If you are wondering whether a tortoise can eat cat or dog food, you are not alone. Perhaps you are running out of tortoise food and wondering if you can, temporarily, feed her something else. Perhaps your tortoise found himself in Fido’s food bowl and had a little bite.
Can a tortoise eat cat or dog food? Tortoises should not eat cat or dog food because the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats are very different from that of a tortoise. Both dog food and cat food are high in protein and high in fat, which is not healthy for tortoises.
Cat and dog food is not good for a tortoise treat either. While it is possible for a tortoise to have a bite without getting sick, tortoise owners should avoid it completely. Remember that tortoises are herbivores, cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores – they all need very different diets to achieve the best standard of health.
Can A Tortoise Eat Cat Food?
Tortoises will eat almost anything put in front of them, which can make it fairly problematic as a tortoise owner to know what kind of food you should give them. It’s all too easy to assume that because something will eat a food stuff that it’s OK to feed them that food.
This is the same rationale that many human beings apply to a diet of constant fast food while wondering why they don’t feel so good, of course. Just because you can eat junk food all day, every day, it doesn’t mean that you should.
Cat Food Is A Big Problem For Tortoises
However, cat food is particularly problematic. Tortoises are vegetarians and they are designed to eat plants and nothing but plants.
Your Cat Is A Carnivore, Your Tortoise Is A Herbivore
Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores and they can’t survive on just vegetables. They don’t eat them in the wild and they certainly don’t obtain any nutrients from them and, in fact, there have been several animal cruelty prosecutions for people thinking that they can force their dietary choices on to their pet cat. You can’t.
Cat Diets Are High In Protein, Tortoise Diets Are Low In Protein
That means if you feed a tortoise cat food, you’re feeding it a diet which is 100% designed for a completely different biological system. The exact reactions of tortoises to all ingredients in cat food is not precisely known – mainly because to study this in any detail would involve acts of animal cruelty.
However, what is certain is that a carnivore’s diet is very, very protein heavy, that’s because the key component of muscle tissue is protein. Unfortunately, this is a huge problem for tortoise health because tortoises exist on an ultra-low protein diet.
Eating too much protein can cause a tortoise genuine health problems.
Can A Tortoise Eat Dog Food?
OK, so a dog is not a pure carnivore (though it’s diet tends to be meat heavy and when given the option to choose meat over other food – it will, check out the video below to see this in practice), it’s an omnivore but does that mean that your tortoise should be eating dog food?
No, there’s no better case for a tortoise eating dog food than there is for a tortoise eating cat food and, in fact, there may be additional risks to the tortoise from eating dog food over and above those gained from eating cat food.
The High Protein Principle Is The Same
Firstly, a dog simply needs a lot more protein that tortoises do. They’re bigger animals with more developed muscles, they move more quickly than tortoises and they’re hot blooded which means they need to generate their own heat.
Once again, eating too much protein is very problematic and it leads to a problem known as pyramiding, which we look at in detail a little farther down in this article.
The High Fat Content Is Also A Problem
Feline diets do contain a little fat but overall, they’re geared towards protein content, dogs, on the other hand, have a more balanced outlook and their diets are also high in fat and this too is a problem for tortoises.
Why? Well, a completely vegetarian diet (like that pursued by wild tortoises) is completely fat free. That is it contains 0% fat. When you don’t consume fat naturally, then your body doesn’t really ever adapt to process fat properly.
Tortoises vs. Fat
A tortoise is not able to break down fat like mammals can. So, what happens to the fat when they digest it? Well, it washes up in different parts of their body as a fatty deposit – which can never be broken down and will never go away.These fatty deposits will then put pressure on the tortoise’s internal organs, and this includes their lungs and their heart. As you can imagine, this does not have a happy ending for the tortoise.
Related article: Can tortoises get fat? The problem with overfeeding
So, in short, a dog’s diet is too high in both proteins and fats for your tortoise to live on.
Pyramiding – What Happens When A Tortoise Gets Too Much Protein
Pyramiding is a condition that is a form of bone disease that affects tortoises. It happens when the scutes become raised during active growth to form pyramids on the outside of the tortoise. It is commonly understood that too much protein in the diet is responsible for this condition.
However, this understanding can lead to some problems. Firstly, while a tortoise does need a low protein diet, it doesn’t need a “protein free” diet. In fact, such a diet would be even more dangerous for the tortoise.
Pyramiding Doesn’t Hurt The Tortoise
This is because while pyramiding is unsightly, it’s not really dangerous to the tortoise. Though if it happens with female tortoises, it can make it impossible for them to mate effectively because the pyramids prevent a male tortoise from getting up on her back.
Dry Weight And Water Weight And Protein
Thus, people have given much thought to the subject of protein in tortoise diets. They will look at either the “dry weight” of food and the percentage protein content or they use a method that acknowledges the water content of the food as well.
As the “dry weight” percentage is lower than the water included percentage, this can lead to those using dry weights to put too much protein into the diet.
So, how can you tackle pyramiding if it starts to happen in your tortoises given all this conflicting and confusing data on protein?
What To Do About Pyramiding
Well, the easiest thing to do is this – if you see that your tortoise’s shells are exhibiting warning signs of pyramiding (that is they appear to be rising to a peak) – you cut down on the protein in their diet immediately.
You will know if you have reduced the protein content of the diet too much because the tortoise will start to show signs of protein deficiency which include: a loss of appetite, lethargy, muscle spasms, etc.
If that happens, gradually increase the protein content until the tortoise appears healthy again.
Just make certain that when you increase/reduce protein in their diet, that you either examine the dry weight or the water weight with the percentage of protein – don’t mix the two.
You cannot “cure” pyramiding, but you can reverse the underlying problem of too much dietary protein fairly easily.
Can Turtles Eat Cat Or Dog Food?
Now, some clever souls out there may have noticed that while tortoises are vegetarians there are some breeds of turtle which are, in fact, carnivorous.
Can you feed these turtles cat or dog food? The answer is still no. The make up of cat and dog food is too far removed from these turtle’s diets too and while they may not react as badly as your average pet tortoise will – they won’t react well to it.
Can a tortoise eat cat or dog food? The answer is a definite no. Tortoises (and turtles) should not eat cat or dog food. Your tortoise needs a low protein diet and neither cat or dog food supports this. You shouldn’t even give it ti them as an occasional treat. Tortoises should live on a completely vegetarian diet that mirrors the diet they would eat in the wild.