Turtles Diet: What Do Pet Turtles Eat?

 Unique pets that are interesting to observe and learn about are turtles. Pet turtle care doesn't involve as much hands-on training as dogs and cats, but turtles have special needs like appropriately sized tanks, UVB light, and the right kind of diet. Without a proper feeding plan, your turtle could get sick or die, so it's important to understand what to feed it, how often, and what to do if it isn't eating.

Turtles Diet: What Do Pet Turtles Eat?
Turtles Diet: What Do Pet Turtles Eat? 

 Like all pets, turtles need proper nutrition to thrive. Feeding your turtle incorrectly will lead to health issues, so it's important to do your research so you can give them exactly what they need.

 This article has been written as a general guide, as different turtle species have slight variations in their nutritional requirements. For more personalized nutritional advice, we always recommend speaking to your breeder or turtle specialist before bringing them home.

Turtle diet

 Depending on its size, species, age, environment, and other factors, your turtle's recommended food will change.

What to feed them?

 The majority of domesticated turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Adult pet turtles should typically eat fruits, vegetables, and animal products in their diets. Young turtles around 7 to 10 years old usually need a higher proportion of animal foods. The percentage of animal and plant foods your pet turtle needs depends on its species.

Sources of animal feed

 Animal food sources for turtles can include processed pet foods like drained sardines, turtle pellets, and trout food. Additionally, you might serve them cooked turkey, beef, and chicken. Turtles lacking in calcium, vitamin D, and UVB also experience it. Be sure to get insects from a pet store or an undeveloped field, or raise them yourself, to ensure quality and safety.

Plant food sources

 Plant-based food sources for your pet turtle should primarily be leafy greens like cabbage, dandelions, and mustard greens. Some of these vegetables, like chives, parsley, and spinach, contain high levels of chemicals called oxalates, which you should avoid.

 Fruits include things like apples, cantaloupe, bananas, berries, and mangoes, to name a few. Among the non-toxic aquatic plants you can feed them are water hyacinth, water lettuce, and duckweed.

How often to feed them?

 Feed an adult turtle once a day or two, and a juvenile once or twice a day, although this may vary by species.

How much to feed them?

 How much to feed your pet turtle depends on its species. As a general rule, especially for pellets and other non-live foods, let your turtle eat as much as it can in about 20 minutes, then remove the leftovers.

How to serve the food?

 Aquatic turtles and tortoises have different preferences when it comes to how they eat their food. Aquatic turtles only eat underwater, so you will need to place food in their water tank. If you have a tortoise, place its food on a flat, hard surface like a rock or on grass. Many turtle owners also choose to chop a mixture of vegetables to feed them, so the turtle doesn't just eat one type and avoids other nutritious plants they may not like as much.

Be species specific

 Different species of turtles have different dietary needs. If you have any queries or worries, do some research on the dietary requirements for the particular species of turtle that your pet is.

Common Concerns About Pet Turtle Feeding


 Just like humans and a variety of other animals, turtles can develop obesity. Overfeeding your turtle can cause it to gain excess fat, causing it problems when it pulls its arms and legs into its shell. To avoid overfeeding, make sure your turtle lives in a space large enough to move around freely. Tanks should have a minimum volume of 30 gallons for turtles under 6 inches long and a maximum volume of 125 gallons for turtles over 8 inches long. Feeding your turtles live prey also allows them to hunt and exercise.

Vitamin deficiency

 Turtles are prone to vitamin A deficiency if their diet is not correct. Symptoms of a lack of vitamin A in turtles include decreased appetite, swelling of the eyelids and ears, kidney failure, and lung infections.

 Turtles need lots of foods with vitamin A, so choose plants like carrots, squash, peppers, and other red, orange, and yellow vegetables. Avoid low-nutrition vegetables like lettuce and celery. To treat vitamin A deficiency, a veterinarian may recommend vitamin A treatments that are injected or taken by mouth.


 Turtles often defecate while eating, so keeping their food in a separate container can help them avoid accidentally eating feces. Regularly clean uneaten food from its reservoir so that it does not develop unwanted bacteria and algae.

What if your turtle won't eat?

 If your turtle is not eating enough, it could be a sign of illness, but other factors could be at play. Make sure the tank's temperature, water's temperature, lighting, and size are appropriate for the species of turtle you have. Hibernation and stress can also cause a lack of appetite in turtles. Ask a veterinarian about symptoms and behaviors, and visit if symptoms do not improve after making changes.

Can You Overfeed A Turtle?

 All knowledgeable turtle owners and enthusiasts would agree that overfeeding is one of the worst things you can do to a turtle. Always err on the side of caution, underfeeding a turtle is far more preferable than overfeeding it. 

 In the wild, it is nearly impossible for a turtle to overeat, as it is slow moving and cannot easily grab protein-rich food sources such as fast-swimming fish and shrimp.

 Looking after an oblivious turtle owner who believes their turtle apparently has a bottomless stomach, however, it's easy enough! 

Overeating can lead to 2 big health problems:

  1. Obesity (yes turtles can get fat!).
  2. Pyramidal tortoise shell.


 Pyramiding is the one you want to stay away from because it is irreversible. Pyramiding occurs when a turtle's shell begins to grow too quickly. The scales may stretch and separate, and begin to look like pointed "pyramids".

 The same condition is also common in pet turtles (pyramidal tortoise shell). If you suspect you are overfeeding your turtle, we recommend that you immediately reduce the amount of daily food by 25%. Additionally, you should try to replace full meals with small treats. A great option is floating treats, which force your turtle to swim to the top to eat it.

Bottom Line: What Happens If I Feed My Turtle The Wrong Diet?

 An incorrect diet can increase the risk of developing two issues: shell pyramiding and metabolic bone disease (MBD).

 Shell pyramiding occurs when the shell grows too quickly; usually because of too much protein or a lack of calcium and/or vitamin D. It may also be caused on by a deficiency of UVB rays. It causes the scales to separate and erupt into pyramids. The shell pyramid is irreversible and the pyramids will remain even after fixing the problem.

 MBD causes a turtle's bones and shell to soften and warp. Turtles lacking in calcium, vitamin D, and UVB also experience it. Arguably, the lack of vitamin D and UVB light from the environment is the biggest contributor, but diet also plays its part.

 Calcium is needed by turtles to keep their bones and shell healthy, so it should be included in your turtle's diet. But, calcium cannot be used without vitamin D3, which UVB rays allow the turtle to manufacture.

 Fortunately, both of these problems are easily avoided if you provide your turtle with the proper nutrition and lighting from the start. If you are concerned about your turtle's eating habits, talk to your veterinarian or turtle specialist.

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