When you own a turtle, you want the best for them. That’s why turtle owners are always looking for different food varieties to feed their pets. However, even if you’re going to experiment with other foods, you don’t want to provide your turtle with harmful or poisonous foods. That’s why it’s important to know safe and unsafe foods for turtles. In this article, we explore different types of foods in your pantry your turtle can eat.
Before we proceed, let’s answer the question, what can turtles eat from human food?
Generally, turtles are omnivorous, which means they can eat pretty much every food that humans eat. Therefore, they can eat most of the foods in your kitchen. From fruit and meat to fish and vegetables, turtles can eat virtually everything. Let discuss this and more in detail.
List of Foods Your Turtle Can Eat
As we mentioned, turtles are omnivorous, meaning they can eat virtually everything. Here are major foods it can eat:
It’s no surprise that turtles love fish. After all, they share the same habitat. In the wild, fish serve as the primary source of quality protein for turtles. In captivity, turtles will enjoy eating fish.
Fish offers numerous health benefits to your turtle, including supplying the body with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorous, and many other minerals. Feeding your turtle with fish will make them healthy,
However, one question arises when feeding turtles with fish: Are all fish types healthy and safe for the turtle? A quick answer to this question is NO.
Not all types of fish are safe for turtles. You should avoid wild-caught fish as they may have pathogens that may end up harming your turtles. In addition, avoid fatty fish as they’re a high-fat diet, which may cause vitamin E deficiency.
Here are types of fish to avoid:
- Gizzard shad
- Rosy red minnows
- Feathered minnows
Fish that are safe for turtles to live with and eat:
- Neon tetra
The issue with fish is that they are not poisonous to turtles – the problem is that they have a lot of small sharp bones that can bruise the turtle’s internal organs.
When turtles eat small fish, they don’t chew them. Instead, they swallow the fish, which means that if the bones are too sharp, they can scratch the internal organs and thus cause internal bleeding.
Also, some fish contain high amounts of thiamine, an enzyme known to block absorption of vitamin B1, which is essential in turtle’s health.
Therefore, if you want to feed your turtles with fish, avoid buying from the supermarket. Instead, go for feeder fish at pet shops.
Fruits are another excellent food for turtles. Not only do they improve the turtle’s immune system, but they also reduce the risks of diseases. Fruits are full of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Most of the fruits are healthy for turtles, even those with high levels of phosphorous. The only fruits you should avoid feeding turtles are citruses as they contain citric acid, which tends to irritate the turtle’s stomach, leading to vomiting. Therefore, avoid lemons, oranges, limes, mandarins, pomelo, and other citruses.
Some fruits to feed turtles include avocado, dates, kivi, prune, raising, banana, guava, coconut, apricot, cantaloupe, nectarine, mulberry, etc. honeydew, pomegranate, persimmon, peach, and guava. Remember to wash fruits before throwing them into the tank
Vegetables are healthy foods, especially for adult turtles. In fact, they should form part of their daily diet. Turtles can eat virtually all vegetables, except those with no nutritional value, such as iceberg lettuce.
The aim of feeding your turtle is to ensure it’s satisfied and also gets the required nutrients. Iceberg lettuce might be filling, but they add no health benefits to your pet. Another type of vegetable to avoid feeding your turtle is that with high oxalates levels. Oxalates slow down calcium absorption in bones. Considering that most of the turtle’s body comprises of bones and shell, you can see how essential calcium is to their health. Some vegetables with high oxalate levels include endive, spinach, potatoes, chard, and beetroot.
Eggs should be in the category of foods you shouldn’t feed turtles, but turtles can eat them. While they contain a high level of iron and protein, eggs have high cholesterol levels, which tends to be unhealthy for turtles.
As such, you should feed eggs to your turtle sparingly. Turtles enjoy eating hard-boiled eggs, and thus you shouldn’t offer them scrambled or pan-fried eggs. Make sure to cut the egg into small pieces before dropping them into the tank. You can remove the yolk as it contains a lot of saturated fats.
Although turtles don’t know how to eat chicken, it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy a piece of grilled bird. If you have to offer chicken, make sure it isn’t salted or seasoned. Also, only offer it very sparingly.
