How Long Can Turtles Go Without Food? (Vacation Guide)

How long can turtles go without food? I’ve seen lots of varying opinions on this and the figures stated are often for a wild turtle, rather than a pet turtle.
How Long Can Turtles Go Without Food

I will go over the times for both wild and pet turtles, but I’m guessing you are here because you have a pet turtle and are planning a vacation soon (lucky you – enjoy!).

How Long Can Pet Turtles Go Without Food?

A hatchling pet turtle needs feeding every day to ensure it grows up healthy.

I wouldn’t recommend leaving an adult pet turtle for more than 1 week without food.

A wild turtle can go without food for a few months over winter when it goes into a state called brumation.

An indoor pet turtle doesn’t generally enter brumation as its tank temperature is kept stable and warm.

Brumation

Wild freshwater turtles don’t hibernate during the winter months in the same way as warm-blooded mammals do. Instead, they go into a state of extremely low activity called brumation.

Turtles are cold-blooded so they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature.

They cannot survive temperatures below freezing for prolonged periods, so in the winter months, they dive to the bottom of their river, pond, or lake and burrow themselves into the substrate.

The water temperature here remains more stable (and warmer) than the air temperature.

The cold temperature causes their metabolism to slow right down, which reduces the amount of food and oxygen they require.

Although a turtle cannot breathe underwater, they don’t have to during brumation. They ‘breathe’ by performing cloacal respiration.

The hole they pass poop and eggs out of has a lot of blood vessels that absorb oxygen from the water around them. Yes, a turtle can breathe through its butthole!

An indoor pet turtle tank setup isn’t subjected to the variations of outdoor weather and remains at a consistent temperature all year round because they have:

As you’re providing your pet turtle with a constant supply of food and warm stable temperatures, there’s no need for them to go into brumation.

How Long Can A Turtle Survive Without Water?

How Long Can Turtle Survive Without Water

Turtles, just like us, need water to stay hydrated and keep their bodies functioning correctly.

On average, a pet turtle could go a week without drinking any water, but that depends on many factors such as the type of turtle you have, and the temperature and humidity of your turtle tank.

Aquatic turtles should have water in their tanks at all times, so they will always have drinking water.

Non-aquatic turtles (such as box turtles) should have a shallow pool of water in their enclosure at all times.

How Often Do Turtles Need To Eat?

Do turtles need to eat every day? When your turtle is still a baby, yes they need feeding daily. Hatchling turtles need food more often to help them grow properly.

As your turtle ages, it will need feeding less often.

The chart below is a general guide to how often you should be feeding your turtle.

Age Of TurtleHow Often To Feed Turtle
HatchlingOnce every day
JuvenileOnce every other day
AdultOnce every 2-3 days

Always check for more detailed information on your particular species of turtle.

What To Feed Your Turtle

As most pet turtles are omnivores, they enjoy eating both protein (meat) and plant-based foods.

Younger turtles eat a protein-rich diet, but as they get older they eat a more plant-based diet.

Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin
Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin

Feeding your turtle a combination of Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin will ensure your turtle gets the full range of vitamins and minerals they need.

Depending on the type of turtle you have, depends on what ratio of pellets, veggies, and protein you need to feed them, so check out your individual turtle’s requirements.

Supplement your turtle’s diet with veggies such as:

  • Bell peppers
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Collared greens
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Green beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Red lettuce leaves
  • Zucchini

Be Aware: Limit feeding veggies that are high in oxalic acid.

Oxalic acid binds calcium and stops your turtle from metabolizing it. Turtles need to metabolize calcium to maintain healthy bones and shells.

Tasty protein-based foods that you can feed your turtle include:

  • Bloodworms
  • Crabs
  • Crickets
  • Feeder fish
  • Mealworms
  • Shrimp
  • Snails
  • Wax worms

You can also feed your turtle some fruit as an occasional tasty treat (once per week):

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Honeydew melon
  • Strawberries

TOP TIP: To keep your turtle tank water cleaner for longer….

At feeding times, remove your turtle from its tank and feed it in a separate container.


Turtles are super messy eaters and any leftover scraps of food, along with any pee and poop they expel during feeding time, won’t need to be removed from the tank water, keeping it much cleaner for longer
.

How Do You Feed A Turtle While On Vacation?

So you’ve got a vacation planned and want to know if your turtle will be ok while you are away….?

If you have a healthy adult turtle and are only going away for the weekend, it will be ok not to get fed for 2-3 days and you needn’t worry.

I’ll go over the best options for feeding your pet turtle while you are away for more than 3 days.

Ask A Friend Or Neighbor To Feed Turtle

The best option is to have a trusted friend, neighbor, family member, or pet sitter, check on and take care of your turtle while you’re away.

Make sure you leave detailed instructions for how much and how often to feed your turtle, as overfeeding will soon lead to dirty and cloudy turtle tank water.

