What Do Softshell Turtles Eat As A Pet?

softshell turtles speed

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

A wild softshell turtle has to survive by collecting food on its own. So, it will pretty much eat any small fish or frog it can catch. But when it comes to the captive softshell turtles, the owner decides the meal. So, what do softshell turtles eat as a pet?

Softshell turtles primarily eat a diet consisting of fish, insects, and aquatic vegetation. They are also known to consume small amphibians and crustaceans. Some recommended food items for captive softshell turtles include pellets, crickets, shrimps, and green leafy vegetables.

There are many more food items that you can offer to the softshell turtle. If you are wondering about an ideal meal chart for your pet, then read this article to the end. Here I will discuss the preferable foods for softshell turtles and their feeding schedule.

Are Softshell Turtles Carnivorous?

The softshell turtles are mainly carnivorous. It means these turtles eat animal-based food items. For example, small fish, worms, etc. But a portion of plants and vegetables will not do any harm to them.

Basically, the hatchlings and the babies do not prefer eating the vegetables at all. Their main meal is animal-based items. When they reach their adult age, they can digest a side portion of green or red vegetables.

What Should You Feed Your Softshell Turtle?

Well, I have already mentioned that the softshell turtles mainly live on animal-based food items with a small amount of plants. Even though the softshell turtles do not prefer eating plant-based items, they are beneficial for their health. But feeding a lot of vegetables may upset the turtle’s tummy.

Here is a list of food that is suitable for a pet softshell turtle:

  • Pellets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Crickets
  • Crustaceans
  • Insect
  • Bug
  • Ghost shrimps
  • Small fish
  • Small crayfish
  • Earthworm
  • Bloodworm
  • Mealworm
  • A small amount of cooked meat
  • Waxworm
  • Snail
  • Cuttlebone
  • Red worms
  • Insect larvae
  • Algae
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage 
  • Azolla
  • Water hyacinth
  • Frogbit
  • Alfalfa
  • Cloves
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Green leafy vegetables

You can make an excellent meal out of all these items for your softshell turtle. Add more protein or animal-based food items and less plant-based items to the feeding plan of the softshell turtle.

Which Foods Should You Avoid Feeding Your Softshell Turtle?

You can not feed a softshell turtle everything you want. Of course, there is a limitation. There are some specific food items that you should avoid feeding your pet softshell turtle. Take a look at the list given below:

  1. Raw meat or hamburger: These items can be rotten or tainted even before the softshell turtle eats them. However, raw meat can contain bacteria that can sicken the turtle.
  2. Milk, cheese, yogurt, or dairy products: Anything that contains dairy is harmful to the softshell turtle. It can easily upset the pet’s tummy.
  3. Junk foods: Many people have a tendency to feed the turtle junk items. I highly discourage you from doing that. Junk items are neither good for humans nor the softshell turtles.
  4. Processed or preserved food: Some people feed sausage or canned foods to the softshell turtle. These items are high in salt and harmful to the pet.
  5. Chocolates, candy: Many turtle owners think it is alright to offer candies to the softshell turtle as a treat. But experts suggest avoiding these items as much as possible.

Pet Turtle Diet & Feeding Chart

Pet Turtle Diet Feeding Chart

For a printable version of this amazing diet chart, click here!

How Much Should You Feed Your Softshell Turtle?

Now you know what a softshell turtle eats as a pet. But do you know how much to feed it? Overfeeding or underfeeding both is dangerous for the softshell turtles. That is why you need to understand the exact quantity.

Well, the quantity of food actually depends on some factors. For example, the age of the softshell turtle. The pets eat the most when they are babies. With growing age, they lose their appetite. And so, they may need less food than usual.

The experts generally recommend two methods for feeding a softshell turtle. Such as:

  1. The head method
  2. The 15 minutes rule

The head method

You have to depend on your assuming power if you want to follow the rule. Measure how much food you will need to fill the head of your softshell turtle if it is hollow. That is the perfect amount of meal for your softshell turtle.

Does it sound complicated? Well, if you are a beginner, then using a cup or container about the size of the pet’s head will help you to measure the exact food quantity for the softshell turtle.

Many owners follow this method as the softshell turtle gets the right amount of food. So, there is no chance of overfeeding or underfeeding. Again, there is almost no waste of turtle food, which is a good thing.

