Proper Nutrition For Tortoises

Turtles are beautiful and very interesting animals. Long turtles in particular are often kept as pets and can even become really tame. However, it is important to keep them as species-appropriate as possible. This not only means that the tortoises need enough space and have daily exercise or can keep their natural hibernation. You should also meet your turtle’s nutritional needs so that they don’t lack for anything. In this article, you will find out what is important when it comes to feeding tortoises, what they have to eat and what they can and cannot do.

Mediterranean tortoises eat plants

Most tortoises are strictly herbivores. These include, for example, the Greek tortoises, which are most common in this country. So it is important to find out in advance what the turtles really need. Improper nutrition can quickly lead to various diseases, so some specimens only live a few years. The right diet for these animals is therefore made up of different plants. You can find out what these are below:

Wild herbs and grasses

Wild herbs and grasses should be the main diet for tortoises, because they also feed on many different plants in their natural habitats, which also grow here in Germany. You can, for example, pick these fresh from the meadows yourself in spring or summer in order to be able to offer your animals a diet that is as rich in vitamins as possible and that also corresponds exactly to their natural diet.

The most popular forage plants are:

  • aloe;
  • wild garlic;
  • nettles;
  • daisy;
  • Common lady’s mantle;
  • cinquefoil;
  • raspberry leaves;
  • True Lungwort;
  • Common evening primrose;
  • yarrow;
  • Chickweed;
  • pansies;
  • buckhorn;
  • deadnettle;
  • white clover;
  • Big burdock;
  • dandelion;
  • plantain.

It is important to pay attention to a few criteria when selecting forage plants. For example, the different plants should not grow directly on the side of the road where there are many cars. These plants are too dirty. In addition, the individual herbs should of course also not be poisonous.

You should also make sure that the meadows are not fertilized, because fertilizer is often very toxic for the animals and, in the worst case, can even kill the turtles. Be sure to choose low-protein plants that are low in calories and low in carbohydrates.

It is also important that the plants contain a lot of fiber and provide the animals with many different vitamins. Calcium and minerals also play an extremely important role for turtles and are ingested through plant nutrition. If you look at the ratio of calcium and phosphorus, it should be 2:1, with calcium having to predominate. In addition, not only ensure a balanced and vitamin-rich diet but also make it nice and varied. Always the same plants can quickly become boring for the animals.

What mistakes do owners often make?

Many tortoise keepers give little or no thought to feeding their pets. This leads to the wrong forage plants being selected again and again. Many owners choose plants such as clover, dandelion or mallow. While these can be given, they are particularly high in calories, protein, and carbohydrates, so they should only make up a small portion of the diet. In addition, the diet is often too low in calcium. In this case, it is important to supplement with calcium. Finally, some turtle owners mistakenly choose the young plants over and over again. However, these usually contain too little fiber and too much protein.

Use herbal hay

Hay should also not be missing from the diet of turtles, so this is the perfect supplementary food. The special hay consists of grass and herbs and is therefore a particularly important component when it comes to the species-appropriate nutrition of tortoises. These dried plants are always available to the animals in their natural environment, so that they eat some of them every day. This is a very high-fiber product, which makes it so important for the animals’ digestion. The purpose of the hay is to cleanse the turtle’s digestive tract. In addition, it is a natural remedy against parasites.
Of course, there is also the option of drying individual herbs and grasses yourself and then passing them on as hay. So you know exactly what it is and you don’t have to go to the pet shop. All you have to do is pick the respective plants and spread them out in a warm and dry place. The drying out of the plants usually takes only a few days. It can then be stored in a pillowcase, for example, so that it always stays nice and dry and no mold can form.

How often should tortoises be fed and in what quantities?

With the frequency and the amount of feed, numerous errors occur again and again, which can endanger the health of the animals. In contrast to mammals, the tortoises get by with about one eighth of the amount of food, so that overfeeding occurs again and again. The consequences of overfeeding can be fatal. Affected tortoises, for example, can grow far too quickly. This in turn leads to often permanent damage to the bones and organs.

The feeding should look like this:

  • Meadow hay should be available every day, which is freshly served.
  • Fresh herbs should be given every 1-2 days. Divide these into 2 servings.

How large the feed ration should be depends on the size and number of animals. However, one can be guided by the fact that each turtle should only get such an amount that it can be completely eaten within about 10 minutes. Of course, there are also animals here that, because of their character traits, eat much more slowly or even faster than others. Animals that push others away or even attack them should then be fed separately.

