Baby Tortoise Diet & Feeding Guide For Beginners

Baby Tortoise Diet & Feeding Guide

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you just bought a baby tortoise? Congratulations and welcome to the club. I know as a loving owner, you will do everything to ensure healthy growth for your pet. Do you know what is more important for a baby tortoise besides a proper habitat? Yes, food.

A perfect diet for a baby tortoise should mainly include leafy greens such as dandelion, clover, and kale. These provide essential nutrients and fiber. It’s important to include a variety of vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, and squash to ensure a balanced intake of vitamins.

What do baby tortoises eat? How often should you feed them? I know you have more questions like these on your mind. Follow this article to get the complete baby tortoise diet guide for beginners.

key takeaways

  • Baby tortoises require a diet higher in protein than adult tortoises to support their rapid growth and development. Protein-rich foods should make up around 30% of their diet.
  • Dark leafy greens like collard, mustard, and turnip greens are excellent sources of protein and calcium for babies. Other good foods include dandelion greens, endive, escarole.
  • Babies need food with more moisture like vegetables in addition to greens. Appropriate veggies include carrots, green beans, squash, and tomatoes.
  • Protein sources should be introduced slowly at first in case of allergies. Good options are Mazuri juvenile tortoise food, boiled eggs, mealworms.
  • Fresh food should be available at all times, along with a shallow water dish for soaking. Food bowls are not necessary for small babies.
  • Proper nutrition helps support babies’ growth and development into healthy adults. A varied, protein-rich diet is key to their health and longevity.

Tortoise nutrition and digestive physiology

Tortoise nutrition and digestive physiology are specialized to their herbivorous diet, largely involving plant material, which plays a crucial role in maintaining their health. Here’s a brief overview:

Herbivorous Diet:

Tortoises are primarily herbivores. In the wild, their diet consists mostly of plant materials that are high in fiber. This diet is essential for their gut health and overall physiology.

Digestive Physiology:

The digestive system of tortoises is adapted to process high-fiber diets. Microbial fermentation of plant fiber in their gut is a significant source of nutrients. This process allows them to extract necessary nutrients from fibrous plant materials.

Nutrient Absorption:

The fermentation process in their gut helps in breaking down cellulose from plant walls, making nutrients available for absorption. Tortoises can efficiently use plant fiber, and their dietary needs vary with size and species.

Protein Requirement:

Despite being herbivores, tortoises in the wild often consume plant materials containing more than 15% protein. However, a part of this protein may be indigestible, requiring careful dietary planning when in captivity.

Calcium and Vitamin Requirements:

Proper balance of calcium and vitamins, particularly vitamin D, is crucial for tortoises. Inadequate levels can lead to health issues such as shell deformities and metabolic bone disease.

Understanding these aspects of tortoise nutrition and digestive physiology is essential for providing appropriate care, particularly in captive settings where diet and environmental conditions can significantly impact their health.

For shell development, calcium supplementation is crucial. This is often done using calcium powder or cuttlebone. Due to their high sugar content, fruits should only be given sparingly as treats.

What Does A Baby Tortoise Eat?

The baby tortoises have a different appetite than the adult ones. They prefer munching on the leafy vegetables, plant leaves, stems, flowers with occasional fruit treats.

In general, a baby tortoise’s diet can contain the following items:

  1. Safe plant stems, leaves, or flowers
  2. Grasses and hays
  3. Leafy green vegetables
  4. Fruits
  5. Supplements

In each meal for the baby tortoise, you should give priority to the greens. The fruits should be an occasional treat for the babies.

In guiding beginners on nurturing their baby tortoises, experts such as Patty Mesich underscore the importance of daily feeding.

Mesich advises a pre-feed soak in shallow lukewarm water to stimulate appetite. She notes that diet varies with species – for instance, Russians and sulcatas thrive on safe weeds and greens, while red foots can digest fruit and limited protein.

A suggested routine for hatchlings includes daily servings of leafy greens, complemented by specific supplements. This regimen supports their growth, catering to their evolving nutritional needs.

