What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Are you considering getting a box turtle and want to be aware of what foods box turtles eat?

As a pet owner, it’s essential to understand the healthiest foods to provide to your pet turtle. 

Unfortunately, box turtles are fairly tough to care for, but with our helpful article, at least you’ll know what foods to offer. 

what do box turtles eat

What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Box turtles are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of foods. A box turtle’s diet consists of about 50% plant-based foods and 50% protein-based foods, depending on their age. 

Feeding box turtles a healthy balanced diet will ensure a long, healthy life for your new pet. 

A healthy diet for your turtle includes vitamin-rich vegetables and protein-filled insects. 

Occasional fruits and treats are okay in moderation, but it’s crucial to maintain a healthy box turtle diet. 

The types of food you serve your turtle will have a long term effect on their overall health. 

The Best Foods for Your Box Turtle

Domestic box turtles have a reputation for being picky eaters, and sometimes figuring out the best diet for them isn’t easy. 

As with any pet, it’s essential to be aware of the best foods to serve your turtle. 

It’s vital to provide a well-balanced, healthy diet with protein-rich foods and healthy greens. 

Since turtles can get bored with what they are eating, make sure each meal is different from the last, and you are providing them with a variety of food. 

Changing up their meals a few times per week will help prevent boredom. 

The Importance Of Calcium

As you are choosing foods for your turtle, be mindful of the calcium to phosphorus ratio. When the ratio is off-balance, calcium cannot be absorbed into your turtle’s body. 

A poor balance can lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD) in box turtles. 

MBD not only can affect your turtle’s bones and shells but also their internal organs. 

If not treated, it can lead to bone fractures and extreme weakness in your pet.  

If affected, you may notice your turtle is lethargic, and their shell will feel soft. 

If you are concerned about your turtle’s calcium intake, there are calcium supplements available you easily sprinkle across your turtle’s food. 

You will likely see more of a problem with baby turtles, where they are eating more proteins than greens. 

A Guide To Fresh Vegetables And Leafy Greens

Plants and vegetables will make up half of your turtle’s diet. 

Dark leafy greens are the best vegetable for your pet. 

The dark greens are rich in nutrients, like calcium and potassium. 

  • Collard Greens
  • Grated Carrots
  • Kale
  • Turnip Greens
  • Red Cabbage and Green Cabbage
  • Bok Choy
  • Green Beans
  • Mustard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Parsley
  • Bell Peppers
  • Mushrooms 
  • Wax Beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Cilantro
  • Asparagus
  • Alfalfa Hay

Use caution when feeding your turtle the listed greens and vegetables below. 

The oxalate count is higher in them and can prevent calcium absorption in your pet. 

  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • Cauliflower
  • Beet Tops and Beet Greens
  • Romaine (large amounts of romaine can lead to diarrhea in your pet) 

Animal-based Proteins For Your Box Turtle

There are a variety of insects to feed your turtle.  

Animal-based proteins are available at bait shops and pet stores.

While a wild box turtle will hunt for prey outside, avoid giving your domestic pet box turtle any insects found in the wild. 

Wild insects run the possibility of containing insecticides and fertilizers and would be toxic for your box turtle. 

The types of insects your turtle can enjoy are:

  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Waxworms
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Beetles
  • Super Worms

Fruits To Be Given On Occasion 

In addition to vegetables and insects, there are fruits your turtle will enjoy. 

Limit how much fruit you offer because your turtle will prefer the sweet taste of their favorite fruit over the much-needed vegetable and plant material. 

  • Melon (make sure to remove any seeds)
  • Peaches
  • Bananas (keep the skin on)
  • Mango
  • Figs
  • Strawberries
  • Apricots
  • Kiwis

Other Foods Acceptable For Your Box Turtle

While you should be sticking to a diet full of vegetables and animal-based proteins, there are some additional foods you may offer your turtle. 

Make sure food is always cooked; raw meat should never be given to your pet turtle. 

  • Cooked Chicken
  • Beef Heart
  • Eggs
  • Crayfish
  • Canned Dog Food
  • Feeder Fish (i.e.: guppies or goldfish)

Favorite Treats

While they shouldn’t be a part of your turtle’s regular diet, offering the following flowers as an occasional treat will make for one happy turtle. 

Ensure the flowers you serve your turtle have not been treated with any chemicals. 

  • Dandelions
  • Carnations
  • Hibiscus
  • Roses
  • Geraniums

Foods To Avoid Giving Your Box Turtle

There are several foods you want to avoid giving to your turtle. 

They are harmful to your pet and can cause severe illness or even death. 

  • Potato leaves
  • Poison ivy
  • Tomato leaves and vines
  • Tobacco leaves
  • Avocado leaves, seeds, and peel
  • Chocolate and Candy
  • Dairy Products

Commercial Diets For Box Turtles

Pet stores carry commercial diet options your turtle can eat as part of their diet. 

Commercial diet foods range from pellet food to canned grasshoppers, crickets, and silkworms.

If your turtle does not want to eat the dry pellet food, add some water to moisten it up. 

They advertise to be “nutritionally complete,” but you shouldn’t just rely on them for your box turtle’s diet. 

You still need to make a point to provide fresh foods for your turtle. 

