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Home > Turtles > Can Turtles Eat Spinach? ? Vet-Approved Nutritional Science & Info

Can Turtles Eat Spinach? ? Vet-Approved Nutritional Science & Info

Can Turtles Eat Spinach

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

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

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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. Most healthy omnivorous pet turtles can safely consume spinach in moderation as part of their daily vegetable mix. Spinach has some nutritional upsides and downsides to consider though.

Let’s explore this vegetable in greater detail.


Turtle and Spinach

Species Clarification

As there are many species of turtles kept as pets, the focus of this article will be primarily on aquatic freshwater turtles, and the North American box turtles (of the genus Terrapene).

For most healthy adult omnivorous pet turtles, spinach is considered a safe addition to their diet. It does have a somewhat interesting nutritional profile.1

Key nutritional information of raw spinach, per 100 grams (3.5 oz)
  • Water: 92.4 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 2.64 g
  • Fat: 0.6 g
  • Protein: 2.91 g
  • Fiber: 1.6 g
  • Calcium: 67 milligrams (mg)
  • Phosphorus: 41 mg
  • Beta Carotene (converts to vitamin A): 3670 micrograms (µg)

The nutritional analysis of spinach shows that they do contain useful nutrients for turtles. The calcium to phosphorus ratio seems favorable, and additional vitamin A is a welcome addition. To top it off, spinach is exceptionally low in sugar and contains very low goitrogens (compounds which may lead to thyroid issues).

Why Should Spinach Be Fed Sparingly to Turtles?

Spinach is not without its downsides and should be offered in relative moderation to your pet. Spinach contains very high amounts of oxalic acid, a compound which may limit calcium absorption. As a turtle owner, you may already be aware that adding calcium supplementation to your turtle’s diet is usually recommended. Eating spinach in high amounts would therefore be a potential health concern for your turtle.

Spinach is a little tricky because while it’s full of calcium, research indicates that the oxalate in large amounts will limit the amount of calcium your pet receives from the vegetable 2. Though the extent of the loss is difficult to determine, an experiment in rodents yielded a bioavailability of around 35% calcium from spinach (in other words, approximately ⅔ of the calcium wasn’t bioavailable for the animals) 3.

Spinach isn’t the only vegetable that contains high amounts of oxalic acid. Beets, turnips, rhubarb, yams, and collards are a few others that are best avoided.

Fresh spinach leaves in bowl on rustic wooden table
Image Credit: nesavinov, Shutterstock

Importance of Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is essential for building and maintaining bone strength. All animals that are kept as pets require calcium in their diet, with recommended amounts varying by species. It is very important to note that the calcium content of any food cannot be assessed on its own, as calcium interacts with other minerals (particularly phosphorus). Therefore, ratios and proportions of various minerals are required prior to determining if any food source is a good source of calcium for your pet.

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.


Proper Diet for a Turtle

The proper diet for your turtle depends greatly on their species, size, age, and habitat, and other intrinsic factors. Most aquatic 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 common animal protein sources, vegetables, and fruits fed to turtles. Remember, though, this greatly depends on the species of your turtle. Also keep in mind that their nutritional needs will constantly change throughout their life.

Animal Protein Sources

  • Turtle Pellets
  • Frozen feeder fish
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Krill
  • Small Shrimp
  • Earthworms
  • Slugs
  • Wax worms
  • Grasshoppers
Box Turtle in its habitat eating meal worms
Image Credit: SusImage,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


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


Concerns for Feeding Pet Turtles

two baby water green turtles play in an aquarium on a rock
Image Credit: Rusinova Tatyana, Shutterstock

In addition to the possible health issues that can be caused by consuming too much spinach, there are other concerns you should consider 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. However, these plants are not without their downsides, and therefore, you should consult your vet before incorporating them into your pet’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 many health issues 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 enclosure regularly so it doesn’t lead to a sick pet.
  • Decreased Appetite: Turtles tend to have pretty steady appetites. It could indicate illness if you notice your turtle isn’t eating enough. Other factors, such as tank temperature, water temperature, lighting, and enclosure size, 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, contact your veterinarian to discuss the signs and behaviors.



Spinach can be fed to most adult omnivorous pet turtles in moderation; caution is advised due to the high amounts of oxalic acid that can limit the absorption of a staple mineral in a turtle’s diet, calcium. The good news is that plenty of other vegetable and leafy green sources exist which means that your turtle always has more options for their meals.

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 develop a well-balanced diet plan to ensure your turtle is as healthy as possible.

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