A healthy turtle can survive about 160 days without food. However, this does not apply to baby turtles. You must feed younger turtles consistently to ensure growth and survival. Still, adult turtles need constant water and light at all times. If all these are lacking, the survival period grows shorter. In addition, water helps with metabolism, hydration, and other vital body processes. So, even if a turtle has no food in the wild or in captivity, it needs water.
Turtle owners should provide nutritious meals a few times a week. Leave enough food for your turtle if you’re travelling for a few days. It’s careless to starve your pet since anything can happen in your absence. In addition, natural processes like brumation make turtles eat less. Therefore, it’s only fitting for turtles to get enough food every other time.
How often do turtles eat?
The feeding frequency depends on age, species, metabolism, and habitat. For example, juvenile pet turtles must feed daily. On the other hand, adult turtles need feeding four to five times a week. In addition, wild turtles feed according to food availability. Unlike domesticated turtles that get food from you, wild turtles eat as much as they can whenever they find food.
Your turtle’s age should guide you on how often to feed them. Experts recommend the following feeding schedule for turtles:
Hatchlings and Juvenile turtles
Juveniles and hatchlings are the most delicate when it comes to feeding. Therefore, pet owners must be ready to feed them once or twice daily. They need food rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins for healthy growth. However, most turtles in this stage are not fond of vegetables. So, offering supplements helps them get the necessary nutrients.
Here are more nutritious foods to offer your juvenile turtles:
- Dried shrimp
- Cooked meats
- Live food like earthworms
Consider your turtle a juvenile if it is four years old or younger. Cut back on the feeding if it starts feeding less after three years. Still, consulting your vet before reducing the amount of food is essential. Your turtle might be refusing to eat due to illness. Vitamin A deficiency, stress due to poor lighting, and eye issues are other common causes of reduced appetite.
Mature turtles have less interest in feeding because their bodies need less protein since they are grown to full size. Most turtles are considered adults if they are seven years and older. Therefore, offer food once every few days. Two to three times a week works fine for most turtles. Additionally, make it a point to learn your pet’s feeding habits. That way, you prevent food wastage.
Moreover, you must remove uneaten food from the tank 30 minutes after offering it. Unless it’s live food like fish or crickets, leafy vegetables and fruits decay fast. The result is a tank that smells bad, leading to an unhealthy environment for your turtle.
Some pet owners worry when their adult turtles refuse to eat. However, according to experts, adult turtles can go months without food. Brumation and estivation are natural processes that lead turtles to stay off food for months. In addition, biological processes slow down since turtles stay underwater for long periods.
How many days can a pet turtle live without food?
Baby and adult pet turtles are used to eating daily. However, optimal conditions like constant water temperature allow them to go a bit of time without food. Unlike adults, baby turtles cannot last months. A few days will make your baby turtle lose body mass and quickly become lethargic.
Unlike wild turtles, pet turtles have it easy. They enjoy the following:
- Optimal temperatures
- Adequate food supply
- Freedom from predators
Therefore, their bodies cannot adapt naturally to unfavorable environments as wild turtles do. Adult pet turtles go between two to four months without food with fresh water. Baby turtles will only last a few days. During this period, your turtle will look unhealthy. Moreover, the chances of getting stressed and falling sick are high.
What factors affect how long a turtle can live without food?
Turtles can live without food for different amounts of time depending on factors like age, availability of water, and species. Of course, if you have a pet turtle, you’ll ensure it’s constantly fed. However, wild turtles don’t always have access to food.
Here are the factors that affect how long turtles survive:
Hatchlings are less likely to survive long without food because they are weak. At this point in their lives, these turtles need many nutrients. Proteins, calcium, and vitamins aid in growth. So, when a baby turtle starves, its already weak body becomes weaker. The turtle cannot go more than a few days without feeding, as the dangers of starving baby turtles include stress, illness, and death.
Juveniles, which are slightly older turtles, also need many nutrients. Their bodies are still developing and need feeding once or twice daily. Thus, juvenile turtles cannot last more than a week without food.
On the other hand, adult turtles are hardier and only need feeding twice or thrice weekly. In addition, they go months without food when hibernating. So, if an adult turtle lacks food for about two months, it will survive, unlike baby turtles.
- Access to heating & UVB
A turtle’s habitat must have an optimal temperature. Usually, turtles are more comfortable between 72 to 80° F. Heating lamps are great for ensuring your turtle’s body temperature stays regulated. It could easily lead to stress if the tank is too hot or too cold for the turtle.
As a result, the turtle cannot withstand long periods, especially without food. UVB is also crucial as it mimics sunlight. In addition, turtles need vitamin D to use calcium in their food. So, if UVB light is lacking, turtles are likely to become lethargic.
- Access to clean water
Turtles must get enough water for swimming and drinking. If you must go away for a few days, ensure your turtles have water above everything else. Water has a ton of benefits for turtles as it prevents the following:
- Kidney failure
- Renal system issues
Also, like human beings and many other animals, turtles drink water. It aids in vital body processes and prevents dehydration. In addition, water is an excellent energy source. Swimming is also crucial to a turtle’s life since they are aquatic reptiles. So, a lack of clean water causes turtles to survive for a shorter period.
Turtle species significantly affect how long they can go without eating. Therefore, Brumation occurs differently depending on the species and subspecies of your turtle. For example, red-eared slider and box turtles go through different periods of dormancy.
In the reptile world, brumation is similar to hibernation. Therefore, expect to see a difference from one species to another.
How long can a snapping turtle go without eating?
Snapping turtles can go about three months without food. However, this period is not definite. It depends on the turtle’s age, diet, health, and environmental factors. So, if you’re a pet owner and need to leave for a few days, provide water and UVB light and ensure your pet is comfortable before leaving.
With that said, anything can happen while you’re away. Therefore, leaving a friend to check on the turtle is recommended. Sometimes, turtles flip over, choke or get stuck in the tank. These situations can lead to death.
How long can a box turtle go without eating?
Box turtles are considered delicate. Although they can go months without food, other factors must stay constant. For example, you must provide clean water, UVB light, and optimal temperatures for the turtle.
Moreover, you should factor in the box turtle’s age, metabolic rate, health, and subspecies. Finally, a sudden change in a turtle’s diet could lead to shock. So, consider all factors before heading out without feeding your box turtle.
What Happens to Turtles When They Don’t Eat?
The effects of starvation differ depending on the turtle’s age and prior health. Baby turtles will stop growing once they stop feeding. With time, they get weaker, losing body mass. The reaction might take time, but it’ll be obvious your turtle is unhealthy. Baby turtles should feed daily. If no food is available, stress sets in.
Similarly, full-grown turtles start by losing energy. Loss of body mass follows until they die if no action is taken.
How to encourage a turtle to eat
It gets worrying when your turtle refuses to eat. Before taking any steps, find out the primary cause. Stress, temperature changes, and illness are some causes of your turtle’s refusal to eat. Luckily, simple modifications to the diet and environmental conditions can reverse the situation. Such include:
- Changing the diet
- Offering food inside the water
- Providing supplements
- Feeding when turtles are most active
- Making the tank more comfortable by adjusting temperature and UVB light
- S. M. Nagaoka, A. S. Martins. (2012). Diet of juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas). Academia.edu
- N. Ashley. (2021). Turtle Brumation: The Benefits & Dangers Of The Hibernation Cycle. Texas A&M University.