Can Turtles Get Fat?
Turtles can get fat just like dogs, cats or any other pet. Overfeeding is a common mistake that many pet owners make, and like with anything that is done too much it can have a negative impact on their health and overall quality of life.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, you need to feed your pet a balanced diet best suited to the species. You can check our turtle species page to find the care sheet that matches your turtle for more information.
It is also essential to stick to a fixed feeding routine. This helps you to keep track of the turtle’s feeding habits and also prevents you from going overboard with feeding.
Also, if your turtle is obese, a fixed feeding routine can help you cut down on the turtle’s overall food consumption.
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Risks Associated With Obesity In Turtles
Obese turtles are quite rare and you’ll notice when you come across one. When obese, the turtle’s shell looks too small for it. You’ll notice fat bulges under the armpits and in front of the hind legs.
Sometimes because of the fat deposits around the neck, the turtle may be unable to pull its head into its shell. An extremely fat turtle may even be unable to walk on land, since they are unable to support their weight. They will even be unable to swim properly.
Limited mobility isn’t the only problem an overfed turtle faces. Overfeeding can stress several internal organs (see what’s inside a turtle shell to learn more about their organs).
For instance, too much protein can stress the kidneys & lead to shell deformities. Obesity can also lead to organ failure.
Preventing Obesity In Turtles
There are two main contributing factors here and these are lack of exercise and overfeeding.
Turtles need an active lifestyle to be healthy and stress-free. This can be a problem when the turtle lives in a small enclosure. You should provide the turtle with a lot of horizontal and vertical space.
For general guidance check out our turtle tank setup guide which will guide you through from start to finish including what size tank to choose.
There should be enough water in the tank for the turtle to enjoy long swims. With the right amount of exercise, the turtle can burn up excess calories and maintain a fit figure.
When it comes to overfeeding, this is directly related to the food items fed to the turtle and the number of times you feed the turtle. Foods high in protein and foods high in sugar have been linked to weight gain.
As such, these should be provided in moderation. Fruits are high in sugar and as such should make up about just 10 percent of the turtle’s overall diet.
Many turtle parents prefer to offer fruits as treats and as such offer fruits just once or twice a week.
Also, for omnivorous turtles such as map turtles, and box turtles, proteins should make up about 30 percent of the turtle’s diet.
It is also a good idea to provide the turtle with live food such as live guppies and goldfish. The chase will burn some much-needed calories. The bulk of a turtle’s diet should be vegetables and foliage.
In case you are more curious you can learn read more about what turtles eat here.
Consider leafy greens such as collard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, and even dandelion. Orange vegetables such as shredded carrots and squash also offer a lot of nutrients.
Foliage such as duckweed, hornwort, and water hyacinth are also low in sugar and calories but are loaded with nutrients and roughage.
An adult turtle should be fed once every two to three days, while hatchlings (see what baby turtles eat here)can be fed every day and then every other day after the one year mark.
Just remember to consult your vet before making any major changes to the diet and feeding schedule.
An active lifestyle, a strict feeding regime, and a balanced diet should ensure that your turtle doesn’t get fat.
Feed The Turtle The Right Amount Of Food
If your turtle is fat, then you need to reevaluate how it’s fed. Reducing the number of times you feed the turtle should be the start. You can start by feeding it every other day, and then eventually every 3 days.
While doing this, also gradually reduce the amount of food fed the turtle. Eventually, you should notice the turtle losing weight.
If you want to track this you can weigh the turtle using a scale. Depending on the size you can usually just one like you have in your kitchen.
Make sure to only use the scale for your pet and not for anything else. Turtles carry salmonella, and that is not something you will want to spread around. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water and to disinfect the scale after use.
Also, any obese turtle must be kept on a strict feeding schedule with no snacking in between meals. Without a strict feeding schedule, captive turtles are prone to becoming overweight.
There are two different approaches to healthy feeding.
- The first approach indicates that you feed your pet as much as it can eat in 15 minutes. All uneaten foods should be removed from the tank.
- The second approach involves feeding the turtle a fixed amount of food. Use a small container such as a medicine cup to measure the amount of food to feed the turtle. The container should be about the same size as the turtle’s head. This is for proteins and food pellets.
The first approach is more commonly used. However, you need to calibrate the amount given to the turtle as you get to know its feeding habits more.
With the second approach mentioned, as the turtle grows so does the head. As such more food will be offered as the turtle grows. This ensures that the turtle is always well-feed.
You can also use a plastic bag to measure the amount of food fed to the turtle. Place the food inside a plastic bag, squeeze one end so the bag with the food is constricted. The bag should be about the same size as your turtle’s head. I recommend the second approach for beginners.
You can offer the turtle a bit more leafy green vegetables as well since they contain fewer calories. Regardless of the method you choose to use, I believe it’s best to give the turtle as many leafy greens as it can eat in a 15 to 20 minute timespan.
