The Best Food for Tortoises: Diet Basics

Updated: March 2, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell

best food for tortoise

You have arranged to buy your new tortoise, their enclosure is set up, their heating is just right, and now, you’ve moved on to sorting out their diet… but what do tortoises eat?

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ tortoise diet because different species have different diets depending on their species and where they come from. Some tortoises come from forest regions and will eat food that is not found where grassland tortoises are found and vice versa.

We have grouped all tortoises into three different feeding groups with some common examples to help you out. Each of these groups have different dietary requirements. Each feeding group has had a product selected for it that you can include in their diet.

Another important thing to note is each group of tortoises will also require a calcium supplement to ensure they are in good health. The best calcium supplement for tortoises has been included in this review for you along with some information about why calcium is so important for reptiles.

Grassland Tortoises

Species include:

  • Marginated tortoises
  • Hermann’s tortoise
  • Russian tortoise
  • Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise

The Grassland Tortoise Diet

Grassland tortoises come from various regions that have a Mediterranean-type biome. This means in the wild, these tortoises have access to grasses, shrubs, and succulents. To ensure a happy and healthy grassland tortoise, you should mimic their natural diet as closely as possible, so do try to get a hold of the plants mentioned above.

You can also feed your tortoise store-bought food that is packed with nutrients, but the bulk of their diet should be made up of fresh produce that you provide them with.

Keep in mind that fresh hay and grass are the best food for tortoises of this kind, and should be provided regularly as it is much tastier and contains more water than packaged food. Water is very important to tortoises, and those in the grassland feeding group get most of their water from their food.

If they solely rely on prepackaged food, they may become constipated and dehydrated.

Check out our guide on dehydrated tortoises.

Recommended Pet Food: ZooMed Natural Grassland Tortoise Food

Zoo Med Natural Tortoise Food, 60-Ounce, Grassland

This ZooMed natural grassland blend of food focuses on providing your tortoise with the right blend of chopped-up grasses that they would have access to in the wild. This particular blend of food contains alfalfa hay, endive, Timothy hay, ground oats, oat hay, escarole, dandelion greens, and cassia.

In addition to the grasses, the food is fortified with vitamins, calcium carbonate, and probiotics. Vitamin A is incredibly important to include in your tortoise’s diet. Although this food has some calcium carbonate in it, you will still need to dust their food with an additional supplement two to three times a week.

Probiotics are important to have in the food blend. Tortoises, just like humans, have digestive systems that are aided by microorganisms, or “good bacteria.” This good bacteria helps tortoises digest things that are tough and provides other nutrients to them.

Key Features

  • The prepacked food contains a mixture of dried grasses to maintain a balanced diet that is high in fiber.
  • This food contains some live microorganisms that work with your tortoise’s gut to keep it healthy.
  • The small pellets are designed to be moistened so they expand to be a tasty treat for your tortoise.
  • The package of food is shelf stable for a long time, which means you will have extra food on hand if you run out of fresh produce.

Pros

  • Filled with a mixture of cut grasses
  • Packed with vital vitamins
  • Correct protein balance for tortoises
  • High in fiber

Cons

  • Some tortoises do not like the taste

Simply moisten a couple of these ZooMed pellets, and put them in with your tortoise’s food every day to provide it with added nutrients and maintain its balanced diet.

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Arid Tortoise Species

Examples:

  • Sulcata (African spur-thighed) tortoise
  • Indian star tortoise
  • Leopard tortoise

What Does This Tortoise Eat?

Arid tortoises come from areas that have a very dry biome. This means they do not have access to a wide variety of foods in the wild and mostly feed on different types of grasses.

These tortoises come from regions in Africa, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that experience little seasonal rainfall. This means that when it rains, the tortoises are happy to eat lush grasses, and during the drier seasons, they eat any dried grasses, leaves, and stems they can find.

If you’re feeding your arid tortoise prepackaged diets, you should provide them with a range of dried and fresh grasses, leaves, and stems.

The best food for tortoises in the arid group are dark leafy greens such as beet tops and dandelion greens, which are nutritious and tasty options and can be given freely to your pet, provided they are receiving a calcium supplement. Plantain weeds and sow thistles are yummy additions, and so are some herbs such as coriander, mint, and parsley!

