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From the first day we met – when Malti was just five weeks old! – she has always had strong opinions.
She is a very independent shelled gal who knows exactly what she likes!
She also really likes to do things by herself if at all possible. Usually, both she and her mommy figure out what isn’t possible to do by yourself when she turns herself over on her back or gets stuck halfway up a fence or halfway down the side of her giant stuffed alligator.
The products you are about to discover are Malti’s current reigning favs. As these products change, you can be sure her large shell-less assistant will update them for you here!
Malti's Picks: Redfoot tortoise food.
Malti likes to eat. She likes to eat things that are edible and also tries hard to eat things that are (technically) not edible. She particularly enjoys dishes that tortoises are not supposed to eat – like “people” food loaded with butter, salt, spices and grains.
You might be wondering (worrying) how I know this.
There have been several times when our flock has headed over to their grandparents’ – my parents’ – casa for brunch. During these special brunches, Pearl is accustomed to eating pretty much whatever he wants off whomever’s plate he wants to eat it off of. He just hops on and dines.
When Malti was a hatchling, I would let her sit on the counter to eat her breakfast of blueberries, greens and carrot shavings. But then one day she noticed Pearl wolfing down waffles or rice or whatever looked best that day and she wandered over to check things out. Before I even realized what was happening, there she was eating baby scallops and sugary strawberries and organic steamed wild-caught salmon (boneless, skin-off) and eggs Benedict like a pro!
So people food = tasty. Check.
But since Malti is a strong contender for the “youngest tortoise who has already been on a diet the most times” – if there is such a competition – I mean, her vet already calls her “Miss Meatloaf” – we have to be a bit (lot) more careful now.
So she eats fresh food like her box turtle brother, Bruce. No canned, pelleted, Mazuri – nothing designed to get picky shelled eaters to dig in. Because clearly we don’t have any problems there.
Weekly redfoot tortoise meal plan.
Malti’s overall meal plan/goal as designed by our veterinary team is currently as follows:
- 40 percent greens
- 30percent veggies.
- 25 percent fruits/flowers.
- 5 percent protein.
It is important to talk with your exotic veterinarian to determine the right nutrient balance for your redfoot tortoise at each stage of life and in keeping with any specific health issues.
For example, most redfoot tortoise experts advise offering 10 percent protein. But with Malti’s ongoing health issues, five percent is better for her right now.
Redfoot tortoise calcium-to-phosphorus and oxalates.
I often have to vary what she eats by season, which is great because it more closely replicates what she might come across in a wild setting as opposed to at our local grocery store.
The most important decision when feeding any food to your redfoot tortoise is the calcium-phosphorus ratio and oxalate content….just the sort of discussion that made my eyes cross as a young tortoise carer and often still does. And I’ll be honest – most breeder-provided redfoot tortoise feeding charts are far too complicated for my exhausted science-averse brain cells to comprehend.
So if you are like me, just know that the starred foods are “ideal” to feed redfoot tortoises for their daily meals and snacks. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have a brain that likes complicated science charts, you will love this one.
The rest can be offered in a rotation for optimal nutrient balance – and when I say “offered,” think as a garnish, not as a main course.
Oh, and I am still learning ALL. THE. TIME. As you can see from Malti’s pyramided shell, I didn’t learn early or well enough and will always feel a profound and irreversible sadness and regret at the early shell and systemic damage she sustained as a result.
Thankfully, with a change to a much better veterinary team, we have managed to push her metabolic bone disease into reversal and she is now thriving and growing as she should have done from the beginning.
It nearly goes without saying that I strive to feed only organic if at all possible (when it isn’t possible it is usually a matter of simple unavailability).
- *Romaine lettuce (only if it is very dark green).
- *Cactus pads.
- *Turnip greens.
- *Dandelion greens
- *Hibiscus leaves (she doesn’t love them but will eat them in lieu of other options).
- Mustard greens.
- Herb greens (parsley, cilantro, whatever I can entice her to try).
- Cooked yams/pumpkin (good for getting a tortoise un-constipated, so rarely).
In addition to paying close attention to the calcium to phosphorus and oxalate ratio, when feeding fruits in particular it is important to aim for nutrient-dense rather than sugar-dense.
Happily, Malti has yet to meet a fruit she doesn’t like, so pretty much anything I offer her from this category is going to be more warmly received than those darned boring greens.
- *Hibiscus flowers.
- Berries: blackberries, raspberries and – aka “tortoise crack” – blueberries.
- *Fresh figs.
- Winter squash (occasionally).
- Yellow squash.
- Bananas (see “tortoise crack” so very occasionally).
- Green beans.
- Mealworms (Malti likes hers crispy and freeze-dried, not live and wriggling).
- Earthworms (live and wriggling – she isn’t too fond of them but Bruce loves them).
- Green beans (the bean part is protein-dense).
- Organic steamed boneless salmon, skin off.
- Organic water-packed sustainable tuna.
- Hard-boiled eggs (yolk and white).
- Snails or slugs (only if she catches them in the yard on her own).
Malti's Picks: Vitamins & minerals.
I just have to say this up front: it is super duper extra important to always talk with your exotic veterinarian before adding any vitamins, minerals or other supplements to your redfoot tortoise’s diet!! Adding the wrong thing or even too much of the right thing can cause harm!
That being said, here is what we are doing for Malti right now….
