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Can Turtles Eat Spinach? What You Need To Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Before feeding our pets fresh foods in their diet, we need to ensure they are non-toxic and healthy to consume. Turtles are known for consuming a variety of leafy greens and vegetables, but can they eat spinach?

The short answer is, yes. However, spinach should only be offered to turtles sparingly and in very small amounts due to the risks it carries. It may even be best avoided since there are plenty of other foods that can offer the same nutritional value to turtles without the concerns.

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Why Should Spinach Be Fed Sparingly to Turtles?

Turtle eating spinach
Image Credit: dodo71, Pixabay

Spinach contains very high amounts of oxalic acid, which inhibits the absorption of calcium. As a turtle owner, you may already be aware that it is usually recommended to add calcium supplementation to your turtle’s diet. Eating spinach regularly would be a large health concern to your turtle.

Spinach is a little tricky because, while it’s full of calcium, the oxalate in large amounts will bind to the intestines and block absorption. Feeding your turtle small amounts of spinach very sparingly will not be enough to cause any issues with calcium absorption. So, if you’re set on feeding your turtle spinach, just ensure you do so with caution.

Spinach isn’t the only vegetable that contains oxalic acid. Beets, chard, rhubarb, parsley, and chives are a few others that are best avoided.

Importance of Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is essential for building and maintaining bone strength. Every living creature with bones needs calcium to thrive. The heart, nerves, and muscles require calcium for proper function as well.

A turtle’s shell is composed of bone, making calcium an especially important component for your turtle’s health and well-being. Vegetables and leafy greens are the prime sources of calcium in a turtle’s diet, so you need to ensure they are getting enough.

Long-term calcium deficiency can result in a soft shell, also known as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). This condition can be fatal to your turtle.

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Proper Diet for a Turtle

giant turtle eating banana
Image Credit: semper-scifi, Shutterstock

The proper diet for your turtle depends greatly on their species, size, age, and habitat so it depends on what kind of turtle you have. Most turtles are omnivores and will eat both meat and plant life. Omnivorous turtles are usually fed commercial turtle food pellets, feeder fish, insects, fruits, and vegetables. If your turtle is herbivorous, they will eat only fruits and vegetables.

Let’s look at some of the common animal protein sources, vegetables, and fruits fed to turtles. Remember though, this greatly depends on the species of your turtle.

Animal Protein Sources

  • Turtle Pellets
  • Feeder Fish
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Krill
  • Small Shrimp
  • Earthworms
Image Credit: PeterVrabel, Shutterstock

Vegetables and Leafy Greens

  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Collard Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Carrot Tops
  • Carrots
  • Clover
  • Turnip Greens
  • Kale
  • Green Beans
  • Parsley
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Radish Leaves
  • Alfalfa Hay
  • Bell Peppers

Fruits

  • Mango
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes (skinless)
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Papaya
  • Figs
  • Kiwi
  • Peaches

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Concerns for Feeding Pet Turtles

Turtles Eat Cucumbers
Image Credit: Amir El-Sayed, Shutterstock

In addition to the possible health issues that can be caused by consuming too much spinach, there are some other concerns you should take into consideration when feeding your turtle.

  • Vitamin Deficiency. We’ve discussed how food high in oxalic acid can lead to calcium deficiency, but another concern for turtles is vitamin A deficiency. If they are not fed the proper vitamin A-rich foods, it can lead to decreased appetite, ear swelling, eyelid swelling, lung infections, and even kidney failure. Plant sources such as carrots, bell peppers, squash, and other red, orange, and yellow vegetables are rich in vitamin A and should be a part of your turtle’s diet.
  • Overfeeding. As with humans, obesity is a major health concern for many captive animals, including turtles. With turtles, however, gaining too much excess fat can result in trouble getting their limbs back into their shell for protection. Obesity can also lead to fatty liver disease in turtles. It’s best to ensure you’re feeding them a healthy, high-quality diet and are feeding the proper amount for your species of turtle, its size, and its age.
  • Cleanliness. Turtles often defecate while they eat, so keeping their food in a separate container can help them avoid accidentally eating feces. Clean any uneaten food out of their tank regularly so that it doesn’t grow unwanted bacteria and algae.
  • Decreased Appetite. Turtles tend to have pretty steady appetites. If you notice your turtle isn’t eating enough, it could be an indicator of illness. Other factors such as tank temperature, water temperature, lighting, and size of the enclosure can play a role. It is always better to be safe than sorry though. If you notice a change in your turtle’s eating habits it is best to contact your veterinarian to discuss the concerning symptoms and behaviors.
  • Cleanliness. It’s no secret that turtles are not the most cleanly eaters. They tend to defecate as they eat. You’ll want to do your best to ensure no feces is consumed accidentally and that the enclosure stays as clean as possible.

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Conclusion

Spinach can be fed to turtles in small amounts and very sparingly due to the high amounts of oxalic acid that can block absorption of a staple mineral in a turtle’s diet, calcium. There are plenty of other vegetables that can be fed to your turtle that are perfectly healthy. The good news is that there are plenty of other vegetable and leafy green sources to choose from.

Different species of turtles are going to have varying dietary requirements. It’s best to contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns regarding your turtle’s diet. They can help you come up with a well-balanced diet plan to ensure your turtle is as healthy as possible.


Featured Image Credit: ivabalik, Pixabay

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.