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Can Tortoises Eat Spinach? [But What About The Oxalates!]

If you own a pet tortoise, then you’ll be fully aware that 80% of their diet should consist of fresh vegetables. But what about spinach? Is this a safe, healthy, and nutritious food to give a tortoise? This is what you should be aware of.

So, can tortoises eat spinach? Tortoises can eat a small amount of spinach, but only infrequently; it should not make up a substantial part of their diet. This leafy green is high in a compound known as oxalic acid which in excess, prevents proper calcium absorption and can result in dietary-related disorders.

Tortoises are renowned for their slow eating habits and behaviors.

In fact, there’s something about seeing them munch down on their food – it’s highly amusing.

They love and thrive on a variety of plant-based matter.

Fresh vegetables such as kale, dandelions, and collard greens along with the occasional bell pepper, sweet potato, and squash can go a long way to giving them all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in which they need.

But spinach.

Well, it needs to be managed.

Let us now see why.

Can A Tortoise Eat Spinach?

Whether or not a tortoise can or cannot eat spinach is a topic of much debate. Some owners, provide a small amount to their tortoise irregularly and do not report any issues. Others are more cautious and do not provide spinach at all.

Either way, it is generally recommended that tortoises do not consume much if any, spinach.

This includes the leaves, roots, stems, and stalks.

While its low in sugar and starch and rich in: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium and has a good water content, it also has other compounds that can cause an issue.

It is naturally high in a compound known as oxalic acid.

Oxalic acid is a molecule found in certain plants that bind to important minerals including Calcium and Magnesium and severely limits the ability for them to be absorbed and used.

In other words, it reduces a tortoise’s ability to use these important minerals towards maintaining their strong and healthy shell, alongside their other bodily functions.

Similarly, spinach is known to be high in calcium oxalate crystals which in excess, contribute to the formation of kidney and bladder stones.

Due to their structure and size, they can also lead to irritation of the skin and mucous membranes in a tortoise’s mouth and throat when eaten in excess.

So, while spinach is not dangerous or toxic as such and while a tortoise may be able to eat some from time to time – it should never make up a significant proportion of the diet.

Technically they can eat it, but they need to have very small amounts compared to other green leafy vegetables.

However, you would need to be very careful of feeding it because of its potential to limit calcium intake and cause internal irritation.

You’ll also need to consider that spinach is not the only food that is high in oxalates. It is a naturally occurring compound found in plant matter.

This is why regular consumption of spinach can be a problem and prove toxic.

Here are the other foods to be aware and equally cautious of providing together or in excess:

  • Collards,
  • Leeks
  • Parsley,
  • Beets
  • Swiss Chard,
  • Sprouts.

Oxalates are also present in: Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, berries, and carrots, but in smaller amounts.

Therefore as you can see; a lot of these vegetables are often fed and provided in a tortoises diet already.

You just need to be careful about pairing them together and giving them too regularly.

Essentially, a good rule of thumb is to offer a varied diet that is not too high in any one vegetable.

Feed a variety, with only one being from those referenced above at any one time. Try not to feed the same vegetables every day/week – mix it up – variety is essential.

If you happen to feed too much, avoid it for a period of time thereafter.

Remember, feeding your tortoise a small serving of spinach once per week, twice at the absolute most, is plenty!

Do Tortoises Eat Spinach?

Some tortoises will eat spinach when it is provided to them, and others will ignore it entirely.

Some owners have speculated that their tortoises do not eat it if they are not used to it as a food source, whereas others suggest that they might even be able to smell or instinctively know not to consume it.

It is also likely that a tortoise will not eat spinach is sweeter or preferred options are available.

It’s quite an interesting food when you consider these factors.

How To Feed Your Tortoise Spinach Safely

If you did want to feed your tortoise some spinach, due to its generally high nutritional value, there are some things you are going to want to do.

Firstly, it is recommended that you feed spinach in the fall as opposed to the spring or summer months.

This is because the oxalic acid content is known to vary throughout the seasons and depending on the soil it was grown in.

Then you’ll also want to consider how it is offered and provided. You’ll always want to offer a small amount, in its raw and unprocessed state.

Tortoises do best with raw vegetables and should not eat them cooked. It makes it harder on their digestive system. So, cooked spinach should be avoided.

Equally, canned spinach (which is cooked) and then stored in salt and water is not ideal either.

Another one to be careful with is frozen spinach.

It cannot be fed frozen, because it adds a lot of water bulk and makes it more difficult to digest.

So it requires cooking or a significant time to defrost which then can spoil it if it’s left out.

Lastly, the fresher you can offer the spinach the better. If it is stored or left for a long period it can have mold.

Tortoises do not tend to do too well with fermented foods so again it’s best avoided.

When feeding fresh spinach a couple of leaves at a time is ideal.

You can mix it it in with other plant-based foods to make up a nutritious meal.

Remember, at least 80-85%% of your tortoise’s diet should be plant-based foods.

Another 10% can be provided as fruits – apples, melons, and grapes make some great options and can be offered every third/fourth feeding.

The last 5% can be high protein foods; sardines and hard-boiled eggs are excellent options.

Also, be sure to provide powdered calcium and vitamin D3 to their feed around 3 times a week to support their shell. This is the one to buy from Amazon!

In Summary

Tortoises can eat spinach; although for the most part it is best avoided or given very infrequently.

While there are some important nutrients in spinach, it is also high in a compound that is known to limit calcium absorption.

This is one of the most vital vitamins for tortoises and required for many bodily processes including maintaining their hardened shell.

However, if you do intend to offer some spinach from time to time, be sure to offer it in its raw state.

Do your best to source the freshest spinach you can and if possible, try to get it for your tortoise in the fall/autumn months when oxalate is naturally lower in the soil spinach is grown in.

You need to also consider that other commonly fed vegetables can be rich in the oxalates compound – so it can soon add up in your tortoise’s diet.

Offering variety and routinely mixing up their feed is therefore one of the best things you can do.

Wondering what other foods are safe for tortoises? If so, my following guides may be of help: