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How Much Food Should I Feed My Turtle? [Don’t Guess]

Florida red-bellied turtle eating a yellow pond lily

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Like most pets, turtles need a balanced diet full of nutritional supplements to ensure a healthy life inside the house. However, both inadequate feeding and overfeeding can lead to major health issues. Hence, it’s important to research extensively before deciding on a specific balanced diet.

A general guideline for most pet turtles, such as red-eared sliders, is to feed them food about the size of their head every other day. Juvenile turtles may be fed daily. The food amount depends on the turtle’s species and age. As a rule, give them pellets, vegetables, or protein from sources such as insects or fish. Make sure the total food doesn’t go beyond the size of their head each time you feed.

Today, my goal is to speak from experience so that turtle enthusiasts can figure out the basics of creating a diet chart for their pet turtles and tortoises. However, for critical feeding information, it’s best to check in with the vet first.

read all our guides on Turtle dietary pattern & metabolism!

Key Takeaways

  • Most pet turtle species are naturally omnivores, i.e., they need both meat and veggies in their balanced diet.
  • Larger tortoises require a larger portion, i.e., the size of a tortoise is proportional to the amount of consumed food.
  • Baby turtles need more protein & minerals than adult turtles.
  • Adult turtles mostly live on a diet of vegetables and fruits.
  • To avoid overfeeding, stick to the amount of food that the turtles can consume within 10-15 minutes only.
  • Get rid of the half-eaten vegetables or crustaceans to avoid the deterioration of the water quality in the tank.
  • Use fresh vegetables, fruits, or pellets as treats for the tortoises when they come up to bask in the sun.
  • Canned turtle food or pellets are great for occasional emergencies, but don’t be dependent on them completely.
  • Switch up the protein sources regularly to mimic the natural variety for the pet turtles and tortoises.
  • Live feeding is important to keep the hunting instincts of the omnivorous pet turtles intact.
  • While live-feeding, always make sure the prey is smaller and weaker in size so that the turtles don’t get hurt.

What’s The Right Amount Of Food For Turtles?

Age, size, and species – these three factors primarily determine the right amount of food for turtles.

Let’s take a look into some of the traditional food items for pet turtles and the best ways to include them in a balanced diet chart –

1. Meat

Nope, don’t go giving your turtles big lumps of steak and ribeyes for dinner!

Pet turtles consume meat or protein in three forms – industrial turtle food, live food, or freeze-dried crustaceans.

Turtles won’t generally feed on raw meat unless they kill the prey themselves.

Hence, there’s no point in cutting out a big piece from a steak, thinking that the pet turtles will munch on it. In fact, turtles don’t even consume beef or any mammal meat.

All their protein requirements are either met by aquatic insects or small invertebrates. So, it’s not recommended to provide them with beef or chicken as they don’t resemble the natural food sources in the slightest.

As for the amount, meat or protein-based items should fill up 60-70% of a balanced diet for young adult turtles. Turtles in the growing phase need more protein than the adult ones. Hence, it’s important to provide more pellets or canned food alongside live and freeze-dried food for extra nutrients.

2. Vegetables

Over time, 70-80% of a turtle’s diet consists of fresh and leafy vegetables only.

Turtles love to munch on veggies! However, not all sorts of fresh and green vegetables are safe for turtles. For instance – spinach and iceberg lettuce may seem like great veggies for growing turtles. But in reality, spinach has oxalates in it. Upon consumption, the oxalates can bind to calcium, and the derivative compounds can lower the nutritional values.

Again, iceberg lettuce hardly provides any nutritional value to turtles, and they have a hard time digesting it as well. Hence, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Similarly, turtles also have problems with common vegetables like tomatoes.

Even avocados and potatoes are harmful to turtles, as they contain persin and solanine, respectively. Again, the seeds in the tomatoes can become choking hazards for baby turtles.

Overall, 30-40% of a young turtle’s diet should consist of safe and green vegetables. As the turtles continue to mature, vegetables and fruits take up almost 70-80% of the diet.

