While feeding different species of tortoises at our local zoo, our guide fed cat and dog food to some species of tortoises. He, however, cautioned feeding cat food to some species. This got me curious and I decided to dig deeper into whether tortoises can eat animal proteins.
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Do tortoises eat Meat?
Rainforest tortoises do eat meat in their natural environment in form of carrion, therefore, they can consume some small amount of meat, cat, and dog feed. The Mediterranean and Grazing tortoises should not consume meat. High protein in the diet of tortoises will lead to shell and bone deformities in tortoises.
When acquiring a tortoise as a pet you should always make sure that you know how to identify the species of the tortoise.
This will help you with replicating the tortoise’s diet in the wild and avoid feeding the wrong food items.
A healthy tortoise diet should be comprised of high fiber and calcium and low protein.
Which Type of Tortoises should eat meat?
The only group of tortoises that can safely consume meat or animal protein moderately is the Tropical or Rainforest tortoise. This is because in the wild these tortoises happen to come to carrion and also eat snails and millipedes among other insects and animals at the bottom of the forest.
However, for the Mediterranean and Grazing or Desert tortoises, they should not eat meat since while they may come by meat opportunistically when foraging. Meat does not make up a large part of their diet which means their bodies are not accustomed to digesting a high animal protein diet.
The tables below show different types of tortoises plus their most preferred diets based on what they eat in the wild.
The Mediterranean Tortoises
|Mediterranean Tortoises||Preferred Diets|
|Greek Tortoises, Spur Thighed (Testudo Graeca)||100% variety of weeds and flowering plants|
Examples: hibiscus leaves and flowers and Mulberry leaves
|Hermanns tortoise (Testudo Hermanni)||Limit or avoid: Fruits, vegetables, and salads|
|Marginated Tortoise (Testudo Marginata) and the|
|Russian / Horsefield (Testudo Horsefieldi)|
|Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni)|
The Grazing/Desert Tortoise
|Grazing Tortoises||Preferred diets|
|African Sulcata Tortoises||70% mixed grass and Hay|
|Leopard Tortoises||20-30% flowering plants, succulents and weeds.|
|Indian TortoisesLimit or Avoid: Fruits, vegetables, and saladsAldabra Tortoises|
The Rainforest/ Tropical Tortoises
|Rainforest Tortoises||Preferred Diet|
|Red-footed tortoises||70% weeds, flowering plants, and other greens|
|Yellow-footed tortoises [Geochelone denticulata]||30% Fruits and a small amount of animal protein|
|Burmese Brown Tortoises|
|Kinixys homeana (Home’s Hingeback tortoise|
Can tortoises have meat?
As stated earlier Rainforest or tropical tortoises are the only tortoises suited to have meat. The Redfoot and Yellowfoot plus the African Hingeback tortoises are some of the representatives of this group of tortoises.
Unlike the Grazing/Desert tortoises and Mediterranean tortoises that are exclusively herbivorous, the Rainforest tortoises are considered omnivorous.
In captivity, protein deficiency has been recorded among rainforest tortoises such as Redfoot and Yellowfoot that were raised as herbivores.
One of the best sources of protein or amino acids for these tortoises is a hydrated cat or dog food fed sparingly.
These tortoises should have meat or animal protein at least once per week.
Tortoise Trust recommends feeding about 25g (1 ounce) of rehydrated cat food to a Red-footed tortoise weighing about 10kg or 22 pounds per week and less for the juveniles.
What kind of meat do tortoises eat?
The best way to provide meat to the Rainforest tortoises is to either offer them cat or dog food or replicate the kind of meat they would find in the wild.
Some of the kinds of meat these tortoises find in the wild include life prey such as slugs, ants, bees, butterflies, termites, beetles, nightcrawlers, red worms, and snails. They may also come across carrion such as birds, snakes, Agouti, lizards, deer carcasses, and peccary on the bottom of the floor.
However, we insist that you only feed these types of meat to the tropical tortoises and not the Grazing or Mediterranean tortoises.
Can tortoises eat raw meat?
We strongly recommend against feeding raw meat to tortoises at all costs. Unless you are feeding slugs, snails, or nightcrawlers plus other insects such as crickets that can be gut-loaded with calcium.
