If your tortoise is a picky eater, you are not alone. Many tortoise owners become concerned as their pets become fussy over what to eat and what not to eat. They know what they like and have no problem turning away, skipping a meal, or just picking off their favorite food leaving the rest for you to clean up. The solution, luckily, is quite simple.
If your tortoise is a picky eater, here’s what to do: Shred your tortoise’s favorite leaves or favorite treats with all the other foods that they should be eating. The pieces have to be small enough that make it nearly impossible for your tortoise to pick out just one ingredient out her food bowl. Instead, she’ll have no choice but to take in the variety of foods you provide in every bite.
Let’s see how to deal with fussy tortoises and how to help them eat a better diet. Their health, and happiness, depends on it!
Does It Matter If A Tortoise Is A Fussy Eater?
A tortoise that is a fussy eater can create problems for himself. It’s not because we want to make tortoises eat things they don’t like. It’s because a tortoise needs to eat a healthy diet in order to get the right balance of nutrients to support growth, health, etc.
This is the same for all living things and if a tortoise only eats one or two foods at the expense of all others, it is about as healthy in the long-term as it would be for a human being to choose to exist on nuggets and soda, which is to say, not at all.
Related article: How to feed a tortoise
A wild tortoise will balance its own diet and what they tend to eat is a mix of green plants (generally dark green) and a little fruit. They may also gobble up the occasional source of natural calcium if they can’t get enough in their chosen plant diet (this is quite often snail shells). They won’t eat very much else.
This means that a tortoise’s natural diet is high in fiber, high in calcium, relatively low in protein, relatively low in carbohydrates and entirely fat free. There are a few other minerals (such as Magnesium and Phosphorous) that play a part in the health of a tortoise, but they don’t make up a big part of the diet and are usually found in the plants that they eat.
It can actually be quite a challenge for a tortoise owner to recreate a healthy diet like this for their pet tortoises. Often, the fruits and vegetables that they buy are either those which are rarely if ever found by wild tortoises or the fruits and vegetables differ in the nutrient profile when compared to their wild variety cousins.
So, don’t feel bad if you don’t get this right on the first outing – it takes some time and experience to diagnose what your tortoise needs and to provide it. In fact, it’s so hard to find the right amount of calcium for a pet tortoise to eat naturally that almost everyone ends up providing it in supplementary form.
How Does A Tortoise End Up Becoming A Fussy Eater?
So, how does a tortoise go from eating a wide variety of tasty vegetables to being stuck on only eating one thing? Well, it appears that your tortoise is rather like a spoiled child in some respects. They get hooked on the taste of something that they like and because it’s freely available – they stick to it.
This would be fine, if the tortoise were to decide that they were hooked on the perfect dietary balance but sadly, your tortoise is, rather like the spoiled child, much more likely to get hooked on things that are bad for them.
Sugar is a particular problem. High sugar content foods are particularly tasty not just to human beings but also to tortoises. Fruit can often have a shocking amount of sugar in it (it’s why veganism is possible in human beings – they can get a lot of their calories from this sugar, it’s also why many vegans have dental problems) and thus, once your tortoise starts snacking on fruit – they may not want to go back to dark, green leafy vegetables.
Now, in our experience, it’s rare for a tortoise to become a fussy eater in an instant. It’s normally something that develops when you feed it similar meals (that aren’t so healthy) for a short period of time and it develops a strong preference for that food.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple to cure as just removing the bad food and replacing it with healthier treats. Just like our spoiled child, our fussy eating tortoise may refuse to eat anything at all if they are denied the thing that they crave the most.
Some Examples Of Tortoise Fussy Eating And What To Do About It
The basic rule for getting a tortoise to eat a more balanced diet is not to make a sudden change. If you tell a child “no more sweets” and then only provide it with plates of steamed spinach – it’s not likely to adapt very well.
Well, the same principle applies to tortoises. That means you need to mix the food that they will eat with the food they won’t. Starting with 90% stuff they will eat and 10% that they won’t and it needs to be so thoroughly mixed that they won’t be able to eat around the stuff they like and ignore the things they don’t.
Then you change to 80-20, 70-30, 60-40, 50-50, 40-60, 30-70, 20-80, 10-90, to 100% healthy leaving a few days between each step so that the tortoise becomes accustomed to the change. Within a few weeks that will mean they’re eating healthily again.
“My Tortoise Eats Only Dry Pellets”
So, with dry pellets – you’re going to have to shred the pellets to get them to mix with other things. Dry pellets are pretty healthy for tortoise’s anyway and they have a good nutrient profile but they are quite expensive and normally, you’d only have them eat these as part of a balanced diet.
My Tortoise Eats Only Lettuce
Lettuce, on the other hand, barely contains any nutrients that a tortoise needs, it has a little sugar and a lot of water and a few other minerals. So, you really need to get the tortoise to change from this – finely chop the lettuce with other healthier dark green leafy vegetables. This is going to be the easiest way to create the mix that helps your tortoise change its habits.
Start Calcium Supplements Once The Tortoise Eats A More Varied Diet
Calcium supplements are an essential part of any tortoise’s diet but it’s important that you don’t rush to add them to a fussy eater’s diet because they’re already refusing food. Calcium powders tend to be quite bitter and they change the taste of the food.
Wait until you’ve overcome the tortoise’s dietary issues and then very gradually add a little calcium powder to their food in very small quantities and increase it slowly over time. They will get used to it, in the same way they got used to eating a better diet, it just takes time.
Don’t Let Your Tortoise Slip Back Into Old Habits
The easiest way to ensure that your tortoise doesn’t slip back into its old habits is to ensure that it gets a varied set of meals every time you feed it.
Fussy eating is a bad habit which comes from being given the choice of poor dietary options on a regular basis – the way to prevent it, is not to allow that to happen.
Fortunately, this should be pretty easy to do if you’ve gotten around to breaking your tortoise’s bad habits, you’ll know it’s a bit more work than you normally put into feeding your pets and you’ll probably be quite glad to avoid it in the future.
If your tortoise is a picky eater, you as the pet owner need to deal with their poor dietary choices. Their life depends on it!
It’s important to remember that you never punish a tortoise (it will just stress him out with no possible hopes of it making a difference). Instead, gradually introduce changes so that your tortoise has no choice but to change the way that she eats without becoming distressed or unhappy about it.