California Turtle & Tortoise Club

Foothill Chapter

Caring for Your Tortoise

Captive Tortoise Diet

WHEN: Hatchlings – 3 times weekly; Adults- 1-2 times weekly

WHERE: Pick a shaded area that is easily accessible. Lay down slate floor tiles or inset stepping stones for placing food.

HOW MUCH: Only feed 1-2 times per week as much as they can eat during the morning. Decrease by 1/3 if food is left at the end of the day. Increase by 1/3 if there is no trace of food at the end of the day. Pick up all uneaten food at the end of the day to discourage spoilage, roaches, and rodents.

WHAT TO FEED: Grazing on grass and natural plants is the best nutrition for tortoises.

85% Vegetables - Listed from the highest nutritional level to least, based on calcium and vitamin levels. Calcium supplements should be used 2-3 times weekly for female tortoises during egg season only.

Opuntia (prickly pear cactus)
Timothy Hay
Nappa cabbage
Bok choy
Turnip greens
Broccoli rabe (leaves)
Mustard greens
Grape leaves
Collard greens
Dandelion greens
Romaine lettuce
**Swiss chard
Green beans (fresh)
Desert mallow

*Feed less frequently; potential goiter occurrence with excess.
**Feed less frequently; contains calcium oxalates which inhibit absorption of calcium.

10% Fruits/Flowers - 20% for Red- and Yellow-Foot Tortoises - All fruits must be seeded first to prevent intestinal problem and toxicity. Because they are flavorful, tortoises can become addicted to fruits and flowers.

Rose petals
Hibiscus (flowers and leaves)
Nasturtium (leaves and flowers)
Squash blossoms

Give occasionally - moderate nutritional value

Sprouts (any)
Sweet Potato
Squash (includes pumpkin)

Low quality - should be avoided

Cabbage (red and green)
Lettuce (iceberg, red and green leaf)

Feed less than 5% protein - Too much protein has been linked to fatty liver disease. Traditionally animal protein sources such as dog food have been recommended. However tortoises are herbivores (vegetarians) and protein should be supplied as a plant based source. Any legume is a source of protein and should be limited to 5% of less of the total diet. Tortoises that are allowed to graze and get a varied diet of greens will get adequate amounts of protein without supplementing.

Comment: The advantage of commercial diets is that they are easier to use than preparing a balanced salad several times a week. The disadvantage is that in spite of the claims that the commercial diets are complete and balanced, they may not be so. The ingredients are items that a tortoise in the wild would never have access to. Symptoms from eating an unbalanced diet may take years to develop.

Natural Sunlight is an important factor in the process of metabolizing calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Reptiles including tortoises can not survive without it

Reference: Bulletin of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians Volume 4, Number 1, 1994; pg. 8-11