Turtle Not Eating Causes and How to Make It Eat

This article will enlighten you on what makes turtles not to eat, and ways to make it begin eating again. We have ideas on what you can do to get a turtle happy and to help them start feeding as usual.

Why is my turtle not eating

Why is my turtle not eating?

Seeing your turtle not eating will make you concerned and worried since starvation can cause ill-health or even death. Before you die of worry, you need to know that there many possible normal and abnormal reasons why this could be happening including hibernation, sickness, poor lighting, a new environment and so on.

To be able to deal with the reasons why this pet is not munching, you need to consider all the possible causes of this behavior.

Ask yourself questions such does this pet like the food you are offering is it undergoing stress, is it under favorable temperature, is it ill among many others. Let us look at the possible causes.

Why turtle not eating

The following may be various reasons for your turtle not eating:

1. Low temperature

Since they are poikilothermic reptiles, they may not be able to eat if the temperature is too low especially at night when temperatures typically drop below the room temperature of 25°C.

For the turtles that live in water, the water temperature should be maintained at about 36°C. The basking area should be between 39°C and 42°C. The Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB Heat Lighting Kit will provide required UVA, UVB, and heat.

If you stay outdoor, it may become too cold if the outside temperature drops below the room temperature of between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius. This will make it inactive hence will not be able to eat.

2. Inadequate light

Insufficient light can also be another reason for this behavior. If it gets less than 12 hours of a light per day, it may stop feeding.

To enhance a healthy appetite, you should provide adequate light to the pet. Aquatic turtles may require both UVA and UVB light where they are kept. Give your turtle 12 to 14 hours of light followed by 10 to 12 hours of darkness.

For instance, if you have a box turtle, you may be required to adjust the source of light depending on the seasons. For example, you can use artificial lighting more so, in the winter since the days are shorter and do not need any artificial light in the summertime.

3. Hibernation

A turtle may not eat if it is hibernating, check to confirm if it is hibernating. Most European, North American and Asian turtles usually hibernate during winter. This happens even if it has a conducive environment and plenty of food.

You may check its health condition and habitat; if it still doesn’t feed, then you may take it to a veterinary doctor to confirm if it can be trying to hibernate.

Note that hibernation can be stressful to the body. Therefore, it is advisable that only healthy ones be allowed to undergo hibernation.

4. Stress

Stress is another common factor that would make this pet to lose appetite. A turtle could be stressed if it has dealt with too much, traveled lately, or has just been introduced to a new mate. In such a case, you may give them time to get used to each other.

5. Introduction to a new environment

When they move to a new home or new environment, it is normal for them to stop eating within a short period because of the stress of an unfamiliar place.

Otherwise, it is essential to ensure that you provide the right and conducive environment as well as proper nutrition to reduce the stress they experience since this will as well make them start munching as usual again.

6. Sign of sickness

If you have improved the environment, and it is still not eating then, your turtle may be ill. Illnesses and conditions such as constipation, vitamin A deficiency, respiratory infection, pregnancy or an eye problem, may prevent it from feeding usually.

Examine it for other symptoms to confirm if your turtle is sick. Consider talking to your vet if you are unsure what illness is afflicting it or why your turtle is not eating.

Besides refusing to eat, if it has a vitamin deficiency, according to wikihow.com “signs and symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency include; the appearance of white, patchy discoloration on the shell.”

For instance, deficiency of vitamin A is related to respiratory complications. Other symptoms of respiratory infections include wheezing, difficulties in breathing, runny nose, lack of and swollen eyes.

Your pet may be suffering from constipation if it quits eating as well as going to the bathroom.

Also, the eye problem makes it not to see clearly. Consequently, it cannot feed as usual. Check for any signs of eye infections.

Other diseases that cause pain, itching and inflammation may also make turtle stressed or make them not to eat. They are many diseases that could be blamed in this scenario.

Finally, if the reason why your turtle is not eating is unclear, please visit specialized vet care to help find out the cause. After then, you could make efforts to make the pets feed again.

How to make turtle eat

A turtle not eating condition is absolutely a reversible condition. To make it feed as usual again, you must make it happy and stress-free.

All these can be achieved by providing a better diet, treating any diseases or condition as well as making its living environment better and lovely. Below are some of the ways to make it eat again:

1. Provide brightly colored food

Brightly colored foods attract turtles, and this can improve their appetite. Provide food substances such as tomatoes, strawberries, papaya, mango, watermelon, rose petals and other foods that may be brightly colored.

Do not put too many fruits in your turtle’s diet. Put a small amount that is only enough to make it starts feeding as usual.

You can also mix brightly colored foods with live food to get the best results. The brightly colored food with pleasant and robust smell may undoubtedly be attractive to this pet.

Finally, emphasize vegetables because they have nutrients such as vitamin A that is good. Vegetables are critical when compared to the fruit.

2. Combine pellets with other food

To make your turtle eat, crush the pellets and combine them with some of the live feeds. Pellets, as well as dry turtle food, are some of the staple foods in their diet. Also, you can soak the pellets in canned tuna water to make turtle pellets have a stronger and more enticing smell.

Fruit juice can also be used to soak the pellets or caffeine-free drinks to encourage them to eat as usual.

Place these foods in water because your turtle may prefer to eat underwater unless you have a box turtle.

3. Give live foods

Live foods attract them due to their movement, and they can prefer to eat live food such as mealworms. Besides the moving, live food also has a strong sweet smell that may attract this reptile.

Don’t dig up earthworms and give them to your turtle straight away as they might not be the healthiest. It is advisable to purchase the earthworms from bait stores.

