Best Food For Box Turtles

Have you questioned whether you are feeding your box turtle the best foods? 

It is not uncommon to feel a bit overwhelmed when you bring a new pet home. 

A box turtle is unlike other pets, where you typically only have one or two types of feed. 

Pet owners need to understand what the best foods to provide for their turtles are. 

best food for box turtles

Best Food For Box Turtles

A healthy box turtle should have a proper diet, full of darky leafy greens and protein-rich insects. Box turtles are omnivores, and their diet should mainly consist of a balanced diet of plants and proteins. 

While some variety is suitable in a box turtle diet, it’s crucial to provide appropriate, healthy foods for your box turtle. 

Box turtles have been known to be picky eaters, so it’s essential to offer an array of foods. 

Nutrient-rich foods high in vitamins and minerals will help ensure your box turtle maintains a healthy lifestyle. 

Feeding Your Box Turtle

Box turtles make great pets. 

While they are higher maintenance than other reptiles, they don’t get too large, unlike tortoises. 

Taking care of your pet properly is the number one role of a pet owner. 

It’s vital to ensure you are providing your pet with a healthy diet, otherwise, health issues could arise.  

You shouldn’t just jump into pet turtle ownership. 

Understanding feeding basics will help ensure you are ready for the commitment. 

Your turtle may even outlive you!

The age of your pet will affect how often they eat and the amount of plants and insects they consume. 

It can vary from one turtle to the next, so it’s essential to evaluate your situation. 

Feeding Baby Box Turtles

Baby box turtles eat daily and will consume more insects than plant-based foods. 

However, it’s important to offer your baby box turtle fresh vegetables early on. 

Don’t be surprised if they turn their beak up to the plant material.

If you don’t offer them from the beginning, it may be harder to get them to eat greens later on. 

If you offer too many fruits, they will grow a preference for them. 

Since babies don’t eat as many leafy greens, it’s important to sprinkle a calcium powder supplement over their food to avoid a calcium deficiency. 

Even if it seems your turtle is avoiding the greens at every meal, continue to offer them. 

It’s always a good thing to have green on their plate. 

You never know when they will take a bite! 

Juvenile Turtles

Your turtle is considered a juvenile from the ages of about 1 to 3 years old. 

As your turtle goes through this stage, it’s important to slowly start changing over from a mostly protein diet to a diet including most plants and insects. 

As an interesting note, at the juvenile age, you are still unable to determine the sex of your turtle. 

You usually are unable to tell until they are roughly 4 years old. 

Feeding Adult Box Turtles

As your turtle ages, the amount of calories they consume will decrease. 

Your turtle will go from eating every day to eating every other day or every few days.

If you have an active turtle, consider it as you plan their meal schedule. 

Even though they won’t be eating every day, it’s essential to offer your turtle a snack on their non-meal eating days. 

The Best Leafy Greens For Box Turtles

Not all leafy greens are created equal when it comes to your box turtle’s diet. 

It is vital to provide greens with an appropriate calcium to phosphorus ratio to reduce the risk of metabolic bone disease (MBD).  

An ideal calcium to phosphorous ratio is 2:1, but at the very least, it should be 1.5:1. 

Greens do have a level of oxalates in them, so you need to balance out their diet to ensure their calcium level stays normal. 

Foods high in oxalates prevent calcium absorption into your box turtle’s body. 

A good guide to which greens to offer your box turtle:

  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Collard Greens
  • Romaine (While romaine is suitable to feed to your box turtle, it is not nutritionally dense and can cause diarrhea)
  • Beet Greens
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Endive
  • Sprouts
  • Chicory Greens

The Best Vegetables For Box Turtles

In addition to providing healthy greens for your turtles, there are various vegetables to offer.

Your turtle can even eat poisonous mushrooms! 

In turn, it makes their flesh poisonous to predators. 

  • Butternut squash
  • Green Beans
  • Watercress
  • Peppers
  • Sweet Potato
  • Broccoli
  • Carrot
  • Asparagus
  • Pumpkin (Be mindful when serving pumpkin because it is a natural laxative)
  • Wax Beans
  • Radishes
  • Okra
  • Yellow Squash

The Best Types Of Insects For Box Turtles

Turtles are natural hunters of their food. 

Giving them live insects will help replicate their natural environment. 

Insects provide much-needed protein for your box turtle. 

Local pet stores are a convenient place to pick some up. 

Avoid buying insects at a bait shop because there is a higher risk of them containing parasites. 

Be mindful not to feed them wild insects. 

You will not know if they have been sprayed with fertilizers or insecticides. 

If you have time, feed the insects a couple of days before giving them to your turtle. 

“Gut-loading,” as it’s called, helps provide your turtle with extra nutrients. 

Foods like collard greens, apples, or dry reptile food are all good options to feed the insects.

Also, sprinkle the foods with a calcium powder supplement ahead of time. 

