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9 Important Vitamins and Minerals for Turtles

If you’re going to make a proper diet for your turtle, then you’re going to need to know the nutrients that they need. While this sounds complicated, today we’re going to share with you 9 important vitamins and minerals for turtles so that you can have a good idea of the basics and where to get them.

As we move along, we’re going to tell you a little about each mineral and vitamin, as well as what foods have them, and why pellets are really a game changer that you should consider adding to your turtle’s diet.

Before we go we’ll also cover some frequently asked questions on the subject and by the time we’re done here, you should have a more concrete mental picture of what your turtle should be eating and how to provide it.

If you’re ready, then let’s get started with 9 important vitamins and minerals for turtles!

Vitamins for Turtles

1. Calcium

Calcium with Vitamins from Rep Cal

Calcium, working in conjunction with phosphorus, helps your turtle’s body to build and maintain strong bones, but it also helps in muscle growth and other important functions. Some examples of these include managing acids, blood clotting, maintaining a regular heartbeat, even nerve transmission!

Your turtle’s calcium intake needs to be higher than their phosphorus, otherwise they can develop conditions that are damaging to their bones, and they’ll need vitamin D or D3 to help them to absorb it (more on this shortly).

Some natural sources of calcium include earthworms, crustaceans, and live fish. You can also sprinkle a calcium supplement such as Repcal on their food to help give them a useful calcium boost!

2. Magnesium

Wodden bowl full of chopped Okra
Wodden bowl full of chopped Okra

While not needed in large amounts, magnesium is still an important mineral that works with calcium to help promote bone health for turtles and other reptiles. It’s easy to ensure that your turtle is getting it, too – veggies such as broccoli, okra, and spinach have it, and it’s also in fruits like bananas!

Just don’t overdo it with fruits – too much sugar is not good for your turtle!

3. Phosphorous

Bowl of arugula
Bowl of arugula

Phosphorus helps to reinforce bones, but care must be taken to ensure that your turtle is getting more calcium than phosphorus in their diets, as too much phosphorus can lead to conditions such as metabolic bone disease.

Thankfully, there are a lot of foods that provide a higher amount of calcium than phosphorus, with dark, leafy green vegetables such as arugula, collard greens, and kale being great examples!.

4. Vitamin A

Squash in a bowl and cut in half on a table
Squash in a bowl and cut in half on a table

Vitamin A is very important for turtles, as well as other reptiles and amphibians. It helps with many parts of the body, including the bones, muscles, the eyes and eyelids, lungs, trachea, mouth, and even their reproductive systems!

Turtles that aren’t getting enough vitamin A often lose interest in their foods and their eyelids may become swollen.

Respiratory issues are also a possibility or even infections in the mouth. Some natural foods that are chock-full of vitamin A include bell peppers, carrots, and squash, but you can find many orange, red, and yellow veggies that your turtle will love that can give them their daily dose of vitamin A!

5. Vitamin B

Mustard Greens growing in a garden
Mustard Greens growing in a garden

Vitamin B in its various forms is quite useful for turtles. For example, B1 (aka thiamine) helps your turtle’s metabolism to process carbohydrates efficiently, while B2 (riboflavin) works with B6 and B12  and affects your turtle’s energy levels.

B3 also plays a role with energy and vitamin B6 helps to synthesize antibodies in your turtle’s body, as well as hemoglobin. B12 is also important, aiding in the manufacture of red blood cells by working with folic acid, completing the useful list of B’s and what they can do for your turtle!

Veggies such as mustard greens, romaine lettuce, collard greens, and broccoli are all excellent sources of B vitamins and B1 in a water soluble form is commonly found in commercial turtle pellets (more on this later!).

One more thing that you need to know – some shellfish and some fish, such as goldfish, contain an enzyme which is called ‘thiaminase’, which destroys Thiamin (Vitamin B1) and can lead to B1 deficiency.

As such, be sure to research any new fish you are considering adding as feeders to help avoid this nutritional pitfall!

6. Vitamin C

Juvenile sulcata tortoise eating broccoli
Juvenile sulcata tortoise eating broccoli

Vitamin C is one of those vitamins that turtles definitely need, but we’re not 100% sure of all of its roles because turtles tend to get more than enough in their normal diets.

 It is suspected that vitamin C deficiency may be associated with conditions such as stomatitis (an infection of the mouth) and a slower rate of natural healing, but at this time we do not have enough data to fully confirm this.

Many fruits and veggies that turtles love already have plenty of vitamin C, with some examples including mangoes, broccoli, and bell peppers – just to name a few – but this is one vitamin you’ll rarely need to supplement.

7. Vitamin D and D3

Kale in a bowl
Kale in a bowl

Vitamin D or D3 needs to be a part of your turtle’s diet, as this vitamin helps them to properly absorb calcium to keep their bones healthy and strong. It’s sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and the need for it is one of the reasons that turtles love to bask so much.

The main difference between vitamin D and D3 are that vitamin D is an external form of this nutrient which is soluble in body fat, while D3 is produced naturally when turtles bask in sunlight.

Most calcium supplements will include vitamin D3 to help ensure that your turtle can process the calcium efficiently, and some natural sources of Vitamin D include feeder fish, kale, collard greens, and any different flowers and fruits.

8. Vitamin E

Bowl of baby Beet Greens
Bowl of baby Beet Greens

Vitamin E helps to slow the aging process of your turtle’s cells, extending red blood cell life, and it also helps your turtle in maintaining its shell. That’s because vitamin E helps to dissolve mineral buildup that might otherwise complicate the shell structure.

