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Do you have a trip or vacation coming up and are curious about how long can turtles live without food and water? This is what I’d tell you.

How Long Can Turtles Live Without Food?

Here’s the short and quick answer.

A healthy, adult turtle that has been fed properly during its life should be able to survive for months without eating anything. Juvenile turtles, in particular, baby turtles, will not be able to survive for quite as long as they need food (especially protein) a lot more frequently than adult turtles do. 

Believe it or not, turtles do go long stretches of time without eating in the wild, when they hibernate. 

During turtle hibernation, which is known as brumation, turtles enter into a state of very low activity and have a very low metabolism. This typically occurs during the colder, winter months of the year.

Pet turtles, however, usually do not brumate, because:

  • Pet turtles are around a constant supply of food by their owners.
  • The temperature environment does not radically change, like how it does outside.
  • Pet turtles are around healthy UV light all year round.

They also may not eat as much as they want due to a change in their surroundings, such as from a drought.

How Do I Feed My Turtle On Vacation?

I suspect that the real reason many of you are reading this article is because you may have a vacation coming up, and you can’t find someone to stop by and feed your turtle while you are away.

So, here is what I’d tell you.

If your trip is going to last less than a week and you have an adult turtle, it will have no problem going without food.

This goes for both aquatic and box turtles.

That being said, I would strongly recommend the following:

  1. Try your best to ask someone to come over, check-up and feed your turtle. If they can do this just once while you are away, it will give you a lot of peace of mind. Write very detailed instructions on how they should feed your turtle, as well as what they should do if they see that something is wrong.
  2. Do a water change and make sure your tank is full right before you leave. In open-air aquariums, the water will evaporate, so if water isn’t eventually added, it could affect your turtle’s ability to climb onto its basking spot, or even damage your filter. Likewise, for box turtles, make sure it has a bowl of freshwater.
  3. Get a light timer. At least with this, your turtle will continue to have daily UV light.

If you can’t find anyone to come over, here’s what I would recommend:

Get some feeder fish, or put something live in your tank. If you have a hiding spot or two in your aquarium, even better, as this increases the chances of the fish surviving at least for a few days.

On the other hand, if you cannot find someone to check-up and feed your turtles while away on a longer vacation, I would recommend simply letting someone else temporarily care for them, or bringing them with you.

How Long Can A Turtle Survive Without Food and Water?

There have been a few instances of turtles that have been unable to get to food and have managed to survive for months and even years.

  • A pet tortoise was once sealed off under a home’s foundation during a renovation. Without a source of food, it managed to live for over two years until it was found. However, it’s likely that the turtle still managed to catch passing bugs and insects that had managed to make their way into its hiding spot.
  • Another pet turtle managed to survive for several months after being forgotten under a pile of laundry. After it was found, it was severely dehydrated and had lost quite a bit of its size.

This does not mean that your pet turtle can remain at home unattended and without food for weeks and months at a time.

If instead, you asked how long can turtles live without food and water, the answer would be not nearly as long.

Just like humans, water is essential for an animal’s hydration, metabolism, digestion and lots of other regulatory processes. Without this, a turtle would likely die within a few months, at the very most.

In a healthy captive environment, most pet turtle species will need to be fed at least a few times a week. They will also need to have a source of clean water.

How Often Do I Need To Feed My Turtle?

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Turtles are reptiles, and as such are cold-blooded.

This means that turtles do not need to expend as much energy to maintain their internal body temperature as do warm-blooded creatures, like humans.

As such, this also means that because they don’t need to expend as much energy, they don’t need to consume as much energy as often as we do.

Here are good general rules of thumbs to adhere to when it comes to feeding your pet turtle. This pertains to most common pet turtle species (such as sliders, painted turtles and box turtles).

How Often Should I Feed My Turtle?

If your turtle is younger than 6 months. Give a daily protein source, such as turtle pellets, dried shrimp or fish, or cooked meat. Offer vegetables (they most likely won’t eat them).

If you have a turtle that is older than 6 months but less than a year or two old, you can stop giving it a daily protein. Instead, give it a protein every other day. This will prevent your turtle from growing too fast. Keep offering vegetables or leafy greens.

When your turtle is a year or two old, you will only need to give it a protein source 2 or 3 times a week. At this point, your turtle should be eating vegetables regularly.

Pet turtles need to eat leafy green vegetables daily. Secondly, as turtles grow older they need fewer and fewer sources of protein.

A turtle needs a decent amount of protein when young in order to fully develop and grow. As it grows older, this need diminishes the closer it gets to adulthood.

Also, turtles in the wild do not have daily, consistent access to protein.

A turtle needs a decent amount of protein when young in order to fully develop and grow. As it grows older, this need diminishes.

When given a choice between a live fish and a few leafy-green vegetables, the turtle is going to choose the fish simply because it has a (rare) opportunity to do so. The vegetables aren’t going to run away. They will always be there.

Speaking of food, you may want to check out this article on the Best Turtle Food. It will inform you of the best, highest quality types of food for your pet turtle.

Now that we know this, let’s address the last part of this article.

Factors Affecting How Long Turtles Can Survive Without Food

Of course,  there are a few variables that will affect how long turtles can survive without food.

Does the turtle have access to clean, pure, filtered water to swim, lay in and drink?

If your pet turtle does not have access to any food, but it has access to clean, pure, filtered water, it can easily go several weeks without food. In all likelihood, it would lose a few its fat stores but suffer no serious health consequences. This happens frequently in the wild.

Does the turtle have access to a basking area, and is the tank water properly heated and lit?

If your pet turtle doesn’t have access to food but has access to pure, clean, filtered water, a basking area to dry out its shell and receive healthy UVA and UVB rays, as well as a properly heated habitat, then it would likely survive for several months without any serious consequences.

Note: This doesn’t mean that this would be healthy. It would obviously lose quite a bit of fat stores, but the other factors would keep it alive for a lot longer than otherwise.

This is all assuming your pet turtle’s health is your biggest concern.

Thus, the answer to the original question (how long can pet turtles live without food), is, a pet turtle can probably survive for months quite safely.

However, if your pet turtle is under 6 months old, and even if you have the first two variables covered, the chance for survival without food is probably going to be less long.

This is all assuming your pet turtle’s health is your biggest concern.

Summary

For the sake of being a good owner however, it is always a good idea to have someone check up on the turtles at least once every week. Preferably, every few days if possible. Anything can go wrong if a tank is left alone.

As best you can, it’s never a good idea to leave your turtle without any food for more than a few weeks. Especially if it has become accustomed to this, and more so when it is still young and growing.

Hopefully, this article answered your question regarding how long can turtles live without food.

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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