How To Feed Box Turtles And How Often

How do you feed your box turtle?

How often should they get fed?

You want to make sure your pet is receiving complete nutrition. 

You are worried you aren’t giving them the right options. 

While feeding a reptilian pet may seem like a complicated prospect, once you have figured out what is or is not safe and the proper amounts to provide, you are well on your way to giving your turtle the best nutrition possible.

how to feed box turtles and how often

How To Feed Box Turtles And How Often

Wild box turtles are omnivores. Their diets in the wild contain both vegetation and animal protein. Adult box turtle diets emphasize balance, while the juvenile one is more focused on protein. Most experts agree feeding them three times per week is good. 

While some species, like ornate box turtles, eat insects specifically, most rely on snails, earthworms, slugs, and the occasional fish for their protein needs.

In captivity, an adult should be getting 50% plant matter and 50% animal-based material. 

Hatchlings and juveniles generally have higher protein needs than adults and are more carnivorous. 

If you have a baby box turtle, up the percentage of animal protein. 

As they age, wild adults will stop eating so much protein and relying more on vegetable matter. 

Change their diets in captivity accordingly.

Baby box turtles need to be fed every day. 

Adult turtles, meanwhile, can be fed every other day.

Contact your veterinarian first if you have any questions about your pet’s diets, especially if they recommend changing it for a health-related reason.

Box Turtle Plant Matter Options

Of the plants you are feeding your turtle, 80-90% percent vegetables work well. 

The remaining 10-20% can consist of fruit, which have higher sugar content, and the occasional treat of flowers. 

Offer uncooked veggies and fruits since raw servings ensure your pet will get their full nutritional benefits.

Make sure the bulk of their diet is healthy items. 

Staple Veggies And Fruits

Choices of vegetables which are safe to feed your turtle frequently include:

  • Dandelion greens
  • Collard Greens
  • Escarole
  • Bok choy
  • Watercress
  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Cucumber 

Most veggies of the leafy variety are fine but always double-check its safety. 

Types of fruits which are safe to feed your pet regularly include:

  • Figs (these have a high calcium content, which is essential)
  • Apples, skin on, no seeds
  • Pears
  • Mangoes
  • Grapes
  • Star fruit
  • Apricots
  • Dates
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Papaya

Your outdoor and indoor box turtle will also regularly eat types of mushroom which would be poisonous to you or another mammal. 

You will still want to check and make sure a mushroom you are feeding them is not toxic, specifically to reptiles.

Safe Flowers

Flowers to give as an occasional safe treat include:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Dandelions
  • Geraniums
  • Carnations

If you are concerned about the cost of fresh flowers, check your local florist shop. 

Some offer old wilted flowers at a reduced price. 

Wilting, while maybe not aesthetically pleasing, does not affect the nutritional value for your pet. 

As long as whatever flowers you feed your pet are pesticide and chemical-free, they are suitable and will cut down on plant waste.

Sources Of Fiber

Fiber will help your turtle with healthy digestion. 

Good plant-based sources of fiber for them, outside of other fruits and fresh vegetables, include:

  • Timothy hay
  • Alfalfa
  • Safe grasses
  • Herbs, especially cilantro
  • Safe ornamental plants

Occasional Good Plants

There are a few compounds and nutrients which you will want to limit in your captive box turtle diet.

High amounts of goitrogens may lead to hypothyroidism, a severe condition. 

Feed greens like mustard greens, beet greens, kale, and red and green cabbage occasionally.

Any plant you feed regularly should have a high ratio of calcium to phosphorus. 

Plants with higher calcium to phosphorus ratios are okay as an occasional treat but should not make up a large portion of your turtle’s diet. 

High amounts of phosphorus in your turtle’s system may interrupt calcium absorption and, if not addressed, may lead to painful and paralyzing metabolic bone disease.

Veggies and fruits higher in phosphorus than calcium include bananas, tomatoes, and sweet corn. 

Bananas are okay to serve with the peel on, as long as it is guaranteed pesticide-free.

While citrus fruits are okay in small pieces and on occasion, they are very high in fructose, which could negatively affect your pet’s digestive system.

Unsafe Plants

Plants to never feed your pet include:

  • Poison Ivy
  • Any part of an avocado
  • Tomato vines and leaves
  • Potato leaves
  • Rhubarb leaves (also poisonous to humans)
  • Tobacco leaves

How To Serve Plants

After selecting your suitable box turtle food items for the day, make sure it is well-washed. 

Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides may poison your pet. 

Many experts recommend just purchasing organic produce for your turtle since it is guaranteed pesticide-free.

Finely chop and mix acceptable vegetables and fruit. 

Fine chopping will ensure your turtle does not just pick out its favorite box turtle food from the mix. 

Smaller pieces also ensure your turtle will be able to swallow its meal without issue. 

