Tortoises have their own dietary requirements that typically mean a low protein and high fiber diet full of vegetation like vegetables, weeds, leaves, plants and flowers. With cats and dogs being so popular many people might have a lot of spare food lying around for them and wonder if it’s safe to feed their tortoises. Let’s find out.
Can tortoises eat dog or cat food? No tortoises can’t eat dog or cat food as we mentioned in the introduction tortoises have their own dietary requirements, of which cat and dog food don’t meet. These foods are notoriously high in protein to cater to cats and dogs who need high protein. This can cause problems for tortoises like pyramiding.
In this article we will explore in more detail what makes cat and dog food unsuitable along with other foods your tortoise actually can eat.
Is Dog Food Safe For Tortoises?
Dogs have dietary needs that suit their own bodies. For example dogs are a lot bigger than tortoises with more well developed muscles so in turn they need a diet higher in protein as protein is what builds and supports the muscles.
Therefore dog food is very high in protein which makes it not safe for tortoises to eat.
Too much protein for tortoises will cause problems within the kidneys along with rapid growth.
Is Cat Food Safe For Tortoises?
Cats are strictly carnivores meaning that their food is made with ingredients to suit these needs, meaning high protein and high fat.
Tortoises on the other hand are herbivores so their diet is mainly made up of vegetation like flowers, weeds, plants and grasses.
The problem with this is you have two completely different animals with almost opposite nutritional needs so if you feed your tortoise cat food it’s literally the opposite of what they need.
This means cat food is not safe for tortoises to eat as the high protein in cat food can result in your tortoise pyramiding, which is a form of metabolic bone disease that causes tortoises scutes to increase in size.
The Downsides To Feeding Your Tortoise These Foods
In the previous section we briefly touched on why cat and dog food is unsuitable for tortoises to eat, let’s go into more detail some of the problems that can arise from having these foods in your tortoises diet.
Pyramiding is a form of metabolic bone disease that causes scutes (the outer part of the tortoise’s carapace) to abnormally grow in an upwards path. It ends up with your tortoise having a pyramid like shape, hence the name pyramiding.
There are a number of reasons why a tortoise might pyramid but one of the most common ones is too much protein in their diet. Protein itself isn’t harmful for tortoises as it’s needed for many functions within the body, however they only require a low amount so any more will start to cause issues such as pyramiding.
Protein is the nutrient responsible for growth and repair of body tissues therefore if your tortoise gets too much of it their body will grow more than it needs to. Which is why pyramiding forces the scutes to grow excessively.
The other causes of pyramiding in tortoises include :
- The wrong substrate
- Neglect during a tortoises youth
- Not enough calcium in their diet
- Too much phosphorous in their diet
- Not enough vitamin d3 in their diet
- Lack of exercise
- Incorrect humidity in their enclosure
To lower the chances your tortoises shell begins to pyramid you can do things like : increase their exercise, ensure the humidity in their enclosure is correct, provide them with a calcium supplement and limit foods high in protein and oxalic acid.
As tortoises are herbivores and the foods they eat are plants and vegetables the fat content is basically 0% meaning they don’t have a dietary requirement to have fat in their diet.
Whereas dog and cat food contain a significantly higher fat content :
Dog food fat content = 9-14%
Cat food fat content = 20-24%
They need fat in their diet to fuel their muscles and and convert it into energy for them. Cats and dogs are a lot more active than our tortoises therefore they require more fats within their diet.
Fat is a problem in tortoises diet because they are unable to break it down as they have evolved not to need it in their bodies. This means the physically don’t possess the enzymes needed in the digestive to break it down.
As they are unable to break it down, fatty deposits build up in the body putting pressure on their organs and can cause problems like blood clots and cardiovascular issues.
What Foods Should Your Tortoise Eat
Now you know dog and cat food is unavailable to have in your tortoises diet let’s look at some foods that they actually can have!
As we know tortoises are herbivores so all the foods they can eat will be plants, vegetables, flowers, leaves, grasses and hay.
Russian Tortoises – A Russian tort needs a diet high in fiber full of vegetation they would come across in the wild such as : kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelions and mustard greens.
Hermanns Tortoises – A hermanns tort diet should be mainly made up of plant-based foods like : dandelions, spring mix, watercress, honeysuckle, clover and broccoli. They can also have some fruit now and again.
Sulcata Tortoises – Sulcata’s differ as around 90% of their diet should be made up of grasses and hay on which they can graze on. Cheat grass, clover, grass cuttings and some flowers are the perfect diet for a Sulcata.
Red-Footed Tortoises – Red-footed torts are native to South and Central America meaning they can have more fruit in their diet as they would come across it in the wild. Mainly they should be eating vegetables like : zucchini, pumpkin, parsnips, cooked sweet potatoes, and squash.
Greek Tortoises – Otherwise known as spur-thighed tortoises these reptiles require a diet high in protein and low in fiber filled with foods such as : endive, collard greens, fresh parsley, dandelions and leafy greens.
Dog and Cat Food For Tortoises – Summary
To finish up, cat and dog food doesn’t make for a suitable addition to your tortoises diet. They are made to meet their dietary requirements and as cats and dogs are carnivores protein needs to be a part of their diet. Tortoises can’t have cat or dog food as too much protein in their diet causes issues with rapid growth and can lead to pyramiding.
A bit of cat or dog foot isn’t going to immediately harm your tort but if it’s fed over a long period of time it will start to cause issues so it should be avoided.