What do tortoises eat in transitional seasons like fall and spring?

Nature does not necessarily offer us many opportunities to feed the turtles in spring and autumn. While animals often hibernate during the winter, you as the owner need to get creative during the transitional seasons. During this time you have the opportunity to use different types of lettuce. But here, too, you should ensure a good variety.

The following types of lettuce are suitable for turtles:

  • Arugula salad;
  • pick lettuce;
  • Romaine lettuce;
  • Lamb’s lettuce;
  • Catalogna, also known as giant dandelion;
  • endive salad.

Dietary supplements for tortoises

In animals that are kept as pets, it is important to provide calcium in addition to a balanced diet. This is mainly due to the fact that the turtles consume much more calcium in the wild than in captivity, which is mainly due to the soil, which is much more calcareous than in this country. In addition, there are always many snail shells and small limestones to be found in the habitats, which are also ingested by the animals.

In order to avoid deficiency symptoms, it is important that you give your animals additional calcium. This is very important, especially for bone structure and tank construction. Cuttlebones, for example, which consist of 40 percent calcium, are particularly suitable. You can simply place these at the feeding place for the animals so that your turtles have constant access to them. So it is important not to simply sprinkle the calcium over the food, because turtles only take in as much as they need themselves. Scattering over the feed could cause an overdose. In the worst case, this can lead to the calcium then being removed from the bones of the animals again. In addition to the sepia shells, crushed egg shells are also suitable. As soon as you decide on this variant, you should boil the egg shells for 10 minutes in advance. The boil causes the very stubborn protective layer on the eggshells to be removed and these can be better absorbed.


Always offer your turtles plenty of fresh water at all times. With larger enclosures, you can also distribute several water bowls, which makes sense especially if there are several animals. Small bowls are well suited. Also, keep in mind that some tortoises like to take a dip from time to time. The bowls should be easily accessible and large enough for this.

Foods that are unsuitable

Of course, turtles are not allowed to eat everything they would eat. While many owners want to do something good for their loved ones and give them tasty snacks, it is wrong in terms of health.

What you should not give your darling, you will find out below:


Although turtles love fruit, it is anything but healthy. For example, fruit destroys the intestinal flora of animals. This in turn leads to the fact that the utilization of the diet is destroyed and animals often suffer from a parasite infestation.

Dairy products:

Dairy products are also very unsuitable to be used as food for turtles. These also destroy the natural intestinal flora of the animals, which in turn would lead to a parasite infestation and problems with the utilization of the diet.

Grain products:

Grain products are also among the dietary components that attack the turtle’s gut flora, thereby promoting parasitic infestation and reducing food use.

Finished food:

Prepared food for turtles, such as pellets and food sticks, are also not suitable for feeding to the animals. Although they taste delicious and are easy for owners to dose and are particularly practical, they often contain far too much protein. This fact would lead to the animals growing too fast, which, as already mentioned, would lead to bone and organ problems.

Meat products:

Meat products also contain too much protein, so that the animals would also grow too quickly here and sooner or later there would be permanent damage to the skeleton and organs.


Most vegetables are not healthy for the turtles. It attacks the animals’ natural intestinal flora, which means that the affected turtles often have to struggle with parasite infestations and with the proper utilization of normal food.

Vitamin supplements:

There is now a large selection of different vitamin supplements from different manufacturers. These are totally superfluous if the animals are properly fed and should therefore not be used. So they can be just as harmful as they are healthy. It is important to only give such preparations if the animals show signs of deficiency. In addition, you should then talk to a veterinarian about whether feeding with such preparations is really recommended. Switching to the food we have named would usually be completely sufficient and completely covers the animals’ natural nutritional needs. After all, an overdose of vitamins and minerals can lead to severe health consequences, so these should not be underestimated.


Although turtles are beautiful and particularly exciting animals, they also have many requirements when it comes to keeping them in a species-appropriate manner. As soon as owners do not comply, it can quickly lead to illness or life-threatening changes. Therefore, always ensure a balanced, varied, and healthy diet. Don’t experiment too much, make sure your tortoises are getting all the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need from the plants listed above. If you really pay attention to everything, you will really enjoy your pets and enable the turtles to live long and healthy life.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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