Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a common but highly nutritious weed.
Tortoises can eat dandelion stems, leaves, and flowers, but consumption should be limited to 2-3 times per week due to their high oxalate content. Oxalic acid is a calcium inhibitor, which prevents the absorption of the calcium needed to make vitamin D.
Most tortoises love dandelions due to their bright yellow color and easy-to-chew texture. Fresh dandelions are the healthiest option, but freezing dandelions is another way to keep a supply on hand.
Dried dandelions are safe to eat, but the drying process removes some of their nutrients.
Can Tortoises Have Dandelions?
Tortoises can eat dandelions in moderation as they contain no harmful compounds. Dandelion is a common supplement for pet tortoises available from reputable pet stores.
The antioxidant properties are mostly present in dandelion flowers. However, many commercially available dandelions for tortoises only include the leaves.
Dandelion stems are often removed from commercial tortoise food. Nonetheless, the stems are perfectly safe for your tortoise to eat, containing similar nutrients to the leaves.
Are Dandelions Good For Tortoises?
Here are the health benefits of giving dandelions to tortoises:
Vitamins And Minerals
Dandelions may be weeds, but they’re highly nutritious, containing high amounts of vitamins A, K, and C. Also, they’re rich in vitamin E, folate, and other B vitamins.
The minerals found in dandelions include the following:
Dandelion roots are particularly high in soluble fiber. This type of fiber improves your tortoise’s digestion, enabling them to absorb more nutrients from other foods.
The main benefit of dandelions is their antioxidants.
These compounds fight against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to diseases that are chronic and age-related.
Since tortoises are known for their long lifespans, antioxidants are vital. Dandelions contain most of their antioxidants in the flowers, but some can be found in smaller amounts elsewhere in the plant.
Antioxidants found in dandelions include the following:
Beta-carotene is the main antioxidant, giving the dandelion flower its yellow hue.
Beta-carotene is responsible for creating vitamin A, which can benefit the following:
- Skin health
- Immune system
- Eye health
- Healthy mucus production
Polyphenols are beneficial to the blood and reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or illness, but too much inflammation can lead to permanent damage.
Boosts Immune System
Dandelions have anti-microbial and antiviral properties, which are used to fight infection.
Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine also notes that dandelion extract may be used in antibacterial medicine.
Are Dandelions Bad for Tortoises?
Dandelions aren’t toxic to tortoises, but many owners view them with suspicion because of their high number of oxalates. Oxalates (oxalic acid) reduce the nutrients that the body can absorb, and they do this by binding to a mineral, forming oxalate.
Oxalates can take many forms, depending on the mineral they bind to. For example, calcium and oxalic acid form calcium oxalate, while iron and oxalic acid form iron oxalate.
The body will pass these oxalates as waste, including any minerals. Because of this, the body cannot use those nutrients for their intended purpose.
The problem comes when the body doesn’t remove oxalates. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 80% of kidney stones are calcium oxalates.
Many reptile nutrition experts believe that the fear of oxalates is unwarranted. Oxalate may contribute to the formation of kidney stones, but scientists believe that the main reason is dehydration.
According to the Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, researchers determined that increasing water intake reduces the chances of kidney stones recurring.
Why Do Tortoises Like Dandelions?
Most tortoises like eating dandelions because they’re small, easy to chew, and brightly colored.
According to the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, tortoises can see in color. Tortoises prefer red and yellow, which are often associated with bright fruits, veggies, and fungi. For this reason, dandelions will capture a tortoise’s attention more than its normal favorites, such as leafy greens.
Dandelions are good for species like the sulcata tortoises, which live among grasses and weeds. Other species, like the Aldabra, are omnivores that look for bright colors to round out their diet.
How Many Dandelions Can Tortoises Eat?
Dandelions are healthy for tortoises, but only in moderation.
Ration out this treat no more than 2-3 times a week, alongside its normal, balanced diet. If you overfeed dandelions to your tortoise, it may encounter problems due to the oxalate content of the plant.
Can You Freeze Dandelions For Tortoises?
Freezing is a good way to keep dandelions fresh without reducing their nutritional value. Freezing is the best choice aside from offering fresh dandelions from the garden/yard.
To freeze dandelions for future use, you should do the following:
- Wash the greens
- Place them in boiling water for two minutes
- Transfer them to ice-cold water
- Remove the greens and drain
- Pat excess moisture with a paper towel
- Transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag
- Freeze immediately
Dried Dandelions For Tortoises
Colder months mean no dandelions, but you can dry them out for your tortoise. Dried dandelions are as safe, but they’ll lose nutrients.
Drying dandelions is the safest approach, as you can ensure no additives are used to preserve them. You can use a dehydrator or oven set to 250 Fahrenheit for 2-3 hours.
There are also commercially available dried dandelions, most of which are harvested for humans, such as in tea and other herbal supplements. However, it’s best to offer dried dandelions sold at pet stores.
Dandelions are safe for tortoises to eat in moderation. As long as they’re only given 2-3 times a week, tortoises will benefit from the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants without too many oxalates.