Feeding a tortoise

Wild tortoises thrive on a diet of natural vegetation and weeds, and can travel long distances in search of different varieties. 

The ideal diet for your tortoise is a natural one, consisting of green leaf vegetation and suitable flowers. The diet needs to be high in fibre and calcium, and low in protein, fat, sugars and carbohydrates. 

Suitable plants and weeds include grass, dandelions, clover, sowthistle, carrot tops and plantain. Access to grass alone will not be sufficient. It's important when picking any wild weeds or plants from the garden that they are washed before being fed to your tortoise. Avoid picking plants from grass verges that may have been treated with pesticides. Try to encourage weed growth in other areas of your garden so you have a readily available supply nearby.

A tortoise's diet can be supplemented with cabbage, watercress, cauliflower and broccoli. These will be useful in spring and autumn when natural weed supplies are reduced. Salad vegetables like lettuce and cucumber should be fed sparingly, as they have little nutritional value. 

Fruits including apples, tomatoes, strawberries and melon can be fed as a treat. 

There are palletised feeds available on the market for tortoises, which can be used to compliment the diet, but they should not make up the whole of your tortoise's diet. 

Do tortoises need a calcium supplement?

Yes. In addition to the diet, a calcium supplement should be added to the food and offered every day, along with a good amount of exposure to UVB lighting. There are various supplements available on the market - one that combines calcium carbonate and vitamin D3 with additional trace elements, is recommended. 

Cuttlebone, fed commonly to caged birds, can also be scattered around your tortoise's environment for an additional source of calcium and to help keep his beak in trim. 

Which foods can tortoises not eat? 

While some tropical species of tortoise require animal protein, Mediterranean tortoises do not and should never be fed cat or dog food. Other high protein vegetables, including peas and beans, should also be avoided. Plants and flowers grown from bulbs (like daffodils) are toxic to tortoises. 

Do tortoises need water? 

It's a myth that tortoises get all the water they need from their food. They are a very water-efficient species and have evolved to survive months of drought, but a constant water supply is recommended. Tortoises that cannot access water readily are at a higher risk of kidney disease and bladder stones. Use a heavy bottomed ceramic dish that can't easily be pushed over by your tortoise.

Giving your tortoise a bath can encourage drinking - some will only drink when sat in water. Fill the water up to the bottom of his shell. He will submerge his nostrils and may appear to be drinking loads - by taking on large amounts of water quickly tortoises are in fact flushing out unwanted deposits from their kidneys.