Welcome to our informative article about the red footed tortoise diet!
The South American red footed tortoise is one of the more popular pet tortoises today.
While these outgoing and social tortoises generally acclimate well to captive life, they do have some specialized care requirements – one of which is the red footed tortoise diet.
Here, you will learn details about providing the best red footed tortoise diet, including what red footed tortoises can eat and can’t eat, how often to feed, how much to feed and some helpful tips about tortoise treats!
Red footed tortoises as pets
The red footed tortoise hails from South America in the dense rainforests and grasslands.
Bringing a red footed tortoise into your life is a significant commitment, as these tortoises can readily live for 50+ years!
They can also be sizeable in adulthood, with males regularly weighing 20 pounds or more and measuring 12+ inches long.
Red footed tortoise food
In a wild setting, redfoot tortoises will spend most of their time foraging for food or resting.
Since a wild redfoot never knows when the next meal will appear, this species has become what biologists call “opportunistic feeders” – when the food is plentiful, they will eat and eat.
In captivity, however, a pet red footed tortoise won’t have to worry where the next meal is coming from – or when.
All this means that red footed tortoises can be prone to becoming picky eaters and packing on the pounds.
The way to a red footed tortoises heart…
Interestingly, these tortoises are sufficiently food-motivated that they can make ideal research subjects.
Redfoots have even been known to outperform pigeons, dogs and rats on computer tests… as long as the treats kept coming.
So setting up a weekly structured meal plan and paying close attention to portion sizes for food and treats can be helpful to keep your shelled foodie’s girth in check!
Red footed tortoise diet sheet
One of the first things you will want to do after (or ideally before) you bring your new redfoot tortoise home is to study up on what these tortoises can and cannot safely eat.
Just like with dogs, cats, birds and other more common pets, some foods are toxic to redfoot tortoises, while other foods are essential to their healthy growth and development.
You may want to print out a red footed tortoise diet sheet you can put on your refrigerator to refer to as you prepare your tortoise’s meals.
Be aware that there are different schools of thought on how best to feed a red footed tortoise hatchling, juvenile and adult, so it is good to find an expert you resonate with and stick with their guidance.
Finding information about red footed tortoise food
And of course you can ask your vet for specific advice personally tailored to your own tortoise!
Be aware that not all veterinarians are trained to evaluate and treat exotic pets such as tortoises.
You will need to seek out an exotic veterinarian if you find that you need help providing a balanced and nutritious red footed tortoise diet.
Red footed tortoise diet plan
In the wild, redfoot tortoises are omnivores.
While they primarily eat plant matter, including grasses, fruits and vegetables, they need some protein to remain healthy.
The composition of plant matter and protein in your red footed tortoise diet plan should vary depending on your climate and the time of year.
For example, wild redfoot tortoises will eat more fruits and flowers during the hot, wet season and more plant matter during the cooler, dry season.
This makes sense both from a digestive and a seasonal perspective.
Summer is a time when the red footed tortoise is able to maintain a consistently warmer body temperature and digestion of high sugar, high carbohydrate fruits and flowers will come more easily.
Also, fruits and flowers are more readily available during the summer season.
In the fall and winter, the most plentiful food sources are likely to be grasses, fungi, leaves, stems, insects and carrion.
You may want to aim for the following seasonal red footed tortoise diet plan as outlined by the Tortoise Trust – especially if you live in a tropical climate which triggers the natural feeding instincts of your tortoise.
Warm season diet
70 percent: fruits and flowers.
20 percent: grasses and vegetables.
10 percent: fungi and protein.
Cool season diet
40 percent: fruits.
25 percent: flowers.
25 percent: grasses and vegetables.
10 percent: fungi and protein.
But if you live in a less humid (arid) climate with a cooler temperature pattern year-round, you might find your tortoise does better on a diet that isn’t as heavy on the fruits and flowers and is more balanced overall.
In this case, you might want to try out this type of diet plan as outlined by the Redfoot Breeder:
55 percent: fruits and flowers
35 percent: grasses and vegetables
10 percent: protein
NOTE: Regardless of your local climate, your red footed tortoise should be kept in an enclosure that replicates the wild South American climate as closely as possible.
Red footed tortoise diet – vitamins and minerals
Red footed tortoises in the wild live in the dense undergrowth of tropical rainforests and grasslands.
They are not “basking” species, per se, although they love a warm sunbeam as much as the next cold-blooded pet.
This means your redfoot tortoise will need to get most of the calcium and D3 from diet rather than basking in sunlight.
Sufficient intake of calcium and D3 is vital for proper shell and bone development.
Red footed tortoises also need to eat foods with a high calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.
Phosphorus can inhibit calcium absorption and interfere with bone and shell growth and development – with disastrous consequences.
It is important to know that certain plant matter, greens and vegetables have a high phosphorus content, which doesn’t mean you can’t feed these to your tortoise but does mean you should feed these greens in moderation.
In addition to diet, you should consider adding a calcium with D3 supplement and a vitamin and trace mineral supplement to your red footed tortoise’s diet.
You can find supplements to sprinkle on your tortoise’s food that will supply any nutrients missing from diet alone.
Red footed tortoise diet – fruits and flowers
Most fruits are safe for red footed tortoises to eat.
As with dogs and cats, be careful to remove all toxic fruit pits and seeds before serving fruits to your tortoise!
Try to always feed organic when possible.
