If you have or want a pet turtle, then you’re going to need to know what they can eat and what you should not feed them.
A turtles diet is crucial for their health and longevity and here your going to find out everything you need to know about what turtles eat, what they cant and how make sure your beloved shell companion gets every nutrient they need to live a long healthy life.
Most pet turtles are omnivorous meaning that they eat both vegetables and meat. Pet turtles need a good protein source which can be provided by commercial turtle pellets and vegetables which can include dark leafy greens, kale, romaine lettuce, mustard greens and dandelion greens. When they are young hatchlings up to a couple years old, protein should make up the majority of their food supply. As they age then their vegetable content should increase to up to 3 quarters of what they eat by the time their fully grown. generally some in the ages 5 to 8 years old.
There are many facets to a healthy turtles diet. While that covers the essential basics it’s also important to know what they cant eat as well as the complete variety of foods you can feed them. The importance of supplementing with a source of calcium can not be overemphasized as well.
Complete List of What Pet Turtles Can Eat
Most foods that you can feed your pet turtle can be broken down into vegetables and protein sources. Rarely feed fruit to your turtle as they contain too much sugar for a turtles health. A little bit everything shouldn’t be too bad, but feed them mainly protein and vegetables.
Some excellent veggies to feed your little guy are the following:
- softened carrots
- sweet potatoes
- pumpkin when its carefully chopped up
- green beans
- dandelion greens
- mustard greens
- water hyacinth
- water lettuce
- dark leafs of romaine lettuce
- turnip greens, not the actual turnips themselves
The best of this list and all you really need to give them for their vegetable intake are kale, collard, romaine lettuce and mustard greens. The other vegetables on this list are great choices too but some kale and romaine lettuce should serve perfectly find if all the options are overwhelming for you.
Avoid celery and iceberg lettuce as it mainly consists of water and is quite lacking of the nutrients that turtles require.
Make sure that all the vegetables you give your turtle with the exception of kale and leaves of lettuce are very well chopped up to help make sure your turtle doesn’t have too many problems eating it.
For protein you should make sure to give your turtle high quality commercial turtle pellets for the safest and easiest protein source.
A good list of turtle pellets are:
- zoo med
If you want some protein treats to give to your turtle then you can also feed them mealworms, crickets, earthworms, insects as well as feeder fish such as gold fish.
You can also feed them apples, grapes, bananas, and tomatoes. But these should be well chopped up and fed in very small doses rarely like make once every few weeks as turtles can easily get health problems from having to much sugar and compared to a turtles body mass even healthy fruits like apples and bananas can have too much sure for a small turtle.
What Foods You Should Never Feed Them and What Should Probably Be Avoided
While knowing the foods that you can and should feed your turtle is important you’re also going to need to know the foods you should absolutely never give to them.
Never feed them luncheon meat or pizza these foods have a lot of grease and fats that while being okay for a human in moderation would just completely overload a turtles digestion.
Never feed them chicken or fish from your grocer nor any raw meat. Creatures you may have caught in the wild with the idea of feeding to your turtle should also be avoided as you never know what kinds of bacteria or parasites they might have.
Turtles will absolutely love fish but too much of it is not good for them and can lead to a dangerous thiamine deficiency. While that may seem counter intuitive with them being turtles the truth is that in the wild most special of pet aquatic turtle would rarely get too eat fish. They mainly survive off of insects and vegetation generally.
Absolutely never give your turtle any dairy products like milk, cheese and various kinds of yogurt. Many humans cannot digest dairy properly and for turtles no turtle can digest dairy. Their simply not built for it, so please don’t give them any dairy products.
Bread also needs to be avoided, as there are enzymes in human saliva that help us to be able to digest breads, which turtles lack. In fact aquatic species of turtles dont produce any saliva at all which means that they must always eat their food in the water to provide the proper amount of moisture for good digestion.
What to Feed Baby Turtles VS Older Turtles
When turtles are young they need a much larger amount of protein then when they are older. Young being from about the age of a hatchling to maybe 2 years old. During this time you should mainly feed them commercial turtle pellets while trying to introduce them to some vegetables to make sure they get used to it so they will more easily eat them when there older and need them more.
As the turtles ages you should slowly scale back their protein consumption. When most common pet aquatic species of turtle age they requirements for protein drop and they start need a whole lot more vegetables for their diet.
A good ratio to work with is when they are babies from hatchling to 2 years old you should feed the 75% of their diet protein and the remaining 25% you should try to give them vegetables.
When their a bit older something akin to the teenage years for humans roughly 2 to 5 years old then maybe try to give them a 50/50 diet of protein and vegetables. So perhaps half of the time give them their commercial turtle pellets or a protein alternative that you have carefully prepared and then for the other half give them some nice leaves of kale or romaine lettuce.
Then when they are fully grown somewhere in the ages of 5 to 8 then give them 75% of their food as vegetable and maybe only a quarter of their diet should consist of protein sources like turtle pellets or alternatives.
Making Sure Your Turtle Gets Enough Calcium
Calcium is essential for most living creature and for turtles this is especially true. They use calcium not to just make their skeleton is healthy like with a human but the keratin of their shell depends upon it for its health. And for a turtle their shells health is everything to them. Its there only true home.
Unfortunately it can be relatively easy for your turtle to not get enough calcium especially if your depending to much of their diet upon turtle pellets which can be quite lacking in the calcium department.
If your feeding them good dark leafy greens like kale then that should help make sure their getting some good calcium for extra measure you might need to do some additional things.
Some good extra sources of calcium are:
- cuttlebone: these are shells of a white chalky substance, you need to make sure that you cut off the hard backing as a turtle can choke on it, you toss in the tank and your turtle can take a few bites off of it when they feel like it.
- There are also special little calcium vitamin you can just drop in the water and they will dissolve into the water and the turtle skin can absorb it.
If your turtle doesn’t receive enough calcium they can develop a serious metabolic bone disease they can have awful symptoms such as causing them to swim and walk awkwardly, a soft rubbery shell, swollen lumps on the top of their head as well as shell pyramiding(which is where there shell starts to grow and shed in strange ways) so try to make sure your pet turtle gets the calcium they need and watch out for these symptoms in case of a deficiency.
How Much and How Often Should You Feed Your Turtle
When your turtle is a baby feed it every day, as they get older you can reduce that to every other day or every third day if they are fully mature at the ages of 5 to 8.
Baby turtles don’t have as much fat storage and their metabolisms are faster due to them still growing so they need to be fed a lot more often than when they are mature and not growing any more.
Overfeeding your turtle can actually be a big problem and one that is easy to fall into especially as a new turtle keeper. There is no hard and fast rule for how much to feed them unfortunately. Two strategies that people have developed are:
- Feed them about the amount that would fit into the size of their head, for a baby this might only be a few pellets but for an older turtle could be a bit more.
- Feed them about the amount that they can eat in 5 minutes or so. This way can have some problems as even pet turtles still have the wild instincts that mother nature granted them. In the wild they never know when food will come next or how plentiful it will be. Because of this they will generally never stop being hungry, and will always want more food if it is offered.
How Long Can Turtles Go Without Food?
A healthy mature well fed pet turtle should be able to survive potentially months without food if they have water and UVB rays. Baby turtles may last a much shorter amount of time likely measure in weeks.
If you have to leave your turtle for several days please don’t rely on them being able to survive without food. Get a friend, family member or neighbor to pop in from time to time to feed them.
While turtles can go a long time without food, it can leave them malnourished and open them up to the greater risk of disease and death.
So make sure you or some you trust always feeds your turtle regularly so that they can go on to live a long healthy life.