuality
- Organ failure
- Damage to the liver and kidneys
- Shedding too frequently
- Shell pyramiding
- Bloated limbs
- Yellow-tinted eyes
It may be difficult to tell if your tortoise is overweight or obese. Try this technique: When your pet retracts its legs into its shell, watch carefully. Any large, noticeable folds on the legs (not to be confused with normal skin wrinkles) are a clear sign that your tortoise is being fed too often.
Shell pyramiding occurs when metabolic bone disease develops as a result of too much protein in your tortoise’s diet. Typically this is a result of feeding your pet too many pellets. The individual scales on your tortoise’s shell (called scutes) will be raised in the middle and won’t lay flush with the rest of the shell. Instead, they’ll stick out.
Metabolic bone disease can be very dangerous for tortoises, so if you notice shell pyramiding, it’s very important to take your pet to the vet.
How Do I Know if My Tortoise Isn’t Eating Enough?
As long as you’re sticking to a regular feeding schedule, your tortoise will not be underfed or starving. These animals are capable of going months without food in the wild, so you’d have to deny your pet food for a very long time before you noticed any health issues or signs of malnourishment.
What Should I Do if My Tortoise Refuses to Eat?
It’s generally not a good sign if your tortoise begins to refuse eating, especially if it’s always had a healthy appetite in the past. One situation in which it’s normal for your tortoise to avoid food is the days leading up to and following hibernation. It’s still important to get your tortoise back to a healthy diet, but it’s expected for your tortoise not to eat much during this time.
It’s also possible that your tortoise doesn’t like the food you’re offering. Try mixing up its diet and adding in some variety to see if this solves the problem.
Health problems that can cause your tortoise to stop eating include parasites, a respiratory infection, or stomatitis. It’s very important to take your tortoise to the vet if it exhibits any abnormal behavior or symptoms such as lethargy, labored breathing, or loose stool.
How Often Should I Feed My Tortoise?
Opinions vary when it comes to how often you need to feed your tortoise, but the general consensus is about once a day for babies and young tortoises, or every other day for adults.
However, some tortoise owners feed their pets three times a week. It’s really a matter of preference; over time, you’ll become familiar with what your tortoise needs to stay healthy and happy.
What Should I Include in My Tortoise’s Diet?
Plants should make up a large part of every tortoise’s diet. While Sulcata tortoises eat quite a bit of grass and weeds, grass only makes up one to 10 percent of a Russian tortoise’s diet. There are plenty of plants you can give to your pet to add variety to its diet as well. These include:
- Blackberry leaves
- Brussels sprouts
- Mulberry leaves
- Raspberry leaves
- Strawberry leaves
It’s best to stick to feeding your tortoise the leaves of these plants, rather than giving them the berries. However, you can offer a couple of berries here and there as a tasty treat! Although your tortoise will most likely respond very positively to any fruits and berries you feed it, this doesn’t mean you should make it a regular staple in your pet’s diet.
Fruit is very high in sugar, and can actually have a very negative effect on your pet’s organ function in the long-term.
Keep in mind that variety is extremely important for tortoises. They can encounter hundreds of different plants in the wild and don’t like to eat the same thing all the time!
Take note that while there are plenty of commercial tortoise pellets out there, they’re basically the equivalent of fast food and lack the nutrition that your pet needs to stay healthy.
There are some higher-quality brands of tortoise pellets, so talk with your veterinarian to see what they recommend. Two good brands are Mazuri and Zoo-med, but they shouldn’t make up your tortoise’s entire diet.
You’ll also need to add calcium to your tortoise’s diet. Calcium is extremely important for bone growth and development. You’ll want to purchase a calcium carbonate powder with Vitamin D mixed in. Make sure it doesn’t contain phosphorus.
Are There Any Foods That Should Be off-Limits for My Tortoise?
There are quite a few plants out there that can actually be dangerous to your pet, and many of them are very common. Don’t feed your tortoise peas, beans, or other foods that are very high in protein. Because most tortoises are vegetarians, they don’t need much protein in their diet and too much is actually bad for them.
You’ll also want to keep them away from plants such as avocados, buttercups, calla lilies, daffodils, holly, ivy, nightshade, and poinsettia. Before feeding your tortoise any new foods, it’s wise to do some quick research to determine whether or not it’s safe for your pet to eat.
Tortoises will generally eat as much as you’re willing to feed them. This doesn’t mean that your pet is starving! You should be more concerned with overfeeding your tortoise than underfeeding it, because overfeeding can cause serious health problems for your pet.
If your tortoise suddenly stops eating, try to figure out the reason why as soon as you can. Issues like parasites, stomatitis, and respiratory infections will need to be treated by a veterinarian.
Generally, feeding your tortoise dark leafy greens every other day is a great way to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. Don’t forget to sprinkle calcium carbonate powder with Vitamin D onto your tortoise’s meals to ensure normal bone growth and development.