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Can Tortoises Eat Spinach? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Unlike turtles, which are omnivores, tortoises are herbivores. If you have a pet tortoise, you already know that they enjoy a wide variety of plant-based foods. Fresh leafy greens are a must for a healthy tortoise. But what about spinach?

There is some debate about where spinach stands in a tortoise’s diet. Some claim it is fine to feed your tortoise spinach in small amounts while others suggest avoiding it. However, there have been no conclusive studies showing that spinach can harm tortoises. Therefore, in general, it’s fine to give you tortoise spinach on occasion.divider-turtle

Spinach and Tortoises

The reason there is hesitation about spinach and tortoises is that spinach contains high levels of oxalic acid. This binds with calcium in the tortoise’s diet and becomes insoluble calcium oxalate. The tortoise is unable to metabolize this kind of calcium and thus cannot absorb it into its body.

Since tortoises need a significant amount of calcium in their diets to maintain healthy shells, some caregivers have become concerned that spinach in their pet’s diet will prevent calcium absorption. This has not been found to be a problem when tortoises are fed a variety of leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, even if small amounts of spinach are a part of that mix.

How Much Spinach Is Safe for Tortoises?

So how much spinach is too much? The exact amount is difficult to say. However, you should aim to give your tortoise a balanced diet that includes 80% leafy greens, 10% fruits, and 10% other vegetables. They should also be provided with a calcium supplement.

The mix of leafy greens can contain some spinach here and there. However, the bulk of it should be romaine lettuce, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens. You can also add bok choy, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, escarole, parsley, and watercress for variety.

Risks of Too Much Spinach for Tortoises

Again, we want to stress that it is fine to give your tortoises some spinach. You just need to make sure that they are only eating it on occasion. If you only feed your tortoise spinach or feed them spinach daily, then there might be problems.

Some of the risks of too much spinach for tortoises include poor calcium absorption leading to shell diseases. Poor calcium absorption, whether from spinach or another cause, can lead to kidney stones.

Benefits of Spinach for Tortoises

In small amounts, spinach can give your tortoises a fiber boost. This helps them maintain a healthy digestive system. Spinach is also a good source of phosphorus, which promotes kidney health and skeletal growth. Phosphorus also helps tortoises process the nutrients they receive from their food intake.

Can Russian Tortoises Eat Spinach?

One of the most commonly kept pet tortoises is the Russian tortoise. The same spinach rules that apply to other tortoise species apply to them. Small amounts are fine, but too much can cause problems with calcium absorption.

How Should Spinach Be Prepared for Tortoises?

You don’t need to do much to prepare small spinach leaves for your tortoise. The leaves should be washed and patted dry. They shouldn’t be rotten or have any insects on them. You can then mix a few leaves of spinach in with the other leafy greens you give your tortoise. Greens should be fresh and raw, not cooked.divider-turtle

What Other Vegetables Are Safe for Tortoises?

While 80% of the tortoise’s diet needs to come from fresh, leafy greens, they should have some other vegetables for variety. Another 10% of the diet can come from a mixture of the following:

  • Bell peppers (all colors)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Green beans
  • Lima beans
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter and summer squashes

Tortoises and Fruit

The remaining 10% of your tortoise’s diet should come from fresh fruits. Typically, tortoises enjoy:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Melon
  • Nectarines
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums

Remember that fruits are treats so don’t overdo it. Otherwise, the tortoise won’t eat the greens they need for optimal health.

Foods You Should Never Feed Your Tortoise

Your tortoise should only be fed fresh fruits and vegetables, never canned or frozen varieties as these can contain additives that may be harmful. Don’t feed your tortoise bread, pasta, crackers, rice, or any other type of processed human food.

There are also many common garden plants that are toxic for tortoises. Some of these include:

  • Daffodils
  • Narcissus
  • Crocus
  • Hellebore
  • Foxglove
  • Rhododendrons
  • Azaleas
  • Tobacco plants
  • Lupin
  • Peonies
  • Rhubarb
  • Mistletoe

There are some flowers that are fine for tortoises to eat. However, check with your veterinarian and make sure you know what type of plant you’re giving your tortoise to prevent poisoning them.divider-turtle

Final Thoughts

Your tortoise can have occasional small bits of spinach without trouble. You’ll need to make sure that you don’t give them too much, however, to prevent possible calcium absorption issues. Most of a tortoise’s diet should come from fresh, leafy greens with regular fruit and vegetable treats included for variety and nutrition.


Featured Image Credit: PunkbarbyO, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.