Your turtle keeps begging, and you keep feeding. Your head starts to wonder, “Just how much food should I feed my turtle?!” Here’s the answer.
How Much Food Should I Feed My Turtle?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked, and one that I come across quite often. It’s natural, as I also wasn’t quite sure how much to feed my turtles when I was just starting out.
In fact, I made the mistake of overfeeding my first turtle, and in this quick article, I want to help you avoid this same mistake.
How Many Pellets Should I Feed My Turtle?
I made this a separate section because I feel with pellets most people just don’t know how many to give to their turtles.
There are 2 popular theories about how much food (pellets in this case) to feed:
- Feed them as much as they can eat in 15 to 20 minutes.
- Give them enough food that would fit inside their head, if it were completely empty.
My opinion is that the second is much better than the first theory, but before I outline why, I want to answer the question here:
How Much Food Should I Feed My Turtle A Day?
- Put a bunch of pellets into a plastic bag (like you would use for a sandwich), then squeeze the end and twist a bit so that it resembles your turtle’s head.
- Put it up close to your turtle’s head to see how much bigger or smaller it should be.
- After you get the correct size, measure it using a teaspoon, tablespoon or measuring cup.
- This will get you the exact amount you should feed.
For most people, this will work out to a few teaspoons or tablespoons.
The first popular theory, that you should feed turtles as much food as they can eat within a span of 15 to 20 minutes, has a big problem in my opinion.
And that is how easy it is to overfeed your turtle using this method.
Overfeeding your turtle is one of the worst things you can do for its health.
The thing is, a lot of turtle owners don’t know that they are overfeeding their pets because it seems like they are always hungry.
They don’t realize that turtles are opportunistic feeders that will eat as much as they can when given the opportunity because, in the wild, their next opportunity might not come for a long time.
Your turtle is smart, believe it or not. It will eventually associate you with food. When it sees you, it’s little lizard brain sends a signal that says “food!”, whether or not it is actually hungry.
You will need to ignore this type of behavior in the long-run if you want your turtle to stay healthy.
How Many Vegetables Should I Feed My Turtle?
Now that you know how many pellets you should feed, let’s get to the other stuff now.
Remember, you shouldn’t feed an adult turtle pellets every single day.
How much and how often you should feed them depends on when they reach maturity.
When do turtles reach maturity (adulthood)?
For most turtles, this is between the ages of 5 and 8.
Here are some good rules of thumb for frequency of feedings:
- Feed babies and juveniles (turtles up to 1 year of age) once a day.
- Feed young adults every other day.
- Feed mature turtles every third day.
Moreover, you need to give your turtle a healthy, balanced diet of more than just turtle pellets.
Here are some more good rules of thumb when it comes to how much of each type of food:
- Turtle pellets should make up no more than 25% of all food eaten.
- Leafy greens and vegetables should make up ~%50 of all food eaten.
- Other food sources, such as mealworms, shrimp, fish, etc. can make up the remaining ~25%.
This ratio should apply to juvenile and young adult turtles. As turtles start to mature, after that 3rd, 4th or 5th year, it’s better to bump up the % of leafy greens and vegetables to around 75% of their total diet.
Juvenile Turtle Diet
- Monday: Enough pellets to fit the size of their head
- Tuesday: Leafy greens
- Wednesday: Mealworms and shrimp, vegetables
- Thursday: Leafy greens and vegetables
- Friday: Leafy greens
- Saturday: Enough pellets to fit the size of their head
- Sunday: Leafy greens
As the turtle ages, I would phase out one of the pellet feeding days and replace it with leafy greens and veggies.
This then begs the question, how many leafy greens, vegetables and treats should I be feeding them?
For things such as feeder fish (which I usually don’t recommend), mealworms, shrimp, insects, etc., I would apply the same head-sized rule but allow for a little leeway. This means that you can give them slightly more than the size of their heads, as a lot of this food is not quite as dense and nutritious as the turtle pellets.
For leafy greens, you don’t need to measure at all! Here’s what you can do.
Grab a handful of kale and drop it in your feeding tank or your tank, and let it float. Don’t feed your turtle anything else.
If your turtle is like most other turtles, he or she won’t immediately nip at it. This is because turtles, in the wild, are able to feed on vegetables at any time, and generally only do so when they are hungry.
Eventually, he or she will.
Notice how much was eaten throughout the day, and that should be a general measuring stick of how many leafy greens to give them.
For vegetables (which you should usually cook), I would also follow the head-size rule but still give a little leeway. Turtles can gorge a bit on vegetables, and they will still be healthy.
Portion Size Guidelines
- Feed as many pellets as can fit inside their head was it empty (be strict on this).
- Offer as much feeder fish, mealworms, shrimp, etc. as would fit around the size of their head (can be a tad less strict with this).
- Give a little bit more veggies than the size of their head (less strict).
- Feed as much leafy greens as they will eat in one day.
You will want the leafy green portion of their diet to be a staple food, so I would keep trying the following things until you hit on something that they enjoy eating on a daily basis:
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
- Water hyacinth
- Water lettuce
For vegetables, I would recommend that you steam or cook them first to soften them up, and place them in a feeder bowl as they usually will sink to the bottom.
Some good vegetables:
- Softened carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, squash or green beans.
How Much Should I Feed A Baby Turtle?
When it comes to baby turtles, I would recommend that you simply follow the empty-head rule, just as with young and mature adults.
This is where that plastic bag can come in hand again.
The only difference this time is that you will be feeding them pellets or protein sources every day, instead of every other or every third day.
With baby turtles, it can be quite easy to overfeed them, so I would err on the side of caution, and be quite strict with the amount of pellets that you feed them.
The best times of the day for feedings are usually during mornings and afternoons.
Can You Overfeed A Turtle?
Don’t make the same mistake that I did.
Every knowledgeable turtle owner and enthusiast out there would agree that overfeeding is one of the worst things you can do to a turtle.
Always err on the side of caution, underfeeding a turtle is much more preferable to overfeeding them.
In nature, it’s nigh impossible for a turtle to overfeed, as they are slow and aren’t able to easily catch high-protein sources of food such as fast-swimming fish and shrimp.
In the care of an unknowing turtle owner who believes their turtle seemingly has a bottomless pit of a stomach however, it is quite easy!
Overfeeding can lead to 2 big health problems:
- Obesity (yes turtles can get fat!).
- Turtle shell pyramiding.
Pyramiding is the one you want to avoid because it is irreversible.
Pyramiding happens when a turtle’s shell starts to grow too fast. The scutes can stretch out and separate, and start to look like sharp “pyramids”.
Here’s a picture of what it can look like:
How to Tell If You Are Overfeeding Your Turtle
- There are folds of fat that develop around their legs even when their legs are not retracted.
- Noticeable folds of fat that develop around their legs when retracted.
- Their scutes are widely-separated (the lines that separate the scutes will become larger and larger).
- If the edges of their shell start to turn upward.
I would pay close attention to that last one, as that’s the one that starts to develop first.
If you notice the edges of your turtle’s shell start to turn upward, it’s a sign that you should probably be feeding them less food.
- Feed as many pellets as can fit inside their empty head.
- Give slightly more (or less) mealworms, feeder fish, shrimp, and vegetables, as can fit inside their empty head.
- Offer them as many leafy greens as they will regularly eat.