It would help massively towards keeping the tank clean if they would also clean out any uneaten food, poop, and detritus.

Automatic Feeder

Fish Mate F14 (left) and Freesea Aquarium Feeder (right)
Fish Mate F14 (left) and Freesea Aquarium Feeder (right)

If you can’t get someone to come over and look after your turtle, the next best option is an automatic feeder.

One thing to note with these automatic feeders is that they take a little fine-tuning, so it’s best to check your feeder is set up and dispenses the correct amount of food BEFORE you go away.

You need to buy a decent quality one, the cheaper ones can get condensation built up inside them. This then causes the food to clog together and it won’t dispense into the tank properly.

2 great options are:

The Fish Mate F14 allows you to individually portion out and offer a variety of food over 14 days, you can also leave each alternate slot empty for alternate-day feeding.

It has a great feature that allows you to attach an air pump to blow dry air through the feeder and prevent the food from going stale or clogging up due to condensation.

With the FREESEA Automatic Feeder, you add all the food into one container, and as it rotates it will dispense the food through adjustable slots. 

However, it can be difficult to get the portion size just right for a single serving, so requires some fine-tuning.

Feeder Fish

Although you can feed turtles live feeder fish, I don’t recommend this option when going on vacation, as chances are your turtle will gobble up all the fish within the first 24 hours and then be hungry the rest of the time!

To increase the chances of the fish surviving longer, you’ll need to provide plenty of places for the fish to hide, such as caves or amongst plants.

If you keep mud or musk turtles, feeder fish are not the best option as they are not the best hunters and these turtles can happily live alongside fish in the same tank.

How Do I Keep My Turtle Tank Clean While On Vacation?

Cleaning Turtle Tank

Ensuring your turtle has a clean tank and drinking water will help your turtle survive longer without food.

Although turtles can survive weeks or even months without food, they can only do this if they have access to water so they can stay hydrated.

Change Tank Water

Perform a water change the day before you leave.

It’s worth filling your tank up a little more than usual, because as the water evaporates it may make it difficult for your turtle to access its basking platform.

Clean Turtle Tank

If you’re going away for a couple of weeks or more, clean your turtle’s tank before you leave.

Good Quality Filter

Anyone that has kept turtles knows how important a good quality filter is, as they are messy little critters!

Make sure your filter is clean and functioning correctly before you leave, so you don’t come back to a stinky swamp.

Basking Area

A basking area is an essential part of any turtle enclosure, make sure the heat lamp and UVB lamp is working correctly before you leave.

Your turtle needs to be able to get out of the water and bask so it can dry its shell out fully, warm up, and absorb UVB light.

A turtle that doesn’t have a basking area where it can fully dry out is at risk of developing illnesses such as shell rot.

How Long Can A Turtle Go Without Eating FAQ

Below are 5 frequently asked questions regarding how long can turtles go without food, obviously the health and age of the turtle can affect the length of time.

An adult pet turtle in good health could survive longer than the length of time listed below if it has access to drinking water, but I don’t recommend leaving your turtle without food for long periods of time on a regular basis.

How Long Can Baby Turtle Go Without Food?

Baby Turtle

I don’t advise leaving a baby turtle without food for more than 1 day.

The first 6 months of a turtle’s life are when they grow the quickest and need to be fed a high-protein diet daily.

Failing to do so will not allow them to grow properly and can lead to long-term health problems.

How Long Can A Box Turtle Go Without Eating?

Box Turtle

A healthy wild box turtle can go a few months without eating during brumation.

I wouldn’t leave an adult pet box turtle for more than 1 week without food.

How Long Can Painted Turtles Go Without Eating?

A wild painted turtle can go a few months without food, during brumation.

I wouldn’t leave an adult pet painted turtle for more than 1 week without food.

How Long Can A Red Eared Slider Turtle Go Without Eating?

Red Eared Slider

A wild RES can go a few months without eating, during brumation.

I wouldn’t leave an adult pet RES for more than 1 week without food.

How Long Can A Snapping Turtle Go Without Eating?

Snapping Turtle

A wild snapping turtle can go a few months without food, during brumation.

I wouldn’t leave an adult pet snapping turtle for more than 1 week without food.

Closing Thoughts On How Long Can Turtles Go Without Food?

So now you should have a much better idea of how long can a turtle can go without food or water and be able to plan ahead if you have any vacations coming up.

For your turtle’s well-being and your peace of mind, I recommend having someone check in on your turtle if you’re going away on vacation for more than a few days.

Leaving your turtle for any length of time without food isn’t advisable. If your turtle is still growing you’re risking long-term health problems.

Even an adult pet turtle may find it stressful to have its feeding routine suddenly changed.

Check out the turtle section for more guides on keeping your pet turtles happy and healthy.