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Key Turtle Feeding Tips:
- Turtle pellets are the most affordable turtle food and almost guarantee you are giving your turtle the right nutrients
- Choose food based on turtle size and maturity (hatchlings require different food size and nutrients)
- There are natural options such as fruits, vegetables and meats, but it is recommended you feed these as snacks
There are quite a few options when it comes to turtle food. To simplify the decision on what food it best break it down into three questions:
- Is the food the correct size for my turtle? (can my turtle easily eat it)
- Is the food appropriate for my turtle? (provides your turtle all essential nutrients)
- Is it sustainable and always available?
The last question is more of a turtle owner comfort level. All-in-one pellets are really the best choice as they have a long shelf life and are engineered to provide everything your turtle need in their diet. If you are trying to feed your turtle only fresh ingredients, you need to always be planning ahead and calculate if it is what your turtle needs.
Variety is the name of the game. Just like human diets, turtle’s are healthiest when a variety of food is available to them. Turtle pellets are a great staple food source, providing the main nutrients your turtle needs. However, throwing in the occasional snack like live fish, fresh vegetables or fruits helps vary your turtles diet to ensure every nutrient they could need is available.
WHERE? Most aquatic turtles only eat underwater. So you must feed your turtle underwater. Floating food works just fine here.
HOW MUCH? There is debate on how much a turtle should be eating and how often but the obvious rules apply.
Rule 1: Provide a varied diet for your turtle so all of their nutritional needs are met.
Rule 2: Do not overfeed your turtle. An overweight turtle is an unhealthy turtle.
A general rule of thumb for the amount is feeding as much are your turtle can eat in 5-15 minutes (depending on the turtle food) or as much as can fit in their head. The general rule of thumb for when to feed your turtle is to feed hatchlings once everyday, juvenile once every other day, and adult turtles once every other day to every three days. HOWEVER, I have found that I can feed my adult, fully grown turtles everyday, I just feed them a little less than the typical serving size. Why do I feed my adult turtle everyday? It is easy to remember and provides a little enrichment. Turtles are opportunistic eaters and so they hunt almost all day. Therefore, getting them to eat everyday is like a successful hunt everyday. They live in a tank so enrichment is important for turtle health as there is not as much to explore in a tank versus a pond. Live fish are great enrichment and snacks for turtles as the turtle will need to chase they fish to get their snack. Floating vegetables are great as they can be left in your turtle’s tank for hours. Your turtle can nibble at them when they get veggie hungry.
Speaking of opportunistic, is your turtle begging? Ignore it, they have figured out how to get you to feed them more. You have schedule, stick to it, they would beg forever and eat forever if they could.
MESSY? If you are having a hard time keeping your turtle tank clean because of food decay or just sloppy turtle eating, a great way to avoid the mess is to feed your turtle in a separate container. This is in no way required, as I have always fed my turtles in their tank, but is an easy way to keep your turtle’s home cleaner, longer. If you are feeding your turtle in their tank, remove excess food that they do not eat after mealtime.
Pellet food (basically dog food but for turtles) is an all-in-one food source for your turtle. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. For the most part, food is divided into two categories: Hatchling and adult turtle food. Hatchling diets are more carnivorous and the food pellet’s are more aligned with this diet. Adult turtles are typically more omnivorous and consume both plant and animals. Now what pellet food size is appropriate for your turtle? The rule of thumb is that the food should be able to fit in your turtles mouth. Simple as that. Some brands side with being “natural” and contain little “fillers”. These tend to be more expensive but like human food, better for turtles as there are no potentially useless or harmful additives in them. An example of a few great turtle food products are provided below:
Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks – Get it here
Omega One Floating Adult Turtle Sticks – Get it here
Exo Terra Hatchling Aquatic Turtle Food – Get it here
Store Bought Snacks
There are several treats you can feed your turtle, many of which have the added benefit of being nutritios and stimulating for your turtle. Bones and freeze dried shrimp are great treats for your turtle.
The cuttleboneis a excellent treat for a turtle. It is actually a bone from a fish that is full of calcium. Turtles love chomping at these and it can give them lots of enrichment time as they chase the bone around trying to grab pieces off of it. CAUTION: there is a natural or plastic backing on most cuttlebones. This should be removed as it is either impossible or extremely difficult for your turtle to digest. Use a knife to scrape it off.
Turtle Bone – Get it here
The freeze dried shrimp are basically all protein but something new for your turtle to gobble up. My turtles love these as treats.
Freeze Dried Shrimp – Get it here
Fresh Vegetables, Fruit and Animals as Food!
If you want to go at it with fresh food (*I suggest these only as a snack) try these:
Vegetables: Dark leafy greens (like romaine), shredded carrots, squash and zucchini, mustard greens, peas. Avoid feeding your turtle spinach.
Fruits: strawberries, bananas, blueberries, pears, figs, apples and currents. Avoid citrus.
Meat: Fish, mussels, clams, snails, insects, worms.
Getting fish from the store carries the risk that one of these fish could have a transmissible disease or parasites. Breeding your own fish can minimize this risk. There are great fish that you can breed super easily. These include live bearers like platties, mollies, fancy guppies and sword tails. All you need is a 10 or 20 gallon tank, healthy water parameters and some hiding places and these fish will breed prolifically. You can even throw a couple ramshorn snails in the tank and they will breed quickly and make another great snack for your turtle. Avoid feeding your turtle rosy red minnows, goldfish and fish that are considered “oily” like smelt.
* The reason I only suggest feeding your turtle fresh/raw food is that it can be difficult to keep up with the nutrients your turtle is getting vs. needs. In the wild, they naturally seek out the nutrients they need. When you are doing all of the feeding, it is up to you. This is why I recommend pellets as your turtle’s main food source because they are specifically designed to meet your turtle’s dietary needs whether they are a hatchling or adults. Of course it is ok, enriching, and fun to feed your turtle more exciting food so don’t be afraid to do so.
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