Another essential thing to keep in mind here is to ensure that you cook the chicken thoroughly to avoid transferring salmonella bacteria from raw chicken to your turtles.
There’s also no problem feeding your turtle ground beef as long as it’s plain and void of oil. Raw meat is not as unhealthy as raw chicken since it doesn’t carry salmonella, but still, you should ensure that it’s thoroughly cooked before tossing it into the tank.
Are you shocked that your underwater buddy can enjoy a piece of grilled pork? Just like chicken, beef, and chicken, turtles can eat pork. However, make sure it’s not seasoned and ensure it’s thoroughly patted dry to remove oils. In addition, make sure it’s thoroughly cooked.
Again, you’ll find discussions online with people saying turtles shouldn’t eat pork, chicken, or beef as these are not foods turtles eat in the wild. All this is true since turtles don’t need these foods to survive.
However, they are not dangerous for your turtle, and after all, this list is about human foods that your turtle can eat. As long as you sparingly feed the above foods to your turtle, there’s no problem with them.
We include insects in this list of human foods turtles can eat as people consume them. Therefore, if you’re a turtle owner and you eat insects, you may wonder if your turtle can eat insects too. And we are here to tell you that, yes, turtles can eat insects.
In the wild, insects are some of the favorite foods for turtles, and thus you can feed your turtle dried and live crickets.
Human Foods in Your Pantry to Avoid Feeding Turtles
Refined and baked foods such as pastries may not be harmful to your turtle, but they are not beneficial. You can feed it to them but remember that they will not be adding any nutritional value to their bodies. Baked products are just filling.
Some baked products can also cause stomach upsets and digestion issues for your turtle, which is why it’s best to avoid them.
Pasta, just like baked foods, doesn’t add any nutritional value to turtles. Stick to foods that can curb your pet’s hunger and add nutritional value to their bodies. Pasta is a filling food, but you should avoid it.
Sweets and Chocolates
Turtles tend to eat virtually any food you throw at them. As such, it might be tempting to throw chocolates and sweets into their tanks as a way of giving them a treat. However, you may end up doing more harm than good for your turtle.
Nuts have high oxalate content. As we mentioned earlier, oxalate lowers calcium absorption, which makes them unhealthy for turtle growth.
Therefore, don’t give nuts to turtles as food or treats.
Dairy products such as milk, butter, and cheese are not healthy for turtles as turtles lack the enzymes needed to break down nutrients in dairy products.
Therefore, don’t feed your turtles with products made from dairy products as they can cause indigestions and severe health issues.
It might be tempting to toss some biscuits or chips into the tank as turtles will eat them, but the truth is that this can harm your pet as many contain preservatives and chemicals. Therefore, don’t feed snacks to your turtle.
Which Foods Do Turtles Eat In the Wild?
Turtles living in the wild are like most reptiles – they eat what’s in their surroundings. A turtle’s diet in the wild depends on what is accessible in its habitat. It’s important to mention that both aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles have different diets.
Aquatic Turtle’s Diet
Aquatic turtles such as soft shell turtles eat protein found in the water – crickets, fish, snails, crayfish, and spiders. Larger aquatic turtles like snapping turtles may eat birds of the sea, such as ducks.
Land Turtles Diet
Desert tortoises and other land turtles are herbivores, which means they eat vegetation in their region, including grass, wildflowers, leaves, cactus, cacti pears, and fruits such as palmetto berries, raspberries, and blueberries.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to Turtle’s Diet
Why Is My Turtle Always Hungry?
In most instances, turtles do not stop eating, which does not mean that they are always hungry. In the wild, their favorite food is not always available. Foods such as shrimp, worms, crickets, and fish might not be available all the time. Therefore, when a turtle finds them in plenty, it overfeeds to compensate for when there will be a shortage.
When in captivity, turtles have a natural instinct to keep reserves in their bodies for when there will be a food shortage. That’s why they’ll always come near the tank whenever you get into their habitat. It doesn’t matter if they just ate; they know it’s food time when they see you.
So, How Do You Curb Excessive Hunger In Turtles?
The best way to deal with a turtle that’s always wanting to eat is to feed them food rich in protein. A balanced diet will keep them healthy and satisfied. Also, provide them with vegetables at least twice a week.
Do Turtles Stop Eating?
