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Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Regarding Kelp as a Supplement for Tortoises

Regarding kelp for tortoises - it is difficult to comment on in general terms. However, while some marine turtles are of course adapted to a diet almost entirely of algae, this is not true of terrestrial tortoises at all and I have grave doubts as to the wisdom of feeding them kelp. Of course, if there is some clearly diagnosed dietary deficiency which kelp might remedy better than more natural food items (such as iodine deficiency) then of course there is a good case for using it in such situations. However, quite a few of our southern African tortoises are highly specialised with respect to their food plants - Chersina, Psammobates, Homopus and some Kinixys, as you know - and while they can be kept alive outside their natural range on other plant species, their condition is often less than satisfactory. This is not merely a matter of behaviour - it is reflected in gut length, gut anatomy, gut physiology, motility, etc., all of which are geared towards the characteristics of the plants they evolved to feed on over some millions of years. I have frequently seen, at post-mortem, diet-related enteropathy - often presenting macroscopically as flattened mucosal folds and floppy musculature; and microscopically as atrophied villi and altered epithelium, very much like the gluten-dependent enteropathy seen in some humans. Considering the huge chemical differences between kelps and the terrestrial plants tortoises feed on, not to speak of the big differences in physical properties particularly relating to bulk and to roughage (essential for proper gut motility in the grass-eaters) I would consider the routine provision of kelp as part of the usual diet to be a very bad thing indeed. I would only recommend its use where specifically indicated on medical grounds, for only as long as is necessary to rectify a particular deficiency and not under any other circumstances - least of all as an unsubstantiated "just in case" stratagem! Best wishes,
Dr. A.J. Lambiris
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