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Can Tortoises Eat Asparagus? Vet-Reviewed Nutrition Facts & FAQ

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers


Vet approved

Dr. Athena Gaffud Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Athena Gaffud

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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An estimated 6 million American households have at least one reptile in their homes (as pets!), so we can appreciate the allure of caring for an exotic animal. Tortoises are unique pets for many reasons, but one, in particular, stands out: their longevity. For example, reports of the Hermann’s tortoise living 120 years exist, and Jonathan, a Seychelles Giant Tortoise, is known to be at least 190 years old! It’s safe to say that having one as a pet is a lifelong experience. Therefore, understanding their nutritional needs is vital.

The vast majority of tortoises are primarily herbivores, consuming ground vegetation. They also consume other plant foods and the occasional mollusk or insect. Captive animals should get about 10% fresh vegetables daily. You can include asparagus in that list because it isn’t poisonous to tortoises. However, there are a few things to be aware of before offering it to your pet.

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Nutritional Value of Asparagus

Asparagus might not be everyone’s favorite vegetable. However, tortoises tend to love it. Its unique taste and nutritional value make it stand out among produce. A serving of five small spears contains only 12 calories, and is rich in several vital nutrients, including potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Therefore, it makes sense you’d want to offer your tortoise some asparagus as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.

The texture is another reason you might consider it, making it a welcome change from leafy greens. It also has a negligible amount of sodium and fat. All these things would suggest you should give your tortoise asparagus. However, there’s another side to the story.

The Problems With Asparagus

The problem with asparagus rests with other effects of the chemical compounds it contains.

Research has confirmed its diuretic properties. That could make it problematic in tortoises if the vegetable formed a significant part of their diet, as the increased urination could lead to dehydration. Remember that fresh greens should form the bulk of your pet’s diet, no matter how nutritious or beneficial asparagus may be. However, there’s another reason for limiting your tortoise’s consumption.

Tortoise munching on different veggies like asparagus
Image Credit: Rain Ungert, Shutterstock

The Calcium-Phosphorus Ratio

Calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) are essential for your pet’s health. Calcium is vital for skeletal and shell development and is critical for cardiovascular health. Phosphorus plays a role in growth, energy production, and cell repair.

Many minerals act in connection with one another, which is why a balanced diet is imperative for good health. When tortoises (and other animals) eat foods with more phosphorus than calcium, the former can reduce the absorption of the latter. Ideally, foods that are consumed regularly should have a Ca-P ratio of at least 2:1 to ensure there is a sufficient available amount of both.

If a tortoise is regularly fed food with an inappropriate Ca:P, they can have problems with growth and development, have problems with their bones and shell, and even develop metabolic bone disease (MBD), a potentially deadly and commonly encountered condition in reptiles. MBD can affect any vertebrate species but is prevalent in reptiles owned or managed by humans, as a result of being fed an inappropriate diet.

A five-spear serving of small asparagus spears contains 14.4 mg of calcium and 31.2 mg of phosphorus, giving a Ca:P of 1 : 2.2, which is the reverse of our ideal. This doesn’t mean that it is unsafe for your tortoise, but it does mean that it should only be offered as an occasional treat, instead of a staple in your pet’s diet. We also recommend the raw vegetable over the cooked one for the highest nutritional value and fibrous texture. Cooking will rob asparagus of some vitamins and other vital compounds.

Image Credit: JumpStory

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Final Thoughts

Asparagus is a highly nutritious vegetable with potential health benefits. Its diuretic properties and unfavorable calcium-phosphorus ratio mean that it is best given as an occasional treat instead of as a regular part of your pet’s diet. If you are preparing some asparagus for yourself, a couple of small pieces will be gratefully, and safely, received. Just be sure to give your tortoise a small raw piece, and skip the butter, salt, or Hollandaise sauce!

Featured Image Credit: macroworlds, Shutterstock

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