As we mentioned, a turtle’s natural instinct is to overfeed when food is available simply because they don’t know when the next meal will be available. However, this is not to mean you overfeed your pet. In fact, even if your turtle looks malnourished, it might be healthy. After all. Even in the wild, turtles are never fat.
Remember that turtles are opportunist feeders, which means they’ll overeat to the extent that they’ll throw up.
The good thing is that a turtle that gets excited to eat is healthy. Food stimulates turtles, and this makes them more active. But this is not to mean you feed your pet every time it shows intent to eat as overfeeding can have serious health consequences, including:
- Kidney and liver damage
- Premature sexuality
- And excessive shell development and shedding
In case of kidney or liver damage, your turtle can get fatty liver disease or hepatic lipidosis, which can lead to liver failure. The fatty liver disease interferes with the metabolism of dietary fat, making turtles susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections.
For obesity, it’s easier to know if your turtle is obese – Watch how your turtle retracts its limbs into its shell. If it’s folding the limbs, then the chances are that the turtle is obese. If you notice the folds being a little meaty and thick, decrease the number of feedings or amount of food you give your turtles.
If you have two turtles of the same sex and one appears bigger than the other, know that the bigger one is bullying others when eating. Keep in mind that females are bigger than males, and thus the size of the turtle here may not indicate obesity.
Pyramiding is another indicator that you’re overfeeding your turtle. Pyramiding is excessive shell growth. It’s easy to see shell overgrowth – you only need to look at your turtle’s scutes. If the middle of the scutes is raised or popping out of the shell, this may signal shell pyramiding.
Pyramiding, a form of Metabolic Bone Disease, occurs when your turtle overfeeds on a protein diet. It can be challenging to determine the right portions for baby or juvenile turtles, which is why it’s crucial to observe scutes growth. If the separation between the scutes is extensive, it means the shell is growing too fast.
Other signs of overfeeding include lethargy, yellow-tinged eyes, throwing up food often, and bloated limbs.
Make sure not to overfeed your turtle as this shorten their lifespan. In fact, it’s better to underfeed instead of overfeeding your turtle.
How Do You Know Your Turtle Is Starving?
We’ve mentioned that it’s better to underfeed your turtle than overfeed it, but how will you know you’re underfeeding your pet?
Well, if you have a regular feeding schedule, you can rest assured that your turtle is not starving. Turtles can go for months without food, but this can be caused by several issues, which we’ll discuss later.
It’s pretty hard to tell if a turtle is starving or malnourished. The only thing we would advise is to stick to a regular feeding routine.
How Much Food Should a Turtle Eat In a Day?
The right way to feed a turtle is to have a routine and provide it with balanced food. Here is a quick guide to the frequency and amount of food you should feed:
- Feed baby turtles and juveniles once a day
- Young adults should feed every day
- Adults turtles can eat every three days
In terms of portion sizes, feed as many pellets as can fit into a turtle’s head (if it was empty). Throw a few pieces of leafy greens into a turtle’s tank every day.
Why Is My Turtle Not Eating?
Before you start forcing your turtle to eat, it’s essential to know why he’s not eating. Changes in feeding schedule, diet, and environment are possible causes.
Let’s discuss the reasons a turtle may lose his appetite.
If you recently brought a new turtle to your home and are refusing to eat, they may be experiencing stress due to the sudden change in their environment. The tank’s condition might also cause stress, such as poor lighting and poor water quality, but we’ll discuss more of this independently.
Also, if you have been touching and handling your turtle a lot, you might be causing him stress. Turtles rarely bond with their owners, and thus, handling them every day might cause anxiety. If you want a turtle that doesn’t get stressed when held, you’re better off with a tortoise. Aquatic turtles are not fond of being touched a lot.
Turtle’s body is majorly made of bones and shells, which means they need UVB light to absorb and process nutrients in the body. Ideally, turtles will need 12-14 hours of light every day, followed by a period of 10-12 hours of darkness for them to sleep. Therefore, invest in quality lighting that you should place in the basking area and their tank to keep stress at bay. Stress prevents turtles from eating the right way.
As is the case with lighting, the turtle’s environment should have ideal temperatures. If an aquarium is cold for your turtle, this may end up suppressing his appetite.
