VCA Animal Hospitals

Turtles – Box – Feeding

What do box turtles eat?

turtles-box-feeding-1
"Box turtles are omnivorous, which means that they eat both plant and animal based foods."

Box turtles are omnivorous, which means that they eat both plant and animal based foods. Some box turtles, like the ornate box turtle, eat insects. They have a sharp eye and keen sense of smell. Young, growing box turtles, up to 4-6 years of age, tend to be primarily carnivores and adults tend to be herbivorous. As a guideline, your box turtle's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based material. Be sure to discuss a specific diet for your turtle with your veterinarian.

How often should I feed my box turtle?

Most young turtles eat daily, while older turtles can be fed daily or every other day, depending upon the pet's individual appetite.

What are some types of plant material I can feed my turtle?

Most (80-90%) of the plant material should be vegetables and flowers, and only 10-20% should be fruits. As a rule, anything dark green and leafy should make up a large part of the diet. Yellow, red and orange vegetables can also be included. Avoid fiber-rich, nutrient and vitamin-deficient light green vegetables including iceberg or head lettuce and celery, as their composition is mainly fiber and water with little nutrient value. The inner light colored parts of some vegetables are less nutritious than the darker green outer leaves.

Acceptable vegetables that should represent a high percentage of the diet include collard greens, beet greens, mustard greens, broccoli turnip greens, alfalfa hay or chow, bok choy, kale, parsley, Swiss chard, watercress, clover, red or green cabbage, savory, cilantro, kohlrabi, bell peppers, green beans, escarole and dandelion. A lesser percentage of the diet can include cactus, various squash, sprouts, cooked sweet potato, parsnips, okra, cucumber, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, peas and corn. Fruit can include apples, pears, bananas (with skin), mango, grapes, star fruit, raisins, peaches, tomato, guava, kiwis, and melons. Fruits that are particularly healthy include figs (which are high in calcium), apricots, dates, raspberries and strawberries. Fruits may be eaten preferentially, are generally mineral poor and should perhaps be used sparingly as a top dressing. As a treat, flowers such as geraniums, carnations, dandelions, hibiscus, nasturtiums and roses may be offered.

"Fruits may be eaten preferentially, are generally mineral poor and should perhaps be used sparingly as a top dressing."

Vegetables can be offered cooked or raw although raw is more natural and retains more nutrients. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. Flowers can be home grown or purchased from floral shops. Often, floral shops throw out older, wilting flowers. While these may be unacceptable for sale to the public, the florist will often give them to box turtle owners. It is wise to be sure that no chemicals have been applied to the flowers or water.

Swiss chard, spinach and beet greens should be fed sparingly as they contain oxalates that can bind calcium and other trace minerals, preventing their absorption. Diets composed primarily of these vegetables can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Caution should also be exercised when feeding cabbage, kale or mustard greens, as these contain goitrogens; excessive intake of these items may lead to hypothyroidism.

Food should be presented to your box turtle in a shallow clean dish that is not easily upset. Vegetables should be finely chopped and mixed together to ensure a wide variety of food types are eaten and discourage the eating of a single preferred food item.

What are some acceptable animal-based protein foods I can offer my turtle?

If you and your veterinarian decide that animal-based protein sources are acceptable, some appropriate foods include grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, wax worms, silk worms, moths, slugs, earthworms, tofu, and hard-boiled eggs. High quality, low fat dog food may be fed occasionally. Commercial reptile pellets, bird pellets, and trout chow are excellent protein sources. Live prey such as crickets and various worms should either be raised by the owner, retrieved from a nearby field or purchased from a pet store, bait store or reptile breeder. Care must be exercised when collecting insects, especially from the home garden, as fertilizers and insecticides can be toxic to turtles.

Remember to feed a wide variety of healthy items from all of the food categories listed above for balanced nutrition.

Do I need to give my box turtle vitamins and minerals?

turtles-box-feeding-2Turtles have a higher need for dietary calcium than phosphorus. It is recommended by many veterinarians to LIGHTLY sprinkle (2 - 3 times per week) all food offered to the box turtle with a calcium powder (calcium gluconate, lactate, or carbonate). A LIGHT sprinkling of a good reptile vitamin mineral mix on the food is also recommended weekly, especially if it contains vitamin D3. Any supplements should be dusted onto small portions of salads or moist foods and those portions fed first to ensure that the box turtle receives them.

"Turtles have a higher need for dietary calcium than phosphorus."

A common problem seen in pet box turtles is over-supplementation with vitamins (especially vitamin D3) and minerals. Check with your veterinarian about the need to supplement your pet's diet.

What are the box turtle's water requirements?

Fresh clean water should be available at all times. Box turtles will not only drink from the water bowl but will often bathe in it as well. You can provide the water in a shallow dish, crock or pan that cannot be easily tipped over; provide the dish with a "ramp" so that the box turtle can easily climb in and out for soaking and drinking. The water level should reach up to its chin when the head is just coming out of the shell. You must change the water and clean the bowl frequently as many box turtles will defecate or eliminate in their water bowl.

You can mist the turtle with a water sprayer a few times a week as well.

Different types of box turtles may have slightly different nutritional needs. There are many different opinions regarding what is a nutritionally correct diet for box turtles; please discuss this very important topic with a veterinarian familiar with box turtles.

ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY after feeding, cleaning or handling any turtle.

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