Here is a list of safe plants and weeds for your baby tortoise diet:

  • Aloe vera
  • Bindweed
  • Bramble (Tender leaf, fruits, shoots)
  • Boston fern
  • Cactus
  • Chickweed
  • Dandelion (Stem, leaf, flower)
  • Young hedge mustard plant
  • Greater plantain
  • Hebe
  • Henbit 
  • Honeysuckle
  • Milk thistle
  • Mallows
  • Pricky sow thistle
  • Ribgrass plantain
  • Red clover (Stem, leaf, flower)
  • Red dead nettle
  • Smooth sow thistle (Stem, leaf, flower)
  • Smooth hawks bread (Leaf, flower)
  • Vetches
  • White clover (Stem, leaf, flower)
  • White dead nettle

Tortoises are land dwellers and graze on the grasslands. Experts suggest that eating grasses or hays have benefits for the baby tortoises. The grasses can provide the little creatures with nutrition and fiber.

Here are some safe grass options for your baby tortoise:

  • Ryegrass
  • Pampas grass
  • Couch grass
  • Alfalfa 
  • Cat grass
  • Bermuda grass
  • Oat grass
  • Wheatgrass
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Fescue grass
  • Barley grass
  • Timothy grass
  • Fountain grass
  • Orchardgrass

Selected vegetable list for your baby tortoise:

  • Kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Collard greens
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Arugula 
  • Turnip greens
  • Carrot
  • Radicchio
  • Cauliflower
  • Escarole
  • Squash
  • Grape leaf
  • Parsnip 
  • Sweet potato
  • Bell pepper
  • Tomato
  • Mesclun lettuce
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Oakleaf
  • Spring mix lettuce
  • Watercress 

According to the Tortoise Forum, hay is not an appropriate food for baby grass-eating tortoise species since it does not provide enough protein for growing babies. Instead, young tortoises need food items like dark leafy greens, weeds, flowers, and vegetables.


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Here is a table listing different types of greens suitable for baby tortoises and their nutritional value:

GreensNutritional Value
Collard GreensHigh in calcium and vitamin K. Collard greens are a good choice for baby tortoises as they help support bone and shell growth.
Mustard GreensHigh in vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. Mustard greens support eye and immune health in baby tortoises.
Turnip GreensRich in calcium and vitamin A. Turnip greens promote strong bones and shells when fed to baby tortoises.
Dandelion GreensHigh in vitamin K and fiber. Dandelion greens can be part of a balanced diet for baby tortoises.

Do not feed iceberg lettuce, spinach, or excessive protein because they can harm the tortoise’s health. Regular fresh water availability is also essential.

Fruits options for your baby tortoise:

  • Grape
  • Pear 
  • Blackberries
  • Mulberry
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry
  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Pear
  • Kiwi
  • Apricot
  • Plum
  • Orange
  • Banana 

It is better to keep your baby tortoise on natural food items instead of canned ones. In the wild, the species graze around and feed on the weeds, stems, and vegetables. However, make sure any item you purchase for the little tortoise must be pesticide-free and non-toxic. 

Some tortoise owners prefer feeding commercial foods or pellets to baby tortoises. In a sense, it is okay if you do not have an idea about the greens and grasses.

From the above list, which items should you add to your baby tortoise’s diet? It totally depends on the species of the tortoise. Hence, identify the baby before preparing the meal plant for it.


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What Can Baby Sulcata Tortoise Eat?

The eating habit of a baby Sulcata tortoise is similar to most other species. The diet consists of greens and vegetables, grasses and hays, and fruits. To cover up the lackings of any minerals or vitamins, you need to add pellets, multivitamins, cuttlebones, or supplements to the meal chart of the baby Sulcata tortoise.

Here is a food chart for a baby Sulcata tortoise:

Safe Grasses For Sulcata TortoiseSafe Weeds For Sulcata TortoiseSafe Green Vegetables For Sulcata TortoiseSafe Fruits For Sulcata Tortoise
Alfalfa Ryegrass

Bermuda grass

Oat grass

Barley grass

Wheatgrass

Kentucky bluegrass

Fescue grass

Timothy grass

Orchardgrass  
Chickweed

Dandelion

Nettle

Clover

Milk thistle

Mallow

Pricky sow thistle

Smooth sow thistle

Henbit

Honeysuckle

Greater plantain

Ribgrass plantain  
Kale

Spring mix lettuce

Romaine lettuce

Red leaf lettuce

Arugula

Pumpkin

Broccoli

Grape leaf

Oakleaf

Mesclun lettuce

Radicchio

Watercress

Endive

Chicory

Fennel

Escarole  
Pears

Banana

Strawberry

Apple

Melon

Besides these items, you can choose any food from the diet lists given in the previous subsection.

You can include commercial pellets in your baby Sulcata tortoise diet chart. But make sure you are not overfeeding the turtle with cuttlebones or pellets. Adding the supplements twice or thrice a week is enough for these little buddies.

