So, you decided to get a pet turtle, or perhaps you just came back from the pet store with your new pet.
You probably already know what your turtle should and shouldn’t eat. But how much food should you actually feed your turtle per day?
Over- or under-feeding your turtle can lead to serious health issues and severely impact its life expectancy.
We’ve put together this guide for new turtle owners just like you.
Keep reading to find out how much and how often you should feed your turtle!
When a turtle is in the wild, they will forage for food when they are hungry. But, of course, in your home, your turtle can’t simply wander over to the cupboard and get itself a snack.
So, you need to know when your turtle will be hungry, how much to feed them, how often to feed them, and what to feed them.
So, to make sure your turtle is getting all the sustenance and nourishment they need, here’s our guide to correctly feeding your turtle.
How Much to Feed Your Turtle
The amount you feed your turtle will depend on their age, size, and species. Generally speaking, the bigger a turtle is, the more it will need to eat. The amount they eat also depends on what exactly you feed them.
Now, slightly frustratingly, there are two opinions on how much you should feed your turtle. One argument is that you should feed your turtle as much as they can eat in 15 minutes. With this method, you will only have to do this once or twice. Then you will have a good idea of how much to feed them every time.
The other argument is that you should feed your turtle as much food as would fit inside its head. So, if you’re feeding your turtle pellets, take a few in your hand and compare their size against your turtle’s head. This isn’t an exact science but it will give you a good idea.
Neither of these methods is particularly better than the other. But, if you give your turtle a decent amount of food, set a timer for 15 minutes, and then see how much they eat, you will get a good idea of their appetite.
Although there is a general amount of food that certain species of turtles will eat, turtles do have individual characteristics and appetites. So, even if one turtle might eat a handful of leaves, yours might have a smaller appetite and eat much less. It’s simply trial and error.
However, if you’re concerned about this method, then the second will also work well. Overfeeding a turtle is very dangerous for their health.
So, if you don’t want to risk overfeeding, then simply holding a few pellets against your turtle’s head will do. That said, if you don’t want to feed your turtle pellets, then the first option is still good.
How Often to Feed Your Turtle
Once you have worked out how much you need to feed your turtle, you next need to find out how often they need to be fed.
It’s a good idea to set up a regular feeding routine. Even if your turtle doesn’t need to eat very often, it’s best to write down exactly when, what, and how much you feed your turtle.
Even if it’s just in the notes app on your phone. This will stop you from forgetting when you last fed your turtle. Otherwise, you might find yourself overfeeding or underfeeding your turtle.
Turtles are opportunistic feeders and so will eat as much as they can, whenever they can. So their feeding must be controlled and monitored. Because most turtles are very docile and don’t make much noise, it can be difficult to tell when they are hungry. They won’t beg you like other pets.
Juvenile turtles should be fed once a day. Once they reach maturity (which is around 7 years old, depending on the species) turtles should be fed every other day.
Also read: How Often do Turtles Poop?
What to Feed Your Turtle
If you go into your local pet store, you will find different pellets to feed your turtle. These are fine but you should also be feeding your turtle fresh food. Just like with humans, some ready-made and processed food is fine. But we all need to eat our greens and regularly consume fresh fruit and vegetables. (find out what can turtles eat from human food)
What your turtle should eat depends on their species. Some will be omnivorous whereas others will be herbivores. If they are herbivores, then general leafy greens are the best options. Even the odd strawberry as a treat.
If they are omnivorous, they can of course eat most things. This includes leafy greens (which should be the main part of their diet) but can also include worms and small shrimp.
These are often sold in pet stores. But they are difficult to store (plus they might gross you out). This is where turtle food pellets come in useful.
If your turtle is omnivorous, then a combination of pellets and leafy greens is a good idea. But, if this is what you choose, then it’s still important to make sure you don’t overfeed your turtle.
If you have chosen to feed your turtle as many pellets as would fit inside their head, then they should only have a small amount of leafy greens. But, this method of course doesn’t work with a lettuce leaf that might be as big as your entire turtle.
As the amount you feed your turtle will vary depending on their size, try and make up their diet through proportions.
So, as mentioned above, pellets should only be part of your turtle’s diet. Try to keep the proportion of pellets under 25%. If your turtle is herbivore, then the rest of their diet should be made up of leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables.
