Though prepackaged turtle pellets are popular options for feeding land tortoises and water turtles, turtle pellets are not an ideal diet. Turtles and tortoises thrive on variety and are healthiest when fed real foods rather than pellets. Check the care instructions for your individual species of tortoise, but a general rule is that high-calcium, low-protein foods are best for the overwhelming majority of turtles and tortoises. Though turtles will happily eat lettuce, lettuce is a low-quality, low-nutrient food that should be avoided except as an occasional snack. All turtles and tortoises should be given a calcium supplement dusted onto their food daily and should gain access to sunlight or artificial UV light on a daily basis to help them metabolise calcium.
Water turtles such as red-eared sliders, cooters and painted turtles are omnivores, which means they can eat both plants and animals. Fish such as goldfish, guppies, and minnows are excellent choices. Turtles also enjoy snails and brine shrimp. As juveniles, water turtles typically need more of the protein that comes from fish. As adults, however, it's important that they eat more plant matter. Some good plants to feed water turtles include hibiscus petals, geranium petals and leaves, kale, mustard greens, and collards.
Desert tortoises include species such as sulcatas and Egyptian tortoises. These turtles like tough, fibrous foods that are also packed with calcium. Cactus flowers and pads, weeds, grass, timothy hay, alfalfa, dandelion greens, and rose petals are all excellent choices. Avoid feeding salad greens and proteins. Fruit can be fed as a treat only and should never be given more than once per week.
Box turtles can enjoy a much more varied diet than other species of land tortoises. These turtles enjoy proteins and can eat mealworms, grasshoppers and even fish from their water bowl. Meat should make up no more than 25 per cent of these turtles' diets. Other excellent food choices include endive, hibiscus leaves, bok choy, turnip greens, kale and dandelion greens. Fruit such as raspberries should make up no more than 10 per cent of the diet. Popular advice has been to give these turtles dog food. Avoid this practice; it can cause metabolic bone disease, parasites and nutrient deficiencies.
Forest tortoises such as the Hermann's tortoise can subsist on a diet of garden weeds, flowers and dark leafy greens. Consider feeding dandelions, crabgrass, rose petals, hibiscus petals and leaves, geranium petals and leaves, kale, endive, turnips, and collards. These tortoises should not be fed proteins unless you are directed to do so by your veterinarian.