Should I Give my Tortoise Supplements?


Just like humans, tortoises need trace minerals or vitamins to function normally. If you look at how little these vitamins are in terms of quantity, you will think they are negligible. But depriving your tortoise of these vitamins and minerals can lead to some serious problems. Of course, raising a tortoise in captivity, it can be hard to track which vitamins to prioritize and how to provide them. Well, that’s where tortoise supplements come in. But are they safe? Should you give your tortoise supplements?

Tortoises, like any animal, will benefit greatly from food supplements. The most important ones are calcium and vitamin D3, but trace vitamins and minerals are also important to keep them healthy and living a good life. Tortoise supplements usually take the form of powdered supplements that you sprinkle over your tortoise’s food, though liquid ones do exist.

Supplements for tortoises are a straightforward topic, but one that is very important and is often overlooked. If you need a bit of help with giving your tortoise a more well-rounded diet, then read on.

If your worried that there may be something wrong with your pet tortoise check out our article on tortoises common health problems below. Remember though its always best seek professional guidance if your unsure.

Tortoise common health problems

Is Using Tortoise Supplements Okay?

Put simply, giving your tortoise supplements is not only accepted, but also encouraged. In the wild, tortoises generally have access to all the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy from the plants they eat. Unfortunately, that is not always the case when you raise them in captivity. Especially if all you are feeding them are store-bought produce.

Of course, raising your tortoises in captivity does have its advantages when it comes to their overall nutrition. Everything you need to give your tortoise a well-balanced diet is very accessible, especially if you know what to look for.

Important Vitamins for Tortoises

Although access to supplements shouldn’t be an issue when giving your tortoise the vitamins and minerals they need, it wouldn’t be much use if you don’t know what to give them in the first place. To help you out, here are the most important vitamins and minerals that tortoises need.

Calcium

Calcium is arguably one of the most important nutrients in a tortoise’s body. The lack of calcium in their diets can lead to one of the most common and life-threatening diseases in reptiles. Metabolic bone disease is caused by the lack of calcium, either from a deficiency in a tortoise’s diet, or their inability to absorb calcium into their bones, even if they are consuming enough calcium.

Aside from giving your tortoise strong bones and a healthy shell, calcium is also important in metabolism and even blood clotting. Calcium is also vital in forming healthy eggs and helps female tortoises with laying them normally. 

Calcium supplements for tortoises usually take powdered form that you sprinkle over their food, but there are sprayable liquid calcium available. Good examples for powdered tortoise calcium include Fluker’s Reptile Calcium. good alternative.

Phosphorus

Another important mineral for healthier bones is phosphorus. Just like calcium, phosphorus is stored in the bones, but too much of it can actually make the bones brittle. So, it’s important to watch your tortoise’s diet. If you give them too much phosphorus-rich food, you will need to give them extra calcium to compensate. A good ratio to keep in mind is 2:1, where you give your tortoise 2 parts calcium for every 1 parts phosphorous they consume.

Phosphorus is also important for many important chemical reactions in the body, including metabolism and kidney function.

Vitamin D3

Although you may be giving your tortoise sufficient calcium, they can still suffer from metabolic bone disease. This is because they are not absorbing the calcium itself properly. So, even though they have it in their body, they can’t actually use it.

Vitamin D3 is what the body needs to properly metabolize calcium. Your tortoise will actually produce vitamin D3 on their own if they’ve been exposed to the sun. But if giving them a few hours of sunlight per day is not an option, you can use a good UV lamp to simulate sunlight indoors.

There are also supplements available that can give your tortoise the required amount of vitamin D3 without natural sunlight or the use of UV lamps. Good examples include Zoo Med Repti Calcium with Vitamin D3 and Rep-Cal Calcium with Vitamin D3, which is also phosphorus-free.

