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Vegetarians 101

The purpose of this document is to spell out the reasoning behind nutritional choices for Uromastyx and Testudinidae. Also providing a comprehensive list of consumerist foods that accompany this information.





Reptiles produce Oxalates. Vegetables contain the compound Oxalic Acid which metabolizes into Oxalates. Vitamin C can metabolize into Oxalates.


Oxalate compounds bind to minerals, mainly iron and calcium, throughout the urinary tract system. For some animals, they can simply expel this build-up of CaOx or FeOx naturally in their urine. Other individuals end up with health issues, stones forming in the kidney and bladder. Currently, stressful and invasive surgery is the only remedy for these stones.


Other issues also arise. Minerals bind to Oxalates; in healthy situations, this is a way of clearing excess minerals from the body. Mineral in unhealthy situations are pulled from the digestive tract prematurely in order to bond to Oxalates. Therefore, leaving the animal in a mineral depletion.


There has been correlation to supersaturation of water counteracting this absorption of minerals from Oxalates in the digestive system, a way of healthily flushing the animals system of excess oxalates. Dehydration makes your animal more likely to form Oxalate Stones.


It must be noted that in a study published by Creighton University, Omaha, Oxalates only bond to the minerals of the plant matter it comes from. In the study, absorption rates of calcium were recorded for spinach and milk. Milk naturally does not have Oxalates, Spinach does.  The calcium in milk was found to have not been effected by the Oxalates found in Spinach.





Goitrogen rich foods are believed to have an effect on thyroid hormone levels, thus disrupting iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. This is thought to be the cause of Goiters, the enlargement of a thyroid gland that can be painful and uncomfortable.


There are many reasons for the thyroid gland to become enlarged. Diffused enlargement occurs when the entirety of a gland is affected, while solitary enlargement only effects part of the gland. Solitary enlargement can be caused by a variety of reasons, cysts and nodes for example. Diffused enlargement usually presents itself because of goiters and thyroiditis (inflammation). Comparatively, the autoimmune thyroiditis is distinguished as a painless swelling of the thyroid that changes shape and size over time.


Goiters are the thick tissue growth of the thyroid that does not change shape or size, and is caused by the glands overstimulation of two certain hormones (TSH and HCG). When studied, the most popular causes of goiters were not from iodine deficiencies or goitrogenic foods. Current clinical and scientific literature pinpoints autoimmune diseases as the main culprit. A goiter due to iodine deficiency is actually rare.


Although it can be an issue, hysteria and complete dissalowment of goitrogenic foods seems extreme. We always air on the side of caution. Be aware of your reptiles for any lumps. Limit the volume of foods that have goitrogens in them. Food which may contain moderate levels of goitrogens can also be benificial by providing key minerals and vitamins. This is why it can be dangerous to completely cut them out of a diet for a healthy reptile, because variety and well rounded diets are always the best option.





Sugar rich foods can be a problem in some species. Species of reptiles that cannot process the sugar in fruits and even some vegetables (like carrots) can cause diarrhea. Sugar provides an environment, which has been found to aid in the flourishing of parasitic cultures inside of the body.


The big issue with diarrhea really stems to one thing. Diarrhea causes dehydration. The compound fructose (a common type of vegetable sugar) pulls water to the gut to flush the system. Diarrhea also interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food in your animal’s gut. When wondering if your animal can have fruit or not, look at the location that they come from.


Forest reptiles tend to be more omnivorous, with fruit and vegetables and mushrooms easily accessed by them in their environments.


Desert and arid reptiles tend to have strictly flowering leafy plants and dry grasses available.



Calcium to Phosphate ratio (Ca:P)


The Calcium to Phosphate ratio is an important calculation to know and understand because these two compounds bond together in the digestive system. Optimally, you are looking for a Ca:P of 2:1. What this means is that for every two parts Calcium, there is one Phosphate to bond to. When foods are heavy in Phosphate, it pulls out calcium in the body until the Phosphate reaches the 2:1 ratio.


Phosphate rich foods and phosphate rich bodies will lead to a variety of issues long term.


Calcium deficiencies and stones are the largest issue.



Food List


Feeding should replicate the animals natural ecosystem. Feeding should be done daily. In the wild, Uromastyx and Tortoises have the availability of food daily. Uromastyx and tortoises are grazers, so while they have an active photoperiod, they will eat anytime throughout the day. 


By photoperiod, I should point out the differences between indoor photoperiods (artificial) and natural photoperiods. Indoor enclosures have sudden exposure to heat and light because everything is changed with a switch artificially. While naturally, the sun gradually heats up an area, or an area gradually cools off after the sun recedes. The difference is, outdoors, animals have natural queue’s, which tell them to stop eating and go to bed. The air pressure, air temperature, surface temperature, and light are the main tells. Air composition and wind possibly help too. Indoors, they do not have these queues, which tell them to stop eating.


What happens then is that your animal will continue to eat until lights out. If your enclosures environment is too cold for the species, then the enclosure suddenly drops in temperature and you reptile is left with a belly full of vegetation.


Remember, reptiles are cold blooded; they need outside sources of heat to digest food. If the food sits, the food will build gas and begin to decay in the belly. If you also add in an attempt at Brumation, the animal, which had consistent and regular exposure to heat lamps without any natural cues to brumation will eventually become very sick due to the food sitting in their belly. 


