Is my tortoise getting properly nourished?

by Desiree Dantona
(Minneapolis, MN, USA)

Hi there!

My name is Desiree Dantona, I'm 22 years old and I have had my Golden Greek Tortoise for 3 years now. I live in Minnesota where it can get very cold, and he is still quite small, so he spends most of his time in a 20 gallon terrarium with woodchip and rock bedding and a log for shelter. He comes out quite frequently and adventures around my apartment, eventually finding little nooks and crannies to fall asleep in.

My main question is regarding his diet and his growth. He seems very active, but I am concerned that he is not getting enough variety in his diet. He refuses to eat any pre-made "tortoise food" i can find in the store, so his entire diet is fresh vegetables/fruits.

Here is what I usually feed him:

-Green leaf lettuce
-Romaine hearts
-Yellow and green bell pepper
-sometimes mustard greens
-sometimes bean sprouts
-sometimes carrot
-sometimes strawberries

He is actually kind of a picky eater and will not eat many foods including kale, red or orange bell peppers, banana, "cactus fruities," etc.

Also, i have read multiple places that tortoises should not be fed spinach because it interferes with their ability to absorb calcium, but the last blog I read had it listed multiple times as a main food source. Can I feed him spinach?

I have not measured or weighed him regularly since I got him, which I am realizing now was probably something I should have done. It seems to me that he has not grown much if at all since I got him. I
am wondering if this is normal for him to grow so slowly when he is still young or if he is not growing at the appropriate rate because of a lack of nutrients. He doesn't appear sick and he has energy, but I am still worried.

Secondly, his nails are beginning to get longer and I am not sure about how exactly to trim them. I looked it up online, but I am worried about cutting them too short and hurting him. Is this something I need to do for him and if so, how do I do it safely?

Thirdly, I noticed the other day that part of his shell was flaking/peeling off. It is a very small section, kind of resembling what dry skin would do if it flaked off in a bigger chunk. This is partially what made me so worried about malnourishment. Is this normal? Do I need to be using a supplement for him? I used to use a calcium supplement lotion on his shell, but I ran out over the summer and haven't started using it again.

In summary,
1.Is my tortoise getting fed properly?
2.Do I need to trim his nails and how?
3.Is shell flaking normal and should I use calcium supplement again?

I would really apreciate any insight on any of these questions. I feel a little in the dark about a lot of this and would love it if I had someone who maybe knew a little more about tortoises help to point me in the right direction so my tortoise can grow up healthy.

Thank you so much!

Comments for Is my tortoise getting properly nourished?

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Feb 20, 2010
1. Somewhat 2. Maybe 3. Probably not
by: The Greek Tortoise Guild

My briefest answers to your three questions are in the title, but I suspect you would appreciate a little more detail.

1.Is my tortoise getting fed properly?

From the sounds of it, you are giving your Greek Tortoise a good variety of foods. But are they the right foods? I answered this question on my blog since I haven't posted about foods for a while. You can get there by going to or by copying and pasting this address into your browser:

2.Do I need to trim his nails and how?

Giving your Greek Tortoise something coarse to climb on will help to keep those claws down. In the past I have had numerous rocks in Hector and Phoebe's (my Greek Tortoises) home that they have loved to clamor all over. Now my setup is a little different but I am using a very coarse substrate of sand/gravel/small rocks that they dig in to sleep. If you do go to a veterinarian to have his claws clipped, make sure that your vet knows what he's doing. A couple of years ago (before I knew better) I took my old Greek Tortoise, Delilah, to a vet that had never dealt with reptiles before. He guessed where he should clip her claws and blood started dripping from her claw immediately! Fortunately, he had a chemical cauterizer on hand just in case. The vet and I both learned from that experience that dog claws (which he was accustomed to) and tortoise claws do not use the same signs to indicate a need for clipping.

3.Is shell flaking normal and should I use calcium supplement again?

I don't think that shell flaking is normal. But I'm not a veterinarian. Maybe it's normal in a very small area like you're describing, but it seems like it would be very unhealthy on a larger scale. I would write down these and any other questions you may have and take your little guy to a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles (if you can find one with experience dealing with tortoises that would be even better). If you can, give him/her your questions ahead of time (in an email, maybe?) so that he/she can research them if needed so that he/she's not tempted to make-up something on the spot during your appointment.

After your appointment, do us all a favor and share what you found out by either making another post on or by posting a comment on my blog at

I hope that this helps and good luck!

Feb 20, 2010
Tortoise Care
by: Shelly

You can try spinach. It should be OK.

If you provide rough surfaces for your tortoise to walk on, the claws may wear down. If they don't, got to a vet to have the nails clipped. You can ask the vet to teach you how to do it yourself, or you can just keep going to the vet.

The flaking shell could be a problem. A vet can tell you whether you need medication, or whether the problem will go away on its own.

Keep it slow and steady.

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