Also, do not add fruits to the everyday meal of the baby Sulcata tortoise. A Fruit treat every once or twice a month will bring a variety in the meals for the tortoise.

Owner: Dawson Cannon

Here is a table comparing the calcium and fiber content of commercial baby tortoise foods vs a homemade/whole foods diet:

DietCalcium (%)Fiber (%)
Commercial Baby Tortoise Food10-155-10
Collard Greens5.19.5
Mustard Greens4.55.6
Turnip Greens3.55.3
Dandelion Greens3.16.7
Kale1.56.7

Do you know a Sulcata tortoise can live up to 150 years? Providing a balanced diet from the beginning will surely help your baby pet live to its fullest. Check out what other factors affect a baby Sulcata tortoise’s lifespan from this article.

Foods To Avoid Feeding A Baby Tortoise

Baby tortoises are always sensitive. You have to properly plan through their meals so that they get the required nutrition.

The most common mistake here is that many owners do not have any idea about the forbidden food list of the baby tortoises. The myth here is, a tortoise would consume anything.

But that is not the truth. If you feed anything outside the baby tortoise’s comfort zone, the pet will have an upset stomach. In the case of toxic plants, the babies might choke and fall severely ill.

To stay aware, take a quick look at the foods given below and never enlist them in your baby tortoise’s diet:

  • Meat
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Dairy products
  • Candies and sweets
  • Sodium rich foods
  • Bread
  • Celery
  • Junk foods
  • Avocado
  • Juniper
  • Ivy
  • Asparagus fern
  • Iris
  • Calla lily
  • Daffodil
  • Amaryllis
  • Holly
  • Azalea
  • Ficus
  • Buttercup
  • Poinsettia
  • Primrose
  • Boxwood

You can click right here to get a full list of the poisonous plants to baby tortoises.

baby tortoise feeding schedule

Here is a sample baby tortoise feeding schedule presented in a table format:

AgeFeeding FrequencySample Diet
Hatchling (0-3 months)2-3 times dailyDark leafy greens (collard, turnip, kale), crushed pellet or floral food, calcium with D3
Young (3-6 months)2 times dailyDark leafy greens, crushed pellet or floral food, calcium with D3, occasional fruits/veggies
Juvenile (6-12 months)Once dailyDark leafy greens, pellet or floral food, calcium with D3 2-3 times weekly, occasional fruits/veggies
Sub-adult (1-2 years)Every other dayDark leafy greens, pellet or floral food, calcium with D3 1-2 times weekly, occasional fruits/veggies
Young adult (2-4 years)2-3 times weeklyDark leafy greens, pellet or floral food, calcium with D3 1 time weekly, occasional fruits/veggies

Some key points:

  • Hatchlings need most frequent feeding for growth
  • Dark leafy greens should always be available
  • Calcium supplement needed 2-3 times weekly for young tortoises
  • Fruits/veggies can be treats but don’t replace main diet
  • Older tortoises can go longer between meals
Owner: Megan Lavon Jones

sample weekly feeding schedule for a baby tortoise:

DayFood
MondayCollard Greens, Mustard Greens
TuesdayTurnip Greens, Dandelion Greens
WednesdayKale, Carrot Tops
ThursdayCelery, Parsley
FridayCabbage, Endive
SaturdayCollard Greens, Mustard Greens
SundayFast Day (no food offered)

This sample schedule provides a variety of calcium-rich leafy greens high in vitamins and fiber every day except Sunday, when it is recommended to fast baby tortoises once a week to support healthy digestion. 

In September 2020, there was a rare hatching of an endangered spider tortoise at the Turtle Conservancy conservation center, according to their news article. This shows the importance of understanding baby tortoise care, including proper diet, to aid in conservation efforts.

dietary needs of tortoises at different life stages


Here’s a comparison of the dietary needs of tortoises at different life stages in a table format:

AspectHatchlingsJuvenilesAdults
Feeding FrequencyOnce per day; avoid overfeedingAlmost daily, 5-6 times per weekDepends on species, age, and size
Dietary ContentCoarse weeds (high in fiber, correct calcium-phosphorus balance); avoid fruits/soft leavesVariety of plants; balanced diet with less quantity and quality compared to hatchlingsVariety of leafy greens, vegetables, occasional fruits; specific to species
SupplementsCalcium supplements like ‘Nutrobal’High-quality calcium supplementCalcium and Vitamin D supplements; UVB lighting
Special ConsiderationsPrevent rapid growth to avoid shell deformitiesTeach them that keepers are not predators; manage humidityBalanced calcium-to-phosphorus ratio; avoid toxic/harmful foods
Temperature & HumidityNot applicableAbove 79°F at all times; basking temperatures 92-99°FVaries based on species and habitat

