If you own a pet turtle, seeing them not eating can make you worried and concerned. In truth, every turtle owner faces the problem of their turtle not eating at some point in time. Should you be rushing to the vet, is this normal for turtles, or is it somewhere in between? With these questions in mind I spent some time researching turtles and their eating requirements and needs. I will be sharing my findings here with you today.
So, in answer to your question; why is my turtle not eating? There are several reasons why a turtle may refuse to eat. If you have recently got them, chances are it is because of “new home” syndrome. This is where turtles become stressed and the change and need time to adapt to their new surroundings; their appetite naturally reduces. Other causes of not eating can include illness, hibernation, fear, inadequate environmental surroundings, and even the time of day.
With any animal, starvation causes many health problems and could potentially be fatal if not corrected. So, any signs that your pet could be refusing food should be looked into.
But thankfully, and before worry overwhelms you, it is important for turtle owners to know that there are numerous abnormal and normal reasons why your pet is hiding in its shell come suppertime!
For new turtle owners it can be terrifying to not understand what is going on and what you can do. So let us know let us take a closer look at the main causes before looking at some proactive approaches of what to do in each context.
Why Does My Turtle Not Want To Eat?
There are many reasons why your turtle may be refusing to eat, and it could just be something as simple as “new home” syndrome.
Stress can affect even pets. Turtles, like humans, are products of their environment. When you first bring your new pet home, do not forget that you have just taken him away from the only home he has ever known, and this is bound to be stressful.
There is plenty to get used to and it is only natural that food may not be the first thing on their mind. Stress can also be caused by overhandling your new turtle.
In their natural world, it is not common for someone to hold aquatic turtles so this can really bring on the stress. Other common causes of stress are inadequate lighting and water quality.
Other causes of not eating include: illness, hibernation, fear, inadequate environmental surroundings, and even the time of day!
Odd as it may sound, some turtles prefer to eat during the evening, while others want to have their meal during the day.
These are the most common signs of illness in turtles and warrant a trip to the vet:
- Areas on the shell that are discolored. This could indicate that the diet is lacking in vitamin A.
- Signs of worms in the feces. A turtle with a parasitic infection often loses their appetite.
- A respiratory infection. Signs of this include lethargy, difficulty breathing, wheezing, swollen and irritated eyes, discharge from the eyes and nose, and sneezing.
- Females can get a condition known as dystocia. This happens when she is unable to pass eggs out of her body properly.
- No feces in the tank. There is a chance of constipation if you have seen no signs of feces or elimination.
If you are satisfied that your turtle has none of these, is it possible they are getting ready to hibernate? You must look into this possibility too.
But if that is not the issue, the diet you are feeding may be causing the lack of culinary interest in your turtle.
Believe it or not, what one turtle loves may be hated by another. There are certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that all turtles need for proper health and vitality, but turtles have a preference list when it comes to feeding time.
They prefer live prey overall, but they will also eat, in descending order, meat, pellets, and finally fruits and veggies.
You can also try to stimulate their appetite with some new foods that they may enjoy, such as raw fish or cooked egg whites.
Another major issue for pet turtles is having the correct environment. Unhappy turtles are quite likely to refuse to eat.
What is the appropriate environment for your turtle?
Along with food, the most important things about your turtle’s environment are the lighting and temperature. Most species of pet turtles need somewhere between 12 and 14 hours of light per day.
Therefore, the night cycle should fall somewhere between 10 and 12 hours. For turtles to process nutrients, such as calcium, their aquarium must use UVB lighting.
Without this specific form of light, turtles can lose their appetite and become lethargic, a sure sign that something is amiss.
Temperature is extremely important. Different species of turtles require different elements for their environment.
Your aquarium should be large enough that it has both a basking area and a cooler area for the evening. This way they can move from area to area as their comfort demands.
Generally, younger turtles need greater amounts of heat than older ones.
Being cold blooded reptiles, turtles do not produce any body heat. They rely completely on surrounding temperatures to keep themselves at the proper temperature.
As a rule, the basking spot on dry side should be kept between 85 to 90 Fahrenheit. The wet side should be kept between 75 to 85 Fahrenheit.
The water itself should be kept between 72 and 77 Fahrenheit.
When the light is turned off for the night, inside tank temperature should stay consistently between 65 and 75 Fahrenheit.
