What Do Turtles Eat? Best Food for Pet Turtles

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Turtles might seem the best pets because they have fewer care needs than dogs or cats and are more social than fish. Even so, you should have the right care strategies in place to guarantee your turtle remains comfortable and healthy.

One of these is the proper diet. Though turtles have almost similar dietary options, every animal has different habits meaning your pet will have a specific preferred food. A turtle’s diet varies based on its age, habitat, and species.

When considering food options, there are three turtle types to keep in mind. Freshwater turtles like the yellow-bellied, Cumberland slider, pig-nosed, razor-backed musk and spotted turtles feed on water-based microorganisms or plants.

Sea turtles primarily live underwater where they feed on aquatic plants, mainly algae and sea squirts, squid, crabs, jellyfish, or shrimp.

Land turtles, often called tortoises are strict herbivores that thrive on shrubs, green leafy vegetables, flowers, grasses, and fruits. They include the leopard, Texas, Russian and desert tortoises.

Below are some beneficial guidelines on your turtle’s feeding.

Best Foods for Pet Turtles

It might be hard to get your turtle’s preferred diet right immediately when you bring it home. The following are some of the best food alternatives for pet turtles to get you started.

– Vegetables

The healthiest fresh vegetables for your turtle include cooked sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, softened carrots, and green beans. Most of these veggies are best offered raw since they retain most of their nutrients this way.

You nonetheless should thoroughly wash them before feeding to get rid of all contaminants.

Though cabbage is also an excellent vegetable to include in your turtle’s diet, this should be in moderation. This is because it contains goitrogens and might lead to hypothyroidism in excess amounts.

– Leafy Greens

Dandelion greens, mustard greens, and kales are among your best alternatives for leafy greens in your turtle’s diet.

Beet greens, spinach, and Swiss chard should be sparingly included in the diet because they have oxalates that bind to minerals like calcium. They can, therefore, cause mineral deficiencies because they prevent absorption.

– Aquatic Plants

Water hyacinth, frog-bit, duckweed, Azolla, and water lettuce are some aquatic plant options that will benefit your turtle as snacks.

These can be sourced from most local nurseries. Alternatively, you can plant them in your turtle’s cage to keep the water’s algae levels low and pull some waste from the water.

– Bugs and Worms

Worms and bugs are good sources of proteins for turtles. They also deliver a substantial serving of phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin A. The available choices for bugs and worms are varied.

Aquatic larvae of a few insect species will suffice as can the bait used by most fishermen. The best worms for turtles are earthworms, red worms, super worms, and mealworms.

– Aquatic Snails

Snails are the favorites for box turtles so long as they have no pesticides. For small turtles, consider cutting the snails into small pieces.

Besides aquatic snails, you can meet the prey needs in your turtle’s diet with tadpoles, daphnia, and Krill. You can also opt for liver, and lean red meat chopped or cut into strips.

– Turtle Pellets

These are staples of a turtle’s diet but should not be more than 25% of your pet’s diet. Though there are various pellet feeds in pet stores, it is best to invest in one meant explicitly for turtles.

This floats easily in the cage and will not fall apart as quickly as the pelleted feeds meant for other reptiles.

– Fruits

Ornate and common shell turtles love currants and strawberries, while tortoises love pears, figs, apples, and bananas.

It is best to steer clear of citrus fruits for your turtle since they might cause diarrhea.

– Mollusks

Clams and mussels deliver a lot of calcium in your turtle’s diet. This calcium is essential for the development of a strong shell and skeleton.

Do Turtles Drink Water?

Though it lives in water, it is essential to have a clean water bowl in a turtle’s cage.

In most cases, turtles will not only drink from the bowl but might bathe in it as well. It is hence crucial to ensure that the water is clean at all times to avoid any issues with your pet turtle.

Foods You Should Avoid In Your Turtle’s Diet

In the wild, the available opportunities for turtles to eat voraciously are few. As such, turtles will never seem satisfied in captivity and might eat throughout. Moreover, they might seem open to eating almost anything.

