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Why do tortoises need starve days?

Should Tortoises Be Fed Every Day?

Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Samantha Harris

No, tortoises shouldn’t be fed each day. It’s natural to assume that a small meal should be given to a tortoise every 24 hours, if not more often. After all, tortoises have metabolisms.

Tortoises have an extremely slow metabolism that’s evolutionarily designed to go without food.

Most tortoise species endure droughts and food shortages exceptionally well because their digestive system gleans every nutrient possible from their food.

If tortoises eat daily, this conflicts with their body’s natural rhythm. This means that tortoises struggle to digest food, leading to a build-up that makes them sick or uncomfortable.

How Often Should I Feed My Tortoise?

Adult tortoises should have ‘starve’ or ‘fast’ periods for 2 days a week.

It doesn’t matter if the 2 days are consecutive or if you space them out, as long as you’re consistent about the routine. Inconsistent feeding days will unsettle a tortoise’s digestive cycle.

Do Baby Tortoises Eat Every Day?

Baby tortoises should be fed daily until they reach adulthood.

Baby tortoises must eat more to have a regular growth pattern. According to Herpetologica, tortoises that spend their first 2 years eating grow more than those that brumate.

Tortoise species become adults at different points in their lives. Even among the same clutch, the timeline may differ since tortoises become adults when they reach their full size and weight.

Because tortoises are all different, some grow faster than others.

Consult the table below to find out what size a tortoise should reach to be classed as an adult:

Tortoise SpeciesReaches Adult SizeAdult Size (Shell Length)Adult Weight
Russian Tortoise10 years old7-10 inches3-4 lb
Egyptian Tortoise5 years old4-8 inches1-2 lb
Hermann’s Tortoise3-7 years old6-8 inches7-9 lb
Greek Tortoise2-5 years old4-6 inches2-4 lb
Sulcata Tortoise5 years old12-18 inches85-110 lb
Marginated Tortoise4-6 years old8-12 inches9-11 lb
Leopard Tortoises12-15 years old14-12 inches25-45 lb
Indian Star Tortoise6-12 years old7-10 inches1-4 lb

Even if you don’t know how old your tortoise is, you can tell if it’s an adult by size and weight. If a tortoise is as large as an adult tortoise, include 2 starve days as part of its weekly routine.

Why Do Tortoises Need Starve Days?

Tortoises require starve days because they have a slow digestive system. Food can take 17 days to travel through a tortoise’s digestive tract, so they poop every 2-3 days.

Starve days assist tortoises by giving their digestive system a break. The food inside them needs time to process and go through the tortoise’s intestines.

If the tortoise eats non-stop, the food will get backed up in the digestive tract, causing constipation.

Constipated tortoises will be disinterested in meals until they can pass their stool. They’ll feel lethargic because their body uses energy to digest significant food.

Do Tortoises Know When to Stop Eating?

Some Chelonian experts believe that only certain species know when to stop eating.

For example, depending on their location and whether food is scarce, certain species may be opportunistic eaters that eat whenever they can.

In these circumstances, the tortoises won’t have developed the ability to know when to stop eating because they never have enough food to make it relevant.

The other side of the argument is that tortoises can’t be considered opportunistic eaters due to their slow metabolism, which converts food into energy.

It’s argued that it’s evolutionarily beneficial for a tortoise to know when to stop eating. Eating a lot and getting big may be right for predatory and social animals, but not tortoises.

Tortoises are prey animals that get hunted by different creatures. Getting fat encourages predators to pursue them for food, especially smaller tortoises.

Tortoises are solitary animals that don’t live in groups. The males don’t need to impress the females with their size or grow large to climb to the top of any tortoise hierarchy.

It’s posited that gorging on food to get big isn’t as necessary for tortoises as other animals.

how often should i feed my tortoise?

Do Tortoises Feel Full?

Many theories suggest that wild tortoises know when to stop eating, but domestic tortoises don’t.

Tortoises may get used to eating an abundance of food in captivity, which causes them to forgo their instinct to moderate their appetite.

Even among animals that know when to stop eating, their domesticated counterparts tend to overeat. That’s why overweight cats and dogs are common while wild animals are the right weight.

Animals adapt to the environment they live in. If food is abundant, the animal will eat more than it needs. We even see this trend in humans, who eat more than they need due to how easy food acquisition has become.

Domestic tortoises are no different, so they’ll eat several times daily because food is available.

How Much Does A Tortoise Eat A Day?

Tortoises eat as much food as you give them in a day. If you continuously give your tortoise food, it’ll likely not stop until it feels too ill to eat more.

Is feeding tortoises small portions multiple times a day or providing one meal per day better? Unfortunately, limited research makes it difficult to determine the eating habits that best suit a domestic tortoise.

Choose a feeding schedule that best suits your daily routine. As long as the tortoise has a healthy diet, how you split the portions doesn’t seem to matter empirically.

If you feed your tortoise small portions multiple times a day, ensure you have time to sit and watch it eat during one of those feeding sessions. Your tortoise’s relationship with food will differ depending on its mood and health.

A sick tortoise won’t eat, and a picky tortoise may not eat specific foods. Watching your tortoise eat can help you understand how to tweak its diet schedule to suit its needs.

How Many Days Can Tortoises Live Without Food?

Tortoises can endure months or even years without food if they have drinking water. Depending on their health before starvation, some may even survive longer.

A healthy adult tortoise can sustain itself longer without food than juvenile or sick tortoises. The environment also determines how long it can take for starvation.

Certain tortoise species are better suited to withstanding starvation and dehydration than others.

According to the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, a desert tortoise spent 11 months trapped underground without food or water. Though the tortoise was in poor shape, it was alive.

Given how little food and water desert tortoises find in their natural habitat, it’s no surprise they can go almost a year without the resources and still survive.

Tortoises can survive without food for so long due to brumation. They’re reptiles, so they can’t regulate their body temperature, brumating to deal with the cold.

During this time, every physiological process in their body slows down to conserve energy and keep their organs from shutting down. Because of their slowed metabolism, they won’t burn through their energy reserves as quickly as other animals.

do tortoises know when to stop eating?

How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Overeating?

If your tortoise overeats, it’ll develop health problems that can then escalate into more complex health issues that may be fatal.

Here are signs to watch for if you’re concerned about overfeeding your tortoise:

Portion Size

Even if you only provide one meal a day for your tortoise, you can still overfeed it by offering a bigger portion than it needs. Give your tortoise a portion of food that’s the same size as its shell. The smaller the carapace, the less it needs to eat.

Constipation

Always check if your tortoise has pooped every 2-3 days. If it’s been more than 3 days, your tortoise is constipated. It may also display symptoms of stress, such as hiding in its shell all day.

Abnormal Growth Pattern

Juvenile tortoises can grow too quickly if you overfeed them. When this happens, its shell can become too big to carry, and it may have trouble walking. It can also develop other health conditions.

According to Zoo Biology, excessive growth can cause:

  • Metabolic bone disease.
  • Pyramiding.
  • Renal disease.

Lethargy

When we overeat, we feel bloated and tired, and tortoises feel the same. If your usually energetic tortoise suddenly refuses to explore, it may be because it ate too much.

Tortoises that overeat may even feel too lethargic to eat again many hours later.