By Andrew Daniels
Turtles may not be as cuddly as cats and dogs, but they make fantastic pets for other reasons: They’re fun to care for, mesmerizing to observe, and they’ve been around since prehistoric times! Best of all, they’re relatively low-maintenance—just as long as you make sure to give them the right foods and keep their habitats clean.
What a turtle can eat depends on its species, and knowing what to feed your turtle to give it a proper nutritional diet is important. Here is your comprehensive guide to feeding your pet turtle so that it stays healthy, happy, and strong for many years to come.
What Do Pet Turtles Eat?
What you feed your pet turtle will largely depend on what kind of turtle you have. If it’s omnivorous, your pet turtle will eat commercial food pellets, feeder fish and insects, and fruits and vegetables. If it’s herbivorous, your pet turtle can eat only fruits and vegetables.
You likely have a red-eared slider, which is the most common pet turtle in the U.S. “These animals are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animals and plants,” says Simon Starkey, BVSc, PhD, D.ABVP(Avian), Education Veterinarian and Technical Services Manager for PetSmart. Like red-eared sliders, most water or aquatic turtles eat an omnivorous diet. Follow the guidelines below and your turtle will be in great shape.
- Commercial pelleted food: It’s best to buy food made just for turtles, as this food will float and typically not fall apart as easily as pelleted food designed for other reptiles, Dr. Starkey says. Pellets should make up 25 percent of your turtle’s diet.
- Feeder fish and/or insects: Feeders like comet goldfish provide a great source of protein, as do correctly balanced minerals like calcium and phosphorous, and good levels of certain vitamins, like vitamin A. “As with pellets, these should make up 25 percent of a turtle’s diet,” says Dr. Starkey.
- Fruits and vegetables: Fill up the remainder of your turtle’s daily diet with fresh produce. The best veggies are chopped dark leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens, Dr. Starkey says. Shredded carrots, squash, and zucchini are great foods that turtles can eat, too. You can also go with edible aquatic vegetation such as water lettuce, water hyacinth, and duckweed. “For fruits, consider shredded apples and melons, as well as chopped berries,” recommends Dr. Starkey. “Supplement fruits and vegetables with reptile calcium and vitamin powders.”
If you have a land turtle, or tortoise, for a pet, they eat a strict herbivore diet. This means that their food should consist of only fruits and vegetables, usually a dietary mix of 20% and 80% respectively.
What Do Baby Turtles Eat?
What turtles can eat largely depends on their age and nutritional requirements. Keep in mind that younger sliders will eat relatively more protein than older animals, says Dr. Starkey. Baby turtles need to eat higher amounts of pellets and/or fedder fish relative to fruits and veggies.
Where Can I Buy These Foods?
Pellets can be purchased at most large pet stores as well as many online stories, says Dr. Starkey. Feeder fish and crickets should be available for purchase at pet stores too, while fruits and vegetables can be bought at your local grocery store.
Are There Any Specific Brands I Should Buy?
Any brand that is carried by a reputable specialty pet store—and is designed for turtles—will provide the right nutrients, Dr. Starkey says. “Brand is a little less important, because no single food should be the staple diet for aquatic turtles.”