Most pet owners use this excuse to give their turtles all types of food. Even so, some food varieties might harm your turtle and should be avoided. Here are some food types you should ideally negate from a turtle’s diet.

  • Raw meat or chicken: There is virtually no opportunity for a turtle to eat raw chicken or meat in the wild. Its digestive systems might thus be ill-prepared to handle them. Moreover, the raw chicken and meat might have too many parasites that will translate to excess protein amounts for your pet. Small portions of unsalted and cooked chicken are nonetheless ok as snacks for your turtle.
  • Feeder fish: These are small fish that most turtle owners give their pets as part of the primary diets. Even so, your turtle should only eat feeder fish twice per month at most if necessary. This is because the fish have a very high fat content, and their bones can get stuck in your pet’s throat. Moreover, feeder fish might harbor parasites and bacteria that cause diseases in your turtle.
  • Fruits with a high sugar content: The high sugar amount in some fruits is likely to upset your turtle’s tummy. You thus should avoid very sugary fruits.
  • Poisonous plants: Fortunately, turtles will in the wild avoid toxic plants when they come across them. In captivity, you should be careful about the plants you feed your turtle. Flowers like daffodils, foxgloves, and buttercups are highly toxic. These can be fatal when consumed in high amounts.
  • Processed foods: These include canned foods, lunch meat, and sausages, along with all foods that contain high levels of preservatives or salt. Since they are not available in the wild, your turtle’s digestive system might struggle to break them down, leading to tummy issues.

How to Feed Your Turtle?

If you want your turtle’s cage to remain clean and still have minimal cleaning needs, move the turtle to a small water-filled tank for the feeds.

This way, you can clean after feeds by simply dumping out the dirty water. To prevent temperature shocks for your turtle, it is best to get the water in the feeding tank from the main one.

Some turtle owners opt to dump their feeds into their pet’s main cage. Though this is an easy feeding technique, it necessitates the tank’s periodic cleaning to prevent the growth of algae and mold.

A powerful filter for the cage might nonetheless reduce your cleaning load in this case. Juvenile turtles should be fed daily, whereas young adults {approximately 1-7 years old} can do with feeds 4-5 times weekly. Mature turtles can be fed every third day.

How Much Food Should An Adult Turtle Eat?

Most people think that they should give their turtles as much as they want provided they are still willing to eat. This approach carries the risk of overfeeding turtles because they are opportunistic feeders in the wild.

You need not measure how many leafy greens you give the turtle since they are healthy and carry no risks. For vegetables, shrimps, mealworms, insects, and other feeds, you can give your turtle a serving that is slightly more than the size of its head.

Commercial pellet feed portions should be somewhat less than the size of your turtle’s head.

What Do Baby Turtles Eat?

Young turtles will need more proteins in their diets compared to older ones. Baby turtles will also require higher amounts of feeder fish and pellets than fruits or veggies in their diets.

Ensure the food you give the baby turtle is chopped into small pieces then leave it in the tank for around thirty minutes before removing the leftovers.

You can include vitamin supplements, particularly vitamin D, in a baby turtle’s diet to support healthy shell development.

Can Turtles Eat Fish?

Yes, turtles can eat fish. In the wild, fish make up a significant portion of young turtle diets because they need a lot of proteins to grow.

As they age, the nutrients and vitamins required by turtles are sourced from the livers of feeder fish. Adult turtles are mainly herbivorous though your pet can enjoy fish as a snack once in a while.

Conclusion

Thanks to the guidelines above, you now know how and what to feed your pet turtle. When feeding and handling the turtle, observe the highest levels of hygiene.

This is because most of these animals harbor the bacteria that cause salmonella. The bacteria might cause fatal infections in the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the turtle or its cage and droppings. The turtles should also be kept far from food meant for human consumption.

Updated: August 31, 2020

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