What Can Turtles Eat and Not Eat at Home? (Top 10 Food List)

What can turtles eat depends on their species, and knowing what to feed your turtle to give it a proper nutritional diet is important. 

Turtles may not be as cuddly as cats and dogs, but they make fantastic pets for other reasons: They’re fun to care for, mesmerizing to observe, and they’ve been around since prehistoric times! 

Relatively they’re low-maintenance—just as long as you ensure they give the right foods and environment, and keep their habitats clean.

Turtles are unique pets that are entertaining to learn about and watch. Pet turtle care doesn’t involve as much hands-on training as dogs and cats, but turtles have particular needs like appropriately-sized tanks, the right kind of diet, and UVB light.

Here is your comprehensive guide to feeding your pet turtle so that it stays healthy, happy, and strong for many years to come.

Without an appropriate feeding plan, your turtle could get sick or die, so it’s important to understand what to feed them, how often, and what to do if they don’t eat.

What Can Turtles Eat?

What Do Turtles Eat at Home
What Do Turtles Eat at Home?

The right diet for your turtle depends on its size, species, age, habitat, and other details. 

What you feed your pet turtle will largely depend on what kind of turtle you have. If it’s omnivorous, your pet turtle will eat commercial turtle food pellets, feeder fish, insects, and fruits and vegetables. If it’s herbivorous, your pet turtle can eat only fruits and vegetables.

What to feed them. Generally, pet turtles are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meat and plants. A typical adult pet turtle diet should include animal products, vegetables, and fruits. 

Younger turtles between about 7 to 10 years old usually need a larger share of animal-sourced foods. The percentage of animal and vegetable foods your pet turtle needs depends on their species.

You likely have a red-eared slider, which is the most common pet turtle in the U.S. “These animals are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animals and plants,” says Simon Starkey, BVSc, Ph.D., D.ABVP(Avian), Education Veterinarian and Technical Services Manager for PetSmart. 

Like red-eared sliders, most water or aquatic turtles eat an omnivorous diet. Follow the guidelines below and your turtle will be in great shape.

  • Commercial Pelleted Food: It’s best to buy food made just for turtles, as this food will float and typically not fall apart as easily as pelleted food designed for other reptiles, Dr. Starkey says. Pellets should make up 25 percent of your turtle’s diet.
  • Animal Food Sources: Animal-based food sources for turtles can include processed pet foods like drained sardines, turtle pellets, and trout chow. You can also feed them cooked chicken, beef, and turkey. Live prey can include moths, crickets, shrimp, krill, feeder fish, and worms. Make sure you get insects from a pet store or undeveloped field or raise them yourself, to ensure quality and safety.

Feeders like comet goldfish provide a great source of protein, as well as minerals like calcium and phosphorous and certain vitamins, like vitamin A. “As with pellets, these should make up 25 percent of a turtle’s diet,” says Dr. Starkey. Chasing live fish and insects can also provide much-needed exercise and mental stimulation.

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits can include apples, cantaloupe, bananas, berries, and mangoes. You can also feed them non-toxic aquatic plants like water hyacinth, temple compacta, water lettuce, carpet seeds, and duckweed. Fill up the remainder of your turtle’s daily diet with fresh produce. The best veggies are chopped dark leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens, Dr. Starkey says. Shredded carrots, squash, and zucchini are great foods that turtles can eat, too. You can also go with edible aquatic vegetation such as water lettuce, water hyacinth, and duckweed. “For fruits, consider shredded apples and melons, as well as chopped berries,” recommends Dr. Starkey. “Supplement fruits and vegetables with reptile calcium and vitamin powders.”
  • Plant Food Sources: Plant-based food sources for your pet turtle should mostly be leafy greens like collards, dandelions, and mustard greens. Some of these vegetables, such as chives, parsley, and spinach, contain high levels of chemicals called oxalates, which you should avoid.

If you have a land turtle, or tortoise, for a pet, they eat a strict herbivore diet. This means that their food should consist of only fruits and vegetables, usually a dietary mix of 20% and 80% respectively.

What is the Healthiest Turtle Food?

If you are one of the lucky few who have a turtle for your pet, or you are planning to get one in the future, chances are that you want to know what to feed your friend who carries his house everywhere he goes. That’s why we have created this list of what can turtles eat. This will help you decide what to feed your friend and what foods to avoid.

A Glance at the Healthiest Turtle Food Winners

Last update on 2022-11-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How Often to Feed Them. Feed an adult turtle once every day or two, and a juvenile one to two times a day, though this can vary depending on the species. 