If you are using a calcium or multivitamin supplement, dust the plants lightly with it in a shallow dish before serving.

If you are growing plants as part of your turtle’s enclosure, and your environment has topsoil as its substrate, wash them to free them of pesticides and plant them directly in the soil. 

Plants will provide your pet with extra stimulation and, as long as they are safe, an additional source of plant matter to snack on.

Box Turtle Protein And Animal Foods

There are a few types of insects available live for reptilian pets like turtles to eat. 

These include:

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Waxworms
  • Silkworms
  • Moths
  • Slugs
  • Earthworms
  • Super worms

These insects and worms are an excellent protein source. 

Always get your insects from a pet dealer; other places may end up putting insecticides on insects.

Make sure you gut-load whatever live insects you feed your pet turtles before offering them. 

Some enjoy hunting while others will not.

We do not recommend collecting insects from the wild since they may have more easily contact pesticides and herbicides. 

If your turtles live in an outdoor enclosure, they may occasionally hunt for and catch wild insects. 

Preventing them from doing so will probably be impossible. 

If you see your pet or pets behaving strangely after catching wild insects, contact your reptile veterinarian right away.

Turtles may also enjoy the occasional hard-boiled chicken, duck, or quail egg. 

Though these are great animal-based protein sources, you should not feed them more than once a week. 

They are also high in fat, and too much egg consumption may cause hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) and vitamin E deficiency in a turtle.

Pet stores and online retailers sell nutritionally complete formulated reptile protein pellets. 

While these may be more convenient than breeding and keeping live feeder insects, owners should supplement them with whole fruits and green vegetables.


The very occasional fish or cod liver oil pellet may help provide a needed source of vitamin A, especially if your pet is experiencing chronic respiratory infections.

Vitamin A is critical in avoiding respiratory infections and eye infections too. 

You should stick to fish your pet can eat in two small bites and no bigger. 

Feeding fish comes with its risks, including the increased likelihood of a thiamine deficiency and potentially choking on bones. 

There is also no real way to guarantee a feeder fish does not have parasites which may harm your pet.

Fish may also be high in fat. While goldfish are a popular choice for feeding turtles, they are too high in fat. 

Stick to fish low in fat and thiaminase, and only feed them on occasion. 

Avoid fish which were wild-caught, as these are more likely to have parasites and bacteria in them.

Box Turtles And Calcium Supplements

Depending on the range and wide variety of food your turtle eats, you may need to add a powdered supplement. 

We recommend being cautious with these since over-supplementation of some nutrients may cause further health problems. 

Talk to veterinarians if you have any questions about supplemental vitamins for your turtle.

Still, turtles often develop a deficiency without them, so base your amount on the individual appetites and diets. 

If you are using a powdered calcium supplement, usually in calcium powder form, lightly sprinkle it over your turtle’s leafy greens and veggies 2-3 times a week.

If you are using a multivitamin supplement instead of dietary calcium, sprinkle it only once a week.

It should be noted your turtle’s multivitamin may have vitamin D3 in it. 

This especially is one of the box turtle vitamins you don’t want to over supplement. 

If you are already using a UVB light for D3, make sure your multivitamin does not have D3 in it.

Natural sunlight helps but may not be enough, which is why we recommend supplements. 

Box Turtles And Fresh Water

How much access to water your pet box turtles will need daily will depend on whether you have an American or an Asian species.

American box turtles, like common or three-toed turtles, will need a sturdy, shallow bowl which they can soak in without tipping over the bowl or drowning. 

Making an indent for it in the substrate may help prevent it from tipping over accidentally in the environment. 

Change out the dirty for clean water and clean the water bowl every day.

Some people use a water sprayer to meet their water requirements. 

It provides more of a water level with warm water sprayed over their bodies. 

Asian box turtles spend much more of their time around and in warm lakes and ponds. 

Therefore, if you own one, half of your turtle’s environment should be suitable for swimming and bathing.

How Do I Keep Track Of A Box Turtle Diet?

We strongly recommend drawing up a schedule for balanced diets and a list of your pet’s favorite veggies, fruits, and insects. 

Keep it close to the turtle’s housing. 

This will also help anyone else tasked with taking care of your pet.

Write down what you have fed every time to make sure you are feeding a variety of items and not over-supplementing any powders or feeding too many foods which should be occasional treats.

Final Thoughts

Feeding your pet and managing hatchlings, baby, and adult box turtle diets may seem like a daunting and complicated task, but turtle owners need to know this.

Once you have figured out what is safe and unsafe, the ratios of plant material to animal matter are pretty basic.

We recommend keeping a schedule to ensure a range of items and nutrition throughout your healthy turtle’s life.

As always, watch for signs of illness in the reptiles, such as a lack of appetite, and take them to the vet when necessary. 

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