There are many different options for feeding your tortoise. There are commercial pelleted diets and there are more natural diets. I’m not completely against feeding the pelleted food. There are a lot of vitamins and minerals packed into those pellets. Many animals, even cats and dogs, do not receive proper nutrition. So, if pellets help you provide a balanced diet for your tortoise then go for it. However, along with the vitamins and minerals, there is a lot of other unnecessary stuff packed into those pellets as well. Some of them are too high in fat and protein to be fed regularly. Because of this, I do not recommend that commercial foods be a main staple of your tortoise’s diet. I feed my tortoises Mazuri tortoise diet about 2-3 times per month. I feed it for two reasons. First, simply because they love it. My tortoises like to eat (even things that aren’t food!), but they inhale the pellets. It’s like watching a kid enjoy a giant ice cream cone. And second, it provides an additional type of food enrichment for them. Commercial diets should not be the only source of food for your tortoise. Again, mine only get some a couple times a month even though I feed them 3-4 times per week.
The more natural approach (and more healthy approach in my opinion) is to feed a natural diet. Greens, grasses, hays, weeds, flowers, and herbs are types of foods that a tortoise would eat in the wild. Currently I am growing a variety of greens in my garden. I have a mesclun mix, arugula, red winter kale, endive, and romaine lettuce growing. Dark, leafy greens are more nutritious. However, greens such as spinach are high in iron and should be fed sparingly to avoid causing any health problems. Dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, and Swiss chard are all good options that are relatively easy to find in a grocery store. I also have hibiscus, marigolds, cilantro, dill, and parsley growing to add to the greens for enrichment. There are several edible flowers that are relatively easy to grow at home, even on a patio or in a window box. See my “Links” page for a list of safe plants and another list of toxic plants to stay away from.
The tortoises also have access to hay every day, but I rarely observe them eating it. I do still have to buy hay. I definitely don’t have the means to grow any such crop on my patio, though I wish I did. I most often feed them orchard hay, but will occasionally change it up with timothy, Bermuda, or brome hay. You can buy bags of mixed hay at your local pet store. If you happen to live near a feed store (supplies for larger animals like horses), check them out as you may be able to find more varieties of hay.
My little ones also get the occasional bits of vegetables as treats. I have green beans currently sprouting. Sulcatas and most other tortoises should not get treats like that too often though, especially anything too high in sugar. These sweeter treats can actually damage or destroy the good gut flora in their digestive tracts. Without this gut flora they will not be able to properly digest food which can lead to severe health problems. The diet should be high in fiber and low in sugar. So it’s best to avoid fruits and choose veggies carefully if you do want to give a special treat.
As far as supplements, this is a rather debatable topic among tortoise enthusiasts. Some feel that if the tortoise is fed a proper diet, supplements are completely unnecessary. Others believe that supplements should be added to food regularly. I, personally, am in the middle. The amount of supplements you add to your tortoise’s food will depend on the rest of the diet being fed. Juveniles and females carrying eggs will need a little more calcium than adult males or females not carrying eggs. How they get the vitamins is up to you. I add a light dusting of Superveggie supplement powder by Repashy to their greens about 2-3 times per month. Though I still give a supplement, it’s not too often. Mine don’t seem to mind the powder on their food either. I have heard from other tortoise keepers that their torts won’t eat if there is a powdered supplement on the food. You might have to experiment a bit if you find you have a picky eater.
The main reason why I started my garden was so that I can know exactly what is going on the food while it’s growing. One suggestion to keep in mind if you do buy greens from the grocery store is to try to buy organic. I know it may be a bit more expensive, but it will also be much better for your tortoises’ overall health. While the amount of pesticides and fertilizers in produce may not be toxic to a 150 lb human, the amount of those pesticides and fertilizers could be toxic to a 150 gram baby tortoise, especially if that produce is 50%-90% of its diet. And yes, I do realize that there are organic pesticides that can be used on organic crops. However, many of them are still safer than pesticides that are not organic. If you have the space to start your own garden, I strongly urge you to. You don’t even need a big yard. You can grow lettuce in pots on your patio or even grow some microgreens in small pots inside your house or apartment. It will be so much healthier for your tortoise and it’s fun!
Some of the most important things to remember when it comes to nutrition for your tortoise are to provide variety, focus on the healthy stuff, stay away from sweets like fruit, try to buy organic, and make sure you are providing a good balance of vitamins and minerals in their diets. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, you should always contact a veterinarian, preferably one that specializes in exotic pets. Happy, healthy eating to you and your tortoise!