Despite common misconceptions, pumpkins aren’t vegetables but fruits. Botanically speaking, this is because they contain seeds from the plant’s flowers.
In addition to being a type of squash, pumpkins also belong to the gourd family. This is taxonomically known as Cucurbitaceae, a family which contains about 98 genera and 975 species of plants.
Pumpkin is a healthy food that domesticated tortoises enjoy eating. They’re vitamin, mineral, and nutrient-dense, high in soluble fiber for good digestive health, and an immune system booster.
Tortoises can eat pumpkin meat, leaves, flowers, and seeds. However, too much pumpkin can potentially lead to kidney issues, diarrhea, pyramiding, and malnutrition.
Can You Feed Tortoises Pumpkin?
It’s a good idea to add some pumpkin to a tortoise’s diet, as long as the species can digest fruits. Tortoise species that regularly eat fruits in the wild include:
- Red-footed tortoises
- Yellow-footed tortoises
Their diets can consist of up to 50% fruit., but they’re the exception to the rule.
Can Desert Tortoises Have Pumpkin?
Arid desert tortoise species should eat only small amounts of fruits, if at all. Vets recommend no more than 10% fruit in these species’ diets.
Their digestive systems aren’t equipped to break down food high in sugars and starches. Pumpkins have a high glycemic index of 75 and contain 3 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
When desert species eat sugars and starches, their gut flora can change, making it hard for them to digest other foods. Tortoises that are at risk include:
- Greek tortoises
- Russian tortoises
- Hermann tortoises
- Sulcata tortoises
Changes to a tortoise’s gut microbiome mean it’s at risk of dysbiosis, a condition where gut bacteria become unbalanced. Symptoms of dysbiosis include:
How Much Pumpkin Can Tortoises Have?
Pumpkin shouldn’t be a staple of a tortoise’s diet, nor should they be a primary ingredient in its meals, even for tortoise species that can properly digest fruits.
Pumpkins have a laxative effect, so too much can lead to diarrhea and speed up the metabolism, wherein the tortoise’s body processes its meals too quickly.
Tortoises only need to eat five days a week and take up to three weeks to fully digest a meal. Slow digestion is to the tortoise’s advantage, as they’ll glean every nutrient from its food during this time.
It can be detrimental if the pumpkin causes the tortoise to rush food through its digestive system. The tortoise will only absorb a fraction of the nutrients, so it’ll more easily become dehydrated.
So, limit consumption to a small portion of pumpkin meat or seeds once a week, if not more sparingly. If your tortoise is a desert species, limit this to once every few weeks.
Is Pumpkin Good For Tortoise?
When served in moderation, pumpkin has a range of health benefits for tortoises:
Pumpkins are nutrient-dense, meaning they contain many nutrients per calorie.
So, a tortoise can eat more without getting full, increasing the number of vitamins and minerals in its diet. Also, weight gain is less likely, as pumpkins contain less than 50 calories per cup.
Immune System Booster
Pumpkin is ideal for increasing a tortoise’s immune system. Whether it’s for maintaining its health or helping it recover from illness, you can give a tortoise pumpkin for:
Vitamin C is best known for improving the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells, which fight infection and disease.
Vitamin C also helps wounds heal faster, improve skin quality, and bolster energy levels.
Beta-carotene is what gives pumpkins their bright orange color.
When ingested, the body transforms it into vitamin A. This vitamin is known for keeping the eyes healthy and strengthening the immune system by producing cells that fight cancer and aging.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights against free radicals, which speed up aging and lead to age-related diseases.
Vitamin E also boosts the immune system by producing T cells, which fight off infections the body hasn’t yet encountered.
Folate deficiency has been shown to hinder the creation of DNA and RNA.
Low levels of folate have also been linked to weaker immune systems. Pumpkin has a large measure of folate, which is responsible for increasing T cells.
Iron is a mineral needed for creating hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Both proteins work to carry oxygen to different parts of the body, with the latter focusing on the muscles. Iron helps tortoises to remain more active and energetic.
Also, iron can boost the immune system by metabolizing T cells.
According to the British Journal of Nutrition, carotenoids are linked to better metabolic health.
Better metabolic health means more optimized blood sugar levels, which prevent diabetes. Fortunately, pumpkin is rich in carotenoids in the form of beta-carotene.
Diabetes isn’t as common in tortoises as in cats and dogs. However, among reptile pets, diabetes is a greater risk in tortoises and turtles.
Pumpkins are rich in dietary fiber, which helps with a tortoise’s ability to glean nutrients from its meals and pass waste. Dietary fiber can’t be digested or absorbed by the body, so it becomes bulk in stool.
When a stool has mass, it’s far easier to pass, reducing the risk of constipation. So, vets recommend that tortoises eat a high-fiber diet, with at least 30% fiber in their meals.
Pumpkins may help with preventing and controlling diabetes. According to Molecules, pumpkins can have hypoglycemic effects that can lower blood sugar levels.
What Part of Pumpkin Can Tortoise Eat?
Tortoises can eat all parts, including pumpkin meat, seeds, leaves, and flowers.
Slice the pumpkin meat into small portions so the tortoise doesn’t risk choking. Also, wash all parts of the fruit before offering it so that no dirt, debris, pesticides, or other contaminants affect your tortoise.
The health benefits of pumpkin meat have been discussed above, but why are the leaves, seeds, and flowers beneficial?
Although they should also be given in moderation, pumpkin leaves are safe for tortoises, even for species that can’t eat fruit. They contain the following:
When feeding leaves, pick young and tender varieties. Older leaves become tough and bitter, which may be off-putting to tortoises.
Pumpkin flowers come in a funnel shape with either bright orange or yellow colors. The coloration should entice tortoises, enabling them to benefit from:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Pumpkin flowers, like the leaves and meat, contain antioxidants, such as:
Pumpkin seeds are rich in protein, so offer them in small amounts. That’s especially true for arid tortoise species, like sulcatas, as they’re more prone to issues connected to excess protein.
Pumpkin seeds are entangled after being removed from the pumpkin. However, offering too many seeds to a tortoise can affect its kidney function and shell development.
Protein allows tortoises to grow, but too much causes a tortoise to grow too fast, and this will lead to a less dense shell because it won’t have enough calcium to keep up with the growth.
If allowed to continue, it can lead to pyramiding.
Protein is broken down into nitrogen waste before being flushed from the body.
The body can’t keep up with the flushing when there’s too much protein, leading to the development of painful kidney stones.
Can Tortoises Eat Raw Pumpkin?
Raw pumpkin meat is OK because the texture is soft enough for tortoises to chew in small portions.
You can also turn the pumpkin into a puree, which is ideal for tortoises experiencing digestive issues. To accomplish this, boil the pumpkin, then use a blender or a food processor to liquefy it.
Don’t add anything to the puree, like salt or oil.
Is Pumpkin A Natural Dewormer for Tortoises?
You might have heard of pumpkins as a natural dewormer, which can be traced to the pumpkin’s seeds, which are a good source of cucurbitacin.
Cucurbitacin has anti-parasitic properties, but there are no official studies to endorse this claim.
At the very least, pumpkin seeds would need to be chopped or ground up for the cucurbitacin to work because tortoises eat pumpkin seeds whole, so they’re passed whole as well.
Likewise, cucurbitacin is only somewhat effective for roundworms and tapeworms. If a tortoise has other intestinal parasites, pumpkin seeds will not remove them.
Even if pumpkin seeds were effective dewormers, they contain too much protein. Eating enough seeds to be an effective dewormer would place your tortoise at risk of protein overconsumption.