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Here’s a brief overview of some of the safe-to-eat vegetables for turtles and their proportionate amounts and benefits –

VegetablesAmountBenefits
CarrotsHalf a carrot shredded or chopped for adult turtles. Boiled and smashed carrots for baby and growing turtles.Great source of Vitamin A. Helps with metabolism.
Bell Peppers1 or 2 whole bell peppers for adult land tortoises. For small turtles, remove the seeds and chop ’em into bite-sized pieces.Great source of Vitamin C. Helps to boost immunity.
WatercressNot more than a handful. Best not to offer to the younglings.Full of nutritional supplements and minerals.
Romaine LettuceLarge land tortoises can take down full lettuce heads as afternoon snacks. Small turtles need chopped pieces.Great for vitamins but not as potent as kale/collard greens.
Turnip GreensA handful. Use as dressing to complement the protein items.Great source of minerals like calcium. Helps to strengthen the turtle’s carapace and teeth.
Butternut SquashA whole squash for turtles over 50-60 years old. Shredded and chopped pieces for smaller & younger turtles.Full of nutrients and helps with hydration as well.
KaleAlternative to turnip greens or collards. As much needed to fulfill the daily veggies quota.Great source of vitamin A and minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, etc.
Collard GreensAlternative to kale or turnip greens. As much needed to fulfill the daily veggies quota.Great for growing turtles with a fast metabolism to keep the digestive tracts healthy.
ZucchiniA few bite-sized pieces for small turtles. Big, whole zucchini for large tortoises.Helps to hydrate the body and clear out the toxins. Complements the protein sources for a balanced intake.

[Check out this adorable video of the Internet’s favorite tortoise Tiptoe munching on bell peppers, one of his favorite afternoon snacks while sunbathing.]

3. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent option for adding extra protein to a turtle’s diet. But don’t give more than an egg or two to a turtle at any given time, and don’t offer eggs regularly either.

Once or twice a week suffice for both young and mature turtles. Also, always offer boiled eggs to the pet turtles as the raw eggs can hurt their stomach.

To know more about turtles and their love for boiled eggs, read up on – Can Turtles Eat Eggs?

4. Dried Food

By dried food, I mean store-bought pellets or canned turtle foods. While they’re okay for the pet turtles, try to rely on something other than processed food entirely.

Because as full of nutrients they are, the freshness is ultimately absent. And omnivorous turtles love to hunt down prey, no matter how small they are. So, constantly feeding from a can will also take away their natural hunting instincts.

You can give 20-30% processed food to the pet turtles in their growing stage. However, the other 20-30% must be compensated by live food as the primary source of protein.

5. Live Food

Earthworms, insects, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets – turtles feed on innumerable insects and small aquatic animals. Furthermore, they love to work for their food. Hence, it’s always a good idea to include live food in their diet to work on their hunting instincts inside the tank.

As suggested above, live food should take up around 20-30%, even 40% of the meal in the growing stage. The portion can decrease over time as the turtles become older.

6. Freeze-Dried Food

Not all crustaceans are safe to provide as live food. In these cases, freezing them before offering them to the turtles is a good idea. You can buy the crustaceans in bulk and preserve them for further feeding sessions.

Freeze-dried crustaceans are excellent sources of minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, etc. They help to strengthen the carapace and the bones of a turtle.

As for the amount, they should take up at most 20-30 % of a balanced meal. If you give 40% vegetables and 30-40% protein, add 20-30% freeze-dried crustaceans. This mix gives a balanced diet.

Since freeze-dried crustaceans provide valuable minerals and antioxidants, they should always be included in the diet chart of omnivorous turtles. However, young and growing turtles need more nutrients than the adult ones.

Hence, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of veggies and increase the amount of protein pellets and crustaceans.

Adult turtles need minerals to keep their bones strong. Freeze-dried crustaceans should be 20% of their meal.

Feeding Pet Turtles: Factors To Consider

Most turtles in the wild are ‘opportunistic feeders’, i.e., they’ll feed on whatever they can find in their natural habitat. Hence, it’s important to mimic the same environment as the natural wildlife so the turtles can feel comfortable and secure.

