What is Turtle Food?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Turtle food is food that is specially formulated for turtles. Many pet stores stock this product, as do stores which cater to aquarists, and some people prefer to make their own turtle food at home. It is important to be aware that there are many different kinds of turtles, all of which require unique diets, and that tortoises may look similar to turtles, but they have very different dietary needs. For first-time turtle owners, it's a good idea to ask about what kind of turtle is being purchased, to ensure that it gets the right diet.

Some herbivore and omnivore turtles love greens.
Some herbivore and omnivore turtles love greens.

Some turtles are strictly herbivorous, which means that they want only plant materials in their diets. Others are carnivores, preferring a diet composed primarily of meat, while some are omnivorous, appreciating a balance of foods. In all cases, the important feature of a good diet is variety, with plenty of calcium to keep the turtle's shell healthy. Many commercial turtle foods provide basic nutrition, but they can be very boring for the turtle, so it's a good idea to supplement.

Some turtles enjoy live food, such as crickets.
Some turtles enjoy live food, such as crickets.

Herbivores and omnivores love greens, vegetables, fruits, and flowers of all kinds. Many people find that some experimentation is required to find the food that a turtle prefers. Some, for example, go crazy for grapes, but turn up their noses at strawberries. Plant foods should be as fresh as possible, and they should be washed to remove any herbicides or pesticides which might be present. If a turtle rejects food, it's a good idea to take note of what was offered so that it is not tried again. Calcium supplements can be used to keep calcium levels high, or the animals can be fed calcium-rich greens like kale, chard, and broccoli.

A turtle.
A turtle.

Carnivorous turtles cannot eat just any meats. Turtles generally need lean meats, which makes things like hamburger a bad choice. Some turtles enjoy live food such as mealworms, earthworms, or crickets, while others are perfectly happy with chunks of chicken, beef, and other meats trimmed of their fat. Formulated turtle food for carnivores is often high on carbohydrate fillers, so pet owners should keep an eye on the health of their turtles when feeding primarily packaged foods.

Some carnivorous turtles enjoy eating earthworms.
Some carnivorous turtles enjoy eating earthworms.

There are some foods which should not be given to turtles. Dairy is not recommended, because turtles lack the enzymes to digest it, and poisonous plants like poinsettias and poison ivy should also be kept away from turtles, as the animals may chew on the plants when they get bored. Refined foods including white bread and anything with sugar are also a bad idea for turtles, as are diets heavy on grains. When preparing turtle food, it can help to think about which foods might be present in the animal's natural environment: a carrot or two is plausible, for example, but a cupcake tree is unlikely.

Kale, and other calcium-rich greens like chard and broccoli, make good turtle food.
Kale, and other calcium-rich greens like chard and broccoli, make good turtle food.
Chard can provide turtles with much-needed calcium.
Chard can provide turtles with much-needed calcium.
Some turtles may eat grapes as part of their diet.
Some turtles may eat grapes as part of their diet.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon994159

Some people confuse turtles and tortoises. Turtles have flipper-like legs to help them swim in the water while tortoises have actual legs that help them walk on land.

anon193616

one of our students dropped a piece of Airhead candy into the tank and the snapping turtle ate it -- quick. Does it need vetrinary attention? will it be able to process this candy?

CarrotIsland

@calabama71: My son also has a pet turtle. They are great little pets but my son had a hard time accepting the fact that turtles are not like puppies and kittens. They don’t want to be passed around and cuddled. Since they are amphibians (cold blooded), their bodies have to adjust to constant changes in temperature. It’s a good idea to not take the turtle out of its tank constantly.

christym

@calabama71:

It is often a trial and error process to find out what your turtle likes. They need a balanced diet just as we do. There are several things to avoid completely.

They do not ever need to be fed any type of yogurt, cheese, or dairy products. They also do not need to be fed canned or processed food because they are high in salt and preservatives.

Avoid any kind of bread, candy, chocolate or foods with refined sugars and flours.

It is important to try to reproduce the natural diet for your turtle as much as possible. Your turtle will be happier, healthier, and live longer. Variety is a good key. Calcium is also important for your turtle.

GrumpyGuppy

@calabama71: Turtles will eat both meat and vegetables which places them in the omnivore genre. A balanced diet with a combination of both meat and vegetables would be a good wholesome diet for your turtle. Some prefer more vegetables than meat. Commercial food is also okay for your turtle but you still need to incorporate veggies as well.

Finding out when your turtle will eat is usually accomplished in the first few days of their arrival. If you put food in there with the turtle and it is uneaten after a couple of days, you need to take it out. Uneaten food can cause contamination in your tank. They need fresh drinking water daily.

calabama71

My son just got a turtle and we have looked at turtle pet food but I'm still a little unsure about how much to feed him or when to feed him. Any ideas?

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