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Nadine Gill

Providing food that is both nutritious and safe is the goal of every responsible tortoise or turtle keeper, but, sometimes, beginning keepers find out about the possible dangers too late.

A member recently told us the tragic story of a juvenile sulcata tortoise that was fed a rinsed head of supermarket produce fastened at the base with the green plastic tie pictured here. The sulcata ingested it, and by the time it was discovered by the owner, irreparable damage had been done. The tortoise was taken to the animal hospital, but because of the extent of the injuries, the veterinarian determined there was nothing that could be done and so, sadly, the young tortoise was euthanized.

Danger hidden in supermarket produce!

We also receive calls from keepers whose animals have been poisoned by ingested slug pellets, rat and mouse poison, weed killer, and other pesticides, as well as toxic plants.  These poisons have resulted in the death of many tortoises and turtles, and great care should be taken that an animal never has access to them.

Many keepers supplement with supermarket produce when natural graze is unavailable. Various agricultural pesticide residues can be on store produce as well, and thorough rinsing is therefore advised. Yet, when in a rush to feed their animals, some keepers will forego rinsing store produce, thinking it is quite safe to do so.  Standards regarding agricultural pesticides do vary, but they are generally based on what is considered safe for human consumption.  So, the possible short and long term effects of feeding unwashed supermarket produce to reptiles that are not only far smaller, but are often totally herbivorous, should be a serious concern. To prevent tragic and needless deaths from poisoning and ingestion of foreign objects, or the continuous ingestion of low-level pesticide residue, we suggest the following precautions:


If you move to a new house, carefully inspect the ground when setting up pens for your animals, particularly if the area had previously been used as a garden. If you have an opportunity to speak to the previous owner about where any toxic pesticide or weed killer may have been used, do so.

Be aware of which plants are toxic, and ensure that your animals do not have access to any that may be growing on your property. A list of poisonous plants can be found in the Tortoise and Turtle Feeding Manual.

Inspect all store produce carefully and remove any twist ties or plastic ties before storing in the refrigerator. Be aware that these ties come in a variety of styles and colors - including green, which may not be readily noticeable against green-leafed produce.

Before feeding your animal any supermarket produce, separate all leaves in the head of lettuce or greens and rinse them well. Concentrations of pesticide may gather at the base of the head of produce.

If you discover that your tortoise or turtle is ill and think that it may have been poisoned, take it to a vet without delay. Minutes can count. Also bring the item that you suspect could have been the cause with you, and any packet or container, if possible. 

There are standard treatments for many common poisons, and this will allow the specific poison to be identified and for your pet to have a better chance of recovery. These poisons are usually well known by veterinarians, who routinely encounter animals that have accidentally ingested them. Possible symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, foaming at the mouth, weakness and lethargy.

Nadine Gill/Tortoise Trust 2002