If the water temperature is not warm enough, your pet will cease eating because they are unable to correctly digest their food, and they can quickly become ill.
How Long Can A Turtle Go Without Eating?
Depending on the species of turtle (and there are roughly 318 different known species), the average wild adult turtle is able to go for many months without eating at all!
However, under normal conditions, most turtles can go for a couple of weeks without consuming food. Again, the other caveat is that this does not apply to incredibly young turtles.
Most juveniles will starve to death after just a couple of days.
Some species of turtles can go longer than others can, but they go the longest period without eating when they go into hibernation for the winter. So this is a good indicator of how long each species can go without food; their average hibernation duration.
And it ranges quite dramatically between turtle species; the hibernation period could last anywhere between 5 and 8 months!
The reason they can go so long without eating during hibernation is that they are able to slow both their metabolic rate and activity rate. Their metabolic rate does not fluctuate with temperature changes even though they have slower rates than warm-blooded creatures.
When the metabolic rate increases, so does the requirements for increased oxygen. When the rate decreases, so do oxygen requirements, meaning that your turtle may not need to eat quite as often.
This allows them to save the fats and energy they have left.
Since you never know when your pet is going to come out of hibernation, you need to keep a close eye on them so they can be given food and water right away.
If you want to learn more about the length of time turtles can go without eating, read our article here.
What Do You Do If Your Turtle Is Not Eating?
There is a list of things for you to check in case your turtle is not eating if you are sure they are not ill, and how to remedy them.
An effective approach is to identify the cause first; before implementing the appropriate solution.
Below we address some of the main questions you should ask yourself if your turtle is not eating and how to respond in each context:
Is The Water In The Tank Clean?
The water in your turtle’s tank must be kept clean and changed on a weekly basis. Turtles hate to eat in dirty water.
They not only stop eating but can also become ill from unclean water that is filled with feces and other waste. You can use a filter in your tank, or only give them food one bite at a time.
Could Your Turtle Be Pregnant?
You cannot always make a pregnant female eat but provide food and she will eat when she needs to.
Females can get pregnant without a male so do not assume this could not be the issue if you only have one turtle.
Is Your Lamp Set Too High Or Too Low?
Keep a thermometer handy so you can easily check the temperature in the tank several times per day.
Could Something Be Scaring Your Turtle?
Maybe you have more than one turtle in the tank and one is being bullied. This happens often when one is smaller than the other.
They could be afraid to eat because this has results in a fight previously. Some species of turtles will eat other, smaller turtles.
Does Your Turtle Dislike Their Food?
They may also not like their food. If you have been feeding pellets, try another brand or flavor. If you have been feeding live prey like snails or fish, try something different like worms or leeches.
Experiment until you find something your pet really loves. Your feeding schedule may also not be what your turtle prefers. Some owners feed once per day, some do twice a day, and yet others will feed every second day.
Could Your Turtle Be Stressed?
Try not to handle them so much or even move them to a quieter spot in your home until they get back to themselves.
Could Your Turtle Be Ill?
If none of these fixes seem to make any difference in the eating habits of your pet, perhaps there is some underlying illness that you are unable to see.
A quick trip to the vet will help to ease your mind and hopefully set your precious turtle back on the road to recovery.
Since your pet will basically be a lifelong member of your family, you want to make sure that they are healthy, happy, and safe at all times. Their dependence on you may be a big responsibility but it is one that you will be happy to take on!
If you own a pet turtle that has suddenly decided to not eat, it can be a concern.
Confusingly, a turtle that refuses their food may be doing so for a multitude of different reasons. Some may be normal, whereas others could indicate a problem.
Ultimately, it is important to try to identify the cause; not only will this help you to learn how to handle the situation going forward, but this can help you implement the right solution.
Remember that there are hundreds of different species of turtles and dozens often kept as pets. Be sure to research into your specific species and ensure you meet their own needs and requirements.
For some species, going months without food is not a problem and should be expected. For others, they will perish going this time without food.
As a responsible turtle owner, and one whom wants to provide their pet with a long, healthy and happy life; do your best to learn about your species.
Ensure you are offering them the right diet, in the right quantities, at the right times. Learn what to expect from them regarding refusal; and keep their environment optimized at all times.
If you ever have any doubt, take them to a vet or seek out specialist help.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.