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Tortoise feeding guidelines from veterinary/zoological organizations

MSD Veterinary Manual:

  • Tortoises are primarily herbivorous and require plant material for healthy gut physiology. They can benefit significantly from the microbial fermentation of plant fiber.
  • Wild tortoises’ diets often contain over 15% protein (dry-matter basis) from plant materials, but part of this protein is indigestible.
  • Larger tortoises, like Aldabra or Galapagos tortoises, can consume grass or alfalfa hay along with a complete pelleted food formulated for tortoises or exotic herbivores. The hay should be cut short to accommodate the mouth shape of these tortoises.
  • A vegetable mix including broccoli, green beans, leafy greens (e.g., romaine, green leaf lettuce, endive), kale, and shredded carrots can supplement a formulated tortoise diet. This mix provides adequate protein, calcium, and micronutrients, with only limited vitamin and mineral supplements needed.
  • Cultivated fruits are generally poorer in protein, calcium, and micronutrients and should be supplemented with vitamins and minerals if fed in significant amounts.
  • Oyster shell and pea gravel are sometimes offered to tortoises, mimicking “mining” activities seen in the wild.
  • Rapid growth associated with high-protein diets may result in shell deformities​​​​​​.

Click here for more details.

International Environment Library Consortium:

  • The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, as part of the International Environment Library Consortium, outlines the diet for Galapagos Giant Tortoises under managed care:
  • Dark, leafy greens are a staple in their diet, including romaine lettuce, collard greens, bok choy, spinach, kale, and dandelion greens.
  • Grass hay and nutrition pellets are also included for additional vitamins and minerals.
  • Special treats like prickly pear cactus pads, banana stalks, pumpkins (seasonally), and pieces of carrots and sweet potato are given​​​​.

Click here for more details!

Other General Guidelines:

  • It’s important to provide as much space as possible for tortoises, with both indoor and outdoor enclosures recommended. Fencing around their outdoor space should be buried one to two feet underground to prevent digging.
  • Most tortoises should have 70-80% of their diet consist of dark leafy greens like collards, romaine, kale, red/green leaf lettuce, endive, mustard greens, escarole, etc.
  • For South American species like Red or Yellow Foot tortoises, healthy fruits should be added to the diet​​​​​​​​.
Owner: Rheannon Herrera

Do Baby Tortoises Drink Water?

Like all other animals, tortoises also need water to stay alive. But yes, the species do not drink much water.

To keep the bodies hydrated, the baby tortoises drink water from time to time. So, it is a good idea to provide a shallow water bowl in the enclosure. You need to fill the container with clean and fresh water regularly.

Never dig up a deep water source in a baby tortoise enclosure. Unlike turtles, tortoises can not swim.

How Much Food Does A Baby Tortoise Eat?

Determining the quantity of food for the baby tortoise is challenging for beginners. From 0 to 6 months, feed the baby pet a quarter cup of vegetables, grasses, leaves, and weeds. When it turns 6 months, increase the quantity from quarter to half cup. Continue the amount till the baby tortoise gets 12 months old.

Many tortoise owners prefer feeding the hatchlings commercial foods. In that case, offer the baby tortoises food that equals 1-4% of its body weight.

Depending on the species, the baby tortoise may have more hunger. If you find your pet devouring aggressively, provide it a little bit more greens or grasses. But do not overfeed the baby.

Usually, a baby tortoise acts like an eating machine. It is because, in the wild, they spend their time grazing here and there. However, overfeeding your baby tortoise can lead to accelerated growth and shell deformation or pyramiding.

How Often Should You Feed A Baby Tortoise?

The baby tortoises require more food than the adults. Generally, for the first 12 months, you should feed the baby pet once every day. After the 1st year, the feeding schedule will change.

Add vegetables, grasses, leaves, and stems to the diet chart of the baby tortoise. Do not feed it fruits every single day. Otherwise, the baby may have an upset tummy.

Some people think baby tortoises can not eat hard vegetables or fruits. Do not forget the tortoises have sharp jaws. They can easily crush carrots, potatoes, or other veggies and fruits like this.

