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How Much & How Often to Feed Turtles: Vet-Reviewed Guide

Gregory Iacono

By Gregory Iacono

turtle eating vegetables

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Amanda Charles

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles are popular pets in the United States, and the demand for them is growing stronger all the time. They’re docile and relatively easy to care for, however getting their diet right can be one of the more tricky things to master. If you’ve just adopted a turtle as a pet, there’s a good chance you have many questions, including how much and how often to feed your pet turtle. In general, you should feed adult turtle once every 2-3 days anything it can eat in 15-20 minutes.

Below you’ll find all the information you need to answer that question, including tips and advice on feeding and caring for a turtle. There are many species of turtles. For the purposes of this article on feeding turtles, the Red-Eared Slider turtle will be used as it’s one of the most common pet turtles in the United States.

How Often Should You Feed Your Turtle?

Although it depends on the species, most pet turtles, like the Red-Eared Slider, need to be fed with the same regularity. For adult turtles, every 2 to 3 days is a good rule of thumb, depending on how much they eat and how quickly. Younger turtles, however, need to be fed more often. For them, once or twice a day is recommended. Also, any food left behind by your turtle must be removed from its habitat to prevent decay and the problems decaying food can cause.

You can feed your pet turtle in a separate feeding tank so that their everyday tank stays cleaner. The feeding tank must only be big enough for your turtle and its food. It will, however, need water if yours is an aquatic turtle like the Red-Eared Slider.

red eared slider on dead branch
Image Credit: Simon_g, Shutterstock

How Much Food Should You Feed Your Turtle?

It is usually recommended to feed your turtle as much food as it can easily eat in about 15 to 20 minutes. That goes for juvenile and adult turtles. Once 15 to 20 minutes have passed, you should remove any food your turtle hasn’t eaten. This is especially true for a meal that isn’t alive when you feed it to your turtle, like turtle pellets. Aquatic turtles are opportunistic feeders meaning they can overeat, continuing to feed even when they are full.

What Do Most Pet Turtles Eat?

Most aquatic turtles kept as pets, including the Red-Eared Slider, are omnivores, which means they eat a combination of plant and animal food. The typical diet of a pet turtle includes leafy, green vegetables, animal products and a small amount of fruit. When younger and growing, a turtle will need more animal protein switching to eating more vegetable matter as they get older. The key to a healthy turtle is a varied diet with many turtle owners feeding a commercial pelleted diet, supplemented with other food items. Below are some of the foods you can feed your pet turtle, including plant and animal foods.

Plant sources for turtles:
  • Leafy greens (collards, mustard, cabbage, dandelions)
  • Water plants, including duckweed, hyacinth, and water lettuce
  • Fruits (apples, bananas,mangos)
Animal sources for turtles:
  • Processed turtle food (trout chow, sardines)
  • Earthworms,slugs
  • Feeder fish
  • Cooked meats such as chicken or beef, in small amounts
  • Live moths, crickets, and feeder shrimp

Turtles are prone to Vitamin A deficiency, so incorporating some red, orange and yellow vegetables like carrots, squash and bell peppers is a good idea.

Hand feeding turtle with vegetables
Image Credit: thomaslabriekl, Shutterstock

How Often Do Turtles Eat?

Adolescent turtles should be fed at least once a day and, depending on their age, possibly a 2nd time. Adult turtles should be fed once every 2 to 3 days. This also depends on their age, size, and the species of turtle you’ve adopted. If you want to give your turtle a small snack every day, that’s okay as long as they eat it all and you remove any leftovers.

How Much Does the Average Turtle Eat in a Day?

The amount of food a pet turtle will eat will vary based on your turtle’s age, size, activity levels, and species and so it is important to carefully research the requirements of your turtle Typically they eat 2 to 4 ounces of food a day on the days they’re fed. Just so you’ll know, 2 ounces is about 1/4 cup, so 4 ounces is ½ cup of food.

How Should You Serve Food to Your Turtle?

Aquatic turtles like the Red-Eared Slider eat their food in the water or underwater. Therefore, placing their food in your turtle’s tank water is ideal. It’s also why many recommend having a 2nd tank for feeding, as placing food in their main tank’s water will inevitably cause water-quality issues.

You should also know that the water temperature in the tank where you feed your aquatic turtle makes a difference. It should be around 75° to 78° F. If the water is too cold, your turtle might not eat or eat less than normal.

turtle eating grapes leaves
Image Credit: Super8-Shutterstock

Can You Overfeed a Turtle?

Yes, it is possible to overfeed a turtle, and like humans and other pets, they can become obese if you do. An obese Red-Eared Slider will have difficulty retracting its limbs and head back into its shell. As mentioned previously, ensuring you only feed your turtle as much as it can eat in about 15 to 20 minutes is the best way to prevent overfeeding.

Also, providing a tank big enough for your turtle to swim is essential to prevent obesity. Lastly, providing live food like crickets is a great way to get your turtle to move around while it hunts.

Final Thoughts

Turtles are relatively easy animals to keep as pets as long as they live in a sanitary environment and eat a well-balanced diet. Young turtles must be fed once or twice a day, and adults can eat once every 2 to 3 days. All turtles should be given enough food that they can eat in less than 15-20 minutes. Also, when finished, any remaining food should be removed and discarded. By doing so, your turtle will stay healthy, and its tank will stay clean. Remember turtles can carry Salmonella so it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly after feeding and handling your turtle.We hope our advice will empower you to provide your turtle with all the nutritious food they need to stay healthy and happy.

Featured Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

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