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How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating?

Are you wondering how long turtles can survive without food? Perhaps you’re a new pet turtle owner. Maybe you’re just fascinated by these creatures and want to know how regularly they eat in the wild. Either way, today I am going to be sharing all…

So, how long can turtles go without eating? Wild turtles can survive months without food during hibernation. In contrast, pet turtles, particularly juveniles, should be fed every 1-3 days to ensure healthy growth and energy, as they don’t usually undergo hibernation.

Factors That Influence How Long A Turtle Can Go Without Food


Young turtles have faster metabolisms and require more frequent feeding to support their growth. In contrast, older turtles can sustain longer periods without food due to their slower metabolic rates.


Different species of turtles have varied dietary needs and metabolic rates. For example, some aquatic turtles might need food more frequently than certain terrestrial species.

Health and Physical Condition

A healthy turtle with good fat reserves can survive longer without food than a malnourished one. Underlying health issues can also affect a turtle’s dietary needs and resilience.

Environmental Temperature

Cold temperatures slow down a turtle’s metabolism, allowing them to go longer without food, especially during hibernation. In warmer temperatures, their metabolism is higher, and they require more frequent feeding.

Activity Level

Active turtles burn more energy and thus require more frequent feeding. Turtles in a dormant or less active state can go longer without food.

Dietary Habits

Turtles fed a varied and nutritionally balanced diet might fare better in fasting periods than those on a limited or poor-quality diet. Proper nutrition ensures they have adequate fat and nutrient reserves.

Recommended Feeding Schedule By Turtle Species

Turtle SpeciesJuvenile Feeding ScheduleAdult Feeding SchedulePrimary Diet Components
Red-Eared SlidersDailyEvery 2-3 daysProtein (pellets, insects, fish), vegetables
Painted TurtlesDailyEvery other dayProtein transition to vegetables
Box TurtlesDailyEvery 2-3 daysWorms, insects, fruits, vegetables
Russian TortoisesDailyEvery other dayLeafy greens and vegetables
Diamondback TerrapinsDailyEvery other dayProtein to aquatic plants
Spiny Softshell TurtlesDailyEvery 2-3 daysProtein (worms, insects, fish), plants
Common Musk TurtlesDailyEvery other dayHigh-protein to vegetables

How Do Turtles Survive for Long Periods Without Food?

Turtles, both in the wild and captivity, possess a set of remarkable biological adaptations that allow them to endure extended periods without food.

These survival strategies have evolved over millions of years and are pivotal to the turtle’s ability to thrive in various environments.

Let’s delve into these fascinating mechanisms:

Slow Metabolism

One of the primary reasons turtles can go without food for extended durations is their slow metabolic rate.

Unlike many other animals, turtles can lower their metabolism, meaning they use up energy at a reduced pace.

This slow burn ensures that they don’t exhaust their energy reserves quickly.

Dependence on Fat Reserves

Turtles store energy in the form of fat, primarily in their tails and around their internal organs.

During periods of food scarcity, they gradually use up these fat reserves. The stored fat not only provides energy but also essential water and calcium.

Reduced Activity Levels

When food is scarce, turtles further conserve energy by reducing their activity.

You might notice a turtle becoming less active, almost lethargic, during periods of limited food availability. This behavioral adaptation minimizes energy expenditure.

Hibernation and Estivation

In the wild, many turtle species undergo hibernation in cold conditions or estivation in hot, dry conditions.

These states of dormancy involve a significant decrease in metabolic activities, allowing turtles to survive for months without food.

Efficient Digestion

Turtles have a digestive system that can efficiently extract nutrients from their food, ensuring that they get the most out of what they eat.

When food becomes available after a period of scarcity, turtles can quickly capitalize on this efficiency to replenish their energy reserves.

Resilient Organs

Certain organs in the turtle’s body can endure and function effectively even with limited nutrients.

For example, a turtle’s liver can still perform its roles in detoxification and energy storage even during prolonged fasting.

Effects of Prolonged Starvation on Turtles

While turtles have evolved to handle short periods of food scarcity, prolonged starvation can have severe consequences.

Here are some of the potential effects and health risks that turtles face when they don’t eat for extended periods:

Weight Loss

The most immediate and observable effect of prolonged food deprivation is weight loss. Turtles will use their fat reserves for energy, leading to a visible reduction in their overall body mass.