How much to feed them? The amount of food to give your pet turtle depends on its species. As a general rule, especially for pellets and other non-living foods, only let your turtle eat as much as they can within about 20 minutes, and then remove any leftovers.

How to Serve the Food. Aquatic turtles and land turtles have different preferences when it comes to how they eat their food. Aquatic turtles only eat underwater, so you’ll need to place food in their water tank. If you have a land turtle, place its food on a flat, hard surface like a rock, or on grass. Many turtle owners also choose to chop a mix of vegetables to feed them, so the turtle isn’t just eating one type and avoiding other nutritious plants they might not like as much.

Be Species Specific. Different species of turtles have varying dietary requirements. Research the nutritional needs of your turtle’s species, and contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns.

Common Concerns for Feeding Pet Turtles

Overfeeding. Turtles can become obese just like humans and many other animals. Overfeeding your turtle can make them gain excess fat, causing them trouble when pulling their arms and legs into their shell. 

To avoid overfeeding, make sure your turtle lives in a big enough space to move freely. At a minimum, tanks should be 30 gallons for turtles up to 6 inches long, and up to 125 gallons for turtles over 8 inches long. Feeding your turtle live prey also lets them hunt and get exercise.

Vitamin Deficiency. Turtles are prone to vitamin A deficiency if their diet isn’t right. Symptoms of too little vitamin A in turtles include a decrease in appetite, eyelid and ear swelling, kidney failure, and lung infections.

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

Hygiene. Turtles often defecate while they eat, so keeping their food in a separate container can help them avoid accidentally eating feces. Clean any uneaten food out of their tank regularly so that it doesn’t grow unwanted bacteria and algae.

What To Do If Your Turtle Won’t Eat? If your turtle isn’t eating enough, it could be a sign of illness, but other factors might be at play. Make sure your tank’s temperature and water temperature, lighting, and size are ideal for your turtle’s species. Hibernation and stress can also lead to a lack of appetite in turtles. Check with a veterinarian about any symptoms and behaviors, and make a visit if symptoms don’t improve after you make changes. 

What Do Baby Turtles Eat?

What can turtles eat largely depends on their age and nutritional requirements. Keep in mind that younger sliders will eat relatively more protein than older animals, says Dr. Starkey. Baby turtles need to eat higher amounts of pellets and/or feeder fish relative to fruits and veggies. 

Where Can I Buy These Foods?

Turtle pellets can be purchased at most large pet stores as well as many online stores, says Dr. Starkey. Feeder fish and crickets should be available for purchase at pet stores too, while fruits and vegetables can be bought at your local grocery store.

Are There Any Specific Brands I Should Buy?

Any brand that is carried by a reputable specialty pet store—and is designed for turtles—will provide the right nutrients, Dr. Starkey says. “Brand is a little less important because no single food should be the staple diet for aquatic turtles.” They’ll be getting some nutrition from their pellets, but also a lot from feeder fish, insects, vegetables, and fruits.

What Nutrients are Really Essential to My Turtle’s Health?

An animal’s nutritional needs can be broken down into protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Calcium is an especially crucial part of your turtle’s diet due to the extra needs in its shell, which is mostly bone. “That’s why it’s important to supplement with calcium and mineral powders,” says Dr. Starkey. 

Do Turtles Eat Fish?

In the wild, turtles eat a variety of things including worms, small insects, snails, and fish. Wild turtles are mainly carnivorous when they are young because their bodies require a lot of protein to grow. 

Plus, growing turtles need the vitamins and nutrients that can be found in feeder fish. As turtles age, their diets change and they begin to eat more plants and other vegetation. 

Most pet turtles are omnivorous, meaning they enjoy eating both plants and animals, so treating your pet turtle to a small fish snack every now and then is a good idea. 

Pet turtles, depending on their size and age, enjoy small fish like minnows and comet goldfish. Knowing the age of your pet turtle will help you decide whether or not to feed it fish, as well as how often.

What Should I Look For On The Nutrition Labels of Pelleted Foods?

Look for protein levels between 40-45%, and fat between 6-8%, advises Dr. Starkey. “Semi-moist foods will have a lower percentage of protein and fat due to the higher moisture content of the food,” he says.

You should also look for fishmeal to be one of the top three ingredients listed on the label, and for added vitamins and minerals to be called out in the ingredient list, says Dr. Starkey. Still unsure what to choose? Consult a veterinarian.