Some good options to feed your turtle are:

  • Super Worms
  • Wax Worms
  • Beetles
  • Mealworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Hornworms
  • Black Soldier Fly Larvae
  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Roaches
  • Silkworms
  • Butterworms
  • Earthworms

Additional Sources Of Protein

While insects are the best protein source for your boxie, it’s good to know what other types of protein to offer. 

Never give your pet box turtle raw meat.

It will increase the risk of bacterial contamination. 

  • Cooked Chicken
  • Beef Heart
  • Hardboiled Eggs
  • Feeder Fish (i.e.: minnows or guppies)
  • Moistened Dog Food
  • Shrimp (Do not buy the dried shrimp fed to fish. Instead, opt for larger fresh shrimp)
  • Pinky Mice

The Best Fruits For Box Turtles

While box turtles are permitted to have fruit, it should not make up most of their diet. 

They likely will start preferring fruit over the much-needed greens they need in their life. 

  • Papaya
  • Apple
  • Strawberries
  • Banana (with the peel on)
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pears
  • Melons
  • Dates
  • Apricot
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Blackberries
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple

Foods To Avoid With Box Turtles

Understanding Goitrogens

There are certain foods containing goitrogens, which can interfere with your turtle’s ability to absorb iodine. 

Without the necessary iodine, your box turtle may develop hypothyroidism. 

The foods containing goitrogens aren’t off-limits, but they should be offered in moderation. 

Foods containing goitrogens are:

  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli

Foods with a Poor Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

Knowing which foods are going to deplete calcium from your turtle will aid you with meal planning. 

As you will see, most of the list are fruits, which should be given on rare occasions anyway. 

The list doesn’t mean they’re always off-limits; it’s just important to keep an eye on how much they are eating. 

Sprinkling a calcium supplement on top will help your turtle get an extra dose of the necessary nutrient. 

  • Corn
  • Banana
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Kiwi
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Celery
  • Beets

Other Foods To Avoid

Box turtles can eat almost anything, but there are certain foods you should never give to your pet. 

They may be extremely harmful to your turtle, making them sick or even leading to death. 

For the most part, if they wouldn’t find it in their natural habitat, you shouldn’t make it a part of their diets. 

  • Dairy Products
  • Candy and Chocolate (anything with refined sugar)
  • Potato Leaves
  • Avocado Leaves, Seeds, and Peel
  • Tomato Vines and Leaves
  • Poison Ivy
  • Processed Foods (i.e., deli meat or canned meats)
  • Salty Foods (They likely can handle some, but it’s better to avoid them completely)
  • Grains, including bread and pasta
  • Rhubarb

Commercial Box Turtle Food

There are plenty of foods on the market for turtles claiming to be “nutritionally complete.” 

While they offer some nutrition, it’s important to still offer your pet turtle the appropriate amount of plants and proteins. 

Commercial box turtle food can either come as dry or canned foods. 

If your turtle doesn’t want to eat the dry pellets, just moisten them up some. 

Another option is to add fruits and vegetables to the dry food. 

Box Turtle Vitamins

Without the appropriate vitamins, your turtle will miss out on much-needed nutrients. 

Vitamin A is vital for good vision and is most commonly found in orange vegetables and fruits. 

A deficiency in Vitamin A can cause respiratory disease and infections in the eye. 

As discussed previously, it is imperative to keep a proper balance of calcium in your pet’s diet. 

Without it, your turtle will begin to lose calcium from their bones. 

My Box Turtle Isn’t Eating

If you notice your turtle is not eating as much as they were before, you need to figure out what the cause could be. 

There are several factors to look at:

  • Is it too cold for them? Box turtles will become lethargic if their environment is too cold. 
  • Are they picky? If your turtle has a favorite food, they may decide they don’t want to eat anything else. 
  • What time of day are you feeding them? It’s best to feed your pet in the morning. 
  • What part of the year is it? If it’s the wintertime, they would be hibernating in the wild and would stop eating completely. 

How To Get Your Box Turtle To Eat

If you’ve been able to identify why your turtle has stopped eating, there are several techniques to help them to start eating again. 

If you have major concerns or their hunger strike goes on longer than a week, it’s always advisable to call your reptile veterinarian.

  • Grab a squirt bottle and mist your turtle. In the wild, they often eat after it rains, so mimicking their natural habitat can help get them to eat again. 
  • Give him the fruit. We know turtles should eat mostly greens and proteins, but if they are refusing to eat and you are concerned, offering their favorite fruit might be the trick to get them to eat. 
  • Offer some of your turtle’s favorite live insects. Get some crickets or slugs to put in there for your turtle. 
  • If your turtle only eats one type of food, chop up another food to mix up with it. By making sure to routinely change what foods they get, you are able to avoid your turtle from getting used to the same thing. 

Is Your Box Turtle Eating Too Much?

While some turtles may go on a hunger strike, others are at risk of obesity. 

Obesity can lead to liver damage and, even worse, death. 

The more weight your turtle gains, the more pressure is put on their organs.

If your turtle is having a difficult time bringing in all their extremities simultaneously, they may be suffering from obesity. 

It’s crucial to offer your pet plenty of exercise opportunities. 