Weakened Immune System

A lack of essential nutrients weakens the turtle’s immune system, making it more susceptible to infections and diseases. A weakened turtle might have a dull appearance, be less active, and show signs of illness.

Shell Deformities

Adequate nutrition is crucial for maintaining the health and integrity of a turtle’s shell. Malnutrition can lead to soft shells in aquatic turtles or pyramiding (raised, pyramid-like scutes) in tortoises.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

This is a common ailment in reptiles that don’t receive enough calcium, vitamin D, or both. Symptoms include soft or deformed bones, lethargy, and in severe cases, paralysis.

Digestive Issues

Without regular feeding, a turtle’s digestive system can become sluggish. When they eventually eat, they might suffer from constipation or other gastrointestinal complications.

Reproductive Problems

Female turtles that are malnourished might have difficulty producing eggs or might produce infertile eggs. In some cases, malnutrition can lead to egg binding, where eggs get stuck inside the female turtle, which is a life-threatening condition.

Behavioral Changes

Starving turtles might become more lethargic or, conversely, more aggressive in their search for food. These behavioral changes can be indicative of their deteriorating health condition.

Organ Failure and Death

In extreme cases, prolonged malnutrition can result in the failure of essential organs, leading to the turtle’s death.

Feeding Tips For Turtle Owners

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

  • Varied Diet: Ensure your turtle receives a varied diet suitable for its species. This may include turtle pellets, vegetables, fruits, and proteins like insects or fish.
  • Calcium & Vitamins: Supplement their diet with calcium and vitamin D3, crucial for shell and bone health.
  • Limit Protein: Overfeeding protein, especially to herbivorous or omnivorous species, can lead to health issues. Always follow species-specific guidelines.
  • Avoid Processed Foods: Stick to natural, unprocessed foods. Avoid feeding turtles human food or anything with artificial additives.

Recognizing Signs of Malnutrition

  • Weight Loss: Regularly monitor your turtle’s weight. A rapid decrease can be a sign of malnutrition or illness.
  • Shell Problems: Soft shells in aquatic turtles or pyramiding in tortoises can indicate a lack of essential nutrients.
  • Lethargy: If your turtle becomes less active or appears weak, it might not be getting the nutrients it needs.
  • Changes in Appearance: A dull, sunken eye or a lack of color vibrancy can be warning signs.

When a Turtle Refuses to Eat

  • Environmental Check: Ensure the habitat temperature, lighting, and water quality are appropriate. Turtles may not eat if their environment is stressful.
  • Change the Diet: Sometimes, offering a different food type or brand can stimulate appetite.
  • Limit Stress: Ensure your turtle has a quiet, peaceful environment. Stressful conditions can reduce their appetite.
  • Seek Veterinary Care: If your turtle refuses to eat for an extended period or if you notice other signs of illness, consult with a reptile veterinarian. They can provide specific guidance, conduct health checks, and prescribe treatments if needed.


How often do turtles need to eat?

Turtles’ feeding frequency varies based on their age and species. Juvenile turtles typically require daily feeding due to their rapid growth, while adult turtles can often be fed every other day or every 2-3 days, depending on their specific needs and the recommendations for their species.

What happens if a turtle doesn’t eat for a week?

A turtle not eating for a week can be concerning but is not always a sign of illness. Factors like environmental changes, stress, or hibernation preparation can lead to reduced appetite. However, prolonged lack of food can result in weight loss, lethargy, and other health issues. If unsure about the reason, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian.

Do turtles need to eat every day?

Not all turtles need to eat every day. While it’s common for juvenile turtles to eat daily due to their growth needs, many adult turtles can be fed every other day or even less frequently. However, it’s essential to ensure they receive a balanced and nutrient-rich diet when they do eat.

What happens if turtles don’t eat?

If turtles consistently refuse food or don’t eat for extended periods, it can lead to several health issues such as malnutrition, weakened immune systems, shell deformities, and even organ failure in extreme cases. Regular monitoring of feeding habits and seeking veterinary advice, when changes are observed, can help in maintaining a turtle’s health.

Looking to learn more about turtles? My following guides may be of interest: