Can You Overfeed a Turtle? (All You Need To Know)

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Turtles seem to eat endlessly. As long as you are feeding these reptiles, they will eat. In the wild, they are opportunistic feeders, and food isn’t readily available. When turtles come across food, they will eat because they don’t know when the opportunity will arise. Therefore, you might be wondering, am I giving my turtle too much food?

Can You Overfeed a Turtle?

Yes, it is possible to overfeed your turtle. These reptiles are opportunistic feeders in the wild and will eat food as long as you provide it. Sadly, this can lead to overfeeding, resulting in some health problems. It would be best to familiarize yourself with the right food amounts for your turtle, depending on their age and species.

Overfeeding your turtle is relatively easy, mainly because they seem to be constantly begging for food. There have been links between foods rich in proteins and those high in sugar with weight gain in turtles. However, it is one of the worst things you can do as it significantly affects their health and overall life quality.

Signs of An Overfeeding Turtle

If your turtle is overfeeding, it will eventually develop signs indicating the same. Unfortunately, these signs are health concerns and, when not observed early, can severely affect the health of your pet turtle. Ill health deteriorates the turtle’s quality of life, so you need to avoid it. Here are the common side effects of overfeeding a turtle.

1.     Obesity

Obesity in turtles is not unheard of, but it is not as common. As with most animals, turtles will get fat when fed too much food. It is, in fact, the most common sign of overfeeding in these reptiles. When turtles consistently consume more calories than their body needs, they will become obese. The body stores the extra calories in the form of fat deposits.

It is easy to spot obesity in turtles. The turtle’s shell looks like it is too small for it. A turtle grows with its shells, but when obese, its body expands faster than the shell, thus making the shell appear too small for it. In addition, you will notice fat bulges in its hind feet and below the armpits.

Your turtle may also be unable to retract its neck inside the shell because of the excessive fat deposits around the neck. In cases of extreme obesity, the turtle wil be unable to walk on land because its limbs can’t support its body weight. For aquatic and semi-aquatic species, they will be unable to swim well.

Another indicator of obesity in your turtles is that they fold their legs while retracting in the shell. If you have multiple turtles of the same species, it is easy to check for obesity by comparing their sizes. The significantly bigger turtle is most likely obese. This comparison is easier for male turtles and harder for females as their sizes vary greatly even when at the same age.

The fatty tissues also increase pressure on the turtle’s internal organs. Increased pressure affects how the organs perform and may lead to organ failure.

Besides overeating, obesity in turtles can result from a lack of exercise. A tiny turtle tank does not leave enough room for the reptile to swim.

2.     Pyramiding

It is a shell deformity and a type of metabolic bone disease that may arise from overfeeding. Shell pyramiding refers to the upward growth of shell scutes instead of out to match the turtle’s body growth. As such, the scutes appear raised and pop up more than usual.

It is one of the visually identifiable side effects of overfeeding, although it may also be caused by malnutrition. Pyramiding often occurs when you give the turtle too many pellets. In case of malnutrition, it occurs when the turtle has a calcium deficiency. It might also result from a lack of exercise.

Pyramiding squeezes the turtles’ organs, thus negatively affecting them. It might interfere with the normal functioning of the lungs. In addition, it may cause nail problems, limbs weakness or deformity, and vertebral deformity. The latter may lead to paralysis causing slow death in the pet turtle.

Shell pyramiding is dangerous and can lead to the death of your pet turtle. For females, pyramiding can affect the turtle’s laying of eggs. It is irreversible, but it can be controlled from further effects with a proper diet.

3.     Kidney or Liver Problems

Overfeeding the turtle can damage its kidney or cause kidney-related illnesses. In addition, it can cause hepatic lipidosis, which is a liver disease, or lead to fatty liver disease. Extreme or prolonged overfeeding of the turtle can also lead to liver failure.

Excess consumption of protein foods overloads the liver with work. The turtle’s liver is unable to all the fat it consumes. As a result, the turtle becomes susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections.

The fast growth of body parts because of overfeeding can also affect the kidney. The turtle’s kidney will be overworked and may eventually fail. Obesity and shell pyramiding also affect the liver and kidlney because they exert more pressure on these organs.

4.     Others

Other common signs of overfeeding in turtles include bloating in limbs, frequent throwing up, lethargy, and yellow-tinged eyes. You may need to check with your vet to confirm whys the turtle is showing these signs.

Underfeeding a turtle is not okay either, but it is better than overfeeding it. Its effects are easier to correct than those of overfeeding.

How to Choose the Amount of Food to Give a Turtle

If your turtle has the above signs, it has probably been overfeeding. As soon as you notice the above or realize that your turtle is fat, it would be best to re-evaluate how often you feed the reptile.

Frequency – How Often Should You Feed a Turtle to Avoid Overfeeding?