Recommended Pet Food: Mazuri Tortoise Diet

Mazuri | Tortoise LS Diet | 12 Ounce (12 OZ) Bag

The Mazuri food is specifically formulated for tortoises in the arid or desert feeding group.

It is made up of a combination of dried grasses, such as ground Timothy hay, ground oats, oat hulls, dehulled soybean meal, flaxseed, and dried yucca.

This prepared food is fortified with vitamins A and E as well as biotin, calcium carbonate, and dried yeast. This makes it an excellent addition to your tortoise’s daily grass mixture because it provides them with all the nutrients they need to grow and maintain healthy shells, muscles, and organs.

Key Features

  • The Mazuri prepacked food is packed with a variety of dried grasses, seeds, leaves, and grains, which provide a high-fiber diet to your tortoise.
  • The extruded food pellets are fortified with nutrients and vitamins for healthy development.
  • These are shelf stable enough that you can keep them for a long time, as you’ll ideally only add a handful of pellets to a couple of meals a week.

Pros

  • Filled with vitamin A and E
  • High in fiber and suited to dry tortoises
  • Contains live probiotics for gut health

Cons

  • Some tortoises do not like the taste

The Mazuri Store Tortoise Diet is the perfect addition to your tortoise’s diet if they are part of the arid feeding group. The pellets need to be moistened with some water and then added to their food to help them maintain good nutrition.

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Jungle or Forest Tortoise Species

Species of jungle or forest tortoises include:

  • Red-footed tortoise
  • Yellow-footed tortoise

The Jungle Tortoise Diet

Tortoises in the forest feeding group come from biomes that are rich in many different types of food. These foods can range from lush grasses to roots and vegetables as well as the occasional fruit and flower.

You could feed your tortoise various foods with different flavors and textures like hibiscus flowers, dandelion flowers, dark greens like mustard greens, yellow and orange squash, peppers, and broccoli. These all add their own nutrients as well as some interesting tastes to the meal. Keep in mind that you can also add some berries or apples for a sweet treat.

It is important to remember that fruits are high in sugar and are not the best food for tortoises in the jungle group. Too much sugar can lead to obesity, rotting of the gums, and fermentation in the gut, all of which are bad for your tortoise.

Prepackaged food can be a great addition to this tortoise’s main meal, which ideally should be made up of a wide variety of vegetables, leafy greens, and a limited amount of fruit.

Recommended Tortoise Food: ZooMed Laboratories Natural Forest Tortoise Food

Zoo Med Laboratories SZMZM120 Natural Forest Tortoise Food, 8.5-Ounce

ZooMed Laboratories’ Natural Forest Tortoise Food is mixed to perfection with the digestive system and nutritional needs of jungle or forest tortoises in mind.

This prepackaged food contains the right blend of grasses, such as alfalfa, ground oats, and Timothy hay, vegetables, and fruits such as dried mango and papaya, as well as escarole and endive.

Tortoises from forest and jungle regions require a slightly higher amount of protein in their diets than other tortoises. This food blend takes that into account and includes additional sources of protein.

Key Features

  • Perfectly nutritionally balanced with high fiber (23%), low fat (2%), and mid-to-low protein (13%), which means your tortoise will not suffer from poor digestive processes.
  • Provides a wide variety of dried vegetables, fruits, and grasses that are all appropriate for your tortoise.
  • These pellets are shelf-stable to a point, which means you should never panic about running out of fresh food because you will always have a backup.

Pros

  • Added vitamin A and D3
  • Contains a range of vegetables and grasses
  • Contains live probiotics for gut health

Cons

  • Some tortoises do not like the taste

A couple of pellets of this ZooMed forest mix will need to be moistened and added to your tortoise’s daily meal. This will give them a nutrient boost as well as let you rest easy knowing they are getting their gut health and vitamins in.

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Tips on Buying Commercial Tortoise Pet Food

When searching for the right foods for your tortoise, here are some factors and tips to keep in mind. This guide will help ensure your tortoise gets the most nutritious and delicious diet possible.

Be Aware of False Quality

When looking for foods for your tortoise, better quality is always the way to go. However, you do not necessarily need to buy the best-of-the-best and most expensive products, because this will get costly and stressful very quickly.

Tortoises eat a lot of food, even the smaller tortoise breeds will surprise you with the amount of food they are able to put away! So, look for foods that are good quality but without the fancy name brands; after all, good quality does not always cost an arm and a leg.

