Can I Feed My Turtle Spinach? (Red Eared Sliders & More)

Anyone who has a turtle knows that they will eat almost anything that you put in front of them. Spinach and other leafy greens are no exception. However, before feeding your turtle – or indeed any pet – we need to ensure that the food is healthy and safe for them to consume.

So, should you feed your turtle spinach? And if so, how often and how much? What are the benefits of spinach and the drawbacks? We’ll also look at vegetables that should be avoided, and some of the food-related issues a turtle can experience.

Can turtles eat spinach?

Well, there’s no easy answer to this. Some experts say that spinach can be offered to your turtle, but it should be done so sparingly. Others advise avoiding spinach altogether because it contains a substance called oxalic acid, and the same health benefits can be gained from other fruit and vegetables like watermelons.

The general consensus though, is that yes, turtles can eat spinach but only in very small amounts.

Why should you feed spinach sparingly?

Spinach contains very high amounts of oxalic acid. This substance prevents the absorption of calcium. While spinach actually contains a high level of calcium, the oxalic acid binds the intestines and prevents absorption of the calcium.

Owners should also be aware that feeding too many oxalates can affect the turtle’s kidneys, as they are unable to filter high levels. This can lead to kidney failure and death.

The importance of calcium

As any responsible turtle owner knows, calcium is extremely important for their pet. So much so that experts recommend adding a calcium supplement to their diet. It is essential for building and maintaining bone strength, and for healthy hearts, nerves and muscles.

In addition, as turtles’ shells are composed of bone, calcium is even more important for the species.

Long term calcium deficiency can lead to a soft shell, known as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). This is an extremely serious condition that can even be fatal to your turtle.

The benefits of spinach for turtles

Spinach isn’t all bad, however. It also contains vitamins A, C, and K, which are essential for healthy turtles. Of these, vitamin A is the most important one. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the growth and repair of tissues. Meanwhile, vitamin C is an antioxidant that reduces the risk of many fatal diseases in turtles.

Vitamin K is another important component of spinach as its essential for healthy bone and shell calcification.

Spinach is an insoluble fibre that is absorbed slowly by the turtle. This means that your turtle feels fuller for longer. Spinach is also low in calories, helping to combat obesity in your pet.

If you do want to feed your turtle spinach, one way to make it safer for your turtle is to cook it. This removes anywhere between 30 and 87 percent of oxalates. So while small amounts of spinach will do no harm, large amounts should be avoided.

spinach

Other vegetables that should be avoided

Spinach is not the only vegetable that should be avoided. Beets, chard, rhubarb, parsley and chives also contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can have the same impact as spinach.

And while almost all vegetables contain calcium, they also contain phosphorus. Phosphorus is great for humans – it helps filter waste, and repair tissue and cells. But it’s not so good for turtles. Why? Because phosphorus gives their shell flexibility.

While some flexibility is useful, as it makes them more resistant to bites and impacts, if it becomes too soft your turtle becomes more vulnerable to predators. Turtle owners should carefully consider the calcium to phosphorus ratio of any fruit or vegetable when feeding their pets to ensure a healthy diet for a healthy body and shell.

A healthy turtle diet

A healthy turtle diet will depend greatly on their species, size, age and habitat. Most turtles are omnivores, meaning that they will eat meat based products, as well as fruit and vegetables.

Omnivorous turtles are generally fed a mixture of commercial pellets, feeder fish, mealworms, as well as fruit and vegetables. This ensures a balanced diet for a healthy pet.

turtle eating

Food related conditions of turtles

Vitamin deficiency

Vitamin deficiency is one. Turtles are at particular risk of vitamin A deficiency. Without enough foods rich in vitamin A, they can suffer decreased appetite, swollen ears and eyes, lung infections and kidney failure. While spinach contains vitamin A, you are better feeding them other vegetables that contain high levels. Most red, orange and yellow vegetables are high in vitamin A.

Obesity

Another issue is overfeeding. Healthy turtles have healthy appetites, and obesity can become a problem. When a turtle puts on weight and gains excess fat, they can struggle to be able to withdraw into their shell for protection. They can also suffer from a fatty liver if they become overweight.

Cleanliness

Infection is another potential problem. Turtles tend to defecate when they eat. That’s why it’s sensible to keep their food in a separate container, to avoid them eating their own faeces. Uneaten food should be cleaned out of their tank regularly to prevent the growth of bacteria and algae, which can be harmful to their health.

Decreased appetite

Turtle owners should keep a careful eye on their pet’s appetite. A decreased appetite can be an indicator of illness or distress. It could be a sign of illness, or a sign that they’re unhappy in their current environment. Responsible owners should always consult a vet first if they notice their turtle eating less than usual to rule out any ill health.

Conclusion

The jury is still out on whether feeding turtles spinach is a good idea. Some experts say that it’s safe in small amounts, but others say that the risks outweigh the benefits due its effect on calcium absorption.

Spinach is not the only type of fruit or vegetable that requires caution when feeding, and owners should assess the benefits of each type before feeding. A healthy turtle requires a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, and a wide variety of food should be provided.