An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but will it get your tortoise out of a vet visit? While apples are undeniably nutritious for humans, the answer isn’t as obvious for our hard-shelled pets. It depends on the species; fruit-eating tortoises will love the occasional snack, while others could face immediate digestive issues. For these types, an apple a day may necessitate a trip to the vet rather than help you avoid one.
If you’re wondering whether your tortoise will flourish or flounder with a bit of apple in their diet, we’ll explain what to expect and how you can safely offer this tasty treat.
Can Tortoises Eat Apples?
Most tropical rainforest tortoise species, such as yellow-footed or red-footed tortoises, can eat apples in moderation and enjoy their various health benefits. Apples are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients like Vitamin C for immune system health. Rainforest tortoises enjoy fruit in the wild, allowing them to account for up to 30% of their diet.
Other tortoises don’t encounter fruit in their natural habitats and haven’t adapted to digest it. Mediterranean tortoises, such as the Hermanns, Sulcata, or Spur-thighed tortoise, can’t process the sugars in apples as efficiently as other species. As they don’t absorb easily into the bloodstream, a buildup of these sugars can disrupt bacterial colonies in the intestines, causing various gastrointestinal problems.
Should Tortoises Eat Apples?
While the various nutrients may make apples seem like an essential addition to the diet for fruit-eating tortoises, there aren’t many practical reasons to select them if your tortoise already has a balanced diet. Vitamin C is in numerous fruits and veggies, so it rarely needs supplementation. The same is true of the fiber content, which tortoises receive in abundance in their primary diet of hay, flowers, grasses, succulents, and other leafy greens.
Most tortoises get by on these greens with little else other than a small number of veggies. Fruits are too high in sugar and limited in unique health advantages to make them a focal part of the diet. Although your fruit-eating pet may love them, apples don’t need to be anything more than an occasional treat. Overconsumption of fruit can cause digestive issues like nausea and diarrhea in any tortoise.
One factor that always needs to be considered when selecting food for your tortoise is the ratio of Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P). Ideally, this ratio should be around 2:1 for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and shell, and foods with a higher proportion of phosphorus to calcium can be dangerous. In apples, the ratio is around 1:1, so as an occasional treat, this is perfectly safe.
How to Feed Apples to Tortoises
Offer tortoises an apple treat no more than once or twice a week. Core and slice fresh apples, and cut the slices into tiny pieces your tortoise can easily chew. Serve a bite-sized morsel to see how your tortoise likes it, but don’t pressure them to eat. The amount to offer will depend on the size of your tortoise, but the equivalent of 4-5 mouthfuls should be plenty.
What Other Fruits Can Tortoises Eat?
Although fruit will generally only be an infrequent snack, apples are relatively low in sugar and can satisfy the taste buds of many tortoises, making them one of the better treat choices. If you’re looking to mix up their selection of fruits, the following are a few additional healthy options to try:
Tortoises should generally avoid citrus fruits like limes, lemons, and oranges. Consult your vet for questions about your tortoise species for information on types and quantities of fruit you can provide weekly.
Can Tortoises Eat Apple Cores?
Coring the apple is a vital part of preparing it for your tortoise. The seeds, or pips, contain a cyanide-creating compound once they hit the stomach, which could severely affect a small tortoise that ingests too many. Stems and older leaves can also be toxic. Though it might take several seeds or wilted leaves to cause a life-threatening problem, there’s no reason to take the risk with your tortoise. The apple skin is also safe to feed, but may be less appealing.
Most tortoises can eat apples to some degree without facing significant health issues. The amount you can offer will depend primarily on the species and whether it is a rainforest-type species which is accustomed to a more varied diet, or one that is adapted to a more simple selection of plant stems, leaves and flowers. But no matter what, as a non-essential, high-sugar food, apples shouldn’t take up a substantial part of your tortoise’s diet. You can test a diverse array of veggies and fruits with your tortoise to find the best treats to please their taste buds and support their health.