Their activity level, or lack thereof, can play a significant part in their weight problem.

Also, you may want to re-evaluate the size of their enclosure.

If you suspect your turtle is overweight, you should look at its diet. 

You will want to eliminate fruit and provide lean insects. 

Does Your Box Turtle Need A Water Bowl?

You should provide a shallow water bowl for your turtle. 

The bowl should be large enough for them to fit in and give them easy access to water. 

Be mindful the water level isn’t too high, or you risk the chance of your turtle drowning. 

It’s important to provide fresh water daily and always clean the bowl thoroughly. 

Your turtle will not only drink from their water dish, but they will enjoy bathing in it as well. 

You don’t have to go on a hunt for a fancy water dish. 

The saucer below a terra cotta flower pot makes an easy water dish. 

Lifespan Of Box Turtles

Turtles in captivity can have quite an impressive lifespan if well taken care of and provided with a proper diet.  

A captive turtle can have a lifespan of about 20 years, even some living decades longer. 

If you are deciding whether to get a box turtle as a pet, it’s essential to keep in mind the long-term commitment. 

While it might seem fun now, are you prepared to take care of your pet for several decades?

If you have a turtle and no longer want to care for it, do not release it into the wild. 

They may not be native to your area and will not survive if put in the wild. Instead, attempt to find a new suitable owner for it. 

Types of Box Turtles

You may be surprised to learn there is more than just one type of box turtle. 

The omnivorous reptiles come in different colors and can have unique shells. 

If you’ve ever wondered what type of turtle you have, keep on reading below!

Eastern Box Turtle

An eastern box turtle is easily distinguishable with its vibrant red, orange, and yellow colors. 

They easily adapt to new environments, which makes them an ideal pet. 

Eastern box turtles have been known to develop their personality and are quite social. 

After some time, they can even begin to recognize their owner. 

Western Box Turtle

Found only in the United States, the turtle has mainly black and brown features. 

This terrapene includes two subspecies: the ornate box turtle and the desert box turtle. 

Western box turtles can live for nearly four decades if left in the wild. 

Their feeding habits will vary based on the availability of food. 

What Do Wild Box Turtles Eat?

Wild turtles have to live off what they find in their natural habitat. 

Most of the insects you provide to your domestic pet are available in the wild. 

It’s a good idea to duplicate what your turtle would find in the wild. 

  • Crayfish
  • Frogs
  • Cactus
  • Spiders
  • Caterpillars
  • Snails
  • Fish

Can A Wild Box Turtle Become A Pet?

If you find a wild box turtle, it’s advisable to leave them in the wild. 

While you think you might be saving a turtle from the road, you are essentially picking them up and taking them away from their home. 

It’s illegal to take a wild-caught turtle and keep it as a pet in some places. 

The wild turtle you want as a pet may carry diseases like salmonella. 

It can lead to serious illness in a person, especially children or the elderly. 

Tips On Proper Handling Of Box Turtles

While box turtles make fun pets, it’s important to follow proper sanitary guidelines as you care for them. 

All box turtles can carry salmonella, and it can easily be transmitted to humans. 

You must wash your hands after feeding and handling your box turtle. 

You will also want to make sure you thoroughly wash your hands after you have cleaned their tank. 

Salmonella has the potential of being contracted from surfaces, not just by touching the actual turtle. 

If you contract salmonella, you will begin with a high fever for several days and likely will have diarrhea as well. 

For some, it can bring on life-threatening conditions and land you in the hospital. 

Sickness In Box Turtles

As a box turtle owner, you need to understand what is normal in a healthy turtle and what isn’t. 

Identifying illnesses early on will help ensure your turtle recovers from any ailment they may encounter. 

When turtles are kept indoors, they are more likely to develop a vitamin D3 deficiency if not given proper light. 

The natural sunlight outside is typically sufficient for outdoor turtles, so use appropriate UVB lighting in their tank. 

Calcium deficiency is often seen in babies because they are not eating as many nutrient-rich leafy greens. 

Be sure to sprinkle a calcium powder over their food to help them achieve a proper calcium level in their diet. 

Requirements For A Box Turtle’s Tank

It seems simple enough to put a box turtle in a tank with some water, but this isn’t even the half of it. 

A box turtle requires correct lighting, water filtration, and temperature inside their tank. 

A box turtle needs a certain amount of humidity to stay healthy. 

If the humidity is too low in their tank, they can develop swollen eyes or ear abscesses. 

Even ornate box turtles need humidity, despite the desert climates they call home. 

Proving a substrate at the bottom of your tank can aid in providing the appropriate humidity level. 

Avoid getting small gravel which your turtle can choke on. 

A moss or soil is appropriate bedding for your turtle. 

A box turtle can live for 20 years if taken care of properly. 

However, if their environment is not suitable for living, their life will be much shorter. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding the best foods for box turtles is key when providing a healthy life for your pet. 

With a proper diet, your turtle will be able to stick around by your side for many years. 

Turtle owners should be aware of the commitment they are making by bringing a turtle home.