The appetite of a softshell turtle changes with time. Check every once in a while if the turtle needs more food or the previous amount is okay. Usually, the young softshell turtles can eat a lot compared to the old ones.

The 15 minutes rule

This is another rule for feeding your softshell turtle. If you find the head method complicated, then go for this one.

To follow this rule, you just have to put more than enough food for the softshell turtle. Let it eat as much as it can for 15 minutes. And then remove the items from the enclosure.

Experts believe that the amount a softshell turtle finishes in 15 minutes is what it needs. Many people follow the 5 or 10 minutes rule too. But the 15 minutes method is more convenient.

As I have said in the previous section, make sure the amount of food is okay for the softshell turtle. And check once in a while if the quantity is right. Do not place less food than the pet needs.

However, I personally do not recommend this rule. It is because there is always a waste of food when you follow this method.

How Often Should You Feed Your Softshell Turtle?

The diet works the best for the softshell turtle when you provide it an ideal diet in an exact quantity at the right time of the day. It means you need to know how often you should feed the softshell turtle.

The feeding schedule depends on the age of the turtle. I have mentioned earlier that a young or baby turtle requires more food than an adult one. So, you need to consider this factor while preparing a diet schedule for your pet softshell turtle.

In this section, I will discuss the feeding schedule of different aged softshell turtles. To make things easier, I am dividing all ages into 3 main categories. Such as baby softshell turtles, young softshell turtles, and adult softshell turtles.

Let’s discuss the diet schedule of each one of these.

A Feeding Schedule Of A Softshell Turtle Hatchling

I have mentioned earlier that a baby softshell turtle needs more nutrition than an adult one. Why? It is because they need more minerals, vitamins, calcium, and protein to develop their fragile body. So, you have to provide hatchlings foods that are enriched with more nutrition.

The first six months of the baby softshell turtles are the most important stage. During this period you need to feed the pet hatchling daily. You can also give it a meal twice a day by dividing the full amount into two halves.

At an early age, the softshell turtles are primarily carnivorous. It means they eat the only animal-based items like small fish, worms, ghost shrimps, etc. Do not feed your hatchling any vegetables or plants during these six months.

The softshell turtles can not absorb calcium without vitamin D. The only way to get vitamin D is to install a UV lamp. These rays will help the hatchling to generate vitamin D inside their bodies. Experts always suggest sprinkling calcium and vitamin D supplements on each meal. You can also feed them cuttlebone as it is a form of calcium.

softshell turtle basking

Feeding Schedule Of A Young Softshell Turtle

After the first six months, you need to feed the pet every other day. Now you can add a little portion of vegetables or plant-based items to the softshell turtle’s diet. As these turtles are not a fan of vegetables, feed it daily only if they are interested in eating it.

Do not forget to feed the pet small fish, snail, Pellet with a sprinkle of vitamin D and calcium. Feeding cuttlebones is also a better option for the pet. Continue this routine for one year. Instead of feeding the softshell turtle every other day, you can feed it daily by dividing the total quantity.

Feeding Schedule Of An Adult Softshell Turtle

When the softshell turtle is growing, its appetite will lose eventually. So, you can move to twice or thrice a week feeding schedule for the softshell turtle. Usually, an adult softshell turtle may show more willingness to eat plants or vegetables than a young one.

Besides the plants, feed the softshell turtle protein based items. Even though the softshell turtle grows old, it will still need calcium, vitamins, and other minerals. So, continue giving it a balanced diet.

Check this article to know more about a softshell turtle’s feeding schedule.

How To Feed Your Softshell Turtle?

Each turtle species has its own way of eating food. For example, the map turtles prefer eating on the basking dock. But when it comes to softshell turtles, you must provide them food in the water. Otherwise, the pet turtle may avoid eating.

Also, the turtles have the most appetite early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If you feed them any time else, the pet may eat less than usual.

What Happens If You Overfed Or Underfed A Softshell Turtle?

