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Can Turtles Eat Cabbage? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Gregory Iacono

By Gregory Iacono


Vet approved

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Amanda Charles

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS

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

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Turtles have been on Earth longer than most creatures, including crocodiles, snakes, and lizards. About 56 species of turtles live in North America, primarily in the water. As omnivores, aquatic turtles eat a combination of plants and animal protein. One question you might have is whether turtles can eat cabbage, the cruciferous, leafy green (and sometimes purple or red) vegetable. Yes, turtles can eat cabbage, but only in moderation. Read on to learn why and when to feed your turtle this nutritious but slightly problematic veggie.

What Is Problematic about Feeding Cabbage to Turtles?

The main issue is that cabbage, along with other cruciferous vegetables, contain higher amounts of plant chemicals called glucosinolates. These chemicals act as goitrogens, suppressing thyroid gland function.

In small amounts this won’t be harmful, but when foods such as cabbage make up the bulk of your pet’s diet, it can have serious health consequences. This link between cabbage and goitrogens was discovered in 1928 when researchers noticed that rabbits consuming a fresh cabbage diet started developing goiters.

Other plants that contain significant amounts of goitrogens include bok-choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale and spinach.

Tortoises Eat Broccoli
Image Credit: Melina Massola, Shutterstock

Can Turtles Eat Purple Cabbage?

Turtles can eat purple cabbage, which is denser than green cabbage in terms of vitamins and minerals. For example, purple (sometimes referred to as “red”) cabbage has more of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and iron than green cabbage.

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Feeding Cabbage to Turtles?

Cabbage is packed with nutritional value for turtles and has many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. Indeed, regarding nutrition, cabbage is one of the densest vegetables around, with more per ounce than many other green, leafy vegetables. Below is a list of the nutrients found in cabbage:

  • Vitamins A, B6, C, K
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Folate
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Protein

Adequate dietary levels of calcium are essential for turtles for healthy bones and shells. They also need phosphorus but not in too high quantities. Most vegetables have a calcium to phosphorus ratio. Cabbage is around 2:1 so it has more calcium than phosphorus and is safe for turtles if given in moderate amounts mixed with other fresh veggies.

turtle eating vegetables
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

How Should Cabbage Be Prepared for Turtles?

Turtles can eat cabbage raw, and veterinarians recommend it as the best way to feed the vegetable to them. Before feeding cabbage to your turtle, you should wash it thoroughly to remove any pesticides and other pollutants. Feeding your turtle the outer leaves of the cabbage plant is best since they have the highest level of nutrients.

Removing the stem (i.e., node) of the cabbage is also advised as it’s a bit too tough and bitter for most turtles and can also cause a choking hazard.

Can You Feed Cooked Cabbage to a Turtle?

Yes, you can cook cabbage and feed it to your turtle, but cooking destroys 25% of the vegetable’s nutritional value. It’s better to feed cabbage raw to your turtle, and they prefer the crunchiness also. If you feed your pet the occasional cooked cabbage, be sure it’s plain, with no added oil, salt, pepper, or other ingredients.

Person cutting fresh cabbage on cutting board
Image Credit: Julia Filirovska, Pexels

Can Baby Turtles Eat Cabbage?

Yes, baby turtles can eat cabbage, and it’s a great choice as an occasional snack for your pet. You can cut the cabbage leaves into smaller pieces so your baby turtle can easily chew and swallow them.

aquarium plant divider


Feeding Turtles Cabbage FAQ

Is Cabbage Healthy for Turtles?

Yes, when fed in moderation, cabbage is very healthy for turtles and provides a variety of nutrients.

What’s the Best Way to Feed Cabbage to Turtles?

Rinsing the cabbage’s outer leaves and dicing them up is the best way to feed cabbage to your turtle.

Does Cabbage Pose any Health Risks for Turtles?

Due to the goitrogens, feeding large portions of cabbage to a turtle is not recommended.

group of tortoise eating lettuce
Image Credit: PhotoSmileBeautiful, Shutterstock

aquarium plant divider


Final Thoughts

Aquatic turtles need a varied diet containing leafy green vegetables. Although cabbage is full of beneficial nutrients and is safe to feed in small amounts , it contains goitrogens and should not be a diet staple. Safe staple leafy greens high in calcium include dandelion greens, collard greens, watercress and escarole. The ideal diet for your pet turtle will depend on their species, age and size, carefully research your turtle’s requirements and speak to your exotic vet for advice if needed.

Featured Image Credit: stanbalik, Pixabay

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