When this is not possible, be sure to wash the fruits and flowers with extra care or use a produce wash to remove any pesticides.
Here is a sample list of some fruits it is safe to feed your red footed tortoise regularly:
- Melon (cantaloupe, watermelon, et al)
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, et al)
- Apples (seed-free)
- Bananas (sparingly)
- Cactus fruit
- Plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots (pit-free)
- Hibiscus flowers
- Dandelion flowers
- Pansy flowers
- Rose flowers
- Chrysanthemum flowers
- Dahlia flowers
- Marigold flowers
Red footed tortoise diet – grasses and vegetables
Choosing your red footed tortoise’s grasses and vegetables will be the area where you have to do more research and planning to be sure your tortoise is taking in sufficient calcium yet not too much phosphorus.
Here again, try to always feed organic when possible and wash conventional produce before offering.
Here is a sample list of grasses, leaves and vegetables that are safe to feed your tortoise:
- Cactus pads (opuntia)
- Mulberry leaves
- Grape leaves
- Hibiscus leaves
- Sweet potato
- Dandelion greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Red and green dark leafy greens
- Collard greens
- Green beans
Red footed tortoise diet – fungi and protein
Unlike some tortoises that subsist entirely on plant matter, your red footed tortoise will need to consume some protein to stay healthy.
Protein can provide vital amino acids, trace minerals, vitamins and nutrients to your tortoise.
Be aware that the higher the protein and fungi content in your tortoise’s diet, the more hydration is required (and your tropical red footed tortoise already needs a lot of hydration to stay healthy!).
Aiming to feed fungi and protein no more than once per week, or 10 percent of the weekly diet (however you work that out), will ensure your tortoise gets the essential nutrients and doesn’t get dehydrated.
Here is a sample list of some protein and fungi sources that are safe for your red footed tortoise to eat:
- Mushrooms (store-bought, not the ones you find growing in your lawn!)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Shrimp or chicken (steamed or boiled)
- Live prey (found foraging – mostly insects)
- Cat food (moistened kibble)
Red footed tortoise diet – treats
As with any beloved pet, you will undoubtedly want to feed your red footed tortoise treats.
Red footed tortoises are smart and can be trained, and if you decide to train your tortoise you will definitely want to have a ready supply of treat foods handy!
The best approach for choosing red footed tortoise treats is to notice which foods your tortoise seems to like best (strawberries, mango, freeze-dried mealworms and earthworms tend to be favorites) and use these as treat foods.
Red footed tortoise diet – water!
Red footed tortoises are tropical climate tortoises.
This is a very different type of tortoise from the arid climate or “desert” tortoise, which is something many owners and even veterinarians who are not trained to treat exotic pets may not realize!
Without sufficient hydration from humidity, drinking and soaking, your red footed tortoise can develop serious health problems, including shell and bone deformities.
You should always provide a shallow dish (with a water level that reaches no higher than the bottom rim of your tortoise’s shell for safety) full of fresh water for drinking and soaking.
NOTE: Your tortoise will pee and poop in this water dish – you can count on it. So you will need to change it frequently and perhaps more than once daily depending on your tortoise’s habits.
Red footed tortoise diet – feeding frequency
The topic of how often to feed your pet redfoot tortoise is one of the most confusing areas of caring for a red footed tortoise!
Some breeders and owners say it is sufficient to feed every other day and skip one day.
Other breeders and owners say to feed every day and skip one day. Still other breeders and owners say to feed every day and not skip a day.
When your red footed tortoise is very young (hatchling – the first year and a half) it is best to feed daily.
Leave the food out for 20 minutes and remove what your tortoise has not eaten after that time.
It can be a good idea to soak your hatchling in a bath of warm water before feeding both to warm up body temperature and for hydration purposes.
After the first 12 to 18 months, you may want to move to an every other day or six days on/one day off feeding plan.
Adult redfoot tortoises can tolerate going for longer periods between feedings, but this doesn’t mean they should.
You can try feeding different food groups on different days instead to keep your tortoise from becoming too picky about eating only favorite foods.
Red footed tortoise diet – portion sizes
The general guideline here from owners and breeders is to feed about as much as your tortoise will consume in 20 to 30 minutes, then remove what is uneaten to avoid spoilage.
Over time, you will be able to adjust how much food you offer based on your personal observations of your tortoise’s eating patterns.
Red footed tortoise diet
We hope you have found this focused article about the red footed tortoise diet helpful as you begin life with your new shelled pet!
There’s a lot of information to to digest (pun intended) about the specific nutrients your red footed tortoise needs to stay healthy.
But with a bit of time and application, rustling up delicious dinners will become second nature, and watching your tortoise enjoy them will be super satisfying.
What does your red footed tortoise like to eat?
What diet is your red footed tortoise on?
Do they have a favorite treat?
Tell us about their dining tastes in the comments section!
Stewart, T., “Red-footed Tortoise Care Sheet,” Reptiles Magazine, 2018.
Peters, A., “Red-footed tortoise,” Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 2018.
Mueller-Paul, J., et al, “Touchscreen performance and knowledge transfer in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria).,” Behavioral Processes, 2014.
Hecht, J., “Cold-blooded cognition: Tortoises quick on the uptake,” New Scientist, 2011.
Highfield, A.C., “Feeding Tortoises: a practical guide to avoiding dietary disasters,” Tortoise Trust, 2002.