Turtles can be great pets, but taking care of them requires time and effort. Turtles have varied diets including fruit and vegetables as well as insects, worms and fish. To care for your turtle you need to understand what food your turtle needs and how often you should feed him. The exact amounts will vary from turtle to turtle, but there are some general guidelines to follow. You should speak to your vet if you are uncertain about how to correctly feed your turtle.
Knowing What to Feed Your Turtle
1. Feed them fruit and vegetables. Turtles have a varied diet which includes fruit and vegetables as well as meat. Expert Source Expert Interview. 18 August 2020. As a general rule a younger turtle will eat more meat, and as they get older he will shift to eat more fruits and vegetables. Of the fruit and vegetables you provide, around 80-90% of total should be made up from vegetables and flowers, with just the remaining 10-20% coming from fruit. Generally, green and leafy things should be the largest part of their diet, while you should avoid fibre-rich vegetables such as lettuce and celery.
- Good vegetable choices include kale, parsley, green beans, bell peppers, and cabbage. Small amounts of spinach and broccoli are also good choices. Flowers including carnations, roses and hibiscus can be added for variety. For the fruit content use apples, bananas, pears, grapes, kiwi and melon.
2. Provide live food. Unlike tortoises, turtles also eat meat. This is an important part of their diet so be sure to have a regular supply of animal-based food for your turtle, including live food. The type of things you should feed your turtle includes crickets, mealworms, waxworms and other small grubs and insects. If your turtle is aquatic it will need to eat small fish such as comet goldfish, mosquito fish, or even aquatic snails.
- You can buy live worms and crickets from your local pet store, as well as pre-packaged dead ones. Feeding your turtle live crickets can seem a little tricky, but it helps to replicate how a turtle would eat in the wild.
3. Use high quality pellets. An easy way to provide food for your turtle is to use specially prepared turtle pellets which you can buy in your local pet store. These will be designed to provide the range of minerals and vitamins your turtle needs. If you are trying to replicate how a turtle would feed in the wild, however, the pellets are less authentic than fresh greens and insects. If you use pellets try to make them part of a balance with fresh food. Think of pellets as forming the only the foundation of the diet.
4. Get the right balance of food and vitamins. For a creature with a diet as varied as a turtle, getting a good balance of all the different dietary elements is important to maintain your turtle’s health and well-being. There is no absolute fixed ration of plant-based feed to animal-based feed, and each turtle will vary, but aim to provide equal amounts of each of these main food types.
- Using supplements can help to ensure your turtle gets all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Consider dusting food with calcium and vitamin supplements before offering it to your turtle. Add the calcium supplement to his food twice a week. If you are unsure about the right balance for your turtle speak to your vet.
5. Provide constant access to water. As well as feeding your turtle you need to ensure that he has constant access to a water source for drinking. Ensure there is always fresh water in a bowl that the turtle can easily access and not easily knock over. Take care to make sure that the water stays clean and replace it if gets contaminated.
Feeding Your Turtle
1. Feed young turtles often. Juvenile turtles need lots of food, and need to be fed more often than mature turtles. Feed juvenile turtles every day. Turtles are generally considered juvenile until they reach around seven years of age. You may find that his appetite will change before he reaches this age, and he eats less. In this case you can switch to feeding him less frequently, but be sure to check with your vet first to see if there is any other reason for his diminished appetite.
2. Don’t feed adult turtles every day. Once your turtle becomes more mature his eating habits will change and you should not feed him every day. Appetite will vary from turtle to turtle but as a general rule you should feed an adult turtle every second day, or four to five times a week. You may find that your turtle is frequently begging for food. They will do this whether or not you feed them, so you should be sure to stick to a good feeding programme.
3. Provide the right amount of food. No two turtles will eat exactly the same amount of food, so recommendations on the amount to provide have to be generalised. There are, however, some good guidelines to keep in mind. Smaller turtles will eat less than larger ones, and this is reflected in the idea that you should feed your turtle about as much food as would fit in his head and neck. This is quite imprecise, but can be a useful reference point.
- Another way to judge the amount of food to provide, is to offer all he can eat in a set time. The recommended times vary from 5 to 15 minutes. Try feeding him until there is a noticeable falling-off of appetite and then removing any non-live food. Removing excess food will help avoid over eating, and prevent decomposing leftovers which can impact on the water purity for an aquatic turtle.
4. Feed an aquatic turtle in the water. Aquatic turtles are a little different to ordinary land turtles, as they feed in the water. It is essential for an aquatic turtle to feed in the water. This can lead to problems if leftover food decays in the water. Because of this, some people recommend having a separate tank for feeding which can be cleaned more easily after mealtimes. If you don’t do this be sure to pick out any leftovers and keep the water quality high.
- Feeding an aquatic turtle small live fish can help stimulate him and give him some exercise. Using vegetables that float is preferable to those that sink for an aquatic turtle. If you dust your food with a vitamin supplement, be aware that this can rub off in the water. Using pellets can be a way to tackle this.
Pippa Elliott, MRCVS
Veterinarian Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.