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Home > Turtles > Can Turtles Eat Broccoli? Our Vet Explains

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli? Our Vet Explains

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Written by

Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles occupy a very broad range of ecosystems in nature, and play pivotal roles in their environments’ biodiversity chasm. Many of the turtle species kept as pets are classified as omnivores. This makes their owners wonder if they should add plant-based foods in their diet. This may include a high percentage of healthy vegetables and greens, but what about broccoli? Can turtles eat broccoli?

Most omnivorous pet turtles will most certainly sample broccoli if offered this vegetable. Healthy adult omnivorous freshwater turtles can safely consume broccoli in moderation as part of the plant-based portion of their diet.

This article explores the nutritional ins and outs of broccoli and your pet turtles. As there are many turtle species kept as pets, this article will focus on the aquatic pet turtles, such as the red-ear slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), and the North American box turtles (of the genus Terrapene). This genus includes the box turtles commonly found as pets, including the popular Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). Let’s dive in!


Turtles & Broccoli

Broccoli isn’t toxic for pet turtles, and it can definitely be offered to your pet as part of their daily salad, in amounts which vary according to their nutritional needs – many freshwater turtles only transition a heavily herbivorous diet as adults and not as juveniles (it is worth noting that their juvenile phase can last well into their teens). Veterinary medical literature aimed at turtle husbandry has listed broccoli as a safe vegetable for box turtles and aquatic turtles 1. Other literature has listed broccoli as part of the nutritional meal plan for a box turtle 2. The meal plan in this case study was comprised of the following:3

Food Item Percentage Of Diet (Case Study on Eastern and Ornate Box Turtles)
Tortoise low-starch pelleted diet 3%
Annelids 7%
Insects 1%
Hard boiled egg whites 15%
Dark leafy greens/cabbages 40%
Broccoli 11%
Root Vegetables 10%
Fruit 13%

Please note that the dietary composition above was for healthy, adult pet turtles. Nonetheless, the inclusion of broccoli in literature intended for pet turtle nutrition does give confidence to those seeking to add this vegetable to their pet’s diet.

eastern box turtle terrapene carolina carolina isolated on a white background
Image Credit: DnDavis, Shutterstock

Why Is Moderation Necessary?

Broccoli is considered a superfood by many people due to its high amounts of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. While broccoli can be fed to your turtle occasionally and likely won’t do much harm if given moderately, it’s best not to go overboard with it. This is because the nutritional composition of broccoli isn’t particularly great for pet turtles.

Key nutritiona information of raw broccoli, per 100 grams (3.5 oz)
  • Water: 90 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 6.27 g
  • Fat: 0.34 g
  • Protein: 2.57 g
  • Fiber: 2.4 g
  • Calcium: 46 milligrams (mg)
  • Phosphorus: 67 mg

Source: USDA

In addition to the above, it is worth noting that broccoli contains next to no sugar, and is exceptionally low in oxalates (these compounds can lead to issues with calcium absorption, and other health issues if offered in excess) 4. However, broccoli does have two concerning downsides.

Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

Calcium is undeniably crucial for your pet’s health, and the right amount of calcium is definitely something you should factor into your pet’s meal plans. However, calcium as a mineral should not be assessed on its own. In fact, nearly all minerals a pet requires in their diet must be compared to a few other minerals, as they often have unique interactions with each other.

When it comes to calcium, phosphorus is a very important second mineral to consider, because phosphorus naturally binds to calcium within your pet’s body. Whenever your pet turtle eats a diet containing more phosphorus than calcium, their body fixes the issue by releasing stored calcium (usually found in their bones, including their shells) to restore a state of normalcy – also known as homeostasis.

Because of this, the recommended ratio of calcium to phosphorus in your pet’s diet should be around 2:1 in the best case scenario; this means that calcium should be twice as abundant in their diet than phosphorus. This ensures that your pet gets enough of each mineral, and has enough calcium for body repair, cellular functions, healthy metabolism, and proper bone integrity.

