Why Is My Turtle Not Eating In Winter? [6 Reasons]

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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Turtles not eating in the winter is the most common phenomenon for a turtle owner. But if you are experiencing this for the first time with your turtle, then it is alright to be scared. Before freaking out, or coaxing the pet into eating loads of food, you must determine why it is avoiding eating.

The most common reason why turtles do not eat in the winter is hibernation. Most turtles are cold blooded species, and as a response to the temperature drop, they stop eating. There can be other reasons why the turtle is not eating in the winter, for example, sickness, stress, etc.

If your turtle is not eating, or you are worried about its diet for the upcoming winter, then this article is for you. I will discuss the possible reasons why a turtle can avoid food in winter. Also, I will share ideas on how you can make them eat again. So, read until the end of the article.

6 Reasons Why A Turtle Is Not Eating In The Winter

As I have said earlier, turtles not eating in the winter prove normal in most cases. In some instances, you might need to be concerned about the pet turtle’s health. So, before getting scared, learn the probable reason behind your turtle’s behavior. Here are some likely facts about why your pet is not eating:

  1. A fall in temperature
  2. Low quality light setups
  3. Physical illness
  4. Stress
  5. Poor diet plan
  6. Mismanagement of meal routine

Let’s discuss the reasons one by one so that you can determine the problem with your pet turtle.

1. A Fall In Temperature

Generally, in the winter, the overall temperature drops by a considerable degree. Turtles are cold blooded or ectothermic species, they can not bear the cold. So, they start preparing themselves to cope with the cold.

As a part of their preparation, they stop eating at the end of spring. They slow down their metabolism, cardiac, and heart rate by 80%. Even though the turtles will not eat anything, they will drink water. This process is called hibernation.

In the wild, most turtle species hibernate to survive the winter. But in captivity, you have a choice either to put your pet in this process or not. If you want your turtle to hibernate, must take permission from a vet after thorough health check up of the pet.

Here is one more thing you need to consider. The outside temperature will only affect your turtle if you do not provide them with a tank heater and other heating sources. As soon as the pets feel the cold, they will start preparing for hibernation. They will stop eating and sleep at the bottom of the tank.

See also  How To Prepare A Turtle Pond For Winter?

When it is winter, and your turtle is not eating, the first thing you do is check the enclosure temperature. Generally, the turtles will feel cold if the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. However, at 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the pet will hibernate.

If the turtle is hibernating, then do not force it to eat. It is essential to hibernate with a clear digestion tract.

If you do not want your pet turtle to hibernate, take the necessary steps to provide heat. The best way to warm the water is by setting up a water tank heater. Maintain the temperature between 78 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The turtle will eat again once the temperature gets normal.

red eared slider closeup
Owner: Heather Powell

2. Low Quality Light Setups

Lights or heating sources play a significant role in a turtle’s enclosure, especially during the cold season. No matter which species your turtle is, it will come to the land area from time to time for basking. If there is no lighting or heating source, the pet will feel cold. As a result, it can lose its appetite.

Again, the UV lights are essential for the absorption of minerals and vitamins in a turtle’s body. The UVB exposures help the turtle produce vitamin D3 in its body, making the calcium active. Both these elements play an important role in building the bone and shell of the turtle. And lack of these nutrients can make the pet lethargic, less hungry, and weak.

So, the improper lighting system can be why your turtle is not eating in the winter. That is why you need to set up the best quality basking and UV lamp inside the habitat.

3. Physical Illness

Pet turtles are usually very sensitive, and the winter makes them more vulnerable. Their body defense against the diseases gets weak in the cold season. As a result, pets can fall sick easily. An ill turtle always avoids eating.

Here are symptoms that can prove your turtle is ill:

  1. Heavy breathing or breathing with an open mouth
  2. Fluid discharging from the nose, mouth or eyes
  3. Wheezing or sneezing
  4. Swollen, puffy or closed eyes
  5. White patches or mussy area on the shell
  6. Sign of worms in the feces
  7. Rotting shell or mouth
  8. Crack on the shell
  9. Blood on skin
  10. Weight loss
  11. Spending more time under the basking light
  12. Less active

If your turtle has stopped eating due to any disease, it will start eating again after getting well. In case you are not sure about your turtle’s health, have the pet examined by a professional vet.

4. Stress

Your turtle can be in stress due to the environment or the weather. However, if your turtle’s habitat is in a room where people often come and go, it can panic. And when the pet is in anxiety and stress, it stops eating. But the state does not last for more than 2 or 3 days.

juvenile red eared slider
Owner: Carly McEachin

5. Poor Diet Plan

If the turtle’s temperature is perfect, the pet is healthy and still avoiding food, then maybe the problem is in the diet. If you feed the pet the same types of food every day, it will get bored. And at a point, it will stop eating.