Read the Labels

Always look out for food that has been grown without pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. All of these chemicals are incredibly toxic to tortoises and can cause neurological damage and death.

Again, your pet’s fresh food does not have to be the most pristine organically grown produce with the biggest price tag. However, it does need to be free of chemicals. If you are unsure of the produce you have bought, wash it thoroughly before giving it to your tortoise.

Keep Shelf Life in Mind

Tortoises eat a lot, and planning ahead will help minimize the stress of feeding them everyday. You can, for example, prep their salads a couple of days in advance. That is where using GMO foods are helpful, because they last longer than ‘organic’ varieties.

You do not need to shy away from GMO foods! GMO foods have a longer shelf life, are often larger, more nutritionally valuable, use less pesticides, and are cheaper! GMO foods are safe and do not harm animals or humans. In fact, they are often far more nutritious and hardy than the heirloom varieties.

Calcium Needs

Tortoise shells are made from calcium. Torts need plenty of calcium in their diets in order to build their shells and maintain their strength. Calcium also maintains joints, bones inside the body, and other bodily functions such as the kidneys.

Juvenile tortoises need more calcium than adults because their shells are still growing, and without enough calcium in their diet, they will not be able to build a strong shell that protects them properly.

Recommended Supplement: PURE Calcium Carbonate Powder

Pure Calcium Carbonate Powder (1 lb), Eco-Friendly Packaging, Dietary Supplement, Antacid, Food Preservative, & More

All pet tortoises could use a calcium supplement added to their food. Calcium carbonate is the purest form of calcium that can be ingested by animals. There is more than 97% calcium carbonate in PURE’s calcium powder.

This means your tortoise will be getting high-grade calcium carbonate without additives such as plasticine, which is often found in tortoise blocks.

Key Features

  • Essential to a tortoise’s diet and healthy growth
  • Calcium carbonate powder has the highest dose of pure calcium
  • Sustains bone growth, joint development, and healthy kidney function.
  • From mined limestone, so it is an all-natural product.

To add calcium to your tortoise’s diet, sprinkle a teaspoon over their food three times a week. Do not add too much of the powder, because it has a bitter flavor, and your tortoise may avoid the food if they can taste it.

Pros

  • Food grade for humans and animals
  • Made of pure limestone that surpasses pharmaceutical requirements
  • Perfect for sprinkling on your tort’s food

Cons

  • Has a bitter taste

Calcium is an essential part of your tortoise’s diet. Calcium carbonate is the most recommended calcium powder because it contains the most calcium out of all other supplements. PURE Calcium Carbonate Powder will suit your tortoise’s needs perfectly!

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What Foods Should I Avoid Feeding My Tortoise?

Regardless of what feeding group they belong to, there are some foods which are toxic to tortoises and must not be fed to them at all. These include:

  • All citrus fruits
  • Chili peppers (bell peppers are fine)
  • Avocado
  • All plants belonging to the lily family
  • Dandelions and buttercups
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Onions, chives, leeks
  • Rosemary
  • Most types of “human food”
  • Bread

These foods will cause intestinal discomfort, serious pain, chemical burns, nutrient malabsorption, and even death.

My Tortoise Is Eating the Grass and Plants in My Garden. Should I Stop It?

Tortoises do well on normal grass that is found in the backyard. If it did not taste good, they would not be eating it. Tortoises are grazers, so this behavior is natural and comforting to them. If you are worried about your garden, you can increase the amount of food you give to your tortoise every day.

You should only stop your tortoise from eating your plants if they are toxic. Before you let your tortoise out into your garden, identify all of the plants in it and make sure they are safe if your tortoise happens to nibble on them.

The Best Food for Tortoises…

… Depends on what group their particular species belongs to.

This determines what type of food your tortoise would normally have access to in the wild, and you should try and mimic this as closely as possible.

In addition to the daily diet of greens, grasses, and grazing, your tortoise may need prepacked food that has all of the nutrients, vitamins, fiber, and protein they need to grow and stay healthy.

On top of their daily diets and added food blends, your tortoise needs to get a sprinkle of PURE calcium carbonate powder over their meals two to three times a week to stay fighting fit! If you follow this diet plan, your tort will be happy and healthy for years to come.

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