The right diet for your Redfoot tortoise is actually easy to duplicate at home, but any visit to your local pet store makes it seem like companies have completely figured out everything a tortoise could need and put it in either a can or pellets.
Well, nothing could be further from the truth. . and here’s why.
Most canned or pelleted foods developed for tortoises are grain based and were developed for shelf life and with a complete misunderstanding of tortoise anatomy.
There has been quite a bit of research lately on grain based diets in tortoises and that research shows a diet high in grains causes serious health issues, particularly around pyramiding.
Before I go into how this happens first answer this question.
How often in the wild does a Redfoot tortoise come across a field of wheat, alfalfa, or oats?
Exactly. . . . . .never.
So what would make someone think a diet based on the following items would be a solid base for a Redfoot or any tortoise for that matter?
- Suncured Oat Hay
- Suncured Timothy Hay
- Soybean Hulls
- Wheat Middlings
- Suncured Alfalfa Meal
- Dehulled Soybean Meal
- Whole Ground Wheat
Those are the primary items of most pellet based tortoise foods.
To believe the consumption of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the above ingredients by your Redfoot tortoise would be processed the same way as the fruit, mushrooms, carrion, mammal feces, and local plant matter they consume shows just how little the companies behind these foods understand tortoise anatomy.
These grain based diets are typically high in omega 6 fatty acids which have shown to have a negative effect on their health, just as they do in humans.
Grains, and how the tortoise digestive system processes them, can also cause leaching of calcium from their bones.
Grains are also high in phytate, which among other things, binds with iron, zinc, manganese and calcium, and slows their absorption. Phytates aren’t issues when consumed in small quantities, but if you’re feeding your Redfoot a significant portion of grain based food items what starts as a small issue becomes a big one because like humans tortoises lack the enzyme phytase needed to break them down.
And in higher quantities Vitamin D absorption can become blocked and because forest tortoises don’t typically process Vitamin D via sunshine as do arid species like Greek’s and Russian’s, so this can have greater implications for Redfoot’s.
This interference with Vitamin D processing of calcium is one of the reasons for pyramiding in tortoises. There are other factors, like lack of exercise, too cold and too dry an enclosure, but never ignore diet as a critical piece of this problem.
When you stick with natural items like papayas, mangoes, figs, plums, raspberries, melons, mushrooms, turnip greens, dandelions, endive, escarole, collard greens, and other items with a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio you KNOW your Redfoot is getting a diet as close as possible to what consume in the wild.
So avoid commercial food because you’re now aware of the problems it can cause to your Redfoot tortoise and you wallet.
Here’s a handy list of the best foods to feed your Redfoot tortoise by Calcium to Phosphorus ratio and the Oxalate level of the food item.