While turtles tend to be omnivores, tortoises are true vegetarians, which means that they do not eat meat, preferring a diet that consists primarily of vegetables like dandelion and kale. They can also be given a small number of berries and the occasional handful of Timothy or alfalfa hay. They also require supplementation to ensure that they are getting adequate calcium and vitamin A which is likely to be missing from their diet.
In the wild, tortoises live in a wide variety of different settings. As well as those that reside in deserts, there are some that live in tropical forests. The majority are vegetarians and will forage for food. In the wild, this means that they would eat flowers, the foliage of plants and bushes, and fruit and vegetables when they are available. There is some debate over whether cabbage is safe for tortoises, however, and it may be best to avoid this food for your tortoise.
Keeping a pet tortoise means that you need to try and match the diet of a wild tortoise. Some owners feed commercial tortoise food, which contains some combination of these foods.
Tortoises and Cabbage
When it comes to cabbage, there is some debate over whether it is a safe food for tortoises. It is not toxic to tortoises but it does contain goitrogens. In large quantities, goitrogens can prevent the thyroid from working properly, eventually leading to damage to the liver and kidneys. Although it should be fine to feed in small quantities and rarely, it is best to avoid it completely to avoid making your tortoise ill.
What Vegetables Can Tortoises Eat?
Approximately 80% of your tortoise’s diet should be made of leafy green vegetables. Avoid lettuces like iceberg and other white lettuces, because these contain a lot of water and have minimal nutritional benefit as a result. Dark lettuces, such as romaine, are considered suitable and even beneficial, however. Your tortoise will enjoy a little bell pepper and some sweet potato, although these should not be fed in large quantities. Try to provide at least three different vegetables each day. It provides variety and it helps provide the full range of vitamins and minerals that they need.
You can also feed some fruit, but fruit tends to be sweet and high in calories. It should make up no more than around 10% of their diet and can consist of melon or berries. Do not feed every day, and ensure that you keep track of how much you are feeding.
Hay can also be offered at all times. They especially like alfalfa and sweet Timothy hay, both of which provide the essential fiber that will keep the tortoise healthy and happy.
Tortoises need calcium and vitamin D3, and they are unlikely to be getting adequate amounts just from the food they eat. As such, introduce supplementation into their diet to ensure that they are getting everything they require.
What Should I Not Feed My Tortoise?
Although they are good at recognizing potentially dangerous plants when in the wild, you will need to monitor what you feed your pet tortoise to ensure that you are not giving anything that is considered toxic or dangerous. Avoid daffodils, azalea, and foxglove, for example. Do not feed citrus fruit, either, and avoid avocados. Not much research has been conducted on which plants are potentially dangerous to tortoises, so the best approach is to avoid feeding plants and stick to fruits and vegetables.
One plant that has had some research done is dandelions. They are high in oxalates and are a mild diuretic but tortoises tend to enjoy them. This is one of several foods that can be fed but should only be given in moderation to prevent illness.
What About Kale?
Kale is a member of the same brassica family as cabbage, which means that it also contains potentially harmful goitrogens. It does contain a lot of iodine which lessens the effect of the goitrogen, and because kale is considered a good source of calcium, it may be worth adding a little to your pet’s diet once in a while.
Can Tortoises Eat Cabbage?
There is no easy answer to the question of whether tortoises should eat cabbage. They contain goitrogens, which are bad, but the small amount in the cabbage means that it should be fine to feed this food in minimal amounts and infrequently. However, the safest approach is to avoid feeding it completely and to stick to recognized dietary food sources like vegetables and fruit.
Featured Image Credit: Nach-Noth, Shutterstock