Redfoot Tortoise Diet

Redfoot tortoises are omnivorous. They consume both animal and plant material in the wild.

Most grocery stores have a decent selection of greens that redfoot tortoises readily eat. Ideally the greens should be organic and pesticide free. However this is the real world and not all tortoise keepers have access to "ideal" food. So, I have this section as a starting point for a varied diet. The following greens are easily found in my local stores:
Romaine lettuce
Red and green leaf lettuce
Turnip greens
Mustard greens
Spring Mix (mixed salad greens)
cabbage (on occasion)

Yellow squash
Winter squash
Carrots (on occasion)
Green Beans (on occasion)

Apples (be sure there are no seeds)
Cactus fruit

Some other favorites of my tortoises that are available:
Hibiscus (flowers and leaves)
Opuntia cactus pads
Mulberry leaves
Hen and Chicks
Ice Plants
Prickly pear flowers, fruit and pads (burn the spines off)
Plantain (not the banana type fruit....the weed plantago major)
Mallow (flowers and leaves)
Rose (flowers and leaves....make sure no systemic pesticides were used)
Chrysanthemum flowers
Plagiobothrys ssp
Forsythia (flowers and leaves)
Commelina diffusa (flowers and leaves)
Californian Poppy  

Make sure all are pesticide and herbicide free.

MEAT etc.
In the wild redfoot tortoises eat a variety of animal matter including carrion. Redfoot tortoises fed exclusively a plant based diet frequently develop hind leg paralysis. They also have low fertility and hatchlings often fail to thrive. It is often recommended to feed them low fat cat food as often as every other feeding. I have found this to be unnecessary and a contributing factor in pyramiding.

My approach is to feed pre-killed pinkies (new born mice), shrimp, chicken, organ meat, boiled eggs etc. once a month when outside. Here in South Carolina there is an abundance of worms, slugs, pill bugs and other bugs in their pen. My tortoises feed on them on a regular basis. In the winter bugs are less plentiful so I feed animal protein every other week

For the torts I keep indoors over the winter, I also feed Butterworms (extremely high in calcium and great for hatchlings) and superworms.

With the above one can develop a good diet. Once again (and I can't stress this enough) variety is the key!
Don't feed the same food day in and day out. Mix varieties and choose a different green as the basis every few days.

The following food items should be avoided for a variety of reasons. there are many books and groups that go into great I won't repeat them here. At the end of the page are a few links).
Iceberg lettuce
Bok Choy
All grains (including bread, pasta etc)
All human food except what's been listed as "good"
Pellet type foods (An often overlooked factor of pyramiding is grain based diets. These are the pellet food that some claim to be essential to health. They typically contain soy, wheat and or rice. These are high in omega 6 fatty acids which has a negative effect on health. They also have an acidifying effect which causes a leaching of bone. They are high in phytate which binds calcium and other minerals. They also have an unfavorable ca/ph ratio and a low ca/mg ratio which has a negative impact on calcium metabolism. Grains alter Vit D metabolism. Diets high in grains can have a negative impact on bone growth in spite of adequate exposure to sunshine. (

A number of food items contain chemicals that interfere with a tortoises ability to absorb nutrients from food. Although most food items have some of these...a varied diet can minimize the harmful effects.
(more info can be found at Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database)

Oxalic Acid:
This is a naturally occurring element in many plants and imparts a bitter taste in greens such as mustard greens. This substance binds minerals...
the most important being calcium. It binds with minerals which must be eliminated through the kidneys. In large amounts (or in small quantities
with improper hydration) can lead to kidney stones and kidney damage. Avoid  rhubarb and beet greens....limit (don't eliminate) spinach,
Phytic Acid: This is found in high concentration is peas, beans and cereals. This chemical also binds minerals as well as proteins.
Although tannins are beneficial for the most part, in large quantities (as with all anti-nutrients) they bind protein and interfere with digestion.
Purines are well known in humans as being a contributing factor in gout. Redfoot tortoises fed large amounts can develop kidney disease.
This compound is implicated in the development of enlarged thyroid glands (Goiters). They interfere with the uptake of iodine. Some eperts believe that all the Brassicae family should be avoided like the plague due to this. Limit (don't eliminate) the quantities of kale, mustard, and other cruciferous plants.

One of the most important supplements is calcium. If there is a good source of UVB as with tortoises kept outdoors, a light dusting of the food with calcium daily is sufficient. Indoors use phosphorous free calcium with D3. Minerall is a great product with trace minerals as well as calcium. The main problem with using calcium powders is using too much. This can lead to bladder stones and dehydration. Calcium powders can also interfere with absorption of other minerals such as zinc.

My preferred method for supplying calcium is to feed high calcium food, keep cuttlebone with them at all times and dust food with the TNT® Supplement from Carolina Pet Supply. This is a nutritionally balanced formula which provides the vitamins and minerals that or often lacking in the captive diet. It’s formulated from a variety of dehydrated and powdered flowers and weeds.

hatchling eating cuttlebone

Even at 2 months old they enjoy cuttlebone

They also have wide variety of organic seeds, powdered hibiscus flowers (Roselle) and cactus powder (Opuntia). Both are a natural source of vitamins and minerals.

Also of use is probiotics. Most of our animals come to us with abundance of parasites and disturbed gut flora (the good bacteria that live in the intestines). Supplementing with probiotics goes a long way to restoring normal gut function. iFlora from Sedona Labs  is one of the best probiotics used for reptiles.

Water is very important for all animals. redfoot tortoise are no exception to the rule.  I keep a shallow bowel of water in the pens. I also flood the pen on a regular basis. They thoroughly enjoy the mud puddle that the flooding causes.

Indoors I prefer to use one of those automatic waterers used for dogs. I soak them for 20 minutes in  "baby warm" water every 2-3 days. This serves 2 purposes. It allows me to inspect them frequently and (since they usually empty their bowels and bladders while soaking) it keeps the cages much cleaner.

Here are some good links:


Oxalic Acid Content of Selected Vegetables

Wild Edible Plant Nutrition

Chemical Composition of Plants

Plants For A Future - Database Search

CalFlora Database

California Wildflowers

University of California weeds

Yahoo! Groups : chelonian_nutrition`

Medicinal Plants

USDA Poisonous Plants

Toxic and Poisonous Plants and Flowers

This Canadian site list poisonous and problem plants. Click on the Latin name for a description.

More poisonous plants

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