How Long Can Turtles Live Without Food?
Here’s the short and quick answer.
A healthy, adult turtle (at least most species) that has been fed properly during its life should be able to survive for months without eating anything. Juvenile turtles, in particular, baby turtles, will not be able to survive for quite as long as they need protein and food a lot more frequently than adult turtles do.
In fact, turtles do in fact go for long stretches of time without food in the wild when they hibernate.
During turtle hibernation, which is also known as brumation, turtles enter into a state of very low activity with a very low metabolism. This typically only occurs during the colder, winter months of the year.
Pet turtles however, typically do not brumate.
There are several reasons for this:
- Pet turtles are around a constant supply of food by their owners.
- The temperature environment does not radically change, unlike how it does outside.
- Pet turtles are around a healthy light source (UV) consistently.
Examples of Turtles of Going Long Periods of Time Without Food
That said, there have been a few instances of turtles that for some reason or another have been unable to get to food and have managed to survive for months and even years.
- A pet tortoise was once sealed off under a home’s foundation during a renovation. Without a plentiful source of food, it managed to live for over two years until it was found again. However, it’s likely that the turtle still managed to catch passing bugs and insects that had managed to make their way into its hiding spot.
- Another pet turtle managed to survive for several months after being forgotten under a pile of laundry. After it was found, it was severely de-hydrated and had lost quite a bit of its size.
So, although there have been instances where pet turtles and tortoises have gone without food for months, this does not mean that your pet turtle can remain at home unattended and without food for weeks and months at a time.
If, instead you asked how long can turtles live without food and water, the answer would be not nearly as long.
Just like humans, water is essential for the animal’s hydration, metabolism, digestion and lots of other regulatory processes. Without this, a turtle would likely die within a few months, at the very most.
In a healthy captive environment, most pet turtle species will need to be fed at least a few times a week, as well as be around a source of clean water.
Now, what if you are taking an upcoming trip and you absolutely just cannot find anyone to drop by and feed your pet turtle?
How long can it go safely without being fed?
To answer this question, we need to first address how much and how often pet turtles typically need to be fed.
What is the Proper Amount of Meal Spacing for Pet Turtles?
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Turtles are reptiles, and as such are considered ‘cold-blooded’.
In real-world terms, that means that turtles do not need to expend as much energy to maintain their internal body temperature as do warm-blooded creatures, like humans.
As such, this also means that because they don’t need to expend as much energy, they don’t need to consume as much energy as often as we do.
Here are good general rules of thumbs to adhere to when it comes to feeding your pet turtle. This pertains to most common pet turtle species (such as sliders, painted turtles and box turtles).
Age Feeding spacing
- Younger than 6 months = daily protein (majority) and veggies (few)
- Older than 6 months but younger than a 1 year = protein every other day and daily veggies
- Older than a 1 year = protein 2/3 times per week and daily veggies
There’s a few things that should pop out when you read a table like this.
One, pet turtles need to eat green-leafy vegetables daily.
Secondly, as turtles grow older they need less and less sources of protein.
There’s a few reasons for this.
A turtle needs a decent amount of protein when young in order to fully develop and grow. As it grows older, this need diminishes the closer it gets to adulthood.
Secondly, turtles in the wild do not have daily, consistent access to protein.
A turtle needs a decent amount of protein when young in order to fully develop and grow. As it grows older, this need diminishes.
When given a choice between a live fish and a few leafy-green vegetables, the turtle is going to choose the fish simply because it has a (rare) opportunity to do so. The vegetables aren’t going to run away. They will always be there.
Speaking of food, you may want to check out this article on the Best Turtle Food Brand, which will inform you of the best, highest quality types of food for your pet turtle.
Now that we know this, let’s address the last part of this article.
Variables That Affect How Long Can Turtles Can Survive Without Food
Of course, there are a few variables that will affect how long turtles can survive without food.
Does the turtle have access to clean, pure, filtered water to swim, lay in and drink?
If your pet turtle does not have access to any food, but it has access to clean, pure, filtered water, it can easily go several weeks without food. In all likelihood it would lose a little bit of its fat stores, but suffer no serious health consequences. This happens frequently in the wild.
Does the turtle have access to a basking area, and is the tank water properly heated and lit?
If your pet turtle doesn’t have access to food, but has access to pure, clean, filtered water, a basking area to dry out its shell and receive healthy UVA and UVB rays, as well as a properly heated habitat, then it would likely survive for several months without any serious consequences.
Note: This doesn’t mean that this would be healthy. It would obviously lose quite a bit of fat stores, but the other factors would keep it alive for a lot longer than otherwise.
This is all assuming your pet turtle’s health is your biggest concern.
However, if your pet turtle is under 6 months old, and even if you have the first two variables covered, the chance for survival without food is probably going to be less than a few weeks.
Thus, the answer to the original question (how long can pet turtles live without food), is, a pet turtle can probably survive for months quite safely.
However, if your pet turtle is under 6 months old, and even if you have the first two variables covered, the chance for survival without food is probably going to be less longer.
This is all assuming your pet turtle’s health is your biggest concern.
Never Let Your Turtle Go Without Food For Long
For the sake of being a good owner however, it is always a good idea to have someone check up on the turtles at least once every week. Preferably, every few days if possible. Anything can go wrong if a tank is left alone.
As best you can, it’s never a good idea to leave your turtle without any food for more than a few weeks, especially if it has become accustomed to this, and more so when it is still young and growing.
Hopefully, this article answered your question regarding how long can turtles live without food.