Reptiles as a whole do not have the same internal mechanisms that we have to throw up. Some have diaphragms, some don’t. Some have epiglottis’, others do not. If the food begins to rot, there is no way for your animal to expel the mass, and therefore must keep it in its belly until they are warmed up and can begin the digestive process. If this happens once on accident (i.e. one night or 24 hour period), your animal is unlikely to have severe consequences for the undigested food. The bulk of vegetarian food is carbohydrates, which are easily processed under heat lights. There are small amounts of vegetable proteins which are more easily digested than animal based proteins.


Over a prolonged period of time (like brumation), undigested food will cause serious harm. In these instances, the digestive tract reactivates after the food begins to rot. The build up of gasses and decay will slowly begin to seep out of their mouth due to gut pressure and bloat. The likelihood of your anima breathing in these fluids are very high, and this is the main cause of a respiratory infection seen in captivity. It may also cause other infections, lethargy, and poisoning. 


Know the specifics of your animal’s optimal hot area and optimal cool area, and their need to brumate or not brumate.





Base diet of green vegetables. About 80% of their overall diet for any vegetarian reptile. 

Baby vegetables are a great route. Vegetables lose a lot of minerals and vitamins as they age. Like sprouts, baby vegetables are jam packed with minerals and vitamins, perfect for a growing animal. Not only are they higher in nutrients, Oxalates are found in lower concentrations in baby plants when compared to adult plants per volume. Comparatively, fully mature vegetation is extremely fibrous, albeit lacking the potency of vitamins and minerals when diminish with a plants age.

Dandelion greens
Shredded or cubed cactus pads
Baby kale**
Red leaf
Green leaf
Chicory leaf
Mustard greens
Turnip greens
Radish greens
Romaine (in moderation)
Grape leaves
Hibiscus leaves

Sprouted seeds


Do Not feed spinach, parsley, chard or broccoli. They contain high amounts of oxalic acid.


Root veggies, shredded, will add variety into their diet. Usually, I feel these out two to three times a week.


Yellow squash

Banana squash



Sun burst squash

Acorn squash

Hubbard squash

Fibrous food and dry grasses are a great additive to a vegetarians diet. Not only is fiber great for their digestive tract, but it is also a great bedding and way to bind up loose stool.


I rarely see some tortoises or uromastyx actively eating dry grasses or hay. But for example, Egyptian Uromastyx, Banded Uromastyx, Mali Uromastyx, Moroccan Uromastyx, Leopard Tortoises, Sulcata Tortoises, Greek Tortoises, Marginated Tortoises and Russians all actively search out and eat both dried grass and Hay. 

Timothy hay

Bermuda grass

Edible and Organic Weeds



Seed and Legumes 


Grain and seed is a great dry (or soaked) addition. Usually fed to Uromastyx weekly or bi-weekly.

Be cognizant of the type and quality of seeds or Legumes you feed. For example, seeds with Husks cannot be digested. The Husk is pure fiber. If the animal is larger, like a red foot or Sulcata, the husk wouldn't have much of an effect. But if the tortoises or uromastyx is smaller, then the husk, which is fibrous, and sometimes sharp would have a very hard time passing through the digestive tract. Take a sunflower seed, if a uromastyx with their strong jaw cracks it and eats it, he will still eat the seed and husk together. The Husk can cause microscopic tears to the lining of their digestive tract as it travels through their body. I have seen two things happen from this, the husk lodges in their tract, causing impaction. The other is the introduction to infection to their intestines. Some signs and symptoms of these issues are blood in the stool, swelling to the stomach while they continue to loose weight, lethargy, dehydration, and even death. Please take your animal to an experienced reptile veterinarian specializing in tortoises or uromastyx. 

These are the Seeds and Legumes I have used and had experience with. Lentils and Millet are probably our animals top two favorite from the following list.

Red lentils
Yellow lentils
split peas






There are a variety of flowers that are non-toxic. You must be aware of the source of your flowers. Food-grade flowers are hard to find, but if you have the available they are extremely enriching for your vegetarian reptiles. They must be non-fertilized and fully organic. Runoff from contaminated water can leach pesticides into the flowers.


Just know your sources.


Dendrobium Sp. of Orchid





Fruit should only be fed to animals that come from grassland or forest locations were fruit is readily found in their environment.


Uromastyx Should Not eat fruit.


Sulcatas and Russian tortoises Should Not eat fruit.


The concentration of sugar and vitamin C is directly related to how much of this food your reptile can eat. In higher concentrations of vitamin C and sugar, the less often you should feed them out. Remember, even with omnivorous animals, sugar and vitamin C can cause diarrhea in high numbers.


Fruit should be fed moderately. Fruit is a treat. About 10% of their diet or less.


Bell pepper
Peaches and Nectarines

Be aware of acid levels in fruit.


Fruit which has a high percentage of acid; oranges, lemons and limes should be avoided completely.





Supplementation generally needs to be a Calcium (1.5% per serving) + Vitamin D3 (3,000 IU/KG)


Repashy Grassland Grazers
Repashy Superveggie
Zoo Med Repti Calcium with D3
Mazuri tortoise pellets (soaked)




Sunland Breeders © 2018

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