Introducing a Healthier DietPeople often find that they have been given the wrong advice and information on how and what to feed their tortoise, or they acquire a new tortoise that has previously been fed an incorrect diet. Whatever the reason, an incorrect diet is detrimental to a tortoise’s health in the long run, as it can cause serious medical problems and shorten the tortoise’s life – so it is important to get it right.
When introducing a healthier diet you will need to be patient, consistent and keep to a regular feeding pattern.
Here are a few tips to help encourage a tortoise to adjust to a new diet (but be advised that it may take some time for the tortoise to accept the change):
- Once you have offered the food, then back away and observe from a distance. Tortoises will often eat more readily if they feel they are not being observed.
- A natural habitat can often encourage a tortoise to eat well. If your garden has a plentiful supply of weeds and flowers that are safe to feed and there aren't any toxic plants growing amongst them, your tortoise will enjoy walking around and finding his own healthy diet. There should be grass available for grazing species.
- Introduce the new food slowly and in small quantities. Cut the new food up into very small pieces and add it slowly to the tortoise's existing diet, increasing the volume bit by bit. Moistening the new and the old food and mixing them together will make it almost impossible for the tortoise to separate pieces that are stuck together, and at least some of the new diet will be ingested, especially if the old and new diets are both cut up into very small pieces. Once a pattern is established, start to decrease the amount of food from the old diet, and increase the amount from the new diet, until there is no unsuitable food left. This can take some time, but if you proceed slowly and are consistent then there is no reason why it shouldn't work.
- The smell of a cucumber is often enough to tempt even the most stubborn of tortoises. Juices from a cucumber smeared over the new food or the thinnest of slithers mixed in can encourage many tortoises to eat the new food.
- For arid and semi-arid species you can try finely chopping dried grasses and moistening the mixture with warm water to release the sweet smell before mixing it with the new food. This is especially helpful during the winter when store-bought food needs to be bulked up for non-hibernating, grass-eating species needing a good fibrous diet.
Some important points to remember:
• A tortoise can be stubborn, so you must stick to your aim of introducing the new diet.
• A healthy tortoise can go for weeks without food, and providing it is fully hydrated no harm will be done.
• A healthy tortoise will not starve itself.Once your tortoise has accepted a better diet, its health will go from strength to strength, and its shell should grow normally. In captivity, it is almost impossible to provide the same diet that a tortoise would have in the wild, but you can do your best.
Quite simply, your tortoise needs to be eating a diet as close as possible to what it would eat in its natural habitat. It will help to ensure that your tortoise has a long and healthy life and only you can make the change.