Turtles constantly beg for food, especially when you come into sight. Does that mean they are hungry? Here is how often to feed a red-eared slider. 

The Short Answer

If you have ever wanted to know how often to feed a red-eared slider, here’s the quick and short answer.

You can feed a red-eared slider once daily, however what you are feeding it depends on how old your turtle is, because younger red-eared babies and juveniles should eat protein daily, whereas older sliders should eat primarily a vegetable-based diet. 

As a red-eared slider owner I can tell you that their appetite is seemingly voracious!

I could literally feed giant handfuls of tender filet mignon steak to my slider 3x a day and it would still appear to be starving as I gave it a 4th serving.

Why Your Turtle Always Seems to be Hungry

There is a reason your turtle always appears to be hungry.

The reason being that in the wild, a red-eared slider is an opportunistic eater. They do not get the luxury of eating pellets, dried shrimp or mealworms in a relatively small aquarium where their prey cannot easily escape. In the wild, they are left with primarily aquatic vegetation, insects and the occasional stray fish that happens to come near as well as decaying organic matter from dead fish or frogs.

If your turtle doesn’t eat whatever is in front of it, it doesn’t eat period!

Thus, it is important that you ignore your turtle’s pleas and begs for food. It’s just being itself and it doesn’t know any better. 

Like I wrote above, you can absolutely feed your red-eared slider every single day or most days of the week, but what you will feed it will be based on how old your turtle is

This presents a problem, because even if you have bought your red-eared slider from someone else or a pet-store, you aren’t likely to know its exact age unless you have brought it up since it was born.

That’s OK, because you just need a rough estimate.

How to Tell a Red-Eared Slider’s Age

Here’s the thing, you aren’t going to be able to precisely determine your red-eared slider’s age unless you have taken care of it since it was born.

This isn’t a problem at all though, as we just need to figure out a good estimate.

Now some people say that you can figure out a turtle’s age based on the number of rings on its scutes, but this is a poor method for red-eared sliders as you can’t really see them. Moreover, the method itself is very problematic.

Here is what I suggest.

Loosely determine the age of your turtle based on the size of its turtle shell, and to a lesser extent, its coloring.

To measure its shell, take some measuring tape or a ruler and measure from the top of its shell just behind its head down to the middle of the bottom of its shell. You aren’t measuring its width, but its length here.

Less than 6 months old6 months to 2 years oldOlder than 2 years
Shell length usually around 2 inches (5-6 centimeters) Shell length closer but usually not exceeding 4 inches (~10 centimeters)Shell length more than 4 inches, steadily increasing to 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters)
Skin and shell are both very green, light and brightShell will turn a deeper shade of greenShell will be much more black and brown, especially after 4-5 years

Basically, you will want to kind of figure out if your turtle is:

  • A hatchling (less than 6 months)
  • A juvenile (6 months to 2 years)
  • An adult (2 years+)

This will determine how often you feed your turtle a protein source.

How to Tell a Red-Eared Slider's Age

How Often to Feed a Red-Eared Slider

Once you have estimated your turtle’s age, then you can determine an optimal feeding schedule.

Here is what I would recommend.

Hatchlings

  • Offer a little bit of daily vegetables. They will probably not eat them, but this is OK, still offer them.
  • Offer them daily pellets. Every few days you can treat them to a different protein source.

Juveniles

  • Keep offering daily vegetables. They will probably occasionally eat these. If they still don’t, don’t worry.
  • Offer them pellets every other day. Once a week or so you can give them a different protein.

Adults

  • Vegetables should make up the bulk of their diet, and the older they get, the less protein they will need.
  • Offer them a protein source once or twice a week. You can gradually reduce their protein to once a week the older they get.

What Kind of Foods Should You Be Giving Red-Eared Sliders? 

In terms of specifically what you should be feeding them, I recommend choosing among the following as a good staple food (food you should be feeding them often):

I recommend using some type of aquatic pellet as your main protein staple, as this will ensure that your turtle gets an adequate amount of protein and other minerals and vitamins. A lot of other protein sources are actually devoid of nutritional content.

Give These Foods Sparingly

For treats and to round-out their diet, I would recommend the following:

Protein Treats

  • Feeder fish
  • Crickets
  • Earthworms
  • Cray fish
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Krill

Vegetable & Fruit Treats

  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Collard greens
  • Endive
  • Banana (in small amounts)
  • Aquatic plants

For vegetable sources, a handful of romaine lettuce daily will do. If it’s too much they will simply stop eating it. It’s quite difficult for red-eared sliders to gorge on vegetables.

For protein sources, I would advise you to give them enough food that would fit into the size of their head were it empty.

Alternative Feeding Schedules

Although this is the feeding schedule that I would recommend, there is an alternative, which is to feed them slightly less protein, but to feed them daily.

Personally, I don’t really like this feeding schedule because I feel that it’s a little bit easier to overfeed them, but it’s just an alternative. You will want to avoid overfeeding your red-eared slider as this can cause a host of health problems, and can also lead to premature death.

As your turtle gets older, I would also recommend you to take a day out of the week (usually Sunday for me) and not feed them. This will give whatever is in their stomach some time to digest, and give their stomachs a bit of a break. It will not hurt them and in my opinion, it helps prevent overeating.

Lastly, when feeding them, always make sure to keep on eye on your water temperatures.

Try to keep it in the 70’s throughout the year. Closer to 80 for younger turtles and closer to 70 for older turtles.

You will have to be careful with this, as red-eared sliders need to be in the water in order to eat (they do not produce saliva), and if the water temperature gets too low, such as into the 50s, this can lead to respiratory disease and other illnesses. If the water gets even lower, the turtle will not be able to properly digest its food.

A Summary

To summarize how often to feed a red-eared slider:

  • You can feed your turtle daily.
  • Hatchlings can be fed protein daily.
  • Juveniles can fed protein every other day.
  • Adult turtles should be fed once or twice a week, less as they age.
  • In order to figure out how often to feed your turtle, you will need to determine how old it is. You can do this by measuring the length of its shell and by looking at its coloring.
  • Pellets should make up the bulk of its protein sources.
  • As red-eared sliders age, they should be fed more and more vegetables, and less and less protein.

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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