You should not give milk to a tortoise. Indeed, whilst milk is full of nutrients, the tortoise’s digestive system is not made to process these nutrients. Milk may not be harmful in very small quantities, but it won’t be beneficial either. It’s better to refrain from it altogether.
If you have a tortoise, you must provide it the right diet. Besides this, it is known that tortoises must stay hydrated. They should be able to drink water whenever necessary, so having access to fresh water at all times is a must.
Tortoises will lower their head while stretching out their necks in order to drink water. And while in the wild they will be able to find water sources and hydrate themselves, as an owner you are responsible for their well-being in captivity. So, you must ensure a water source is always nearby.
But if you are new to tortoise care, you may be wondering whether other liquids are suitable for tortoises. How about milk? Can tortoises drink milk? Let’s find out!
Is Milk Safe for Tortoises?
Like all reptiles, tortoises cannot lactate – therefore, they don’t breastfeed their hatchlings as mammalians do. Rather the required nutrients for early development come from the contents of the hatchling’s egg sack.
Not only that but they’re inherently solitary animals, so have no instinct to care for their young once they have laid their eggs.
In other words even if the mother tortoise would have been able to produce milk, there would have been no way for the small ones to get the milk, as the mother usually just moves on with her life before the eggs hatch.
Therefore, tortoises do not grow up drinking milk and it is not something necessary to their development.
They are not made to drink it at all, and in particular their digestive systems are unable to break down lactose due to not having the correct enzyme (lactase) to do so. As a result, nutrients in milk will not help them at all.
Your tortoise may well drink milk if it’s placed in front of it, simply because it is a fluid. Since tortoises need fluids, they may think it is a good way to hydrate themselves.
However, they will not get any benefit from it. Small amounts of milk may not be harmful to their health, but if they end up drinking larger amounts, it may even affect them negatively.
Since the digestive systems of tortoises are pretty sensitive and only generally tolerant to plant based foods, the last thing you want is to harm your pet by giving it something that could be risky to its health.
For this reason, it is best to never give milk to your tortoise.
If They Don’t Drink Milk, Where Do Tortoises Get Their Dose of Calcium?
Calcium is one of the most important minerals for a tortoise, given its important role in the development of a healthy shell and bones.
Tortoises will naturally find a lot of great food sources in the wild, such as dandelions, which will offer them their dose of calcium.
Overall, plant sources are where tortoises get their calcium, but they may also get it from vegetables. If the tortoise is in captivity, the owner has to provide the pet with the right foods that contain calcium. Milk is not one of them.
In captivity, tortoises will eat plants if provided by the owner, and they may also eat cuttlebone, or a calcium carbonate supplement, both of which are known to be a rich calcium source.
Can Tortoises Drink Anything Else Other than Water?
Tortoises could drink other liquids besides water, but they shouldn’t. For example, you might think of treating your pet and offer it some juice. But you should never give juice to tortoises, especially the type of juice you buy from a store.
Regular juice often contains a lot of additives, such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial color, and many others. The sugar content is too high, and it can end up harming your tortoise. So, you should never think of offering something like this to your pet.
As for juice you are making yourself from the actual fruit, it is still not a good idea. Tortoises should only be given fruit once in a while so that it doesn’t consume more sugar than necessary. It’s way better to offer the whole fruit rather than the juice, and even then only sparingly.
What Should Tortoises Drink?
Tortoises should only drink water, as it is a must for their well-being. A fresh bowl of water should be available at all times, and you should make sure to change the water twice a day or at least once a day. This will keep it fresh.
It’s true that tortoises do not drink a lot of water, but they should still have it available because they take sips occasionally.
Chances are you will only very rarely witness your tortoise drinking.
Why Hydration Is So Important for Tortoises
In the wild, tortoises are used to surviving with the amount of water they find, and they can go for a while without drinking a lot of water. They can survive in some very harsh conditions. Besides, they also tend to hang out in burrows to keep themselves safe.
Water is necessary in order to survive, though. Most of the time, the water content in the food they eat will help them stay hydrated. As a result, people may think that the reptiles do not need water, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Access to water is necessary. They will drink water and retain it, allowing them to stay in good condition and survive.
Soaks are also something that will help the tortoise stay hydrated. Ideally, it should be done in water that is at room temperature, and you should only soak the tortoise no deeper than its chin height. The head should always be above the water. Remember to soak the tortoise twice a week and for about 10 minutes each time. Changing the water is necessary if they poop in it.
The Bottom Line
Even though milk in small amounts is not harmful, you should not give your tortoise milk because it doesn’t help at all. The nutrients will not be absorbed by the tortoise’s body since the digestive system doesn’t have the proper enzymes to break them down. The best way to keep your tortoise hydrated is to make sure it has access to fresh water 24/7.