What vitamins do turtles need? If you give your turtle the PERFECT diet, vitamin supplementation is unnecessary. EXCEPT possibly for these two vitamins…
Did you know that often times a wild turtle is healthier than a captive turtle?
Can you think why that is?
- Wild turtles are able to roam in a much larger environment than a smaller tank or aquarium, and are thus more likely to eat a much more nutritionally diverse diet.
- Outside turtles often receive much more UV light, which enables more production of the vitamin D3. UV-producing light-bulbs are not nearly as healthy as the real thing.
- Many turtle owners often give their pets the same foods over and over, and while they may be nutritious in general, over time it may lead to a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals.
All that being said, for the purposes of captivity…
What Vitamins Do Turtles Need?
If you are providing your turtle the PERFECT diet, you won’t need any vitamin supplementation. In theory this includes foods such as green leafy vegetables, orange-colored vegetables from time to time, insects, mealworms, pellets and perhaps some fish every now and again and more. In practice, this is easier said than done.
Generally speaking, if you are giving your turtle a fairly-diverse range of foods, it will probably get most of the vitamins it needs from those foods. However, there are 2 vitamins your turtle needs that tend to be MORE IMPORTANT than the others. A lack of either of these can cause serious health problems. Those being:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
Of the 2, the only one your turtle may need actual supplementation with would be vitamin A. You most likely do not need vitamin D supplementation.
Below, I will explain why these 2 vitamins are important and why you may need to supplement them in addition to your normal turtle diet.
Please note, for the purposes of brevity, I will only be writing about VITAMIN needs and supplementation here and not minerals. It’s considered good practice to also give your turtle a calcium supplement, such as a cuttlebone. You can read more about your turtle’s mineral needs here:
Vitamin A for Turtles
In my opinion, if you need to supplement your turtle’s diet with any type of vitamin, it’s probably going to be the vitamin A.
A lack of vitamin A in your turtle’s diet can cause a TON of health issues, such as:
- Vision problems
- Hypovitaminosis A
- Upper respiratory disease
- Aural and Ear abscesses
- Squamous metaplasia (thickening of the duct lining in the kidneys and pancreas)
The first two are bolded because those 2 seem to be the most common problems associated with a lack of vitamin A, and are to a large extent intertwined with each other.
Lack of Vitamin A Can Lead to Vision Problems and Hypovitaminosis A
Often times the most common visible symptom of a vitamin A deficiency is a turtle that has red, puffy and swollen eyes.
If this deficiency isn’t corrected it will continually get worse, and can lead to swollen eyes that cannot be opened, or worse yet, blindness!
Moreover, vision problems stemming from a lack of vitamin A are often due to a condition called hypovitaminosis A.
- A runny nose
- Respiratory infection
- Raw skin, skin peeling and visible ulcers
- Loss of appetite
- Deformities in egg embryos for female turtles
Vitamin A Rich Food for Turtles
By far the easiest way to ensure your turtle’s diet has enough vitamin A is to provide natural foods chock full of it.
These are foods such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow or winter squash
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
- Whole fish or cod fish liver oil
I often recommend turtle owners to offer a handful of leafy-green vegetables daily, especially kale which has an amazing nutrient profile.
On top of that, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes or squash once a week is GREAT for your turtle’s vitamin A needs.
Personally, I avoid dealing with whole fish or fish liver oil just because it’s a bit of a hassle to actually get it into your turtle’s mouth. In general, I would try to avoid feeding your turtle fish most of the time. If you’re interested in why that is, please read an article I wrote here.
Interestingly, tortoises do not experience vitamin A deficiencies nearly as much as do semi-aquatic turtles such as red-eared sliders, due to the fact that the bulk of their diet consists of vegetables that are jam-packed with the vitamin.
The Best Vitamin A Supplement for Turtles
If you’re not interested in cooking up some squash, sweet potato or carrots every week then I would suggest an easier alternative: a vitamin A supplement.
The only supplement I feel comfortable recommending is Rep-Cal Herptivite Multivitamin and Mineral Powder Reptile/Amphibian Supplement.
It’s cheap, lasts around a year and best of all contains a ton of different vitamins.
However, Rep-Cal Herptivite is a multivitamin supplement that doesn’t contain vitamin A, but rather beto-carotene.