Vitamin A

Another important vitamin for tortoises is vitamin A. It is important for healthy eye development amongst tortoises, and it helps improve your tortoise’s skin. Vitamin A itself is abundant in plants, and if you’re already feeding your tortoise vegetables, then they shouldn’t be lacking in it. If you’ve been feeding them pellets, however, then giving them multivitamin supplements should help.

Vitamin Deficiency in Tortoises

Compared to the rest of what tortoises eat, vitamins and minerals don’t actually amount to much, at least when it comes to volume. But the severe lack of it can have troubling consequences. How do you know if your tortoise is suffering from vitamin deficiency? Well, here are a few things you can watch out for.

Lethargy

A good indicator that your tortoise isn’t getting their required vitamins and minerals is when they are not as active as you might expect. Although tortoises are seen as slow, they are very active, especially during the early morning or the late afternoon. A healthy tortoise will explore their habitat constantly, even try to climb over certain obstacles in their way. The only thing stopping your tortoise from running off are the walls of their enclosure.

If you notice your tortoise is always asleep or is spending most of their time under their hides, especially if they don’t show this behavior before, then they may have vitamin deficiency. Lethargy can also be a major indicator for other illnesses, so if you feel your tortoise is a bit under the weather, then it’s best to take them to the vet.

Ulcers

If your tortoise isn’t getting the right amount of vitamin B or iron, then they may develop ulcers around their mouths or on their skin. These ulcers pretty much act like open wounds, making your tortoise susceptible to infection and other diseases. Aside from ulcers, you may also notice your tortoise having cracked skin or bleeding. If you are sure that they are not injuring themselves on their own, or are not being bullied by other tortoises, then try improving their diet.

Severe Twitching

Many vitamins that tortoise supplements provide are important for your tortoise’s many bodily functions. From helping them move their bodies, to helping them produce energy from the food they eat, vitamins don’t take much space, but they do play a vital role. A good indicator that your tortoise isn’t getting these vital nutrients is severe twitching.

The twitching itself is a sign that your tortoise is losing basic bodily function or control.

Shell Problems

The most distinguishing part of a tortoise’s body is their shell, and if they are having problems with their health, then it stands to reason that it will be the most noticeable part to be affected. Vitamin deficiency can lead to weaker shells, even shells that feel rubbery instead of the hard ones you would associate with a healthier tortoise.

Deficiency in calcium and vitamin D3 as well as an abundance in phosphorous is a major contributor to weak or underdeveloped tortoise shells. Aside from weaker shells, deficiencies in calcium and Vitamin D3 will also be a problem for breeding female tortoises, since their eggs will have weaker, thinner shells. They also will be too weak to push the eggs out, which will lead to egg binding.

If you would like more information on how to keep your tortoise shell heathy check out our articles below.

How do I keep my tortoises shell healthy?

Why is my tortoises shell soft?

Too Much Vitamin

Now that you have an understanding on what happens to your tortoise if they lack vitamins, you are probably curious what happens to them if they have too much of it. Fortunately, unlike vitamin deficiency, overdosing in vitamins is not really a thing with tortoises. Of course, it’s still better to avoid giving your tortoise too much, but what nutrients they don’t use or absorb are usually excreted with urine or feces.

Many of these vitamins are also water-soluble, so it’s important to keep your tortoise well-hydrated. Giving them access to clean drinking water is a good start but giving them a chance to soak at least once a day or every two days will also help prevent vitamin toxicity. Soaking also helps them if they are shedding some parts of their bodies.

Soaking is also in itself a good way to give your tortoise some electrolytes. Give them a shallow pool of water, with the water itself up to chin level, then apply some electrolyte soak supplements. Good ones include Zoo Med’s Electrolyte Soak and Exo Terra Electrolyte Supplement, which also contains a good source of vitamin D3.

Final Thoughts

Giving your tortoise a complete and balanced nutrition can be a straightforward thing. The only thing that can really make it difficult is a lack of information. But like everything else in tortoise keeping, understanding your tortoise as well as their needs is half of the effort done. If you are open to learn, then your tortoise is already on its way to a long and healthier life.

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