If you have just got your first pet turtle you might be puzzled about what to feed them and vegetables seem to be a good starting point but can turtles eat cabbage? Among the beneficial effects this veggie seems to have we should mention that it serves as a treatment for headaches, obesity, constipation, arthritis, eye and heart problems and even for Alzheimer’s disease. To add to this it is also inexpensive and easy to find and the benefits it provides can go on and on. But if it is good for us it doesn’t mean we should necessarily share it with our pets since they have very different digestive systems and nutritional needs so let us learn more about the needs of a turtle.
Basic Turtle Diet
Freshwater turtles would eat animal matter primarily while in the wild but they also eat some plant material. There are species which can be carnivorous at a young age and then move on to an omnivorous or herbivorous feeding pattern in their adult life.
The commercially available turtle feeds will vary a lot in their content but they are usually manufactured as extruded diets that contain between 30 to 50 % proteins. This type of diet is great for carnivorous or omnivorous turtles but some fruits or vegetables in addition should benefit them a lot.
So from the things mentioned above, you probably got the conclusion that it is essential to know what species you have before determining their diet. Reproducing the natural diet as well as the natural environment of a pet will make them happier and ensure a better life for them overall.
Some examples of species and diets we could mention are the River Cooters which mainly eat plants, the Malayan box Turtle which eats a lot of plant and just a bit of animal matter, the American Box Turtles which are omnivores or the Chinese Three-Striped Box Turtle that has a diet consisting almost exclusively of meat. Obviously, tortoises are quite a different matter entirely as they have very specialized diets.
Now to continue our discussion, one of the primary elements you want in a turtle’s diet is variety and a good supply of calcium that should come from their food. Most of the food that is eaten by turtles contains phosphorus and they tend to pick and choose what they need at the time from the many options at their disposal while in the wild. This means that the idea of a good and bad list for their diet won’t be as necessary as it is for other pets since they will avoid what they don’t like.
After we covered some of the basics let us look at the specific example of cabbage. Cabbage is rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium among with many others. For vitamins A, C, E, K, B6 and several others should be mentioned and it is very low in fats, containing carbohydrates primarily.
Among the turtle species one that will particularly enjoy cabbage is the red-eared slider but with any species remember that you shouldn’t stick to just one type of food. The more diverse, the better.
Now one other substance contained by cabbage is a form of goitrogen and these will disrupt the production of thyroid hormones so they will affect the health of your pet if consumed in excess. Cabbage, kale and mustard greens all fall into this category and excessive intake of them can lead to hypothyroidism. This condition will lead to the pet having reduced tolerance to cold and they can even get the neck swollen due to the goitre.
This doesn’t mean that you should reduce the amount of cabbage to zero but it should be offered with many other choices of vegetables to allow the turtle to choose what they require at the moment. Among other veggies that you should pay attention to we should mention swiss chard, spinach and beet greens as these contain oxalates that bind calcium and other minerals so they won’t be absorbed as efficiently.
The high goitrogen content in cabbage means that it can become a problem if this is the only thing your turtle eats but finding sources of iodine will solve this problem. Without them the kidneys and goiter can suffer but if you use it in moderation with other vegetables it should be good. One good source of iodine is cuttlebone and also don’t forget that this will also provide your turtle with the much needed calcium.
Serving Vegetables to Turtles
Remember that even if they will eat leaves as they are found in the wild it doesn’t mean that you should do the same at home. Washing the veggies properly will reduce any possible risks and the dish you put them in should also be clean. Speaking of the dish, make sure that it is shallow enough for them to reach it easily.
The washed vegetables should be finely chopped and you should mix them well so that the turtle will have to eat a variety and not just the ones they like most. You can also opt for the cooked vegetables but this is often not necessary and the cooking process will also reduce the amount of nutrients your turtle will receive.
If the turtle seems lethargic (more than usual) and their eyes look milky with cloudy skin patches then this is a clear sign that their nutrition is very poor and they can even be sick. In this case seeing a veterinarian who works with reptiles is really important as they will determine if the diet is at fault or not. If it is then try to work on the variety and maybe add lettuce, berries, cloves or alfalfa to the cabbage. Veggies should predominate in their diet and fruits should only take around 15% of their daily menu.
It isn’t bad in small portions and combined with other vegetables but if this is served excessively it can lead to some problems due to the high goitrogen content.