She gets a sprinkle of TNT (Total Nutrition for Tortoises) from Carolina Pet Supply on her food every other week or so.
When and only when her veterinarian recommends it, she also gets the occasional sprinkle of Zoo Med calcium powder with D3 at the same time I add the TNT.
She used to get both supplements every few days when she was still a hatchling and lived indoors full-time and received her ultraviolet spectrum light via artificial bulb. But now that she is bigger and older and lives outdoors for much of the year, I don’t need to supplement her calcium nearly so often.
Malti also has free access to a Zoo Med cuttle bone (turtle bone) at all times for extra calcium. Bruce won’t touch his, but she really likes it! She only eats it when she needs extra calcium, however. Otherwise she leaves it alone.
Malti's Picks: Tortoise treats.
Malti lives and breathes for Fluker’s crispy freeze-dried mealworms (here, think your favorite chips, just mealworm-shaped and flavored and made out of mealworms. Yum.).
She will do just about anything for them. She tries to crawl up my leg onto my lap when I don’t drop them into her mouth fast enough.
She loves them so much she even lets me pet her soft neck skin while she’s munching on one….although here I have to do it quick before they disappear “down the hatch.”
Malti's Picks: Pet water bowl.
Like nearly all reptiles, Malti drinks and bathes and bathrooms all in the same place – her water bowl.
When she was little I used a tiny shallow dish for her water. Now I use a giant red tub and she is quickly outgrowing that.
Whether she is outdoors or indoors, I watch her water bowl closely and change it at least once a day and sometimes more often. When she bathrooms you don’t want to wait to change it – trust me!
Malti's Picks: Tortoise substrate.
I raised Malti from the time she was one month old. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I did right is to line her baby enclosure with loads of fresh wet Exo Terra Forest Plume sphagnum moss.
This stuff smells like old moldy gym socks and a small dry cube of it expands to the size of a soccer ball when you wet it down. But she adores it. When she is living in her outside enclosure I don’t usually use it anymore because she has leaf litter and dirt and cypress mulch and a lovely coconut fiber bed to cuddle up into.
But when she lives inside with me during the winter, she gets all the stinky fresh wet sphagnum moss she wants to burrow into. And the rest of us get candles and open doors and windows to keep things breathable.
Malti's Picks: Winter tortoise warmer.
I have always used a Zoo Med ReptiTherm under tank warmer. I use the smallest one that can be used with plastic habitats (the larger versions can only be used with glass).
It is like a little spot heating pad for reptiles. You put it on the side or (in our case) under the outside bottom of the enclosure. Malti loves hers. She sits right on top of the spot in her habitat where it is placed and just snoozes away. Just to clarify, even though it is low-wattage, I still put it outside the floor of her indoor tub habitat and then put at least two layers of reptile carpet inside and she sits on top of that, so there are several layers between her and the actual surface of the heating pad.
The reptile carpet products I use are Zilla reptile terrarium bedding substrate liner and Zoo Med eco cage carpet for reptiles.
I also use a Zoo Med 100-watt ceramic heat emitter bulb at night for heat supplementation (during the day, her indoor ultraviolet spectrum light bulb adds extra heat from above). I put it in the Zoo Med mini deep dome lamp fixture which is rated for this type of powerful, hot bulb.
Malti's Picks: Summer tortoise cooler.
I use mesh fabric suggested by our vet that I place over the top of his outdoor enclosure to help block the heat when our Texas summer really ramps up.
I got mine at Lowe’s. It comes on self-serve rolls and I just cut six feet off and then laid it over the top of Malti’s enclosure to give her some extra shade and heat relief during the hottest weeks of summer.
Malti's Picks: Tortoise UV light.
Of all the many (oh so many) supplies Malti needs to stay happy and healthy, I would say the ultraviolet spectrum light bulb is perhaps the most vital. This was the single biggest lasting mistake I made when she was a hatchling – I didn’t know her bulb was not strong enough until she got very sick and her shell started developing a bumpy appearance known as “pyramiding.” This happened VERY fast. The whole story is long and makes me very sad and I have told it in more detail on her blog.
Here, I just want to say that the bulb I use now is fantastic and I will probably use it forever, changing it out every six months to make sure the ultraviolet light spectrum part stays strong (the bulb will keep working to put out light after six months, but the UV concentration in the light will steadily decrease which is why you have to change it out every six months no matter what).
I use the Zoo Med Power Sun 100-watt mercury vapor bulb. I put it in the Zoo Med mini deep dome lamp fixture which is rated for this type of powerful, hot bulb.
Malti's Picks: Tortoise toys.
Malti’s toys are whatever she wants to play with in our casa that isn’t on the tortoise no-no list (examples here include power cords, the bouncy silicone stress ball filled with fluid, her mama’s brand new pricey hiking shoes – you get the idea).
When she was a hatchling, she would mouth and bite and play with my keys….uh-dorable. And if there is anything new she hasn’t seen before, whether it is my laptop or a bag of groceries, she wants to check it out. She is a very smart, curious girl!
She also has TONS of stuffed animals – most are turtles and tortoises but her hands-down favorite is her giant stuffed alligator. She pushes it across the living room, climbs on top of it, burrows underneath it….she has loved it since she was a baby and true love lasts a lifetime.
Bruce really likes this toy too, but it is definitely Malti’s. In fact, he probably likes it mainly because it smells like lady turtle. 🙂