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Can Tortoises Eat Grass? [Are There Any Benefits In Doing So?]

Our pet tortoises make great company and we often like to be around them: both in the house and also outside. Whilst tortoises typically like to please themselves, owners do need to keep a watchful eye over their pets when outdoors. Naturally, owners may have some questions relating to what is safe for a tortoise to do when outdoors, including whether or not it is safe for our pets to much upon grass.

So, can tortoises eat grass? Grass is safe and most types of grass are nutritious for tortoises to eat. However, different species of tortoise will have different preferences, tastes and inclinations to eat it. Owners equally often observe that their tortoises choose to eat weeds such as dandelions and clover when available alongside grass. Tortoises are predominantly herbivores, meaning their diet typically consists of plant-based foods – and grass can help to offer vitamins, minerals and fiber. As long as the grass has not been chemically treated, it is perfectly safe and even preferable for your tortoise to eat from time to time.

Much like with other pets, there are certain foods that owners should avoid feeding to their tortoises. Grass is not a staple of a tortoise’s diet, and whilst it is not harmful to them, it doesn’t offer many nutritional benefits. So, whilst it is not harmful to your tortoise, it is not recommended as a primary food source.

Depending on the type of your pet tortoise, their grazing habits are likely to differ. Mediterranean tortoises are likely to show a disinterest in eating grass, but may do so from time to time. Whilst Russian tortoises, for example, are known for eating slightly more grass.

A commonality amongst all species of tortoise is that they will all typically rather opt for eating weeds (such as dandelions) because they are tastier and offer more nutritional benefits than grass alone.   

Do Tortoises Eat Grass?

When spending time with your pet tortoise outside, you may see them eating grass from time to time and wonder if this is normal behaviour?

Anecdotal evidence from tortoise owners around the world suggests that most pet tortoises when left to roam outdoors will eat some grass from time to time. And whilst grass does not typically form part of a tortoise’s diet in the wild: grass is not harmful to tortoises.

Your tortoise will often enjoy eating plants and weeds that grow in amongst the grass as these can be a much tastier treat for your pet!

Dandelion leaves in particular, that tend to grow on lawns in amongst the grass, are often relished by our tortoises. You may also find that your tortoise enjoys eating dandelion flowers too.

One thing to note, is that the stem of a dandelion flower contains slightly higher levels of oxalic acid which has implications for a tortoise’s calcium absorption and if over consumed can have negative implications for their health.  This is likely to only be a problem if your tortoise is consuming nothing but dandelion stems. The flowers and leaves are perfectly safe and even quite healthy.

A tortoise may eat grass because they are curious about what it tastes like, if they are exploring a new area, if they are hungry or if they are bored. There are many different reasons why your tortoise might munch away at your lawn.

More often than not, owners will find that instead of eating grass, your pet tortoise will choose to eat tastier weeds and other plants. And if your tortoise shows no interest in eating grass at all – no need to worry! This often suggests that they are not hungry and are getting all the nutrients and minerals they need from the food you are providing.

Does A Tortoise Need Grass?

Typically, a tortoise is considered to be an omnivore. Their diet should be primarily plant based. A healthy diet for a tortoise will be: high in fibre to aid regular digestion (particularly key when it comes to hibernation), calcium rich to promote good and strong bone and shell growth and low in protein as this can cause issues with shell growth.

Depending on the species of tortoise you own, largely depends on their propensity to eat grass.

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are hundreds, if not thousands of different grass varieties. Yet, most grasses are made up of narrow leaves that grow from a base. Lawn, or turf grass, is what we think about when the word ‘grass’ is mentioned and as an owner is what you are typically thinking of when it comes to feeding your tortoise.

For most pet tortoise species, grass is not typically part of their diet in the wild, so whilst it is not harmful to them, there is not the nutritional need for a tortoise to eat lawn grass.

Owing to the fact that it is not regularly eaten by tortoises, you many find that if a lot of grass is consumed by your pet, they struggle to digest it.

Lawn grass however, does contain some vitamins and minerals, so if your tortoise is eating grass, it could be that they are wanting more vitamin A or E for example.

This may indicate that your tortoise is in need of more nutritionally rich foods in their diet, as typically grass is not needed.  