What Supplements Do Baby Tortoises Need?

When you are raising your baby tortoises in captivity, ensure that the pets are getting all the nutrition they need. You know, in an indoor habitat, the tortoises do not get the natural UV rays. Instead, the lack of UVA and UVB exposures are fulfilled through artificial lights.

Even with UV light, the baby tortoise can not grow stronger bones and shells if its food lacks minerals. To stay safe, vets suggest feeding the tortoise licensed calcium and vitamin D3 supplements. But the question is how much and how often to offer?

Experts believe the requirement for vitamins and calcium totally depends on the individual tortoise. You can sprinkle the supplement on each meal of the pet or try the thrice-a-week schedule.

Some people prefer leaving a small bowl of calcium powder in the baby tortoise habitat. However, in any situation, do not force your tortoise to eat any supplement.

I have encountered owners who feed their tortoises multi-vitamin. Those supplements, once or twice every week, may help the baby stay fit. But if your diet chart contains enough vegetables and grasses, there is no need for multi-vitamins for your baby tortoise.

ExoticDirect provides advice on baby tortoise diets, recommending a variety of foods high in calcium such as collard greens, dandelion greens, and endive to support healthy growth and development in young tortoises.

My Baby Tortoise Is Not Eating Food: Why?

People often complain that their baby tortoise is refusing to eat. Well, there can be many reasons behind this behavior. The most common one is mental stress and anxiety.

When you bring the baby tortoise home, everything is new to it. The baby may need some time to adjust to its new home and lifestyle. Other reasons for the baby tortoises to refuse food are,

  • Low temperature
  • Dehydration
  • Sickness
  • Low-quality UV light
  • Food out of reach
  • Hibernation

Here are a few tips that may help you bring the lost appetite of your baby tortoise,

  1. Offer the baby a variety of food to find out its preferences. The pet might get bored by eating only one type of food every day.
  2. Make sure the enclosure temperature lies in the comfort zone of the baby tortoise. Generally, the preferred temperature for the tortoise is 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Keep a small water source in the enclosure so that the pets can drink water whenever they need it.
  4. The food bowl should not be out of reach of the baby tortoises.
  5. Install a quality UV light that provides both UVA and UVB exposures.
  6. You can try giving the baby tortoises a fruity treat to entice them to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Baby Tortoises Eat Carrots?

Baby tortoises can eat carrots, but it’s important to feed them in moderation. Carrots are high in carbohydrates and oxalates, which can cause issues with weight gain and calcium mineral absorption respectively. It’s best to offer a variety of vegetables rather than just one.

How Long Do Baby Tortoises Stay With Their Mother?

Baby tortoises do not stay with their mother for very long. While turtle mothers may stay with their babies for a few weeks after they hatch to help them find food and shelter, tortoise mothers typically do not provide any parental care.

The mother tortoise will lay her eggs and leave them to incubate on their own, and once the baby tortoises hatch, they are left to fend for themselves

What Do Baby Tortoises Eat In The Wild?

Generally, baby tortoises in the wild eat a variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits. They may also eat insects, worms, and snails. The diet can vary depending on the species and location.

Conclusion

Generally, baby tortoises eat green vegetables, grasses, and fruits. The babies can not digest meat or insects, and it can upset their stomach. To ensure healthy growth, you need to add vitamin and calcium supplements to the baby tortoise’s diet.

Further Reading Material

EVALUATION OF COMMERCIAL TORTOISE AND TURTLE FEEDS – This study evaluates the voluntary intake, gut passage time, and digestibility of various commercial tortoise and turtle feeds. This could help inform the adequate feeding of baby tortoises.

EVALUATION OF PLASMA 25-HYDROXYVITAMIN D, IONIZED CALCIUM, AND PARATHYROID HORMONE CONCENTRATIONS IN GREEN SEA TURTLES (CHELONIA MYDAS) EXPOSED TO UVB RADIATION – This research examines the effects of UVB radiation on calcium metabolism in green sea turtles, which could provide insights on its importance for baby tortoise development and health.

Calcium and Phosphorus ratio of foods (as well as protein & fiber info)) | Tortoise Forum – This forum post discusses the ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1 for captive tortoises, which is relevant for developing an optimal

Influence of the calcium content of the diet offered to leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis): A study on juvenile leopard tortoises investigated the effects of varying calcium levels in their diet. It found that tortoises receiving no calcium supplement showed a clear depletion of calcium in their bodies.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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