Turtles – Aquatic – Feeding
For the purpose of this discussion, the common Red-eared Slider will be used to represent aquatic turtle feeding.
What do Red-eared Sliders eat?
An improper diet is the single most common cause of health problems in captive turtles or other reptiles.
"Red-eared sliders are voracious eaters and sometimes it seems like they are always begging for food."
Red-eared sliders are voracious eaters and sometimes it seems like they are always begging for food. They are omnivorous, eating both animal protein and vegetable matter. As juveniles, they are mainly carnivorous (eating animal protein) and become more omnivorous as they age. All aquatic turtles eat and swallow with their head under water and will not eat out of the water. To help facilitate optimal cleanliness, aquatic turtles can be fed in a separate, small aquarium of warm water. That way, they will soil this water with food debris and not their main aquarium. Variety is most important. Change the types of food fed on a regular basis to stimulate the turtle and provide nutritional balance.
What are some acceptable animal-based protein foods I can offer my red-eared sliders?
The carnivorous portion of their diet should consist of commercial turtle or fish pellets (trout chow) as well as a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates. Pelleted foods come in a several sizes. Larger pellets tend to float well and are attractive to large turtles, whereas smaller pellets tend to sink quickly and are readily accepted by juveniles and small turtles.
You can feed fish to aquatic turtles and "feeder fish" may be purchased from pet stores or bait stores. Depending on the size of the turtle, fish such as goldfish, guppies or minnows may be used. Feeding live fish will provide your turtle with the mental stimulation and exercise that comes with the challenge of chasing and catching its dinner. Some people leave fish swimming around in the tank and add more as they are eaten. If you prefer, these fish may also be bought in larger quantities, killed, separated into meal-sized portions, combined with a little water and frozen to preserve them. They can then be thawed and fed to your turtle as needed. Do not feed frozen fish all the time. It is critical that the turtle consume the entire fish, guts and all as this is a complete nutritional "package". Smelt, mackerel and other oily fish should be fed sparingly or avoided all together as their high fatty content may lead to vitamin E deficiencies. Bigger fish may be chopped up into manageable sizes for smaller turtles.
"Feeding live fish will provide your turtle with the mental stimulation and exercise that comes with the challenge of chasing and catching its dinner. Do not feed frozen fish all the time."
A predominantly fish diet may also lead to a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, so care must be taken to diversify the diet. Depending on the size of the turtle, amphibians such as tadpoles and frogs can be offered, as can earthworms, snails, slugs, beetles, grasshoppers, moths, crickets, mealworms, wax worms and other insects. Feeding wild-caught fish and amphibians is not recommended, as they may contain parasites that may affect the turtle. The carnivorous portion of the diet should make up between 70 to 100% of the diet of juveniles and about 50% of the diets of adults.
Raw meat, fish or chicken from the grocery store is NOT good for turtles!
What types of plant material can I feed my red-eared slider?
"The plant portion of the diet should be made up of vegetables, preferably ones that float."
The plant portion of the diet should be made up of vegetables, preferably ones that float, which can be left in the water for the turtle to nibble on throughout the day. Clean out leftovers every day to avoid rotting. Desirable vegetables include dark leafs of romaine lettuce, collard greens, mustard greens, carrot tops, endives, Swiss chard, kale, parsley, green beans, dandelion greens, turnip greens and clover. Iceberg or head lettuce should not be fed as it is comprised most of water and contains very little nutrient value. Safe, non-toxic aquatic plants such as water hyacinth, water lilies, elodia, or duckweed can be placed in the tank as well. Always check the safety of different plants before offering them. Fruits tend to disintegrate in the water, causing little more than a mess.
How often should I feed my red-eared slider?
The frequency of feedings depends on the age and size of your red-eared slider. Smaller or juvenile turtles will eat heartily every day. As they get older, many people feed a good-sized portion every two or three days.
Do I need to give my red-eared slider vitamins and minerals?
You might argue that if the diet is diverse and balanced, extra vitamins and minerals are not necessary. Some people suggest adding a good multivitamin twice a week. You can provide your red-eared slider with an additional source of calcium that it can nibble on, , such as a calcium block or cuttlebone.
What about water?
Aquatic turtles, of course, swim in water and can drink all day. Thus, the only requirement is to keep their water tanks clean and at an appropriate temperature.
If you have any other questions about nutrition or care of your red-eared slider, make sure you seek the advice of a veterinarian familiar with Red-eared Sliders.
ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY after feeding, cleaning or handling any turtle.
This client information sheet is based on material written by:
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.