Follow A Strict Feeding Schedule
As mentioned several times, you need to maintain a feeding schedule. This means that you need to draw up a schedule. Now, no one can decide the exact schedule but there are some rules to follow.
- For hatchlings and younglings, you need to feed them once a day.
- Young adults and turtles older than a year must be fed once every 2 days.
- Older adults should be fed once every three days.
An example of a good schedule for an omnivorous turtle includes
- Commercial turtle pellets on feeding day one
- Leafy greens, and aquatic plants on feeding day two
- Animal proteins such as mealworms, superworms, or fish on feeding day three
- More leafy greens and vegetables on feeding day four and day five
For more carnivorous turtles such as mud and musk turtles, you’ll need to offer a much much higher percentage of animal proteins. The diet of a carnivorous turtle should be about 75% pellets and animal protein, and 25% plant matter.
Herbivorous turtles such as adult cooters and adult painted turtles should be fed more plant matter. Make sure you offer a diverse diet here.
For commercial foods you can also automate the feeding process using an automatic turtle feeder.
Vitamin And Calcium Supplementation
Vitamin supplements ensure that captive turtles get the right balance of food and vitamins. It is very easy for captive-breeds to suffer from vitamin D & calcium deficiencies which can cause things like metabolic bone disease.
To prevent this, consider dusting the turtle’s food with calcium and vitamin supplements before feeding it to the turtle. Do this about twice a week.
Some excellent choices include Zoo Med Repti Calcium D3 Reptile Supplement and Rep-Cal Phosphorous-Free Calcium Powder. If you are unsure about the right amount to offer the turtle, you can consult your herp vet.
Video Of Overfed Sliders
This video is of a doctor who is treating two red eared sliders that were terribly mistreated with what looks like a lack of UVB light, were overfed and are suffering from some other issues as well.
You can see the sliders in the video have excess meat coming out of their shells around the limbs and that they are unable to retract their head into their shells.
As mentioned above, good husbandry is key to keeping your turtle healthy and happy.
Foods To Feed The Turtle
Now that we have established the feeding schedule and percentage of each food type you need to feed the turtle, you need to know the right types of foods to feed the turtle.
Poor food choices can cause the turtle to gain weight uncontrollably. As mentioned already, you need to closely monitor the amount of sugar and protein the turtle ingests.
Commercial Turtle Foods/Pellets
Feeding turtles pellets/food sticks have a wide array of advantages. High-quality commercial feeds contain the nutrients and minerals the turtle needs to live a healthy life.
High-quality pellets also contain moderate amounts of fat and carbohydrates. All pellets aren’t equal. Some are of higher quality than others. Make sure to get only the best pellets for your turtle. Some excellent commercial turtle foods include
- Exo Terra Aquatic Turtle Hatchling Floating Pellets
- Mazuri Turtle Diet
- Pro ReptoMin Baby Turtle Formula Sticks
- Rep-Cal Box Turtle Food
- Reptomin Food Sticks
- Zoo Med Gourmet Reptisticks Floating Aquatic Turtle Food
Other choices include
- Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Buffet Blend Food which contains a blend of foods such as freeze-dried river shrimp, free-dried mealworms fish meal, poultry meal, soybean meal, and several more.
- Sequoia Aquatic Turtle Medley Food. This contains freeze-dried shrimp and freeze-dried mealworms.
The best vegetables to feed turtles includes those high in calcium & vitamins, high in roughage, and low in carbohydrates & sugars.
Some leafy greens include
- Turnip Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Red Leaf Lettuce
- Fresh Parsley
- Collard greens
- Mustard Greens
Other vegetables to offer include
You can also give them mushrooms.
Aquatic plants are excellent since they are native to the natural habitats of freshwater turtles. Here are some good examples
- Water hyacinth
- Spike rush
- Water lilies
Turtles also accept animal proteins. These include insects, fish, meat, and gastropods. Some excellent choices include
- Small fish
- Snails (live and canned)
- Pinkie mice
- 93% Lean Ground Beef
Since fruits are high in sugar, it’s important to rarely offer them. Some excellent fruits that turtles enjoy include banana, apples, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, blackberries, mulberries, blueberries, and strawberries.
Can turtles get fat? Yes, they can. Although fat turtles are rare, they do occur and are more common than you’d think. The main causes of obesity among turtles is lack of activity and overfeeding.
To ensure the turtle is active, have a large enclosure. You can also offer live food. This ensures that the turtle works for its food.
Following a strict feeding schedule ensures that you don’t overfeed the turtle. Make sure you don’t give the turtle snacks between feeding. Also, make sure to only offer high-quality foods.
If your turtle is already fat, there is a lot to be done to get it back to its right weight. Start by increasing the days between feeding and reevaluating the turtle’s diet and meal quality.
If you have any questions or experience with fat turtles, feel free to comment below.