A Healthy Tortoise Diet

It is vitally important to know the specific requirements of your species of tortoise, as different species have different dietary needs.
A healthy tortoise diet is one which is:
  • High in fibre to aid digestion
  • Rich in calcium for healthy and strong bone and shell development
  • Low in protein
An excess of protein may cause a thickening of the shell.  This is just one of the factors which might result in the appearance of 'pyramids' (raised scutes).  An excess of protein also puts an additional burden on the kidneys and other organs.

Digestion of Food

Good digestion of food depends on two main factors:

  • Heat warming the shell.  The tortoise needs to be warm enough to eat properly at about 18°C-22°C but for good digestion to occur the temperature needs to be at least 26°C-28°C.
  • UVB rays from the sunshine or from good quality specialised artificial UVB lighting enables the tortoise to absorb calcium from its food.

Mediterranean Species

Mediterranean species may eat some grass, but they are not a grazing species.  Occasionally they eat animal protein which they would find opportunistically in the wild, but this does not form part of their normal diet and should not be offered.

Grazing Species

Grazers eat a variety of grasses and succulent plants in the wild with grasses making up the larger part of their diet.  They may eat fruit and animal protein opportunistically, but we don't recommend deliberately feeding these to your tortoise.

If you feed large amounts of fruit it may cause severe digestive tract upsets, including very loose faeces, and because of the high sugar content it can disrupt the natural gut flora and encourage the proliferation of parasites.

Rainforest Species

In the wild, tropical rainforest species such as Red-footed tortoises encounter animal protein and fallen fruits quite often, as they are typical features of these types of environments. You can’t expect to keep these species healthy on a diet of mixed grasses and hays or 100% weeds, so the addition of some fruit and animal protein will give them a more naturally balanced diet.

The effects of a poor diet may not be apparent immediately.  It can many take years for damage that has been done to appear, and by that time it may well be too late to do anything about it.

© The Tortoise Table 2017