Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Desert Tortoise Diet Sheet

©1995 Melissa Kaplan


A desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) diet is comprised mainly of safe grasses and weeds, leafy greens, with small amounts of hard vegetables and moist fruits. A good basic salad can be prepared a week in advance and fed daily with selections from the following served in addition to it.

All tortoises need pesticide- and herbicide-free forage (grasses and weeds) for grazing. You can grow your own in your backyard and let your tortoises graze on it, after first making sure your yard is escape-proof. Another way is to build a safe pen or corral for the tortoises, and seed it with the forage. You can make it more decorative by planting edible ornamental plants around the perimeter and inside. Information on edible and harmful plants can be found at my Plant Information & Identification page. For tortoises that must be kept inside during inclement weather, you can seed nursery flats with the seeds and let them graze on them or take cuttings for them.

If you feed your tortoises too much of the foods that should be fed in relatively small amounts or occasionally, you risk causing health problems, ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. There apparently has been a problem with people not reading this entire page, so I have reorganized it to put the emphasis on the forage.

85% Grasses and weeds; dark, leafy greens; cactus...

Grasses and Weeds
Foraging Mix
Alfalfa hay or pellets
Bermuda grass
Fresh clover
Clover hay
Rye grass
Rice grass

Dead Plants
Don't be an overly fastidious groundskeeper. Tortoises enjoy munching on dried brown leaves and stalks as much as they do the fresh plant. Top off your edible greens and ornamentals and drop them in the tortoise pen; depending on their mood, the tortoises will eat them fresh or ignore them until they are nice and brittle.

Leafy Greens
These should make up no more than half (and ideally much less) of your tortoise forage:

Dandelion greens and flowers
Grape leaves
Mustard greens
Turnip greens

* These are high in calcium oxalates that may bind calcium causing metabolic bone disease, and may cause visceral gout (mineralization/crystallization of the soft tissues and internal organs). Feed sparingly. ** These are high in goitrogens, which impair thyroid function when fed in excess. Feed sparingly.

Don't feed at all as they have little or no nutrition:
Iceberg lettuce
Boston lettuce
Romaine lettuce
Red- and Green-leaf lettuce

Opuntia cactus pads and flowers (high in water content)


15% Vegetables...
Acorn squash
Bell Peppers, red and green
Butternut squash
Green beans
Potatoes (cooked, plain)
Pumpkin and other winter squash
Rice (cooked, plain)
Snow peas
Sweet potatoes

**These are high in goitrogens, which impair thyroid function when fed in excess. Feed sparingly.

Feed sparingly as these are low in nutrition
Sprouts (alfalfa, bean, and grain)


Occasional foods
Apples (no seeds)
Apricots (no pits)
Avocados (no pits or leaves)
Cantaloupe (with scrubbed rind)
Mangos (no pit)
Oranges (not for hatchlings)
Papayas (ripe, no seeds)
Peaches (no pit)
Pears (no seeds)
Tomatoes (not for hatchlings)

Mixed Veggie Salad
The following, based on my green iguana salad, can be fed occasionally:

1/2 cup shredded raw green beans
1/2 cup shredded raw squash (acorn, butternut, banana, kabocha, pumpkin, summer)
1/2 cup shredded raw parsnip
3/4 cup alfalfa pellets or 1/8 cup alfalfa powder from the health food store
1/4 cup fruit

Mix thoroughly together. Add in or sprinkle on salad a multivitamin supplement and a calcium supplement as recommended. Store in a sealed food storage container. Stays fresh for 6-7 days. Additional quantities may be frozen. Add a pinch of thiamine to the defrosted salad to replace the thiamin lost through the defrosting process


...and flowers and houseplants for grazing treats.
For more information on edible and harmful plants, please see the Plant Information & Identification page.

Ficus benjamina (note: the milky sap may be irritating to skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract).
Hibiscus flower and leaves
Nasturtium flowers and leaves
Rose petals and leaves
Snail vine (Vigna caracalla)

Sunlight is critical for proper growth. The UVA promotes normal behavior and appetite; the UVB is necessary to enable the animal to synthesize vitamin D3, a substance crucial to calcium metabolization. Be sure, however, to provide some shade. Being too hot is just as dangerous as being too cold. If regular direct sunlight cannot be provided for them, you must use UVB-producing fluorescent lights daily.

...and Water
Always have fresh water available for drinking. A large shallow bowl is best, one they can access but not accidentally tip into and possibly drown. Leopards, radiated and all hatchlings are at risk for drowning or suffocating if they tip over onto their backs and are unable to right themselves.

Related Articles

Tortoise Foraging Mix

Plant Information & Identification - includes links to edible and harmful/toxic plant lists

Vegetable and Fruit Name Translations

MK Salad - An Illustrated Reference

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