But wait, didn’t you say that it’s sometimes easier to offer a vitamin A supplement to turtles?!
Here’s the thing…
Excessive Vitamin A Can Cause Hypervitaminosis!
Get a kick out of this.
Not only can a lack of vitamin A (hypovitaminosis) cause a ton of health problems for your turtle, so can too much!
And, to make it even more difficult to figure it all out, there’s the fact that many times hypervitaminosis A is indistinguishable from hypovitaminosis A!
The symptoms for both of these conditions are similar:
- Swollen eyes
- Skin peeling
- A runny nose
I know what you’re thinking. How on earth can I figure out a way to give just the right amount of vitamin A to my turtle??!!
Remember that supplement I recommended a few paragraphs ago? Boom! That’s right. Beto-carotene.
Beto-carotene is an antioxidant, carotenoid and pigment that gives foods such as carrots and squash their orangish-color.
And, it also converts into vitamin A!
This is how we can avoid the potential toxicity of having too much vitamin A in your turtle’s system. Use a supplement with beto-carotene instead.
Hypovitaminosis A in Turtles Treatment
If your turtle is showing signs of a vitamin A deficiency, your course of action will depend on how severe the deficiency is.
If the condition is severe, as in, your turtle has extreme difficulty opening and closing its eyes, or is unable to at all, or if it is showing open sores and blisters on its skin, a trip to the vet’s office will be necessary.
Your vet will probably administer vitamin A shots. However this is usually a means of last resort as determining the dosage and avoiding vitamin A toxicity can be tricky.
If your turtle’s condition is instead less severe, it can be corrected over time through a balanced diet and the occasional vitamin A supplementation.
Hypervitaminosis A usually results from a poor diet built on nothing but turtle pellets or meat. This is because these foods usually contains little to no vitamin A.
To correct this condition you will need to correct your turtle’s diet.
Usually, this entails:
- Feeding your turtle daily leafy, green vegetables such as kale. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it’s nutritional profile is quite poor.
- Offering foods high in beto-carotene once a week, such as cooked carrots, sweet potatoes or squash.
- Instead of offering weekly foods high in beto-carotene, giving your turtle a vitamin supplement that contains beto-carotene.
In my experience, you do not need to feed your turtles cooked carrots, squash, sweet potatoes or offer a beto-carotene supplement more than once a week.
Do Turtles Need Vitamin D?
The second most important vitamin that your turtle needs in my opinion is the vitamin D3.
The vitamin D3 is produced by pigment cells located in your turtle’s skin and shell whenever it receives UV light, whether natural or artificial through a UV-producing light bulb. This vitamin then helps your turtle to use the calcium in its body to help promote good healthy bones, shell, skin and more. Without this important vitamin, your turtle will not be able to metabolize the calcium in its body, and it may develop metabolic bone disease.
In my experience, in most cases, your turtle will not need vitamin D3 supplementation.
The absolute best way to ensure that your turtle gets an adequate amount of vitamin D3 pumping through its body is to let your turtle soak up unfiltered sunshine.
I would recommend that you let your turtle sunbathe 2 or 3x a week, for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. You will need to ensure that the area in which they are sunbathing is free from potential predators and that it doesn’t get too hot that it will burn your turtle.
This is basically equal to an 8 to 10 hour session underneath a UV-producing light bulb.
When Do You Give Your Turtle a Vitamin D3 Supplement?
I think that in most cases, this will not be necessary. However, if you are unable to let them sunbathe a few times a week, especially when its cold out or during the winter, or you are just concerned about their vitamin D3 levels, occasional vitamin D3 supplementation is certainly OK.
I have personally never used a vitamin D3 supplement on its own though. Generally, it is sold together with calcium supplements. So I can’t recommend any brand over any other.
As far as calcium with vitamin D3 supplements, I have used Rep-Cal Phosphorous-Free Calcium Ultrafine Powder with Vitamin D3 before, and would recommend it as a good source of calcium and vitamin D3.
- In general you do not need to provide additional vitamin supplementation to turtles, provided they have a good, diverse diet.
- The 2 most important vitamins for turtles are vitamins A and D3.
- The only vitamin you may need to supplement to your turtle’s diet may be vitamin A. And that is only if you are unable to provide vitamin A rich foods.