Here are the following factors to consider before settling on a specific diet chart for the boxed-up little buddies –

1. Age

Young turtles can eat a lot in a shorter amount of time. Adult turtles, on the other time, eat more than the younglings, but they lack agility, i.e., speed.

So, older turtles eat more food overall, but younger turtles get more nutrients in one sitting. Hence, age is an important factor in knowing how much food you should feed your turtles.

Turtles can be divided into the following categories based on their age and feeding habits –

CategoryAgeFeeding Habits
Baby/Young Turtles0-3 Years OldHeavily carnivorous. Needs more protein for proportionate muscle growth. The ratio of meat to veggies is around 2:1 for this category.
Growing Turtles3-6/7 Years OldModerately carnivorous. A balanced intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals is needed for brain and carapace development. The diet should include equal amounts of healthy meat and vegetables.
Adult Turtles7+ Years OldPartially carnivorous. Leans towards the consumption of fresh and leafy vegetables and fruits more than meat or fish. The ratio of meat to veggies is around 1:2 for this category. For older turtles over 50-60 years of age, the ratio can just as easily cross 1:3, even 1:4.

Want to find out your turtle’s age? Use our calculator here!

2. Size

The size of a turtle influences the feeding portion directly. Larger turtles will require larger portions to satisfy the biological demands, while older but smaller turtles won’t.

See also  How To Feed A Turtle When On Vacation?

Here’s a nifty trick – keep track of the turtle’s head. The larger a turtle’s head grows, the more food it’ll need in time.

3. Species

Most pet turtle species are omnivores. Hence, you can run a combination of protein, fiber, and vitamins for their diet. Common species, such as red-eared sliders, box turtles, painted turtles, map turtles, etc., are all primarily omnivores.

Again, most of the common pet tortoises are herbivores in nature. For instance – large Aldabra tortoises, Greek tortoises, Hermann’s tortoises, etc. are all strictly herbivores.

If you’re raising these tortoises, make sure to have a garden full of seasonal vegetables and leafy greens in the backyard.

Pet Turtle Diet Feeding Chart infographic

How Often Should You Feed Pet Turtles?

In the growing stage, pet turtles need small amounts of food daily to keep up with their developing metabolism. You can feed them twice every day to provide essential nutrients.

In the young adult stage, feed your turtles every other day. They can have a big meal full of protein and essential nutritional supplements once every two days. Afterward, they can snack on leafy greens and veggies to stay healthy.

Lastly, as adult turtles have a prolonged metabolic rate, feed them no more than 2-3 times per week.

But it’s not a written rule. Don’t change the system abruptly once they reach a certain age. Instead, watch the behavioral changes to decide how often they need meals.

Again, some turtles hibernate during the winter, so avoid providing meals during this time. When the hibernation period is over, slowly introduce them to concise meals and snacks before providing a full-fledged meal again.

Feeding Turtles: How Much Is Too Much?

A general rule of thumb is subtly measuring the portion against the turtle’s head before offering it to them. For instance – a single serving of protein or live food should not be more significant than the turtle’s head.

Again, turtles can have as many leafy greens as they want in a day. However, too many greens can lead to overhydration.

So, remember the portion ratio before offering the veggies to your beloved turtles.

If the turtle is under 3 years old, you should provide half the amount of veggies compared to the protein portion. Alternatively, for older turtles over 7-8 years, offer double the amount of veggies.

Depending on personal preferences and owner observations, you can give a little bit or more occasionally. But if you don’t follow the ratio under the general guidelines, it’ll no longer be a balanced diet for the pet turtles.

And turtles don’t grow overnight. It’s a slow, staggering process. So, if you give them loads of protein, thinking it’ll help them grow faster, you’ll do more harm than good.

If you give young adult turtles (3-7 years old) food with a protein ratio greater than 1:1, it’s too much. If the protein size is bigger than the turtle’s head, you’re giving too much.

Another way to determine how much is too much food for your turtles is to set a time limit. Once the turtles start eating, set a timer for 20 minutes. Turtles usually like to eat in one sitting and don’t want to spend hours behind eating.

