Best Tortoise Food

Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best tortoise food

Tortoises might not be cuddly or fuzzy, but they do make interesting pets. But while tortoises are undeniably cute, fairly quiet, hypoallergenic, and don’t shed, there’s a lot more to keeping one as a pet than providing food and water. In fact, tortoise care can be quite involved, and without the proper diet and shelter, your shelled pet isn’t likely to thrive. That’s why it’s important to feed it the right tortoise food.

Surprisingly, tortoises can learn to recognize their owner, often displaying affection by following their owner around the house, stretching out their necks for petting or scratching, watching their owner’s movements, or giving their owner a gentle head-butt to ask for a treat.

You want to provide the best life possible for your new friend, which could be with you for decades, so it’s important to research tortoise behavior and care before getting one. That includes choosing and feeding the best tortoise food.

tortoise food
Tortoises make good pets, but they aren’t the best choice for everyone.

How to choose the best tortoise food

Tortoise or turtle?

One common source of confusion is the difference between a tortoise and a turtle, especially as the terms are often used interchangeably. But while both creatures are reptiles belonging to the order Testudinata and characterized by a shell mostly developed from the animal’s ribs, they are not the same, and they are genetically different enough so that they cannot crossbreed to produce living young.

At the most basic level, tortoises are mostly vegetarian and live on land, while turtles spend most of their time in water and are typically omnivores that eat both meat and plant material. Tortoises typically have rounder, higher, thicker shells than turtles, and their feet are designed for walking on land, whereas most turtles have either webbed feet or flippers. And while neither animal is speedy, turtles generally can move faster than tortoises. The fastest speed clocked for a tortoise is only 0.63 miles per hour, according to Guinness World Records.

Types of pet tortoises

While there are around 50 tortoise species throughout the world — many endangered — only a handful of them are commonly kept as pets. Some of the best species for beginners include the following:

Russian tortoises live up to 40 years and remain fairly small at 8 to 10 inches.

Red-footed tortoises live up to 50 years and grow to between 10 and 16 inches.

Sulcata tortoises live up to 70 years and reach 30 inches in length. (This is an outdoor-only pet that requires a great deal of space.)

Hermann’s tortoises live up to 75 years or more and grow to a compact 8 inches or so.

Marginated tortoises can live up to 100 years and grow to between 12 and 14 inches.

Greek tortoises can live up to 100 years but remain a reasonable size of 5 to 10 inches.

There are several species of tortoise commonly kept as pets. Greek, Russian, and red-footed tortoises are popular choices.

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What does a pet tortoise eat?

In the wild, tortoises generally feast on a wide variety of leafy greens, including weeds, grass, flowers, leaves, and stems. Their diet is high in fiber and low in fat and protein. Depending on the environment, it isn’t unusual for a tortoise to consume greenery from more than 100 different types of plants. It’s unlikely you will be able to replicate that level of variety in your home with tortoise food, but your pet needs a well-rounded diet for optimum health.

Greens

The bulk of a tortoise’s diet should be fresh leafy greens. You’ll likely find that your tortoise especially relishes kale, dandelion leaves and flowers, mustard greens, collard greens, most common nontoxic yard weeds, grass, hay, parsley, and watercress. You can also offer romaine lettuce, rocket lettuce, mixed baby greens, and herbs, but avoid iceberg lettuce and other light-colored lettuces, which aren’t as nutritious.

Many people allow their tortoises to roam the backyard and feed freely off the lawn and surrounding flowerbeds, which most closely replicates the life of a wild tortoise. Just be certain that any greenery your tortoise consumes isn’t treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer.

Commercial tortoise food

When fresh greens aren’t available, or to supplement your pet’s regular diet, there are many types of excellent commercial tortoise food that provide all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your shelled reptile needs.

Most of these tortoise foods are in pellet form and consist mainly of dried pressed hay and other grasses, ground dried vegetables and grains, vitamins and minerals (particularly calcium, which is very important for shell growth and health), and occasionally a bit of dried fruit.

As a general rule, soaking the pellets in a little water makes them more appealing to your tortoise and adds necessary moisture to your pet’s diet as well.

Treats

Along with a daily diet of fresh greens and supplementary commercial tortoise food, your pet will enjoy an occasional treat. While fresh fruits and vegetables should not make up more than 10% of your tortoise’s total weekly diet, you can feed chopped vegetables once or twice per week and fresh fruits no more than once a week. Only provide small amounts of fruits and vegetables. These are treats, not mainstays of the diet. Suitable vegetables and fruits include the following:

Vegetables, including carrots, zucchini, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkins

Fruits, including apples, berries, watermelons, grapes, mangos

When it comes to the amount of food, an adult tortoise allowed to graze freely generally consumes just as much as needed, but if you’re providing the food rather than allowing the tortoise to graze, a good guideline is as much food as the size of the tortoise’s shell.

