How Long Can A Box Turtle Go Without Food And Water?

If you’re going away for a while, you might be wondering, how long can a box turtle go without food and water? 

Maybe you feel foolish asking someone to come to check up on your turtle while you’re gone, or perhaps you’re just going to be out of the house more. 

You’ll want to know the best feeding schedule for your pet and what might happen if your box turtle is deprived for too long of water or food. 

With the right planning, you will find a feeding schedule convenient for you, even if you have to be away and give your box turtle a long and healthy life. 

how long can a box turtle go without food and water

How Long Can A Box Turtle Go Without Food And Water?

Box turtles are sensitive animals, and the amount of time they can go without food or water depends on various factors. A healthy pet box turtle can survive months without food but only 12-24 hours without water. 

There are many factors in play when determining how long your box turtle would survive: how hydrated the turtle was to begin with, what subspecies your turtle is, how humid the environment is, how old your turtle is, and the turtle’s metabolic rate. 

Similar Situations In The Wild

In the wild, a box turtle will hibernate through the winter months without any food source. 

As a pet, you shouldn’t see your box turtle hibernate – constant temperatures, a UVB source, and plenty of food should mean your box turtle’s metabolism never slows, and it’s not in a position where it feels like hibernating. 

When turtles go into hibernation, also called brumation. 

Their metabolism slows way down, to the point they are just barely surviving. 

Often a change in temperature signals it’s time for a wild turtle to go into hibernation. 

When temperatures dip below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C), a box turtle will begin to get sluggish and stop eating. 

Mammals will build up fat stores to get them through hibernation, but turtles rely on extremely low metabolisms and using as little energy as possible. 

In the wild, they have adequate time to hydrate, evacuate their intestines, and find shelter to prepare for hibernation. 

Suddenly depriving your pet turtle of food or water will come as a shock, one they might not survive. 

Box turtles are challenging pets. 

Their enclosures, temperature, diets, and conditions have to be just right to keep them thriving. 

They are sensitive animals, easily stressed by change. 

The safest way to keep your turtle is to provide adequate food and clean water at all times. 

How Long Can A Box Turtle Safely Go Without Food?

There might be times when you have to leave your box turtle for awhile – going on vacation, having to work during ideal feeding times. 

Maybe you just forgot to feed your pet for a day or notice it hasn’t eaten in a while. 

Sometimes turtles escape, and you might be wondering how long your little guy can survive without a consistent source of food.

The good news is an adult turtle doesn’t need to be fed every day.

Feed your box turtle at least three times a week, preferably in the mornings or early afternoons when it’s most active, and its internal body temperature is at a good temperature for digestion. 

Most experts agree vitamin supplements should be added to a captive box turtles diet – sprinkle reptile supplements or vitamin A on your turtle’s feed. 

Baby and juvenile turtles need to be fed daily and also benefit from supplements. 

For a healthy turtle, even a few weeks without food (provided it has access to plenty of clean water) won’t hurt it. 

It may lose some fat stores. 

If you have to leave your turtle for an extended amount of time, leave some live protein – like feeder fish or mealworms. 

You usually want to feed your turtle a diet of 50% vegetables and fruit and 50% protein and remove any uneaten food within 15 minutes.

Protein comes in the form of reptile pellets, or live insects, or feeder fish. 

If you’re leaving for an extended amount of time, don’t leave food in your turtle’s cage. 

Depending on the species, your turtle will need different amounts of water. 

A semi-aquatic turtle species like the red-eared slider or painted turtle will need much more water for swimming. 

Clean, cool water is still essential even if your turtle isn’t eating to help control body temperature and stay hydrated. 

What If Your Box Turtle Is Not Eating?

If your turtle is refusing to eat, it may be stressed by something in its environment or is just bored with its food. 

Sometimes it is a signal of health issues. 

First, switch up these variables; it’s likely a change in your turtle’s diet or enclosure makes it uncomfortable. 

Ensure daytime temperatures are warm enough for your box turtle. 

Unlike warm-blooded animals, turtles rely on their environment to control their body temperature. 

If temperatures are too cold, turtles are unable to absorb the energy needed to digest their food. 

Cold weather also may signal their bodies: it’s time to go into hibernation. 

If your turtle seems inactive, check the temperatures. 

Eastern box turtles and gulf coast box turtles need a daytime temperature of around 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C), with a basking area between 85-88° degrees Fahrenheit (31° C). 

A temperature increase may be all you turtle needs to regain its appetite. 

Other Tips

Change up its diet. In the wild, box turtles will eat insects, earthworms, snails, slugs, mushrooms, leaves, and other plants. 

If you’re feeding your pet turtle pellets, soak them in tuna water to make them more attractive-smelling, or add another daily protein source like dried fish, shrimp, or even canned dog or cat food. 

Your turtle may respond better to live protein such as waxworms, feeder fish, earthworms, or mealworms. 

Turtles are most attracted to intensely colored and strong-smelling fruits and vegetables. 

Give your turtle dark green veg, like bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens (iceberg lettuce is not recommended because of its lack of nutritional content), and ripe fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and bananas. 

Baby turtles require much more protein (about 70%) to ensure healthy growth. 

Consider other variables. 

If you’ve just got your box turtle or have changed enclosures, your turtle may need time to adjust. 

Turtles prefer to eat in humid weather – it’s the environment they would normally forage when grubs and worms are out. 

Keep humidity around 60% and give your turtle an extra mist. Get your turtle some natural light. 

Sunlight stimulates your turtle’s metabolism. 

UV lamps are good, but your turtle may need to spend some extra time outside (provided the weather is warm)

Check with your vet. 

If you’ve eliminated variables in your turtle’s diet and habitat, and it has been more than a week since your turtle has eaten, check with your veterinarian. 

Your pet could have an impaction or other health issue causing a loss of appetite. 

What Should You Do If You Have To Leave Your Box Turtle Alone? 

Ideally, you wouldn’t leave your pet alone for more than a day. 

This is a tricky situation for a turtle owner. 

It’s safest for your turtle if you ask friends or family to check up on it. 

If you have to leave for more than a day, there are a few precautions to take for your box turtle. 

The most important thing is to make sure your turtle will have adequate amounts of water for drinking and soaking while you’re gone. 

Don’t add so much water your turtle can completely submerge (this is a drowning risk), but make sure it will always have enough shallow water to soak. 

It will get messy without regular cleaning. 

Never leave your turtle’s enclosure long enough for mold to grow over the wafer or substrate. 

Buy a timer for your UVB light or heat lamp and a timer if you heat your turtle’s enclosure with a space heater in the room or aquarium heater. 

The nighttime temperature shouldn’t dip below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C), and you should turn off the basking light at night. 

Don’t leave food.

It will rot if your turtle doesn’t eat it. 

A juvenile or baby turtle can’t live as long without food. 

Final Thoughts

You should avoid leaving a small box turtle alone for too long. 

Though it’s not ideal for a pet turtle to go long periods without eating, if something in your schedule or a breakout causes your turtle to go without food, it should not be an issue for a healthy, adult turtle. 

They are adapted to food scarcity in the wild. 

Unfortunately, your box turtle will not survive long without a source of freshwater. 

The safest thing for your box turtle is to have a constant supply of fresh water and food at least three times a week. 

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