How Should I Feed My Turtle?

Maintaining a clean habitat with healthy water is very important, says Dr. Starkey. “Feed your turtles in a separate habitat—possibly a water-filled plastic container or secondary aquarium—as many turtles will defecate while eating, and the food itself can affect water quality.”

How Frequently Can I Expect to Buy Turtle Food?

That varies with the size of your turtle, but generally, a package of pelleted food may last 4 to 6 weeks, depending on supplemental feeding and pet size, says Dr. Starkey.

How Often Do Turtles Eat?

If your turtle is still juvenile, feed it every day, advises Dr. Starkey. Once it reaches adulthood (around 7 years old), you can feed it every other day—or about 4 to 5 times a week. Stick with around 1 cup of food per day, then increase or decrease that amount depending on how your turtle responds.

What Human Food Can Turtles Eat?

Besides fruits and vegetables, you could offer sparing amounts of meat to your turtle, says Dr. Starkey—but there really isn’t any point. “These will not be balanced because they lack the nutrients found in organs like the liver of feeder fish,” he says.

Additionally, your turtle should not be fed dog or cat food. The nutritional content is not appropriate for turtles and will cause long-term harm.

FAQs

What Fruit Can Turtles Eat?

Fruit should be fed more sparingly than vegetables since they are often preferred by box turtles over vegetables and tend to be less nutritious. Fruits to offer include apples, pears, bananas (with skin), mango, grapes, star fruit, raisins, peaches, tomato, guava, kiwis, and melons

What Vegetables Can Turtles Eat?

Desirable vegetables to offer include dark leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, collard greens, mustard greens, carrot tops, endive, Swiss chard, kale, parsley, green beans, dandelion greens, turnip greens, and clover.

What Food Kills Turtles?

Toxic Plants can kill your turtle. For example, tomatoes are safe and they’re often a favorite of box turtles. But tomato leaves and vines are toxic. Other plants toxic to box turtles include rhubarb leaves, holly, oleander, avocado leaves, seeds, and plants in the nightshade family.

What Can Turtles Not Eat?

Treats to Avoid:

  • Dairy. Turtles possess none of the enzymes necessary to break down and digest dairy products. …
  • Sweets. Do not feed any food with chocolate, processed sugar, or corn syrup to your turtle.
  • Salty foods. Most turtles are not used to eating highly salty foods.

What is a Turtle’s Favourite Food?

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

How Long Can a Turtle Go Without Eating?

A young turtle (less than six months old) can’t go a day without eating. A so-called “sub-adult” turtle (six months to one year old) can’t go more than a day without eating. An adult turtle should eat, on average, every 2-3 days.

How Often Should I Feed My Turtle?

How often do turtles eat? If your turtle is still juvenile, feed it every day, advises Dr. Starkey. Once it reaches adulthood (around 7 years old), you can feed it every other day—or about 4 to 5 times a week.

Can Turtles Eat Cheerios?

Turtles don’t have the necessary enzymes to correctly digest lactose. Sugary Foods: No candy, chocolate, or other sugary foods are allowed. Not only is it bad for a turtle’s wellbeing, but these foods are usually hard and pose a choking danger to your pet.

Can Turtles Eat Lettuce?

Is Lettuce Safe for Turtles? There isn’t any type of lettuce that should be poisonous to a turtle. They can eat all kinds, and many varieties — like romaine and radicchio — are both nutritious and delicious for them. Iceberg, on the other hand, is basically just crunchy water.

Can Turtles Eat Cucumber?

Cucumbers are an excellent addition to any turtle’s diet, the reason is the turtle likes them.

Conclusion

Wow! That was a lot of information we just threw at you, wasn’t it? Well, we hope that you found this article “What Can Turtles Eat” useful and that you have a better idea of what to feed your turtle and what he will enjoy the most. As pet owners, we know it’s hard to wade through the many different options for our pets, and that is why we do our best to help you narrow down your options.

Our pick for the best overall turtle food is Tetra ReptoMin Floating Sticks Turtle Food and our choice for the best value is Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food. We are so glad that you came to our site and we hope you’ll come back soon because we are always adding new content.

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Dibyajyoti Bordoloi is the creator and author of FishCampRehab.com, a third-generation experienced fish keeper and owner of a successful pet breeding farm. He is also a member of the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation And Conservation (Assam), the Marine Aquarium Societies of North East India, and the Kaziranga Nature Conservancy of Assam.