Overfeeding or underfeeding is harmful to both humans and turtles. It is obvious that the softshell turtles will suffer from different medical conditions if any of this happens. For example,

  • Malnutrition – Lack of minerals and vitamins
  • Vitamin A deficiency – Lack of Vitamin A
  • Rapid growth – Overfeeding of protein
  • Shell shedding – Overfeeding

If your softshell turtle is suffering from any of these conditions, you need to provide it with immediate vet care.

softshell turtle swimming

Diet Of A Wild Softshell Turtle

The diet of a wild softshell turtle is similar to the captive one. But yes, they do not get food every day. They need to hunt to collect their daily meals. Here is the list of items that a softshell turtle eats in the wild:

  • Insect
  • Insect larvae
  • Crayfish
  • Cruceant
  • Large fish
  • Small fish
  • Mussels
  • Snails
  • Earthworms
  • Frogs
  • Mice
  • Beetles
  • Mayflies
  • Carrions
  • Dragonflies
  • Caddies flies
  • Damselflies
  • Plants
  • Vegetables
  • Water hyacinths

Softshell Turtle Not Eating: What To Do?

Even after making your best effort, sometimes you may notice that your softshell turtle has stopped eating. There can be multiple reasons why a softshell turtle is avoiding food. Such as:

  1. The enclosure is not big enough for the softshell turtles.
  2. There is no proper heating lamp or UV light for the pet.
  3. Water in the tank is filthy and unhygienic.
  4. There is no proper basking dock or land area for the softshell turtles in the habitat.
  5. Your diet plan for the softshell turtle is not good.
  6. The feeding schedule or feeding place is not right.
  7. It is winter and the pet softshell turtle is preparing for hibernation.
  8. The turtle is sick either mentally or physically.

Check this article to learn why a softshell turtle is not eating in more detail.

How To Make Your Softshell Turtle Eat Again?

Your softshell turtle can stop eating for any of the reasons given above. What will you do then? There are some tips that might help your softshell turtle eat again:

  • Provide the softshell turtle with a big and spacious tank.
  • Install a UV or heating lamp inside the turtle’s enclosure.
  • To maintain clean water, set up a water filter.
  • Make sure there is a basking dock or land area in the softshell turtle’s habitat.
  • Keep bringing variety to the pet’s diet.
  • Maintain a proper feeding schedule for the softshell turtle.
  • If the pet is preparing for hibernation, maintain all the health caution it will require.
  • Take the softshell turtle to the vet for proper health or mental checkup.

Frequently Asked Questions

Baby softshell turtles primarily eat a diet consisting of insects, worms, small fish, and aquatic vegetation. They also require vitamins such as Vitamin A, calcium, and protein to grow.

In captivity, they can be fed leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale, as well as small live prey such as brine shrimp and bloodworms.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, spiny softshell turtles will eat almost anything in the water that will fit into its mouth, including aquatic insects, crayfish, and the occasional fish. They will bury themselves under a layer of mud at the bottom of a lake, with only their head sticking out, and catch prey as it passes by.

Florida softshell turtles are omnivores and their diet consists of both plants and animals. They eat primarily grasses and aquatic plants, but also fruits. They also consume other animals such as other turtles, fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and even small mammals.

There is no evidence to suggest that red-eared sliders eat softshell turtles. Red-eared sliders are omnivorous and their diet consists of both plants and animals.

Adult Red Eared Sliders mostly eat aquatic plants such as elodea, duckweed, water lettuce, and water ferns. They will only eat meat if it is readily available and there are no plants nearby. While they may occasionally eat small aquatic animals such as insects, crustaceans, and small fish, it is unlikely that they would prey on larger turtles such as softshell turtles.

Chinese softshell turtles are omnivorous and their diet consists of both plants and animals. In the wild, they eat insects, worms, crustaceans, and fish. Occasionally they will also feed on marsh plant seeds and leaves.

If kept as pets, they should be fed a high protein-based diet, which can include commercial turtle pellets, earthworms, shrimp, and fish.

Softshell turtles are primarily carnivorous, but they may also consume certain types of vegetables. Feeding them vegetables is good for their health, but too much could upset their stomach. The specific types of vegetables that they eat may vary depending on the species and individual preferences.

Softshell turtles need air to breathe. They are aquatic reptiles, which means they spend most of their time in the water, but they still require air to survive. Softshell turtles have lungs and breathe air, and they come to the surface of the water to breathe. They can stay underwater for extended periods of time, but eventually, they need to come up for air.

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, softshell turtles may stay underwater for up to an hour, but they typically surface every few minutes to breathe.


The diet of a softshell turtle is almost the same no matter if it is in the wild or captivity. As a responsible owner, it is your duty to feed these turtles a balanced meal. In this article, I have discussed almost everything you need to know about a softshell turtle’s diet. I hope you have found the information helpful.

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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