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The turtles also want variety in their food list. If you feed the pet the commercial foods, give it some live food like worms or insects sometimes. This will help the turtle gain its appetite.

However, lack of minerals like calcium can sometimes affect your pet turtle’s appetite.

6. Mismanagement Of Meal Routine

The turtles have a strong appetite in the early morning and late afternoon. If you provide food any other time, they may refuse to eat. This happens not only in the winter but also in other seasons.

How Many Days Can A Turtle Live Without Food?

You will be surprised to know that a turtle can go without food for months. During the hibernation period, the pet does not eat anything for almost 2 to 3 months. Maybe even more if the winter lasts for a longer period.

Pet Turtle Diet & Feeding Chart

Pet Turtle Diet Feeding Chart

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

How To Make Your Turtle Eat In Winter?

If you want your turtle to eat again, you need to determine its problem first. Then, take your actions immediately. For example,

  • If your turtle is ill, take it to a vet for proper treatment. Once the pet recovers, it will start eating.
  • In case your turtle is not eating due to the lighting or temperature, fix it immediately.

In other cases, you have to entice the turtle to eat food. How? Here are some tips:

  • Provide the pet with live foods. A turtle loves to prey and eat insects, worms, crickets, snails, etc.
  • Pellets can be too dry and boring for the pet. Mix them with other food items. You can add tuna water to the pellets to give it a strong smell and taste.
  • Turtles love eating colored foods. So, try adding tomatoes, green veggies, orange carrots, and fruits with live foods or pallets.
  • Do not repeat the same diet two days in a row. Keep bringing varieties and switching the meals.
  • Always feed the turtles early in the morning and late afternoon.

If your turtle still refuses to eat anything, instead of trying all these, it is better to consult with a vet. One more thing. If your turtle is hibernating, do not offer it any type of food. You have to fast the pet for one month before it hibernates.

musk turtle closeup
Owner: Stephenie Ciprian

What Is A Healthy Diet For A Turtle?

Most turtle species are omnivorous. They can eat both protein based and plant based food items. So, while selecting the food menu, keep in mind adding both the items.

 Researches show a healthy balanced diet for the turtles should contain 65 to 90% of meat and 10 to 35% of vegetables. The proportion can vary depending on your turtle species. Here are some food items you may prefer adding to the menu:

  • Mollusk
  • Earthworm
  • Snail
  • Cricket
  • Shrimp
  • Pellet
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Water hyacinths
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Mangoes
  • Berries
  • Slug
  • Mealworm
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Always feed the turtle fresh food. For better health, sprinkle vitamin and calcium supplements on each meal. However, never provide the turtle junk foods, yogurts, or candies.

Do Turtles Eat Less in The Winter?

Many species of turtles eat less during the winter. How much a turtle eats can be influenced by various factors such as temperature, day length, and food availability.

Turtles that are native to temperate climates may eat less or stop eating during winter as the temperature gets low and food becomes less available. But many turtles native to tropical climates may not face much temperature change. Hence, their feeding habits do not change.

When temperatures drop, turtles become less active and can go into hibernation or brumation. They know that food might be scarce in a cold climate. So, they slow down their metabolism to conserve energy.

This behavior can also be seen in pet turtles. For example, you may find your red-eared slider becoming sluggish. It might eat less and become inactive. This is because your turtle has the instinct to bromate when the temperature drops.

If you do not want your turtle to eat less in winter, you can use a heater to keep your turtle’s tank warm. Also, provide plenty of food to ensure your turtle will have plenty of food to survive the winter.

Why is Red-Eared Slider Not Eating in Winter?

Is your red-eared slider not eating in winter? Like any other turtles, red-eared sliders can also eat less in winter. As I have discussed before, this can happen for various reasons such as brumation, cooler temperature, illness, poor water quality, or lack of variety in food.

Suppose your healthy red-eared slider has become sluggish and inactive during winter. In that case, there is a high chance your turtle is preparing for hibernation. Hence, it is eating less and may not eat for several weeks. The cooler temperature slows down their metabolism and reduces their appetite.

So, you should maintain a consistent temperature in the turtle tank if you do not want your turtle to hibernate.

There can also be other reasons for a red-eared slider to eat less. It might not do anything with winter. Not eating can be a sign of underlying illness. Poor water quality and lack of nutritious food can affect your pet turtle’s health.

You should keep the water clean and maintain the water temperature. Also, there should be a variation in your turtle’s diet. Add food that has high nutritional value for red-eared sliders. If your turtle still does not eat, take it to a veterinarian for further advice.

box turtle eating
Owner: April Kelley McGallion

Turtle Care In Winter Infographic

For a printable version of this infographic, click here!


Winter can be a crucial season for all species. Having trouble with eating is the most common scene for a turtle during the cold. So, if you are facing anything like that with your turtle, do not worry and determine the reason first. With this article, I hope you will get your answers and can decide on your next steps easily.

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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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