Sulcata Tortoise Diet

Pet Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata tortoises are also referred to as African spurred tortoises. This is a species of tortoise that is very popular in the pet industry because as babies, they are very small and really cute, but people don't realize how big 150 pounds is, until their tortoise is reaching that limit.

Sulcata tortoises are large pets that require a lot of room. They can be very destructive and very messy. These tortoises grow fast, and they will require an outdoor enclosure. This is not an indoor tank pet.

If you are thinking about getting a Sulcata tortoise, do the research first, and consider adopting a Sulcata, as there are many that are given up once they get 'too' big. If you already have one, decide whether or not you will be able to handle an adult.

Below, you'll find a recommended diet for Sulcata tortoises, and foods that you should avoid feeding a Sulcata.

Feeding a Sulcata Tortoise

These tortoises get rather large, and they have the appetite to match. You want to be very careful of what you feed your Sulcata, as they need a high fiber, low protein diet. Without providing a proper diet, you'll easily start to notice shell deformities and body deficiencies.

You want to make sure that you have a healthy tortoises, and in order to do so, you'll need to make sure that you provide a healthy diet.

The ideal diet for a Sulcata tortoise includes grasses, weeds, and hay. You want the diet to include about 70% grasses and hay.

Make sure that you choose healthy, chemical-free foods. In a lot of cases, you can find them in your yard. Otherwise, try finding non-fertilized grass mixes.

When planting a flower garden, try to find edible seeds and flowers that your African spurred tortoise can eat. This will help keep the grocery bill down. Below, is a list of some edible grasses, weeds, and flowers that you may want to try out.

  • Arizona Fescue (Festuca arizonica)
  • Bermuda Grass (Cynodon Dactylon)
  • Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
  • Broadleaf Plaintain (Plantago major)
  • Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago lanceola)
  • Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Chickweed
  • Clovers
  • Dandelion
  • Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium species)
  • Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea grossulariaefolia)
  • Grape (Vitis species) - leaves only
  • Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus species)
  • Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
  • Lawn Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
  • Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparious)
  • Mulberry (Morus species) - leaves only
  • Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)
  • Prickly Pear Cactus pads (Opuntia species)
  • Roses (Rosa species) - flowers only
  • Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina)
  • Sowthistle
  • Thistles
  • Western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii)

You can also supplement with things that you find at the grocery store, such as:

These foods should be greatly limited. The darker greens on this list can block calcium-absorption, which is why they should be greatly limited.

Highly Limited and Rarely (if at all)

  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Iceburg Lettuce*
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Swiss Chard

* Iceburg lettuce has no nutritional value.


  • Chicory
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Opuntia
  • Radicchio
  • Turnip Greens
  • Watrcress


  • Alfalfa Hay
  • Arugula
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Carrot Tops
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Red Leaf Lettuce
  • Romaine Lettuce


  • Pumpkin (fresh or puree): contains a natural deworming component- mannitol- and is great as a treat once in a while.

You can offer a few leaves of kale and spinach as treats once in a while, but don't add them into the staple diet.

Dietary Restrictions for Sulcata Tortoises


  • Cheese and dairy
  • Cat or dog food
  • Legumes (peas, beans, green beans, soybeans or soy-based products)
  • Frozen vegetables*
  • Fruit**
  • Pasta


  • Commercial tortoise diets (Pretty Pets, Mazuri, Zoo Med, etc.)
  • Grains and Grain Products (corn, wheat, barley, rye, etc.)

Other Dietary Restrictions and Concerns

You want to make sure that you keep your tortoise on a low protein diet, as high proteins can cause kidney and liver stress. It's also thought that high protein diets can cause pyramiding for sulcata tortoises, which is irreversible.

* When it comes to frozen vegetables, they're generally better than canned, but when it comes to your tortoises, diet you will find that they can be high in proteins, and should be avoided.

** Fruits are loved by tortoises, but sulcata's tortoises that are fed on a diet with a lot of fruits, will have problems with digestion, as the fruits contain acids and sugars that can change the pH of the digestive tract. The enzymes and bacteria in the intestines that absorb nourishment from the grasses they eat basically die off with excess fruit in the diet, which causes toxins to cross through the walls into the bloodstream, which can cause toxic shock syndrome.

Also, make sure that you provide enough calcium. You want to include a cuttle bone, as well as plenty of calcium-rich foods. On the same note, you want to limit, not avoid, foods that can prevent calcium absorption, such as broccoli, mustard greens, spinach, and other dark leafy greens.

Books About Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata and Leopard Tortoises (Complete Herp Care)
Sulcata and Leopard Tortoises (Complete Herp Care)

Written by an experienced tortoise breeder, the book contains an in-depth discussion of outdoor housing.

Sulcatas: African Spurred Tortoises in Captivity (Professional Breeders Series)
Sulcatas: African Spurred Tortoises in Captivity (Professional Breeders Series)

New and revised, this book provides information on the natural history, anatomy, selection, housing, diet, health, breeding, eggs and incubation, and hatchlings.

Leopard and African Spurred Tortoise: 'Stigmochelys pardalis and Centrochelys sulcata' (Chelonian Library, Volume 1)
Leopard and African Spurred Tortoise: 'Stigmochelys pardalis and Centrochelys sulcata' (Chelonian Library, Volume 1)

Based on years of observations from both nature and captivity, this book focuses on the two largest and most impressive tortoises of the African continent.

An Introduction to the Tortoises of Southern Africa
An Introduction to the Tortoises of Southern Africa

Focuses on the care and breeding of one of the largest tortoises in the pet trade.


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Jacob Wittrock profile image

Jacob Wittrock 3 years ago from Goodyear, Arizona

Thanks for this article! I have been raising a Sulcata baby for a couple months now, and love him! Thanks for the diet tips!

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