It’s easy to think of your tortoise as your living compost bin for greens. As natural herbivores, tortoises thrive on a diet consisting of pellets and fresh leafy vegetables such as collards, dandelion leaves, and celery. However, potatoes are a different story. These vegetables are members of the Nightshade family, and many of these plants are poisonous to tortoises. All parts of the potato plant are highly toxic to your tortoise, raw or cooked—including the fleshy tubers. Unfortunately, your tortoise is going to have to miss out on the mashed potatoes and settle for some chunks of sweet potato instead.
Why Are Potatoes Unsafe For Tortoises
Solanum species of the Nightshade family include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and even nightshade itself. All of these plants contain the glycoalkaloids solanine and chaconine. These compounds are highly toxic to tortoises. If ingested, they can cause neurological and digestive issues such as headaches and diarrhea. In certain amounts, these compounds can actually be fatal to tortoises, which is why we never want to give them any Nightshade vegetables.
What Should I Do If My Tortoise Ate Potatoes?
If your tortoise accidentally ate potatoes or any part of the plant, call your vet immediately. Note how much they ate and when, and continue to monitor them for any signs of distress. Your vet may want you to go ahead and bring them into the clinic for evaluation, especially if they ate more than a bite.
What About Sweet Potatoes?
Although potatoes are highly toxic to tortoises, sweet potatoes are safe and even healthy for them. Why is that? Surprisingly, it’s because sweet potatoes actually aren’t a part of the nightshade family. Instead, they belong to the Convolvulacea family, which is the same category as the morning glory flower.
This might sound surprising at first, but if you compare the vines of the plants, you’ll see they look very similar. That partially explains why their nutrition profile is very different from potatoes. While potatoes contain the glycoalkaloids solanine and chaconine, and an abundance of starches that your tortoise doesn’t need, sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber and vitamin A.
Even though sweet potatoes are a safe option for a healthy snack, vegetables only need to account for roughly 10-15% of your tortoise’s diet. Most of their daily food should come from leafy greens, so only feed sweet potatoes sparingly. Raw sweet potatoes are best, but cooked is okay as long as they’re plain (no butter, sugar, etc.).
Unfortunately, potatoes are a no-go for your tortoise because they contain toxic compounds. You should call your vet immediately if your tortoise accidentally eats a potato or any part of the potato plant. While most of their diet should consist of leafy greens, sweet potatoes are a safe snack in moderation since they aren’t members of the Nightshade family. In addition to potatoes, most plants in the Nightshade family are also toxic to tortoises, including tomatoes and eggplant. Be sure to research any veggies before tossing them to your tortoise.
Featured Image Credit: Val_R, Shutterstock