Turtles seemingly have a bottomless pit for a stomach. It doesn’t matter how much food you give them, they will simply eat and eat. Here’s the reason why.
Why Your Turtle Is Always Hungry
In the wild, food isn’t always plentiful for turtles. At least not the kind of food that turtles WANT to eat. Think delicious, scrumptious things such as fish, shrimp, crickets, worms, and even pellets. When a turtle does get an opportunity to eat, it gorges, because it doesn’t know when its next meal might be.
When you think about it, it’s actually quite interesting how this behavior plays out inside the comfort and safety of your indoor turtle habitat.
Turtles do seem to recognize familiar people, at least on some level. And if a turtle has been captive its entire life, you would think that it would know, at least somehow, that food is not scarce.
However, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
What usually happens, if your turtle is anything like mine, is that anytime you appear, they go crazy.
It doesn’t matter if they were just fed 30 minutes ago. When you appear, it’s food time!
Do Turtles Know When To Stop Eating?
This behavior is simply a natural instinct and DOES NOT mean that the turtle NEEDS food, or that it is even hungry!
So, although your turtle may appear to be malnourished, that is simply its animal instinct kicking into overdrive.
Think about this:
Have you ever, in your entire life, seen a fat turtle out in the wild?
I’d be willing to wager that you haven’t. And neither have I.
Why is that? Because food isn’t plentiful in the wild. When a turtle gets an opportunity to gorge, it gorges!
Turtles are opportunistic feeders. In fact, they are so opportunistic that they will stuff themselves with so much food that they are forced to throw it up. And then will eat their throw-up. Disgusting, I know.
That being said, when you notice your turtle behaving in this manner, it’s a good signal.
Because it signals that you have a healthy, stimulated turtle. You see, food stimulates turtles and actually makes them more active.
However, there is a danger here, and that is this.
Constantly feeding your turtle can be dangerous.
How Do I Know If I Overfeed My Turtle?
Turtles love to beg for food.
Unfortunately, in order to keep your turtle healthy, you’ll need to be able to ignore this behavior.
The reason is that overfeeding can lead to some really serious negative health consequences for your turtle.
Signs Of An Overfed Turtle
- Liver and kidney damage or organ failure.
- Excessive shell shedding and development.
- Premature sexuality.
Liver and kidney damage and even disease can occur through something called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. If left untreated, it can eventually cause liver failure. This happens because the liver is unable to metabolize all of the fats that it is receiving. This then leads to a turtle that is a lot more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
Organ failure can also occur as the turtle develops and grows, as the organs can’t keep up and eventually are overworked.
As far as obesity, that is rather easy to spot. Here’s an easy-to-follow method:
- Watch your turtle whenever it retracts any of its legs into its shell.
- If you see noticeable folds, that’s a surefire sign that your turtle is obese.
- Don’t confuse the folds for skin wrinkles, rather, they should look a bit thick and meaty.
- This is an obvious signal that you will need to decrease either the number of feedings you give your turtle, the amount of food you give, or both.
If you have 2 or more turtles that have grown up together, there is an even easier method. Look at the turtles and see if they are the same gender. Check to see if there are any noticeable differences in their size.
If they are both or all-male, they should be all about the same size. If not, say, one of them is quite a bit larger or bigger than the others, this may mean that this particular turtle has been bullying the others and stealing its food!
This method, however, is less effective with different species and different genders, as females are often quite a bit larger than males.
What Causes Pyramiding In Turtles?
Another very obvious sign that you are overfeeding your turtle is when you spot something called “shell pyramiding” or excessive shell growth.
Like the fatty folds around your turtle’s legs, this one is also really easy to spot.
Look at each of your turtles’ scutes (the individual parts on the top of your turtle’s shell). Look at the middle of each scute.
- Is it raised?
- Does it pop out more than the rest of the shell?
If so, it may signal shell pyramiding.
It’s essentially a form of Metabolic Bone Disease and occurs when your turtle is overfed. It’s not good for the turtle and could lead to their organs being squeezed or being damaged.
The biggest culprit of shell pyramiding is usually from feeding your turtle too many pellets.
There’s another sign of being overfed, and that is excessive shell shedding or growth.
It’s often pretty difficult to determine how much shedding is too much for a baby or juvenile turtle, which is why I would recommend looking at scute growth instead. If there is any type of abnormal separation between the scutes, that’s a sign of shell growth that is too fast.
Abnormal separation here means that the distance between scutes is as big or larger than the width of a marker, for instance.
Some other common signs of overfeeding:
- Yellow tinged eyes
- Bloated limbs
- Throwing up food often
Remember this, it’s much much better to underfeed rather than overfeed your turtle.
Overfeeding your turtle does nothing but give them a shorter life.
How Do You Know If A Turtle Is Starving?
So, if you really don’t want to overfeed your turtle, how much should you worry about underfeeding it?
Here’s the thing.
If you have any type of regular feeding schedule at all, your turtle will just not be underfed.
Turtles can go a long time without food. A really long time. As in, months.
You would essentially have to really go out of your way and withhold food for a long time in order to notice a malnourished turtle.
And if you are reading this article, that’s not going to be you!
Basically, you simply don’t have to worry about your turtle being seriously underfed.
How Much Should I Feed My Turtle A Day?
It’s a good idea to get on a regular feeding schedule with your turtle and make sure you feed it not only an appropriate amount of food but the right food as well.
I outlined this in greater depth here, but as far as a good feeding schedule is concerned, here are some rough guidelines:
- Feed babies and juveniles (turtles up to 1 year of age) once a day.
- Give young adults food every other day.
- You can give mature turtles food every third day.
As far as how much that means, another good rule of thumb is:
- Feed as many pellets as can fit into the size of your turtle’s head was it empty.
- A few big pieces of leafy greens are perfect each day.
- Your turtle is always hungry because they are opportunistic feeders by nature and do not know when they will get their next meal.
- You will need to learn how to ignore this behavior and stick to a regular feeding schedule.
- Overfeeding your turtle should be much more of a concern to you than underfeeding it.