How Long Can a Pet Turtle Live Without Food?

How Long Can a Pet Turtle Live Without Food

Many of us often wonder how long can a pet turtle live without food. It is a valid thought especially if you are planning on going on a vacation or tour. In this article, I’ll talk in details how long can a pet turtle live without food.

Let’s start by giving a short and exact answer: if you have a healthy and adult turtle which has been fed properly throughout its life, then it can live without food for months. It won’t be a problem. Wild turtles do exactly the same thing when they are hibernating.

Hibernation is a very low active state of turtles. Turtles generally go into hibernation during the cold months of the year especially if the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During hibernation, the body of the turtle goes into a low active state with very slow metabolism rate. As a result, turtles can go months without eating anything.

We, turtle owners, typically not see our pet turtles hibernating. It is because-

  • Pet turtles have a constant supply of food all time of the year. So, they don’t need to go into hibernation.
  • The indoor turtle tank setup doesn’t go through a radical temperature change throughout the year. The constant temperature range discourages turtles to go into hibernation.
  • A constant supply of UVB is another reason for pet turtles not going into hibernation.

Real Life Stories:

Let’s share some real-life stories that I have heard from some fellow turtle owners:

One of my friend, a turtle keeper, once was renovating his house. By an accident, his pet tortoise fell under the foundation. My friend couldn’t find him anymore. However, about two years later, my friend found him again. The tortoise lived for two years without any sufficient food source. It is true that the tortoise lived on bugs and insects the whole time. However, it wasn’t a reliable decent food source.

This story makes me angry and sad. An irresponsible turtle owner left his turtle under a pile of laundry and forgot about it. The turtle lived for several months under the laundry, forgotten. When found, the turtle was severely dehydrated and lost weight.

So, it is true that turtles can live for months without any food. However, that doesn’t mean you can leave your pet turtle unattended without any reason. Your pet turtle should always have decent foods constantly for healthy growth. Don’t be an irresponsible turtle owner like the ones above.

How Long Can a Pet Turtle Live Without Food and Water?

Yes, I said a turtle can live for months without any food. But, when it comes to without any food and water, then I am afraid the answer is not that long.

Like humans, turtles need water for digestion, hydration, metabolism along with several other physiology processes. Without water, a turtle can die within a few months. A turtle enclosure should always have a water feature inside, even if it is a land turtle like box turtles. Even tortoises need water for their day to day life.

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Proper Amount of Feeding for Pet Turtles:

As turtles are reptiles, aka cold-blooded animals, they don’t need to use much energy to regulate their internal body temperature as warm-blooded animals, like humans. As a result, turtles don’t need that much energy as we do. Consequently, turtles do not need to eat as frequently as a human does.

Below is a rule of thumb on the proper amount of feeding for pet turtles. This applies to most common aquatic turtle species including the red-eared slider, painted turtle, box turtles etc.

Less than 6 months oldFeed daily protein and vegetables. The amount of protein should be major.
Between 6 to 12 months oldFeed vegetables every day and protein every other day.
Older than 12 monthsFeed vegetables every day and protein 3 times a week.
Preferred vegetables for pet turtles: dandelion leaves, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy, kale, romaine lettuce etc.


NB: Never feed iceberg lettuce to pet turtles as it contains no noticeable nutrition.

Preferred protein sources: waxworms, crickets, earthworms, snails, silkworms, daphnia, krill, shrimp, bloodworms, mealworms, feeder fish, cooked meat etc.

As you might have noticed, turtles need to eat vegetables every day and the more matured the get, the less protein the need. There are a couple of scientific reasons behind this:

  • Young turtles need majority amount of protein in their diet as their body needs to grow and develop. The more the turtle gets to adulthood, the less it requires protein.
  • In wild, turtles don’t have access to protein every day. In fact, they can only have protein few times a week. So, to stimulate the natural dieting behavior, you need to provide less protein as your turtle grows up.

Along with fresh vegetables and protein, your turtle diet should also consist of a reliable commercial turtle food. It will ensure your turtle is getting all the necessary nutrients that are required for proper growth and development.

Variables that Control How Long a Turtle Can Live Without Food

Here are some variables that affect how long a turtle can live without food:

Access to clean water:

The first variable is if your pet turtle has access to clean, pure water for drinking and swimming. If it does, then even without food, your turtle can live several weeks easily. Your turtle may lose a few fat storages, but it is not anything serious. This happens all the time in the wild.

Access to Basking area, heat lamp, and UVB:

A dry basking area, heat lamp, and UVB lamp are must for the healthy growth of every pet turtle. if your turtle has pure water and a basking area with a heat lamp and UVB lamp, then she might live for several months easily without any serious health issue. The tank needs to be properly heated too.

Keep in mind that, though the turtle may survive several months, it doesn’t indicate she will remain healthy. She may lose a significant amount of fat stores from the body.


Age is also a very important factor when determining how long a turtle can live without food. If your turtle is less than 6 months old, then even if the previous two variables are covered, she might not live for more than several weeks without food.

So, there are different factors at play when deciding how long can a pet turtle live without food. However, as per the general rule of thumb, an adult healthy turtle can live months without any food.

To all the good turtle owners, it is never recommended to leave your turtle without any food for more than several weeks. Even if you need to go on a tour for a long time, have someone check on your turtle preferably on every few days, or at least once a week.

How Long Can a Red Eared Slider Turtle go Without Eating?

An adult red-eared slider can live for months without eating, provided that it has access to fresh pure water, basking area, heat lamp and UVB. Also, the turtle needs to be healthy and free from any prior health issues.

If the red-eared slider is less than six months old, then it might live for only a few weeks without any food.

How Long Can a Box Turtle go Without Eating?

Like red-eared sliders, box turtles can live for weeks without anything to eat. However, it will need access to pure drinking water. It is also better if the enclosure is properly heated otherwise the box turtle may go into hibernation.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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