Turtle health is important to us because a well fed turtle is not prone to disease or suffering. Unfortunately, many turtles do not get the nutrition they need, especially when we do not provide it for them as much as we should. They live on our fresh oceans and lakes, but what nourishment do they get? Most turtles eat a diet of earthworms, algae and slugs, which are high in calories and low in quality protein. In order for a turtle to be healthy you must provide it with a good quality turtle health food and make sure that you pick a captive turtle breeder who you can trust.
Pellets are turtle health food of the past. If all turtles got to pick between peanut butter and pellets, they would always go for pellets. Even when turtles get to pick between a lettuce and tomato salad and chocolate cake, guess who would win? Of course, all have more will muscle than a turtle, so naturally I would choose the turtle to eat the chocolate cake (usually). Not only does this help maintain proper brain function, the amount of calories contained in chocolate cake is very similar to the calorie content of a small octopus.
While we are discussing vegetables, let me tell you about another great source of nutritious foods for your reptilian pet. Vegetables like potato, sweet potato casserole, croutons, peas, radishes, and watermelons are rich in alkaline minerals, vitamins and protein. Recent studies have shown that reptiles treated with vitamins rich vegetables are less susceptible to disease and live longer. Not only that, but they look good too. In fact, a recent article posted at the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery highlighted the effects of vitamin C and showed how well octopus and turtle-fed rats were able to tolerate acidophilus.
To address calcium needs, both turtles and tortoises must regularly consume calcium fortified pellets. This should be an occasional treat, rather than a staple diet, but be sure to substitute a high quality pellet for a soft chew toy, especially a mouse (which is more expensive and probably not recommended by your vet or dietitian). Be careful to only give your pet mice one ounce of mice per day or they may overeat. Mice are not ideal for turtles since they can choke on their own weight in one day. However, a good hardy tortoise pet can tolerate mice for up to three months before he or she has to be switched to soft toys.
Last but not least, a good food for turtles should also contain protein, which can be obtained from chicken or beef. It’s important not to overdo the protein because you don’t want your turtle to suffer from kidney stones. Chicken and beef proteins are generally low in fat and will not cause kidney stones as easily as turtle meat. If you are uncertain what to give your turtle, consider reading the labels of commercially prepared foods and purchasing a variety of products. Some pellets can be purchased in bulk, which can save you money and ensure you are getting exactly what you need. You can purchase turkey, beef, duck, and vegetarian foods as well.
So eat turtle proof food, and have a happy tortoise! There are many other ways to keep your turtle healthy and happy. For more information on these, see my article “Turtles Health & Nutrition: Turtle Proof Diet & Feeding.”