As such, you’ll find that they’ll move away from the food in 15-20 minutes after eating to their heart’s content. And this is a great way to deduce how much food they need as well.

If you provide so much food that the turtle can’t finish it within 15-20 minutes, it’s too much food. Make sure to reduce the portion next time to avoid overfeeding.

Dangers Of Overfeeding Turtles

As pet owners, we all want to pamper our pets in every possible way. And I, for one, love it when my giant tortoise in the backyard gobbles down an entire squash by himself.

However, overfeeding is exceptionally harmful to growing turtles. Here are a few repercussions of overfeeding that’ll have you rechecking the diet chart of your precious turtles –

1. Obesity

While a chonky turtle is always pleasing, obesity can lead to stunted physical and psychological growth. The body will become heavier compared to the shell. The turtles will develop folds in their neck and legs. Eventually, these will hamper their maneuverability skills on land and in water.

2. Pyramiding

Pyramiding is a condition where cracks start to develop in the carapace of a turtle or a tortoise. Lack of balanced nutrition can lead to pyramiding. The painful condition can lead to deformed shells, even severely broken ones.

Pyramiding frequently occurs when insufficient hydration, i.e., when the protein intake exceeds veggies. It’s an irreversible condition and occurs mainly in the growing stage. That’s why it’s essential to watch over the turtles frequently to observe physical & behavioral changes.

If the scutes start to rise, contact a vet or reptile expert immediately. Include as many kale and collard greens as possible alongside the protein sources.

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Lack of calcium and excessive calcium can both lead to pyramiding. Lack of it can cause downward growth, and excessive calcium can cause the scutes to swell upward. Either way, deformation is then unpreventable.

Powdered eggshells are a great source of extra calcium. You can also feed the turtles store-bought supplements to help with their worsening conditions and prevent further damage.

Feeding Your Turtles: Precautions To Follow

Age, size, and species – that’s the golden trio to watch over when you’re raising a turtle. But as far as feeding goes, here are a few must-follow precautions –

1. Use Supplements

Feel free to feed your turtles pellets and supplements. They’re incredibly nutrient-rich and offer a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals.

Just buy from registered sellers and review the reviews online before deciding on a specific brand. Check out this video by Didimitten to know how many pellets and supplements you should feed a pet turtle.

2. Wash All The Veggies

Wash all the leafy greens and vegetables properly before offering them to your previous turtles. The outer layer can have traces of insecticides and harmful pesticides. Turtles can experience extensive stomach and digestive tract pain if they consume these chemicals.

So, wash off all the dirt and chemicals first to treat your beloved turtles to a fresh and healthy snack!

3. Offer Bite-Sized Pieces

While older turtles can easily munch on whole veggies, smaller turtles can only do so slowly. Plus, they can accidentally choke on the more prominent pieces if left unattended.

So, if your turtles weigh less than a few kilograms, it’s a good idea to chop up the squashes and the carrots into bite-sized pieces so that the turtles can enjoy them properly. The same goes for boiled eggs, freeze-dried crustaceans, etc.

Break all the items into bite-sized pieces so the turtles won’t have difficulty feeding on them. This way, they’ll also be able to digest the food faster.

4. Be Present During Live Feeding

If you’re dropping live insects or earthworms into a tank, wait to leave until the live food has been safely consumed. And always make sure to offer up smaller prey since the turtle’s supposed to be the predator.

If the insect is larger than the pond turtle you’re raising, there’s a good chance of a nasty fight between the two. Afterward, the pet turtle might have significant scratches and injuries that can lead to severe infection.

Furthermore, they’ll develop a fear of live foods and food in general as well, leading to starvation.

5. Clean Up The Tanks Immediately

Remove the leftovers 20-30 minutes after the feeding frenzy to avoid overfeeding. You can leave in live food longer than that since turtles like to take time to hunt down their prey. But if it’s been over a day, the insect will decompose in the tank and ruin the water quality.

It won’t be safe for consumption anymore, either. So, to keep the tank nice and clean, remove leftovers immediately.

How Long Can Turtles Stay Without Food?

Turtles that hibernate in winter can go without food for months. During this time, their metabolism rate becomes extremely slow. Without an active supply of nutrients, they live off of the energy reserves in their body.