Its important to note that there are some species of tortoise whom do best with more grass in their diet. Sulcata and Leopard tortoises are prime examples. These are tortoises originally from arid grasslands. As such, they are known to be grass grazers, just like sheep whom will munch away on grass when they have access to it or it is provided.

Therefore, if you are keeping a species like a Sulcata or Leopard, giving them access to the outdoors and grass to graze on is generally a good idea. Equally, you should also be sure to include all the usual leafy green veg you would provide for any other species.

If you own a Mediterranean tortoise, like a Hermanns, Marginated, Russian or North American, grass can be enjoyed but not so much. Instead, other greens such as kale, spinach, rocket, and baby leaf mixtures should make up a large portion of the diet.

Benefits of Eating Grass

The benefits of your tortoise eating grass are that you may not need to de-weed as much! When left to roam outdoors, you may find that your tortoise heads straight for tasty dandelion leaves, clover or snow thistle plants (weeds)!

These weeds contain vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your tortoise and often are a good source of fibre that can help regular digestion.

Grass can be hydrating for tortoises, even more so if it is covered in dew. Hydration is important for tortoises and so this can be a benefit of eating grass! A good level of hydration, meaning that your tortoise has enough water in their diet, will help your tortoise with their cell functions and allow them to digest food fully and feel good.

Whilst there aren’t many nutritional benefits of your tortoise eating grass, other than a little extra vitamin hit, there are not really any negative effects of consuming grass either. As long as grass is not your tortoises main and only food source: eating grass from time to time is likely to do no harm to your pet.  

What Kinds of Grass Can Tortoises Eat?

Lawn grass, generally found in most backyards, is not harmful when consumed by tortoises. The weeds that grow in amongst the grass often are preferred by your pet tortoise in terms of taste and nutrients, and again these are typically safe for your pet to eat.

You may have some further questions about other types of grass, in particular nutritional grasses, like oat grass, barley grass and wheatgrass, and whether or not your tortoise can eat these types of grass.

Nutritional grasses such as these are often referred to as cereal grasses, and whilst they are considered a healthy source of vitamins and minerals for us as humans, their nutritional content is not always digested well by tortoises.

In fact, the increased protein in oat and barley grass can have a negative impact on your pet tortoise. The protein in a tortoise’s diet should only make up around 20% of what they consume, increased levels of protein can be harmful for your tortoise and can cause excess shell growth that will need intervention from a vet.

It is best to avoid feeding your pet tortoise barley grass or oat grass. Whereas, lawn grass and wheat grass tend to be less harmful, grass should only ever be fed to a tortoise as a small part of an otherwise nutritionally balanced diet to ensure that they are getting the vitamins and minerals that they need.

Other than this, there are a number of other grass types which may be available for you to source. The below list are a number of great options:

  • Buffalo grass
  • Blue Grama grass
  • Big Bluestem grass
  • Couch grass
  • Darnel Rye grass
  • Dallas grass
  • Kikuyu grass
  • Wintergrass or Bluegrass

If these grasses are not available, then the following hays are also suitable:

Just be sure to avoid hays that have excessively “prickly” seed heads.

Finally

When enjoying the great outdoors with your pet tortoise, do not be concerned if they start to munch on some grass.

Grass can safely be eaten by your pet tortoise and it is very common for tortoises to eat grass from time to time. In fact, some tortoises do best with the inclusion of some in their diet; owing to where they come from and live in the wild among arid grasslands.

Most tortoise owners will find that their pet tortoises prefer to eat weeds that grow in amongst the grass like dandelions, for example. These are generally tastier to tortoises and can offer a host of nutritional benefits.

Related Questions

Can Baby Tortoises Eat Grass? Baby tortoises can eat grass and can benefit from the nutrients and fiber it provides. However, baby and smaller tortoises are likely to have a harder time eating tougher grasses due to their less powerful jaws.

Can Tortoises Eat Wheat Grass? Tortoises can east wheat-grass, and it is often provided by tortoise owners to their pets in the winter time when access to other grasses reduces. However, while most tortoises will enjoy consuming it, not all tortoises will and may ignore it if provided. It is important that wheat-grass is offered in moderation and does not serve as the primary nor staple food of the diet. Wheat grass is commonly available in reptile and other pet stores to purchase.