However, do not offer raw meat such as chicken or beef to tortoises. The goal here is to aim for a diet that is close to what the rainforest tortoise eat in the wild. Definitely, these tortoises do not eat raw meat such as chicken, beef, or pork.
What happens if you feed a tortoise meat?
While the Rainforest tortoises can eat meat or some portion of animal protein as part of their balanced diet. The other species should not be fed meat or any animal protein.
Even the Rainforest tortoises should be fed meat or animal protein moderately.
Deformed shell growth
When juvenile tortoises are fed a diet that is high on protein, they tend to grow faster than normal hence experiencing deformities in their shells.
Most of the high protein diet is also calcium deficient, calcium is needed in considerable high levels among the juvenile and laying tortoises and with its shortage, the tortoises’ shell will not grow as intended [a round carapace shape].
It tends to develop as a lumpy, flattened shape which is one of the characteristics of metabolic bone disease, a disease caused by low calcium in the diet of all tortoises.
Therefore, you should avoid feeding high protein content to the juvenile of the Mediterranean and Grazing tortoises. Additionally, you should only feed protein or meat to the rainforest tortoises moderately.
There are so many cases of tortoises that were raised on a high-protein cat or dog pellets that ended up suffering shell deformities.
As a matter of fact, you should not feed commercially made tortoise pellets exclusively. Despite the fact that most of these feeds are marked as tortoise safe, most of them contain high protein content and high sugar content.
Therefore, these pellets should either make up a small percentage of your tortoise diet or be avoided altogether. You can preserve some hay or grass and flowers and weeds for your tortoises to consume during winter when most outdoor plants are affected.
Most people find it easy to just offer the tortoise pellets during this time of the year, this may end up exposing these tortoises to a high protein and sugar diet.
In mature or adult tortoises the side effects may not be noticeable right away and may take a long time before the symptoms appear. But when they do they might be at a stage where nothing can be done.
High protein puts pressure on the kidney
When tortoises are offered a diet high in protein, the protein is digested and converted into nitrogenous waste such as uric acid that the tortoises’ body needs to eliminate.
This process of processing the nitrogenous waste puts pressure on the kidney and may end causing kidney stones and ultimately destroying the kidney in the long run especially if the tortoise does not get enough water.
Can tortoises eat cat or dog food?
The Rainforest tortoises can eat cat or dog food moderately. Experts advise that the tropical tortoises should have cat or dog food once a week, the amount of dog or cat food fed should be determined by the size of the tortoise.
However, the Grazing and Mediterranean tortoises should not eat cat or dog food at all. Their digestion system is not equipped to digest the high protein content of these foods.
According to the Tortoise Trust website, feeding 25g of cat food to a Red-footed tortoise weighing about 10kg/22 pounds once a week is enough to provide them with the protein they need.
Fats and sugars especially carbohydrate is also another factor that should make you avoid feeding cat or dog feed to Grazing or Mediterranean tortoises.
Tortoises are not accustomed to high sugar and fat diet in the wild, therefore, their digestive system is not designed to deal with these nutrients.
Can a tortoise eat chicken? While the rainforest tortoise can eat meat, you should not feed chicken meat to tortoises deliberately. Rather, if you have to feed meat, feed insects rather than chicken.
Do Hermann and Horsefield tortoises eat meat? Hermann tortoise and Horsefield tortoise should not eat meat, their digestive system is not adapted to digesting high protein food. Hermann tortoise is a Mediterranean tortoise and not a tropical tortoise that is accustomed to eating meat in form of carrion.
Do tortoises eat worms and insects? The Rainforest tortoises can eat worms such as mealworms and insects as part of their diet without issues. However, for the Mediterranean and Grassland tortoises, they should be fed worms and insects as treats since they do not encounter this form of diet frequently in their environment.
While you may be tempted to offer cat or dog pellets or animal meat especially in winter when the normal plant materials are not readily available, you should desist from doing so.
While the rainforest tortoises actually need some protein in their diet higher than the Mediterranean and Grazing tortoises, offering them a protein-loaded diet regularly will lead to shell deformities for the juvenile due to the rapid growth rate and will also put pressure on the kidneys.
Only offer meat such as insects to the Rainforest tortoises once a week and none to the other species of tortoises for healthy growth and development.