You can give your tortoise both fresh weeds/plants and pellets. They can, and should be offered in combination, unless you have access to a wide variety of fresh plants that contain all the necessary nutrients tortoises need.
It’s well-known that tortoises need to get a range of different nutrients from their food in order to stay healthy. For these nutrients to reach them, they should be given a balanced diet. You might be used to giving your pet various fresh weeds and plants, but there is another option that you often see in pet shops – tortoise pellets.
Unless you have a lot of experience raising tortoises, the idea of pellets might be very strange to you, and you may worry that such products are not a healthy choice.
Pros and Cons of Tortoise Pellets
Tortoise pellets are easy to find in shops, so you won’t have issues getting hold of them at least. But how good are they for your tortoise?
If you intend to include pellets as part of your tortoise’s diet, here are the advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind.
- Tortoise Pellets Advantages
Since pellets are sold for tortoises, they cannot be that harmful, right? Well that’s certainly true from a nutritional point of view, so if you make sure to mix them with other fresh foods, they are a fine addition to a tortoises diet.
Again, pellets are great because they are readily available. You can easily find them in pet shops or online, so you will be able to buy them at all times of the year. If you’re ever struggling to produce enough fresh produce in your yard or garden, they are a great ‘safety net’ to make sure you always have something to feed your tortoise.
Likewise, they’re also a major timesaver in that you don’t have to spend ages finding the right weeds or plants to be able to offer certain nutrients.
Pellets are formulated in such a way that they contain all the nutrients necessary for tortoises. They are nutrient-rich and are great to include with the rest of the foods your tortoise already eats.
- Tortoise Pellets Disadvantages
While good in some ways, pellets are unnatural when it comes to texture. Chewing them doesn’t necessarily work the jaw muscles like natural produce does, so they cannot fully replace fresh weeds and plants in this respect. Consequently, they should only be given in combination with natural produce, and should not serve as the staple food your tortoise eats.
Similarly, when it comes to pellets, you cannot challenge the tortoise with them because they cannot be offered in different ways. For example, leaves can be offered either hanging down from an object in the tortoise enclosure, or simply placed in a food dish. You can also mix things up by offering either whole or chopped leaves.
In other words, with leaves and plants you can keep things interesting and challenging for your tortoise. Pellets do not offer this level of variety, unfortunately.
Pellets also tend to become quite pricey, and if you buy a lot of them (as you would if they were to form the bulk of your tortoise’s diet), you will soon find they become a considerable outgoing that you might not have otherwise accounted for.
While it is possible make a saving with cheaper pellets, you will pay more money when you purchase quality products, especially if you want to get enough to last for a reasonable amount of time. Some products can be as much as $40-$50 for a month’s supply.
Pros and Cons of Fresh Produce
Fresh produce is always encouraged, as it is rich in nutrients and is undeniably the more natural choice. But fresh produce also comes with some pros and cons that you should be aware of.
- Fresh Produce Advantages
The most obvious advantage is that fresh produce is fully natural, so as long as it’s not contaminated by pesticides or other chemicals, it will not contain anything harmful.
Every type of fresh produce contains certain nutrients, and if you make sure to offer a wide range of foods, you can provide your tortoise with every vitamin and mineral it needs to stay healthy.
Also, compared to pellets, natural produce is cheaper, or even effectively free if you are able to grow plants in your yard or garden. Tortoise staples such as dandelion grow readily in the wild, while others can be easily cultivated by planting seeds.
- Fresh Produce Disadvantages
While you can obtain all the nutrients for the tortoise through natural produce, you can only do so if you give it a wide range of plants. If you only offer the pet one or two types of plants/weeds, its meals won’t be nutritious enough.
You also need to be careful that you don’t feed your tortoise anything toxic, which isn’t always easy unfortunately, as some edible plants are difficult to distinguish from unrelated toxic plants.
Suggested Range of Plants for Tortoises
Aiming to provide a range of plants is of course key, so consider a ‘pick and mix’ of the following as a starting point.
Plants in the Onagraceae, Malvaceae, Herissantia, Anoda, and Hibiscus families are all great choices, as are all native grasses. Some examples of grasses include vine mesquite and bamboo.
Prairie acacia is great for both shelter and food. Some options include Senna, Astragalus, Daleas, Lotus, Lupine, and fairy dusters. Desert chicory, dogweeds, Trixus californica, and pincushions also all work well.
Cactuses with fruits are also a great choice because of their water content.
You should also consider plants that spread quickly, such as passion flowers, snapdragon vine, and the native Dichondra species. Given their propensity to grow easily, you stand a good chance of having them available when you need them.
When you’ve decided you want to include pellets in your tortoise’s diet, you need to find the right brand for them. This might take a bit of trial and error to determine what your tortoise prefers, but Mazuri pellets are the most popular among tortoise owners. They are delicious for tortoises, and they also contain nutrients to aid the health of the reptile’s skin, eyes, and GI tract.
Mazuri pellets have no artificial flavors or added colors. They also only include enough protein to meet a tortoise’s requirements, which is particularly important because excess protein is known to contribute to a range of health problems.
A proper diet keeps health problems at bay, and aids the proper development of a growing tortoise. It will ensure the skin and shell develop properly without any complications such as pyramiding. Ideally, when you decide to give your tortoise pellets, they should only be offered in combination with natural produce. This is widely considered the right way to provide all the necessary nutrients.