What do turtles eat? The importance of good nutrition and feeding the right diet


We've put together this handy guide on turtle nutrition to help you get started.


Like all pets, turtles need the correct nutrition in order to flourish. Feeding your turtle incorrectly will lead to health problems, so it’s important to do your research so you can give them exactly what they need.

This article has been put together as general guide, as different species of turtle have slight variations in their nutritional requirements. For more tailored nutritional advice, we always recommend speaking to your turtle breeder or specialist before taking them home.

What do turtles eat?

Most turtles can be categorised as omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and vegetables. However, the age or species of your turtle will influence the ratio of meat to vegetables to dried food you need to feed.

Juvenile turtles (up to 3 years old) need more protein for growth and development, so are usually more carnivorous. This can be provided through supplements, live food and/or freeze-dried crustaceans.

As turtles mature and reach their full size, they require less protein. The amount of live food can decrease and the amount of leafy greens and vegetables increased.

For pet turtles, it’s recommended you feed a mix of different foods to mimic their natural diet. For young adult turtles (3–7 years), we suggest a diet made up of the following:

This can be adjusted depending on your turtle’s age and species. For juvenile turtles, live food should make up around 80% of their diet, and dried turtle food around 20%. Vegetables and leafy greens can be given in small amounts to see what your turtle likes.

For mature turtles (7+ years), live food can be reduced to around 30% and vegetables and leafy greens increased to around 40%. The percentage of dried food can stay the same.

How much food should I feed my turtle?

As a guide, one portion of dried turtle food should be the same size as your turtle’s head.

One portion of live food is slightly larger than your turtle’s head, as is one portion of vegetables.

You can give as many leafy greens as your turtle can eat in a day. This should be monitored and adjusted based on how much your turtle eats. Uneaten leafy greens need to be removed at the end of each day.

Any uneaten dried turtle food or vegetables should be removed after 15–20 minutes to avoid it negatively impacting the water quality. Live food can remain in your turtle tank until eaten. If the insects drown but remain uneaten at the end of the day, these also need removing. 

If I’m feeding my turtle King British Turtle & Terrapin Complete Food, why do I need live food and vegetables too?

At King British we believe it is important to try and mimic how a turtle would naturally live in the wild. This includes everything from their home to their food.

Whilst King British Turtle & Terrapin Foods do supply all the necessary nutrients that turtles require, we recommend feeding them in addition to live food, vegetables and leafy greens to mimic the natural variety they’d find in the wild.

It can also be difficult to ensure you’re providing your turtle with the correct nutritional balance. Feeding a carefully formulated dried food, such as King British Turtle & Terrapin Complete Food or King British Turtle & Terrapin Food Sticks , can help ensure your turtle is receiving the essential nutrients they need to stay happy and healthy.

If you want further advice about giving your turtle the correct nutrition, speak to you vet or turtle specialist.

How often do I need to feed my turtle?

In the wild, turtles are opportunistic feeders and will eat whenever the opportunity arises. This isn’t a problem as they’re constantly active and searching for food.

But, for pet turtles with a plentiful supply of food from their owner, there is a risk of overfeeding. As incredibly intelligent creatures, it won’t take long for your turtle to link you with food, and so can appear hungry when they’re not. It is important to stick to your feeding guide. If you are worried or unsure about how much you’re feeding your turtle, seek advice from your vet or turtle specialist.

Juvenile turtles require two small meals a day, but young adults once a day, and mature turtles once every other day.

Although it’s important to mimic natural feeding habits and a varied diet where possible, we don’t recommended feeding dried food, live food, vegetables and leafy greens all in one day.

Not only will it be harder to correctly measure your portion sizes, but your turtle may cherry-pick their favourite foods, meaning they don’t get the correct nutritional balance. Instead, spread the foods out across the week. Setting up a schedule can be really useful to keep track of what you’ve fed. Plus, if you live with other people, it will help avoid overfeeding if your turtle ‘tricks’ them into thinking they haven’t been fed.

What happens if I overfeed my turtle?

Overfeeding your turtle can cause your pet to become overweight. The easiest way to spot this is by looking at the skin around your turtle’s legs. If folds of skin appear or are present, it is a sign of obesity, and their diet should be adjusted.

Speak to your vet or turtle specialist for more advice.

What happens if I feed my turtle the incorrect diet?

Feeding an incorrect diet can contribute to the development of two problems; shell pyramiding and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).

Shell pyramiding occurs when the shell grows too quickly; usually because of too much protein, or lack of calcium and/or Vitamin D. It can also be caused by a lack of UVB light. It causes the scutes to separate and erupt into pyramids. Shell pyramiding is irreversible, and the pyramids will remain even after you’ve corrected the problem.

MBD causes a turtle’s bones and shell to soften and become malformed. It also occurs in turtles that lack calcium, Vitamin D and UVB. Arguably, the lack of Vitamin D and UVB light from the environment is the greater contributor, but diet also plays its part.

Calcium is needed by turtles to keep their bones and shell healthy, which is why it must be included in your turtle’s diet. But, calcium can’t be utilised without Vitamin D3, which UVB rays allow the turtle to manufacture. You can find out more about this process in our blog.

Fortunately, both these problems are easy to avoid if you provide your turtle with the correct nutrition and lighting from the start.

If you’re ever worried about your turtle’s eating habits, speak to your vet or turtle specialist.