How To Prepare Food For Box Turtles

For the most part, you do not need to cut up food when serving it to your box turtle. 

However, you should cut up or shred any hard or tough fruit. 

Fruits, like bananas, are eaten with the peel on. 

Serve their food in a dish or on a flat rock. 

A bonus of using a flat rock is to help your turtle’s beak keep worn down. 

The rock often is messy since there are no sides to keep the food in.

How Often Do You Need To Feed Your Box Turtle?

Your box turtle’s feeding schedule will be based on their age. 

Other factors affecting how often they eat are weight and personal appetite.

A baby box turtle will eat daily. 

On the other hand, adult box turtles only need to be fed every other day or even just a few times a week. 

Consider feeding your turtle in the morning and at night when they are most active.

If your turtle does not eat every day, give them a small snack on the other days. It can help tide them over until their next meal. 

Just remember to keep it small and light. 

Make a point to change up your turtle’s diet often. 

Like humans, they can get bored with eating the same foods over and over again. 

However, your box turtle can go on a hunger strike if they grow tired of the same foods. 

Why Isn’t My Turtle Eating?

As mentioned above, turtles can go on a hunger strike if they get bored eating the same foods. 

If they are not eating, but you do not think boredom is the case, there are other factors to look at.

If the weather is too cold, your turtle may become sluggish and not have a desire to eat anymore. 

It’s important to keep the ideal temperature for your pet at all times. 

Your turtle will eat best in the morning, so if you feed them later in the day, switch to an earlier feeding time.

Even if your turtle lives inside, they are very aware of the weather outside. 

If it’s in the winter, your turtle may recognize they should be hibernating and will quit eating. 

How To Get Your Turtle To Eat Again

If your turtle has gone a week without eating and you are concerned, it’s never a bad idea to give your vet a call. 

If the hunger strike has only lasted a few days, there are some things you should attempt to get them to eat again. 

Offer them a favorite food. 

Even if it’s a fruit they shouldn’t be having regularly, the idea here is to get them to eat something. 

Once they eat the fruit, slowly offer additional foods. 

Turtles love live insects. 

Find their favorite, whether it be slugs or grasshoppers, and put them in their tank. 

How Much Do Box Turtles Eat?

The amount of what your box turtle will eat varies depending on their age. 

It’s essential to alter food intake as they get older. 

You want to be sure not to overfeed your turtle. 

Overfeeding has the potential to lead to several health issues. 

In the wild, turtles don’t know when their next meal will be, so they tend to overeat in anticipation. 

However, overfeeding your domestic turtle can lead to liver or kidney damage. 

If your turtle just ate a big meal, resist feeding them extra, even if they begin begging for more. 

You will need to remove any uneaten foods after 15 or 20 minutes. 

If there are any live insects left, they can stay.  

If you are unsure how much your box turtle needs to eat, it’s best to consult your reptile veterinarian. 

Do Box Turtles Need Water?

You should provide a water bowl to your box turtle. 

Your pet turtle will not only drink out of it but also bathe in it, so it’s important to always provide fresh water. 

Box turtles may use their water dish to go to the bathroom, so it’s important to clean the water bowl daily. 

The bowl should be large enough for them to fit, but not big enough where they could drown. 

Add a rock or log next to the water bowl, allowing easy access for your box turtle. 

Box Turtle Mineral and Vitamin Supplements

You will want to ensure your turtle’s diet is supplemented with appropriate minerals and vitamins for proper growth. 

They don’t always get the needed nutrients while living indoors. 

Sprinkle a vitamin supplement over your turtle’s food a couple of times a week. 

A deficiency of Vitamin A is commonly seen in domestic box turtles. 

The deficiency can cause eye infections and abscesses, and respiratory problems. 

If you suspect your pet turtle has a Vitamin A deficiency, make a point to be offering foods like sweet potato, carrots, and squash. 

Proper Care and Handle of Box Turtles

While you should be cleaning out their water bowl daily, you don’t need to clean the tank as often. 

About once a week, clean out some of the water inside. 

Every two to three weeks, do a thorough cleaning of the tank and change out the filter. 

Ensure you are using a specific soap for cleaning turtle tanks. 

Everyday house soap and detergent should not be used. 

Even a trace amount is harmful to your pet turtle. 

It’s essential to wash your hands after interacting with your turtle, whether you are feeding or holding your turtle. 

All box turtles have the potential to carry Salmonella, which can lead to severe illnesses in humans. 

Box Turtles in the Wild

Eastern box turtles are likely the most common of wild box turtles. 

An Eastern box turtle can vary in appearance. 

Some may have brown shells, and others may have olive-brown shells with yellow markings. 

Eastern box turtles can avoid predators by retracting their bodies into their shells when they feel threatened. 

Eastern box turtles will hibernate in their natural habitat, finding stump holes or mammal burrows.

Female box turtles have the capability of laying fertile eggs for up to four years. 

Female Eastern box turtles mate in the late spring into early summer. 

Hatchlings usually emerge in roughly 70-90 days. 

Final Thoughts 

Box turtles make wonderful pets and have quite a lifespan. 

They can live several decades in captivity if taken care of properly. 

It’s important to remember to provide your box turtle a diet rich in vegetables and animal-based proteins to ensure a healthy life.