If they are omnivorous, then fruits and vegetables should make up around 50% of their diet. The remaining 25% should be made up of worms, shrimp, and water insects. These can be bought dried from your local pet food store.
Also read: Can Turtles Eat Strawberries?
How to Feed Your Turtle
One important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t just leave food in your turtle’s enclosure.
Especially if you’re not sure how much they should be eating yet. Your turtle will eat everything it can.
So if you just leave a pile of pellets or greens for them to snack on, they will just eat it until they are full. (Read on or scroll down to find out just how bad overfeeding your turtle can be).
So, make sure to only give your turtle as much food as they need for one meal. Otherwise, you will find all of the food for the week gone in a few minutes.
Where you feed your turtle is also important. For example, if you have an aquatic turtle, then you should feed it while it is in the water. This is because they would naturally feed in water in the wild. Aquatic turtles feed on small fish and water insects that live in water.
So, in fact, it is essential for them to feed in the water. When choosing your aquatic turtle’s food, try and use vegetables and pellets that will float. Your turtle will find it too difficult to get any food that sinks to the bottom.
If you have an aquatic turtle, it’s a good idea to have a separate feeding aquarium. This will avoid any leftover food rotting in the water. The water will become unsafe for your turtle if they swim in it.
If you can’t have two aquariums, then it is important to make sure that you pick out any uneaten food as soon as your turtle has finished eating.
How to Tell if You’re Overfeeding Your Turtle
Your turtle is eating properly if you are regularly feeding them the right amount of food. But it is possible to overfeed your turtle and this is very unhealthy for them.
It is easy to overfeed your turtle as they are always keen to eat. If you offer your turtle food, then they will likely eat it. It might even appear that your turtle is always hungry. But this definitely isn’t the case.
Overfeeding is one of the worst things you can do for your turtle. As mentioned several times before, turtles are opportunistic eaters. So, if you just leave a pile of food for them to eat, they will eat the whole thing without stopping. This is similar to puppies who will eat until they are sick.
Overfeeding your turtle can cause them to gain excess weight and become obese. For a creature living within a shell, this is not a comfortable experience. Overfeeding can also lead to shell pyramiding.
Pyramiding, as you might have guessed, is when the shell of a turtle begins to grow upwards at a point. This happens when the turtle’s shell grows too fast.
Rather than one large pyramid, each scute develops a sort of hump. Depending on the severity of the pyramiding, it can be mild and even go unnoticed or it can be life-threatening.
Pyramiding might not always be obvious, so make sure to keep an eye on your turtle’s shell. It’s a good idea to keep a general eye on your turtle’s shell and its overall shape. This will give you a good idea of how healthy they are.
There are a few simple ways to spot if your turtle is overeating. These are:
- Folds of fat around the legs, especially when retracted. They are especially overweight if they have fat around their legs when they are not retracted.
- If the lines around their scutes are looking wider. The scutes are the shapes on your turtle’s shell. These are the sections that rise up when their shell pyramids.
- The edges of the shell often lift up when your turtle is overweight. This is due to the increase in fat beneath the shell.
Although how much food you give your turtle, and how much, is incredibly important, you must not forget that they need water to drink. Turtles must only drink water and nothing else.
Although you must be strict with the feeding schedule, your turtle requires a constant supply of water. Make sure there is always enough water for your turtle in their enclosure. It needs to be easily accessible but also somewhere it won’t be easily knocked over.
So, one of the most important things to remember about feeding your turtle is that they are opportunistic feeders. This has been mentioned several times in this article. But it bears repeating.
It’s also important to make sure that your turtle has a balanced diet. Just like you, your turtle should only have small amounts of processed food, such as pellets. Their diet should primarily consist of leafy greens and vegetables.
The amount you feed your turtle is just as important as what you feed them. If you overfeed your turtle, they will become overweight and unwell. So it’s important to keep an eye on your turtle’s feeding habits.
You should also only give your turtle as much food as they need. Otherwise, there is a good chance that they will overeat.
Feeding your turtle properly isn’t very difficult. But it is important to make sure you feed them the correct amount and keep to a schedule. If you do, then your turtle will be happy and healthy.