Some of the live foods it may enjoy eating include pill bugs, beetles, crayfish, flies, grasshoppers, spiders, and bloodworms

4. Supplement diet with calcium

If you offer a well-balanced diet, your turtles will be able to get vitamins and nutrients they need. Otherwise, consider giving them supplements that contain calcium. This can be done by providing the turtle cutlet fish bones, calcium blocks as well as powder. Buying Zoo Med Block Value Pack for Aquatic Turtle will be an excellent idea. 

Give them these supplements at least once a week. Just put the calcium blocks or the cutlet fishbone in the habitat for your turtle to eat. You can also coat the food you give them with calcium powder before you give them to eat.

5. Switch up the diet.

Your turtle may refuse to eat only because it never liked the kind of food that you have been giving it. You can overcome this by switching to a new diet.

For instance, you can one day finely chop vegetables, mix them with pellets then dip all of them in bloodworm juice and then next day you can give them mangoes and pellets in tuna water.

It is advisable to keep a record of how you have been feedings them to be able to tell how they respond to the various foods. This will help you know what they prefer and what they do not like.

6. Feed it early in the morning

According to wikihow.com “turtles tend to be active early in the morning and prefer to eat them. Many may still refuse to eat if given food at other times of the day. You can try to give them food at 4:30 am or 5:30 am or as close to dawn as possible.”

If you keep box turtles, it is advisable to give them food early in the morning as that is when they enjoy munching them, especially when it is raining, because this is when slugs and earthworms can easily be found.

Apart from specific times, you must adjust your feeding time according to the season. For instance, if you keep an outdoor turtle, it can be too cold to feed it at dawn during the winter or spring seasons. In such a case, give it food a little later.

7. Provide a healthy diet

Give your turtle a balance to acquire nutrients that may protect them from the various diseases which can make them not to eat. You should give your turtle a well-balanced diet composed of vegetables, fruits, and meat.

For aquatic turtles, the diet should be 66% to 91% meat some of which may be snails, frozen pinky mice, mollusks, dried turtle pellets and 11% to 36% vegetables including grated carrots, mangoes, mustard or collard greens and grapes.

For a box turtle, the diet can be 51% meat and can include mealworms, slugs, crickets, slugs as well as snails and 50% vegetable such as green beans, berries, winter squash as well as the flower.

8. Check the temperature

This pet may not feed if the environment of their habitat is not warm enough to make them active. Lower temperatures lower their metabolic rate. Hence they will lose interest in eating since during this condition they try to conserve energy to keep them warm.

For instance, if you have the Gulf Coast box turtle, it implies that temperatures during the day in an enclosed place should be about 31 degrees Celsius with a basking spot of 42-44 degrees Celsius.

Asian box turtle, as well as the ornate, require slightly warmer temperatures to keep them active and feed usually.

9. UVB and UVA lighting

Providing them with ultraviolet light is very important as it may enhance their activity level, increase calcium absorption, metabolic process as well as stimulating their appetite.

If the temperature outside is conducive and you have an outdoor pen, consider exposure them to natural sunlight as it is the best.

Exposing them to sunlight through glass is not advisable as glass filters the UVA and UVB rays. If you can’t get your turtle outside for at just a few hours per day then, you should get ultraviolet light bulbs that give out UVB and UVA lights.

10. See a veterinarian

Take this pet to a veterinary in case it is eating any food you have given it and the changes in the environmental conditions we have discussed.

It may be fighting illness and not feeding will only worsen its health. Getting a professional examination increases the chances of identifying the problem. A prompt solution reduces the possibility of your turtle’s condition deteriorating.

Best pet turtle food

According to Dr. Starkey “what turtles can eat largely depends on their age and nutritional requirements. Keep in mind that younger sliders will eat relatively more protein than older animals”.

Note that baby turtles need to eat more pellets or even feeder fish when compared to vegetables and fruits.

Commercial pelleted food

It’s good to buy food made specifically for the turtles because this food will float on water and typically not fall apart quickly as compared to a pelleted diet designed for other reptiles. Although they may be reasonably expensive, they for sure have hefty perks.

1. Insects and feeder fish

Feeders like comet goldfish provide a great source of protein, just like well-balanced minerals like phosphorous and calcium, and best levels of certain vitamins such as vitamin A. These pellets should form around 25% of their diet.

2. Fruits and vegetables

Fill up the remainder of their daily diet with fresh produce. The best veggies are chopped dark leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens, Dr. Starkey recommends “shredded carrots, squash, and zucchini are great foods that your turtles can eat, too.”

You can as well provide edible aquatic vegetation such as water hyacinth, water lettuce, and duckweed. In the case of fruits, provide shredded melons and apples together with chopped berries. You can as well give them vegetables and fruits to supplement reptile vitamin and calcium pellets.

If you keep a land turtle or tortoise, you should strictly give them herbivore diet. This implies that their food should consist of only fruits and vegetables, usually a diet mixture in the ratio of 2:8.

The food to give this reptile pet would depend on which one it is exactly. For instance, you must know the right food for water turtle, red-eared slider, green sea turtles and so on. The type of food to be offered will also depend on the turtle’s age. What a young one feeds on may slightly vary.

What not to give -may make it not eat

Now that you know the right food to give your turtle, you should also know some kinds of food to avoid it not feeding. Do not give them foods that include:

  • Anything in the onions and garlic family
  • Rhubarb
  • Avocado
  • All fruit seeds
  • All milk products (g., cheese, yogurt)
  • Candy, chocolate, bread, refined sugar and flour
  • Canned and processed foods high in salt and preservatives


As mentioned, new turtles may not eat for a while if scared by the new environment. Otherwise, you should ensure that the water temperature is warm as this can be another reason why they may refuse to feed.

Sometimes you must feed the new ones the same type of food they were eating when you purchased them since some can be selective at the beginning.