In broccoli, the calcium content is actually inferior to the phosphorus content. It is still important to remember that if offered in moderation, this downside is drastically reduced. However, it is still worth mentioning this because, if fed in excess, this ratio is definitely unfavorable.


Like many other cruciferous vegetables, the stem and flowers of broccoli contain naturally occurring substances called goitrogens. In short, goitrogens interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland itself plays a major role in your pet’s overall health and metabolism, and the hormones it produces affect just about every other organ system in their body.

Though almost all plants do contain some amount of goitrogens, broccoli stands out due to the exceptionally high levels of goitrogens it possesses 5. If fed in excess, these compounds may prove detrimental to your pet’s overall health.

Image Credit: PDPics, Pixabay

Feeding Your Turtle Broccoli

Feeding your turtle broccoli is much like feeding them other vegetables or leafy greens. A few rules must be followed when it comes to offering them this food.

Checklist of offering your pet fresh vegetables:
  • Always opt for fresh, raw produce. A good rule of thumb is to only offer your pet produce you would deem safe for human consumption.
  • Thoroughly wash all produce. This is true regardless of where you’ve sourced your produce from.
  • Cut to manageable portions. Depending on your pet’s size, and the size of the produce, you would want to cut it into a size that your turtle can easily manage. Do keep in mind that turtles often enjoy “holding” food with their front legs as they eat; this also helps stop them from stepping into their food bowl and possibly defecating over their meals.
  • Discard uneaten produce promptly. Fresh produce has a very short shelf life and tends to begin spoiling after a few hours left outside. Warmer climates or hotter days may accelerate this process. As a rule of thumb, 6 hours should be considered an absolute maximum duration to leave fresh produce out.
  • Thorough cleaning. Turtles are messy eaters, and their enclosure or eating area should be thoroughly cleaned after meals.
  • Variety Is Key. Whenever you offer your pet produce, remember that high variety is by far a better option for their health. Consider offering them 5 to 6 different types of produce in their salad rather than just 1 or 2 ingredients.

The stems and leaves of broccoli are safe for pet turtles to consume. Likewise, baby broccoli is also considered safe for pet turtles.


What Other Vegetables Are Safe for Turtles?

Other vegetables safe for omnivorous aquatic turtles and box turtles include the following. Please note that this list isn’t exhaustive.

  • Squash
  • Lima beans
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Bell peppers
  • Dandelions
  • Bean sprouts
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet potato
  • Turnip greens

Your pet turtle’s diet is something you should definitely discuss with your veterinarian, as, though many foods are considered safe for them, their nutritional status (which itself is influenced heavily by several factors) will determine the amount you should feed your pet. This logic also applies to the inclusion of fruits in your pet’s diet.

box of turtle snacking on berries
Image Credit: Lisa Basile Ellwood, Shutterstock


What Plants Are Potentially Toxic For a Turtle?

Though omnivorous turtles do have a very varied diet, not all plants are considered safe for them. The following list highlights some plants which might be toxic for your pet. Though some of these have proven toxicities, others are thought to be toxic and/or possibly detrimental to a pet turtle’s health, and therefore, they aren’t considered safe.

  • Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale)
  • Buttercup family (Ranunculus ssp.)
  • Daffodil (Narcissus)
  • Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata)
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
  • Almost all wild mushrooms
  • Nightshade (Solanum nigrum)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

Please note that this list is also not exhaustive, it is best to consult your veterinarian for the most relevant toxic plants for your pet depending on your geographic location.


Final Thoughts

Most omnivorous aquatic turtles can eat vegetables as adults. The same is true for turtles that are in the genus of North American box turtles. Broccoli is touted for its health benefits for humans. Though safe for turtles, it does have some downsides which means that it should only be offered to your pet in moderation.

A pet turtle’s diet is a fascinating and complex interaction of multiple factors. As such, it is best to discuss your pet’s nutritional needs with your veterinarian to ensure that the meal plan you formulate for them is appropriate and suitable for their needs.

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