Quick Tips on Feeding Turtles
Commercial Brand Foods
Feeding Box Turtles
Feeding Tortoise Species
Many Box turtles and tortoises eat much or the same types of things. However, not all of them eat protein and not all of them eat high fiber greens. While we provide a complete list of turtle foods including both greens and proteins, it doesn’t mean you should feed them all of these. Even if your turtle is purely a vegetarian, not every form of greens on the list is something you should feed them. For example, a Leopard tortoise should be fed grasses and hays that contain a high level of silica yet the Hingeback, Redfoot and Mediterranean breeds are not equipped to digest these types of grasses even though they too eat greens. To help remove confusion, in this section we will cover what each type of turtle and tortoise should be fed.
Quick Tips on Feeding Turtles
- Avoid feeding large amounts cabbage (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, chard etc.) to your turtles because they contain goitrogen that interfere with the uptake of iodine. Also, avoid feeding large amounts of spinach to them since it contain oxalic acids that doesn’t allow calcium to be absorbed. In small quantities however, these can provide a good source of fiber, beta carotene, vitamin b, c, e and k, and potassium.
- Turtles only have so much they can/should eat in a sitting so it’s important to make sure you feed them the best parts or a given food. The rind of a fruit contain more vitamins and minerals then the rest of it does.
- Slightly cook and grate any vegetables that are of a hard consistency. This will help your turtles eat and digest these vegetables more easily.
- Gut load the insects you feed to your turtles. Do this by feeding the insects foods that contain calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes, high quality fish flakes or cat food are good options. It works best if you begin to to feed the insects these foods two days prior to giving them to your turtles.
- If your turtles become fixated on a certain food, don’t fall prey to their insistence on it. It’s unhealthy for them to only eat one type of food. Instead try mixing their favorite food with other foods to help ween them off of it. They might pick through it and only eat what they want or not eat it all but stick to it until they begin eating other foods.
- A loss of appetite can be caused by several things like colder temperatures or an illness but an easy fix might be just to vary their diet more to avoid boredom. You can also try misting them with a spray bottle since in the wild, rain stimulates their appetites.
- You don’t have to feed your turtles or tortoises everyday; instead, see how often to feed a turtle.
Notes about Commercial Brand Foods
There are several prepackaged turtle foods available on the market but there are a few things you need to be aware of before you purchase one:
- The first ingredients should be protein
- Avoid brands that are mainly grain based
- Hydrate the chow slightly by adding in bits of fruits, greens or veggies
- The only supplement you will need is calcium
- Can lead to boredom or loss of appetite if other foods are not mixed into their diet
Feeding Box Turtles
Most box turtles are omnivores but a few are vegetarians while one we will discuss is strictly a carnivores.
American Box Turtles
American Box turtles are opportunistic eaters and will eat a wide range of vegetation and animal matter. They will consume animal matter such as eat bugs, slugs, worms, grubs, insects, spiders and greens such as fruits, vegetables, fungus, weeds, flowers and more. A god balanced diet consists of 50% protein and 50% greens.
- 2/10ths of the meal should be vegetables: If needed, slightly steam (but not cook) some vegetables and chop them up into small manageable pieces
- 3/10th should consist of equal volumes of fruit, fungi (like mushrooms) and leafy greens
- 5/10th of the meal should be protein (Note: if the turtles are younger than 1yr old, 75% of their meals should be protein
- Mix them all together and feed an adult 2-3 tablespoons (30-45ml) and juveniles 1 tablespoons (15ml)
- Add a few whole berries for visual appeal. (stimulate the appetite)
- Sprinkle calcium powder and vitamin supplements on their meals once a week.
Yellow Margined and Keeled
The Yellow Margined and Keeled Box turtles are mainly herbivores and rarely eat meat. You can however feed them snails, insects, worms or fish every third or fourth feeding. Feeding these turtles too much protein can cause them health problems so err on the side of caution and don’t overfeed them protein (90% greens and 10% protein). Feed them the same sized portions as other box turtles.
Chinese Three Stripe
The Chinese Three Stripe is a semi aquatic box turtle that is highly carnivorous. It rarely eats greens but would benefit from very small bits of green. The reason you should feed them greens at all is that in captivity they tend not to get all the nutrients they need from their protein based foods. Since this breed is semi aquatic, you can feed it aquatic plants like anacharis, hornwort or frogbit and protein in the form of snails, fish or crayfish (90% protein and 10% greens).
Similar to the various Box turtle breeds, the different types of tortoises don’t all have the same diets either. With the exception of strictly being a carnivore, there are tortoise breeds that are mainly vegetarian while others that are omnivores. It’s important to provide the correct diet for each individual tortoise breed. The biggest health risk to a captive tortoise is a mismanaged diet plan; especially when it comes to a small juvenile one. One sign that a tortoise is not being fed properly is, the formation of pyramids on its scutes.
Note: While you might think a tortoise doesn’t need to drink a lot of water, it’s important to always provide your pet with a clean source of water. You should also allow them to soak in their water as they will greatly enjoy the dip while they drink up and also relieve themselves.
Mediterranean and Russian
This diet of the Mediterranean tortoise is the same as that of the Hermann’s, and Greek tortoise too. These breeds are herbaceous and only eat greens, succulents and flowers. The greens you feed them need to be very high in fiber so don’t completely rely on store bought produce since they lack the sufficient fiber. Fruits are okay but use them sparingly since too much can give them diarrhea. The best way for tortoises to feed is to allow them to forage and graze naturally but if that isn’t possible, here is a list of some items that they would enjoy:
- Non Toxic Weeds
- White Clover
They should only get a tiny percentage of protein in their diet if any at all. Too much protein and their shell can become deformed, their liver can fail and their kidneys can fail because of impacted bladder stones. This means you should not only not feed them meat but also cat/dog food, beans or peas.
The diet of these breeds should include 75% of grasses and hays. Hays such as: meadow and orchard hay are ideal. Avoid grasses with prickly seed heads that can scratch a tortoise’s eyes. You can limit these by only feeding them the second or third cutting since the first cutting usually contains the seeds. Note: hay that contains a high level of silica should only be feed to these species and not other since they lack the ability to digest them properly.
The other 25% of their meal should include mixes of flowers, cactus pads, clovers and weeds.
Hingeback and Yellow/Redfoot tortoises are omnivores and will need to be fed protein. For an adult Yellow or Redfoot, they should be fed 1 oz of protein per week and for younger ones, they should be fed proportionately less. A Hingebacks will appreciate .2 to .4 ounces of protein a week. Snails, slugs and millepedes are ideal sources of protein but cat food can also be substituted.
The majority of their meals however, should include leafy green vegetation, edible flowers, fruits and mushrooms. They can handle fruits better than most turtles and tortoise and they eat them naturally in the wild. They will love overripe: bananas, mangoes, papayas and strawberries.