Home » Can My Tortoise Eat Meat?
can tortoises eat meat?

Can My Tortoise Eat Meat?

(Last Updated On: January 26, 2023)

Most tortoises are herbivores, subsisting on a diet of vegetables, flowers, weeds, fruits, and other plants. There are no carnivorous species of tortoise, but some exist as omnivores, which means they eat some animal proteins alongside their normal diet of greens.

Meat contains a lot of protein, which is good for building and repairing muscles and bones. However, not all meat is safe for tortoises, and offering the wrong meat in the wrong quantities can disrupt a tortoise’s digestion and lead to illness.

However, giving your omnivorous tortoise no meat can be equally harmful. A complete diet requires a balance of vitamins, fats, minerals, and proteins. Without these crucial nutrients, a tortoise’s immune system will suffer and may experience diseases or malnutrition.

A healthy diet protects a tortoise’s carapace, bones, muscles, beak, and organs.

Can Tortoises Eat Meat?

Omnivorous tortoises are the only kinds that can safely eat meat. However, even these kinds should only be given meat on occasion.

While animal proteins are crucial for fulfilling their nutritional requirements, because of how tortoises acquire their food, meat shouldn’t be a primary aspect of their diets.

Wild tortoises haven’t evolved to hunt other animals for nourishment. They’re slow-paced, lack strong talons or sharp fangs, and are more defensive than offensive in dangerous situations. Tortoises don’t even have teeth to chew tough foods, instead relying on salivary glands to break down their meals.

Tortoises primarily forage plants and vegetables because they’re easy to access and don’t require hunting. When tortoises eat meat, it’s only when they happen to find it.

For this reason, tortoises aren’t used to digesting meat regularly, as they didn’t evolve to process the immense amount of protein that meat or other animal products offer.

If given too much meat, tortoises will struggle to digest it properly. That can result in health issues, such as an inability to absorb nutrients or a deformed carapace.

Do Carnivorous Tortoises Exist?

All tortoise species alive today are either herbivorous or omnivorous (to an extent).

For a tortoise to be carnivorous, it must change nearly everything about its physiology, including developing claws or sharp teeth and ceasing many daily activities.

For example, if tortoises needed to dedicate a portion of their day toward hunting, they would need to spend less time soaking in water or basking in the sun. Both activities are important for the tortoise’s health, so reducing the time spent here would mean changing their biological needs.

Tortoises evolved this way because of their environment and size. Some species utilize a lot of time growing large enough to become a threat to other predators. Because most tortoise species are too small to be anything but prey, they had to make do with becoming foragers.

For tortoises to hunt, they would also have to increase their energy expenditure outside the amount needed for foraging.

Likewise, an intense metabolic activity like hunting would increase the number of free radicals a tortoise’s body releases throughout its lifetime.

That would deteriorate its cells faster and reduce the tortoise’s exceptionally long lifespan.

What Kind of Meat Do Tortoises Eat in The Wild?

Wild omnivorous tortoises only eat meat when they can find it, which is rare. So, they’d have to find a carcass with fresh meat to eat safely.

This is unlikely since animals that are killed are usually picked dry by predators. Those who die alone may not have edible meat due to contamination or decay.

Most omnivorous tortoises eat meat from snails, tadpoles, or insects. These prey are easy to find and exist at ground level, where tortoises can see them.

Additionally, they’re usually slow, so tortoises don’t need to chase them to eat. Snails, tadpoles, or insects are more defenseless than other prey, ensuring that tortoises don’t have to fight to eat them.

List of Tortoises That Eat Meat

There are only a few tortoise species that can digest meat. These kinds live in tropical and sub-tropical climates, where it’s much easier to find dead animals or insects they can feed on.

They belong to the genera chelonoidis, indotestudo, manouria, and kinixys. These tortoise species and sub-species can eat meat because their upper and lower intestines are the same length. These include:

  • Hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana) from mainland Africa.
  • Elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongata) from Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
  • Red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius) from northern South America.
  • Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulatus) from the Amazon Basin.
  • Asian forest tortoise (Manouria emys) from Southeast Asia.
  • Impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa) from Southeast Asia.

Because they encounter meat more regularly than other tortoise species, these omnivorous species have stronger bite forces than herbivorous types. Their beaks are better adapted to ripping the meat off a carcass, which requires a notable amount of strength.

what kind of meat do tortoises eat?

List of Tortoises That Don’t Eat Meat

More tortoise species are herbivorous. Usually belonging to the genera gopherus and testudo, these species have an upper intestine longer than their lower one. This helps them digest the fiber from all the plants they eat.

Herbivorous tortoises usually originate from desert areas, where water and non-predator animals are hard to come by. Those kept as pets include:

  • Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus) from north-central Mexico.
  • Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii) from Central Asia.
  • Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) from the southeastern United States.
  • Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) from northeastern Mexico and South Texas.
  • Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) from the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
  • Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni), from Southern Europe.
  • Marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) from Southern Europe.
  • Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) from North Africa.
  • Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) from North Africa, Southern Europe, and Southwest Asia.

Herbivorous tortoises have a much weaker bite than omnivorous ones. They eat exclusively plants, fruits, and vegetables, which can be easily cut with their sharp beaks.

According to Functional Ecology, herbivore tortoises are prone to suffering from calcium and sodium imbalances. Meat usually has more sodium, but vegetables have more calcium.

Consuming too much protein is dangerous for herbivorous tortoises, so they prefer to eat a wealth of leafy greens. This helps them acquire sodium instead of eating meat and enduring the consequences.

What Kind of Meat Can Tortoises Eat?

You can feed a tortoise any meat as long as it’s an omnivorous species. If it isn’t, never feed it meat, as it’ll cause adverse side effects.

The best animal product you can feed your omnivorous tortoise is worms, which are well-balanced in nutrients and easier for tortoises to digest. Waxworms and mealworms can be easily acquired in pet stores and don’t need to be prepared.

Beef contains a lot of fat and calories, so it’s a great energy source for an omnivorous tortoise. If the tortoise is already gaining weight, you should avoid beef.

Chicken is leaner, but it contains lots of protein. Tortoises don’t need much, so if you offer chicken, it should be in small amounts.

Whatever kind of meat you feed an omnivorous tortoise should be boiled and unseasoned (unless it’s worms). You should only give your tortoise meat once it’s an adult so it has time to develop a healthy digestive system.

According to Zoo Animal Nutrition, protein should only make up 5% of a tortoise’s diet.

Meat should never be given regularly, only as a supplement to its diet. At most, a small amount of meat should be provided once every 3-4 weeks.

What Happens If a Tortoise Eats Meat?

Herbivorous tortoises can gain their protein from plant-based foods. If your tortoise consumes meat and exceeds its recommended protein intake, it’ll develop health problems.

Protein overdose can lead to kidney failure and weight gain. Too much protein releases excess amino acids into the body, which may cause diarrhea, inflammation, and reduced appetite.

If your herbivorous tortoise accidentally ate meat, observe its behavior and take it to the vet if you notice anything strange. This may include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Oddly-colored urine or feces
  • Inactivity
  • Aggression

If you’ve been feeding your tortoise too much meat, re-consider its diet. Even if you haven’t identified any issues and your tortoise likes eating meat, the side effects may not have occurred yet.

Health problems like obesity and kidney failure aren’t usually noticeable until it’s too late.