It also helps to boost the effect of vitamin’s A and C, but there is one dietary caveat that you should know about – you want to try to avoid feeding your turtle oily fish or any fish oil supplements.

Too much fish oil can cause a Vitamin E deficiency, which can lead to excess fatty acids and a condition called ‘steatitis’ – basically an inflammation of body fats. Vitamin E deficiency can also affect skeletal muscle efficiency and contribute to cardiac weakness, but thankfully it’s an easy vitamin to supply.

Vitamin E occurs naturally in the fats and oils of meats, fish, and poultry, and it’s also present in many plants. Veggies that include Vitamin E are also easy to find, with examples including butternut squash and broccoli, and you can also get it in turnip, mustard, and beet greens!

9. Vitamin K

Radiated tortoise eating lettuce
Radiated tortoise eating lettuce

Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting and the good news is that it will normally be produced in small amounts by bacteria in the intestinal tract, but you still want to include it in your turtle’s diet.

This is especially true if you have a sick turtle, as antibiotics can have an effect on those beneficial bacteria, which can result in a vitamin K deficiency if that’s not part of your turtle’s diet already.

Some natural sources of vitamin K include lettuce, cabbage, kale, and collard greens, so you shouldn’t have any trouble providing this particular piece of proper turtle nutrition!

Consider supplementing your turtle’s diet with pellets

Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks, Food for Aquatic Turtles, Newts and Frogs, 2.65 lbs

Turtle pellets, such as these Reptomin Floating Food Sticks should be a regular part of your turtle’s diet, as they help you to ‘hedge your bets’ by providing a food source that is specifically tailored to your turtle’s needs.

The important thing to consider when purchasing commercial foods such as these is your turtle’s age. That’s because juveniles and hatchlings tend to have different dietary requirements from adults.

While you’ll get variation between different turtle species, generally turtles are more carnivorous when they are young, but when they become adults then plant matter starts to make up the lion’s share of their diets.

Again – check your species to make sure this holds true for your own turtles – but most of the time this will be the case.

Turtle pellets have lots of useful ingredients that are great for your turtle, such as fish and shrimp meal, soybean oil, vitamin D and calcium, and soy protein concentrates – but these are just a few of the ingredients that you’ll find.

Just be sure to go with a brand that has great reviews and check the pellets to see if they are for juveniles or adults and you should be fine.

One other important thing to note is that as turtle pellets provide complete nutrition (although you should still feed them fresh and live foods, too!), you might consider investing in an automatic feeder.

This can help to ensure that those pellets are distributed like clockwork and can be a real godsend if an emergency comes up and you need to leave or you’ve planned a weekend road trip and can’t get someone to feed your turtles while you are gone.

If you’d like to learn more about automatic feeders, checkout our handy guide on 5 of the best automatic feeder options when you are done here – they are definitely a real gamechanger to help ensure your turtles never miss any meals!

FAQ

It’s just about time for us to wrap things up, but we thought we’d include some frequently asked questions about turtle nutrition to help fill in any gaps that we might have missed along the way. Let’s take a look!

What are the nutritional requirements for turtles?

When you break it down, a turtle’s typical nutritional profile consists of about 49 to 46.5% crude proteins, followed by crude fats at 8.8%, Calcium and phosphorus at 5.7% and 3.0%, methionine at 1.0% and cysteine at 0.25%.

For those last 2, methionine and cysteine are amino acids that are commonly found in meat, fish, and dairy products (although skip the dairy—your turtle CANNOT digest it!).

What is the best vitamin for turtles?

If we had to pick one vitamin to put at the top of the pile, it would have to be vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for many parts of a turtle’s body, including muscles, bones, lungs, the trachea and mouth, reproductive systems, and even their eyes and eyelids!

Most orange, red, and yellow veggies are packed with vitamin A, and it’s going to be present in most commercial turtle pellets, so it shouldn’t be difficult to make sure that your turtle is getting all of the vitamin A that they need!

Do turtles need supplements?

Generally, no, your turtles won’t need supplements as long as you are feeding them fresh veggies, fruits, and live food, along with turtle pellets to help ensure complete nutrition. One possible exception, however, is calcium and D3.

Calcium supplements for turtles and other reptiles help to ensure that your turtle will have more calcium in their body than phosphorus, which is essential for preventing conditions such as metabolic bone disease.

Beyond this, your turtles will generally get all of the nutrition they need from a proper diet but if you are considering a supplement, just ask your vet and they can give you the professional scoop!

Final thoughts

Today we’ve talked about 9 important vitamins and minerals for turtles so that you can have a sneak-peek into their nutritional requirements to help you in creating a healthy diet.

 Important highlights include calcium and phosphorus, which are important for building and maintaining strong bones, but which must be carefully managed – calcium intake should be higher than phosphorus to avoid metabolic bone disease!

Magnesium in small amounts will also help that calcium to do its job and vitamin A is going to be the most important – as it affects many parts of your turtle’s bodies, such as the reproductive system, lungs, mouth, eyes, and more!

B vitamins play important roles in cell health, metabolism, and energy and vitamin C is one nutrient that is essential, but needs more research and as it’s in many fruits and veggies your turtle eats already, it needn’t be a worry.

Finally, vitamins D, E, and K will help your turtle to absorb and use calcium, slow the aging of your turtle’s cells, and help to ensure that blood clots properly.

Now that you know what they need, you can use this to create a better diet and while you’re at it, don’t forget those turtle pellets – they’re formulated to provide complete nutrition, just get the ones that are designed to match your turtle’s age.

Thanks so much for reading and we hope to see you again very soon!

References

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