Schedule

Feed your adult tortoise their tortoise food five days a week, with two days per week without food. The days you don’t feed allow the tortoise’s slow metabolism to catch up and help keep your pet healthy. These days should be separated by at least two days and ideally be the same days each week.

Water

Your tortoise should have access to a bowl of fresh water at all times, although you might not often see it drinking. Tortoises obtain much of their moisture needs from the foods they eat, but do occasionally drink supplemental water from a bowl or puddle, and they do enjoy “bathing” in a shallow pool of water.

tortoise food
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Your tortoise’s diet should be primarily fresh greenery, such as kale, dandelions, weeds, grass, and succulents.
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What does tortoise food cost?

Feeding a pet tortoise doesn’t have to cost much at all, especially if you allow your pet to graze in your yard on a regular basis. When choosing fresh greens at the market, look for produce that’s in season because that’s when it’s generally the least expensive. Kale and other greens should only cost a few dollars per week.

Commercial tortoise food generally costs between $10 and $15 for a 3-pound container, which will last a long time.

Commercial tortoise food is useful when you don’t have access to fresh greens or the weather doesn’t permit your tortoise to graze outdoors.

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Tips

While different species of tortoise have their own specific needs, the following guidelines give you a rough idea of general tortoise care.

  • Let your tortoise spend time outdoors every day. This is ideal, particularly if it’s a large species. An outdoor pen should be at least 3 feet by 4 feet, although larger is better. It should be large enough so your tortoise can move from warmer to cooler areas as necessary to maintain its body temperature. It should be deep enough so the tortoise can’t climb over or dig underneath to escape. Your pet should have shelter from rain, a variety of surfaces to walk over, soft dirt or a substrate to dig in, vegetation for grazing or a supply of fresh food provided by you, and a bowl of water.
  • Choose the right size indoor enclosure. An indoor tank or enclosure needs to be sized appropriately to the size of your pet. While small species or baby tortoises might find a 50-gallon tank sizable enough for their needs, larger species need a large enclosure that’s at least 3 feet by 4 feet.
  • Use a reptile lamp if your tortoise can’t be outside. Your tortoise needs warmth and sunlight each day. A reptile lamp can take the place of natural sunlight when needed and should be on for 12 hours each day.
  • Keep other pets away from your tortoise. Always monitor young children when they are around the tortoise too.
  • Handle your tortoise carefully! These animals do feel your touch through their shell, and while many tortoises enjoy gentle stroking or scratching, they might bite if they feel uncomfortable or aren’t in the mood to be handled. Take care not to drop your tortoise, which can cause severe injury.
  • Bathe your tortoise. Give your young or small tortoise a bath once a week or so. Tortoises enjoy warm water and it helps to keep them healthy. Larger tortoises can use a tub or basin to submerge themselves. Make sure the water isn’t too deep, however. Your tortoise’s head should be above the water at all times.
tortoise food
All tortoises need plenty of space to roam, exposure to sunlight, a place to hide, and a source of water every day.

FAQ

Q. Is it legal to keep a pet tortoise?

A. While it’s generally legal in most areas to own a pet tortoise, there are rules regarding ownership of endangered or native species, and in some states, such as California and Nevada, you need a permit to own a desert tortoise. It’s a good idea to always acquire a pet tortoise from a licensed breeder or pet store to be sure all regulations have been followed.

Q. Should I get my tortoise a friend?

A. You might think your tortoise is lonely and would like a playmate, but other than when breeding, tortoises are solitary animals that don’t typically spend time with others of their kind. If you do decide to have two tortoises, avoid getting two males because they’re likely to fight when together.

Q. Do tortoises like to be picked up?

A. As a general rule, tortoises do not like to be picked up, and it’s best not to do so unless you are moving the animal from one area to another. However, many tortoises do enjoy being scratched or petted on their shell, neck, and head. You’ll usually be able to tell if your tortoise enjoys this type of attention because it will remain near you or even approach you in search of affection. If your tortoise seems unhappy with your touch, though, and snaps or withdraws into its shell, leave it be.

Q. Can my tortoise live on tortoise food alone?

A. No. In addition to commercial tortoise food, give your pet access to fresh greens and other plant-based foods so their diet is nutritionally complete.

 

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