The Food you provide can be Dangerous for your Turtle!
I am sure that you care for your pet tortoise and want him
or her to be happy and healthy. To ensure that, you will
have studied up on the proper housing, food, temperatures,
and such for your particular species of turtle, based on
it's native habitat. Right?
But so many variables affect whether the diet is adequate
for a particular species of animal, and even for a
particular individual, that this subject takes some serious
effort to get it right. Not even the experts agree on what
all the basic principles may be, but there are some obvious
issues that many turtle keepers have seen.
Here are some potential health issues related to your pet
turtle's diet that you may not have learned about in your
* Your turtle may suffer dehydration from lack of enough
fresh water to not only drink but to soak. This is primarily
true for woodland and water turtles, but even desert and
savanna tortoises need daily fresh water.
* Digestive/Intestinal crises are caused by wrong feeding:
fruit to turtles from arid regions, high-protein foods to
herbivores, poor choices of vegetables, or nothing but
commercial reptile food for any turtle.
* Kidney failure may be caused by too-rapid growth and too
much protein. In addition to too-rapid growth and consequent
shell and bone deformities, too much protein reduces calcium
absorption and overloads the kidneys with waste. Captive
turtles often get far more protein and far less calcium than
they would in the wild, and the combination can result in
death, especially in youngsters. If a turtle is able to eat
a widely varied diet of foods similar to what it's wild
relatives eat, it will need a fairly small percentage of
* Liver failure may result from too much fat in the diet.
Herbivorous turtles in particular, when kept on high fat
content diets, often develop serious liver problems,
resulting in jaundice and the inability to retain vitamin A.
* Metabolic Bone Disease in turtles, causing malformed
shells, beaks and leg bones, is caused by an imbalance of
calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus in the diet. Things that
can unbalance the calcium to phosphorus ratio include: too
much or too little of any one mineral in the diet, foods
that block or reduce the absorption of calcium, (for
example, oxalates), deficiency of vitamin D, limited or no
exposure to UVA and UVB light necessary for the turtle to
produce it's own vitamin D, disease of the kidney, liver, or
the small intestine, not enough protein, and diseases of the
thyroid or parathyroid glands (which produce hormones that
affect calcium metabolism), or too cool living temperatures
that impair digestion.
* Hypothyroidism may be be caused by a diet that is too rich
in vegetables from the Brassica family (cabbage, kale,
collards and the like). The same can be caused by a diet
which lacks sufficient dietary iodine. A multi-mineral
supplement containing traces of iodine should be given most
turtles with every meal.
* Turtles may have Gastrointestinal disease caused by
parasite over growth from too little dietary fiber, and/or
food of animal origin fed to herbivores. A turtle's
digestive system works more slowly than that of mammals, and
is designed to process wild vegetation. Vegetables raised
for human consumption may not have enough dietary fiber
(Side note: even for humans). Dandelions are an example of
excellent natural food for many turtles. Research the native
habitat of your turtle and approximate the vegetation it
would find to eat there.
Giving your turtle a long happy life may now seem like a
major challenge for you. It does require some study and
preparation, but, after all, your turtle is a living being
that may well live longer than you do, so doesn't it deserve
careful care from the person on whom it is completely
dependent? There are many websites online dedicated to
helping you with this challenge, some with experts on staff
who will answer your questions and forums where you can chat
with other turtle owners. Keep it healthy and have fun with