Like other pet reptiles, a turtle should have areas in its enclosure with varying temperatures so that it can move where it pleases. Different turtles have varying temperature requirements. For example, a box turtle needs 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit in its basking area and 70-80 degrees in its tank. You can reduce tank temperatures to 60 degrees in the evening. For adult red-eared slider turtle, maintain 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit in its tank. Baby and juvenile turtles need their water heated to 80-85 degrees, with their basking area having 85-90 degrees. The heat lamp should be turned off at night for baby turtles to adjust their biological clock.
Turtles, just like other pets, can get bored from eating the same food. That’s why you should try to vary their diet using some of the foods we’ve discussed here. If you have been feeding your underwater buddy commercial pellets, you may need to change his diet by including foods such as live crickets, mealworms, earthworms, and snails. Some giant turtles can even eat feeder fish and small feeder mice.
Other diet tips you can try include:
- Tossing small quantities of fresh fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, melon, grapes, mangoes, papaya, or bananas. Make sure not to overfeed your turtle
- Spice things up by adding fresh food such as mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, leafy vegetables, arugula, spinach, cabbage, and lettuce to his diet.
- If your turtle still is not attracted to changes in his diet, try adding bright-colored fruits and rose petals
- Also, try to soak dry turtle food in fresh fruit juice to make them tastier
- If you can’t provide live insects, try canned insects. Some turtles also enjoy canned fish, boiled egg whites, beef, and cooked bland chicken. Just give them these canned foods sparingly
If your turtle suddenly stops eating, you should look for signs of illness. Some common symptoms of sickness include:
- Discoloration on his shell, which might come from lack of vitamin A in the diet
- Sneezing, difficulty breathing, discharge from the eyes and nose and wheezing. All these symptoms coupled with lethargy as well as irritated and swollen eyes may indicate signs of respiratory infections
- Worms in his feces indicate signs of parasitic infection. Parasitic infections may dampen his appetite
- If you can’t locate feces in the tank, he might be constipated, which may affect his appetite.
- If you have a female turtle that has suddenly stopped eating, she may have dystocia, a condition where a female turtle cannot release eggs out of its body. Turtles with dystocia often develop lethargy and show signs of weight loss within a short time.
In case you suspect your turtle is ill, seek veterinary services.
Lack of Calcium
Not getting enough calcium can also affect your turtle’s appetite. If your turtle’s appetite is dwindling, try adding calcium blocks and cuttlebones in his tank. Naturally, your turtle should get calcium from its regular, balanced diet.
Issue with Water
Some species like to eat their meals underwater. Therefore, if you bring a new turtle home and it loses its appetite, try putting his food in a water tank. Another way is to spray your turtle with water to see if this will spark his instincts – in the wild, they know worms are more accessible when it starts to rain.
Turtles are generally active early in the day and later in the afternoon. These are the best times to feed them. If you often feed your turtle in the evening or midday, try changing the time to see if this stimulates his appetite.
If you have adult turtles, avoid feeding them every day – instead, feed them every three days.
Time of the Year
If winter or fall is approaching, your turtle may reduce the times and portions it eats as he’s trying to hibernate. For pet turtles, hibernation is not recommended as it may cause medical issues. However, even if your turtle will not fully hibernate during fall or winter, it’s normal for them to reduce the portions they eat as they prepare their bodies to be less active during those cold months.
If you can’t figure out the cause of your turtle’s lack of appetite even after making adjustments to his diet and tank environment, this should be a cause of concern, and you should consult your veterinarian. Although it’s normal for a turtle to go without eating for weeks, you don’t want to risk him if there is an underlying medical problem. Therefore, it’s always safe to seek the services of your vet if your turtle goes for more than a week without eating.
Turtle are fascinating creatures. Like pets, you need to create an environment similar to what they have in the wild. That’s why you should feed him food that’s similar to what they find in the wild.
However, this is not to mean you shouldn’t feed him what you’re eating. We’ve discussed the main foods turtles can eat, including eggs, vegetables, fruits, fish, and meat, except those with a lot of fat. Make sure to give them these foods sparingly to avoid messing with their health.
Remember that your turtle will eat virtually anything you toss into their tank. Therefore, it’s your work to make healthy food choices for them and feed them appropriate portions.