Start by reducing the number of times you feed the turtle. If you have a juvenile or hatchling aged below one year, you should feed it once a day. They are still susceptible to illnesses and have low immunity. Their body parts are still developing, and they have higher nutrition needs. As such, hatchlings and juveniles feed more often than older turtles.

Give the baby turtles food, vegetables, and pellets once daily. They feed on more proteins when younger for their growth needs and develop strong, hard bones and shells.

For youngster turtles, it is ideal for feeding them every other day. They are much more developed and do not require as much food as juvenile turtles. It is enough for their survival and growth needs when you give the youngster turtle once every other day.

In addition to food, youngster turtles need ideal nutrition, vitamins, and minerals to remain healthy. You would need to give them more vegetables and plant matter. As turtles grow, their bodies need less meat and consume more plants.

As for adult turtles, they need to be fed a week or each third day thrice. As the turtle ages, its appetite is bound to reduce. In addition, its nutritional needs are lower because its organs are fully developed. Its feeding frequency needs to be lower than in younger turtles.

Feeding Schedule

Once you establish the ideal number of times for feeding your turtle, you will need to create a feeding schedule. A schedule helps you stay on course in ensuring that you do not overfeed your pet turtle.

You can start by breaking down the kind of food to be feeding the turtle on which day. For instance, for an adult turtle that you are feeding a week thrice, you can give the turtle commercial pellets on the first feeding day. On the second feeding day, you can provide it with animal proteins, and on the third day, you can give it leafy green vegetables, other plants, and fruits.

Once you have a feeding schedule, strictly adhere to it. The plan should be as per your turtle age and dietary needs depending on whether it is omnivorous, carnivorous, or herbivorous.

Besides food, it is essential to include vitamins and other supplements in the schedule. Treats are also good, but you should strictly limit them, especially now that you aim to reduce the turtle’s weight.

A good feeding routine ensures that the turtle gets the right food amounts and ensures that you remain consistent. It will also help you notice when your turtle is no longer eating and seek veterinarian help.

Quantity – How Much Food Should You Feed a Turtle?

If your turtle is overweight, you also need to reduce the amount of food you give it. Incorporate this alongside decreasing the number of times you feed the turtle.  

The process of reducing the food quantities you feed the turtle should be gradual. For monitoring progress, weigh the turtle on a scale before you begin the exercise. Track this weight loss by regularly weighing the reptile. However, the scale you use should only weigh the pet turtle. Turtles carry salmonella, and you should avoid all risks of spreading this to your household.

There are two main methods of monitoring and regulating how much you feed the turtle to prevent overfeeding.

The first method is the 15 minutes approach. Under this, you give the turtle the food it can eat within 15 minutes. Once this duration lapses, you remove all leftovers from the tank. The turtle will have eaten enough for its survival needs. It also helps train the turtle to eat effectively.

A second approach is giving your pet turtle the same amount of food during each feeding time. You would need to get a measuring container to ensure consistency. This container should be approximately the size of your turtle’s head. A turtle’s head grows with its body, so you will adjust the amount of food you give it as it grows.

Measuring the amount of food is better than the 15 minutes method for beginners. If you don’t have a measuring container, you can use plastic that is the same size as your turtle’s head. Alternatively, you can use a big plastic and squeeze the food together and ensure that it does not exceed the size of the turtle’s head.

Irrespective of the method you choose for measuring the food you are giving your turtle, it is best to restrict the amount of time you allow your turtle to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Know I Overfeed My Turtle?

An overfeeding turtle will show signs of lethargy, throwing up often, yellow eyes, and bloating in limbs. For prolonged overfeeding, the turtle will have obesity symptoms such as being unable to retract in the shell. In addition, the turtle will develop shell pyramiding which is a visible sign.

Do Turtles Stop Eating When Full?

Naturally, turtles are opportunistic eaters. They wil find it hard to resist food. Therefore, a turtle will continue to eat even when full, making it overfeed. Eventually, it will stop, but it will have eaten more than necessary, affecting its health.

It is upon you, the turtle owner, and its other caretakers to regulate the amount of food the turtle eats. There are several approaches to achieving this, including allowing it to eat for a maximum of 15 minutes then taking away any leftovers. The other method is giving it an amount of food equal to the size of its head.


Can you overfeed a turtle? Yes, it is possible to overfeed your pet turtle. Even though it is not common, it is still possible. Overfeeding is often evidenced by lethargy, bloated limbs, yellow eyes, obesity, shell pyramiding, and liver and kidney diseases. It can cause severe damage to the reptile’s body, and some of the effects, such as pyramiding, are irreversible.

If your turtle shows signs of overfeeding, you need to reduce the amounts and frequency of feeding the turtle to adhere to. The process should be gradual till you achieve the desired levels.

A strict feeding schedule will help ensure that you remain consistent in giving your turtle the right amounts of food, the right number of times weekly. With consistency, your turtle will get to the right body size.

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