Young turtles under the age of 3 have a comparably fast metabolic rate. Hence, they can’t survive as long without food. Turtles over 7 can survive for a couple of weeks without food.

However, it varies from turtle to turtle, so don’t leave your turtle alone thinking it’ll be just fine!

Baby Tortoise Diet & Feeding Guide

Change In A Turtle’s Appetite: Do’s & Don’ts

Like us, the little four-legged buddies can also get bored, especially if they’ve got to live on the same diet forever. Hence, it’s a good idea to switch the items once in a while.

Here are a few ways you can introduce variety to a turtle’s diet without decreasing the nutritional values –

1. Prepare A Weekly Diet Chart

Don’t provide the same food items every time. For instance, if you feed your turtle 4–5 times a week, divide the items proportionately. If you’re serving kale one day, switch to collards next.

Again, if you’re serving crickets as live food one day, switch to other insects the next day. Keep alternating to bring about a sense of diversity in the menu.

2. Include Treats & Snacks

You can use special pellets, bite-sized veggies, or even boiled eggs as treats to encourage a turtle’s appetite. Most pet turtles love to come up whenever the sun is out. So, when they’re out basking, leave little treats for them to snack on.

By doing so, the turtles will develop an interest in variegated items, and their nutritional values will also stay intact.

Here’s a list of delicious fruits that you can use as treats for your beloved turtles –

  • Ripe mangoes
  • Apples
  • Bananas (you can leave the skin on for aged turtles, they don’t mind)
  • Kiwi
  • Peaches
  • Watermelons, etc.

However, turtles can also lose their appetite when they’re sick. If kept unchecked, they’ll suffer from significant weight loss and experience a complete stunt in growth.

yellow bellied slider diet

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does It Mean When My Turtle’s Biting Me?

Turtles can bite you to get your attention or when they feel threatened. While some think turtles bite to tell you they’re hungry, it’s hardly true. If your turtle attempts to bite you, it generally means you’ve been poking its personal space for far too long, and it’s time to get out.

Can I Feed My Turtles At Night?

Not all turtles prefer dining during the daytime. Years ago, I had this red-eared slider that would only get out once the sun was down. But make sure to keep the feeding schedule neat. Hatchlings should get food at most two or three times a day. Alternatively, young adult turtles shouldn’t get food more than once per day.

Can I Keep Algae In A Turtle’s Tank?

Yes, algae can provide the ambiance of a natural environment for the turtles. Furthermore, many pet turtles love to nibble on algae and seagrasses hence, it can act as a supplementary food source in some cases as well.

Do Pet Turtles Feed On Live Fish?

Most omnivorous pet turtles love feeding on live earthworms, crustaceans, and small fishes. Pet turtles generally don’t go after bigger fishes like salmon or tilapia. Again, they don’t show interest in pet goldfish either. However, territorial turtles can get aggressive and bite or scratch the pet fish in the same tank. This can lead to severe injuries if not death.

How To Train A Pet Turtle To Eat In Time?

Arrange for a specific space in the tank, and don’t keep the food elsewhere. Similarly, for land tortoises, decide on one particular spot and time to place the food. Over time, the turtles will start recognizing that spot as the feeding zone and hover around whenever they’re hungry.

Can I Feed Baby And Adult Turtles Together?

Yes, baby and adult turtles can dine together. However, if the older ones show signs of aggression, separating the two is best to protect the younglings. Again, if you’re providing live food to the adult turtles, it’s best to keep the baby turtles in a separate tank so that they don’t get hurt in the way.

Do Turtles Feed On Each Other?

Turtles aren’t generally cannibals. They’ll never attempt to kill their own kind in a proper ecosystem with adequate access to food and water. However, if they’re of the territorial kind, they might pick nasty fights to protect their territories.

Before You Go…

The diet will significantly vary depending on how old and mighty the pet turtle is. Again, nutritional variety is needed to ensure proper physical and mental development.

If you’re further interested in knowing about the changes in feeding habits, go over – How Do Turtles Digest Their Food?

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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