As any dedicated tortoise owner will know, around about 80% of your tortoise’s diet should consist of fresh vegetables and leafy greens.
They thrive on plant based matter and a whole host of vegetables such as kale, collard greens, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, squash and even dandelions can be an excellent choice, to give your tortoise all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to be as healthy as can be.
But what about spinach? We know of all the health benefits that spinach can provide humans but can the same be said for our reptilian companions?
Read on below to find out…
Can I feed my tortoise spinach?
The question of whether a tortoise can eat spinach or not is a hotly debated issue among many owners, and if you’re looking for a simple answer you might not get one. Some owners advise they provide a small amount irregularly to their pets and don’t have any issues whereas other owners are more cautious and do not.
But why, you ask? You could be easily mistaken for thinking spinach was a great dinner option for your reptile friends as it’s low in sugar and starch, is jam packed with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, potassium and has a good water content. However spinach is also a food that is high in a compound called oxalic acid.
What is oxalic acid?
Oxalic acid is a molecule that is found in certain plants and it binds to some of the important minerals such as magnesium and calcium.
By binding to these minerals it severely limits the ability for them to be absorbed and used. This then means it becomes very difficult for a tortoise to use these minerals which play an important role in maintaining a strong and healthy shell, among other bodily functions.
Not only this, spinach is known to be high in calcium oxalate crystals when consumed in excess can have serious detrimental health effects to your tortoise.
They are known to contribute to the formation of kidney and bladder stones and can also lead to irritation of the skin and mucous membranes in the tortoises mouth. Neither of which is something you want your tortoise to experience.
Technically they can eat spinach as it isn’t immediately toxic but this should be very rare and should never make up a siginitfact proportion of your tortoises diet.
So whilst a small amount of spinach is unlikely to cause your tortoise any harm, due to the potential for adverse health effects it is best avoided in its entirety (this includes the leaves, roots, stems and stalks).
Spinach is not the only food that contains oxalates and they can also be found in:
Though the concentration of oxalates is usually smaller in these.
As you can see, a lot of these vegetables are often fed to our tortoises in their diet already so as long as you are careful about not pairing them together and providing your tortoise with a varied diet you should be able to keep them happy and healthy.
So if you think spinach is still something you would like to treat your tortoise with every now and again, then read on to find out the best way to do this safely.
How to Feed Spinach to Your Tortoise Safely
No one could blame you for wanting to feed your tortoise such a nutritionally high food as spinach and if this is something you’re considering then there are some things you’re going to want to do.
Firstly, it is recommended that you feed your tortoise spinach grown in fall rather than spring or summer. This is due to the oxalic acid content varying throughout the seasons and the soil it was grown in. And as a general rule spinach grown in fall tends to be better for your reptilian friend.
Next you should consider how often you provide spinach to your tortoise. You should always offer a small amount in a raw and unprocessed state. Tortoises love to eat raw vegetables and you should never try to cook them as it makes it difficult for them to digest – cooked spinach is a no go.
You may also find that your tortoise may not want to eat the spinach offered to them. If there is a sweeter option available you will find your tortoise will gravitate towards that and some owners have speculated this is because they either aren’t used to spinach as a food source or some even believe they are just naturally wary of it.
Canned spinach is never to be given to your tortoise as not only has this been cooked, it has then been stored in salt and water which could be harmful to your pet. The same goes for frozen spinach. Tortoises cannot eat frozen foods as it bulks the meal out with added water, making it much more difficult for them to digest.
Lastly, the fresher the spinach the better it is. If your spinach is left too long it can turn bad which isn’t good for anybody and tortoises are no different.
When feeding fresh spinach to your tortoise a couple of leaves a time is ideal but make sure to only do this on occasion. You can also mix it in with other plant based foods to provide your tortoise with a nutritious meal.
So technically tortoises can in fact eat spinach but in general its best to be avoided or provided very infrequently. As we now know, spinach is high in a compound that limits calcium absorption and can have some nasty affects on our tortoises such as a weaker shell and kidney stones.
So if you do decide to feed your tortoise spinach make sure you do so occasionally and always give it in its raw form. But it is important to remember that whilst spinach does contain some important nutrients, these aren’t anything your tortoise can’t get from a varied diet that doesn’t include it.