Why Is My Turtle Not Eating? Important Reasons to Consider

Last Updated on November 13, 2021 by cmoarz

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for turtle owners to be concerned about why their pet is not eating. By far one of the most common questions we get is “why is my turtle not eating?” I think it’s safe to say all turtle owners have been here one time or another, so let’s get right down to it.

Baby turtles are notoriously hard to feed

If you’ve got a baby turtle that is not eating, you need to be aware of why this might be.

Baby turtles are notoriously hard to feed and can go for weeks without food before they’ll take an interest in their mealworm, vegetables, or pellets.

They’re also a lot more sensitive than adults when it comes to water temperature and diet; make sure you keep the water at a consistent temperature, and if you’re feeding vegetables or pellets it’s best not to mix them with other foods until she’s used to eating what you give her.

This can be especially troubling for new turtle owners who don’t know how much of a pain baby turtles can actually be, ESPECIALLY with pellets.

Not to worry, She will start eating in her own time. Just be sure you give her what turtles require in their diet and don’t worry about how much she eats.

In general, baby turtles are temperamental little things and it’s not unheard of for them to go for weeks without eating anything at all!

Adult & Older Turtles Who Aren’t Eating Is More of a Cause for Concern.

Top reasons your adult turtle might be refusing to eat

Your turtle may be stressed.

When it becomes difficult to get an adult turtle to eat, or she outright refuses to eat, that’s something you need to pay attention to.

Stress can be caused by a lot of things and it can manifest in a number of ways, but the most common is refusing to eat.

If your turtle has stopped eating or you’re worried because she’s not usually this picky about what food they’ll take, now might be time for some intervention!

Check the vibrations of the filter you are using. Turtles have very sensitive hearing.

Turtles are also very sensitive to vibration, especially when they’re trying to eat or rest in their tank. An active filter can be disturbing and too much noise from other tanks might stress your turtle out enough that she won’t want food either!

You may need a more gentle filter without as much “white noise” and vibrations. Consider a canister filter with hoses for intake and output rather than a hob filter.

Tank size

If your tank is too small, your turtle might feel stressed or too crowded.

If your tank is too small, it may be uncomfortable for the turtle and she won’t want to eat because of that stress!

Consider a larger home if you’re seeing this behavior change in her appetite.

It’s recommended you have 1 gallon per inch of turtle.

The water is too cold!

Turtles stop eating at the end of spring as part of their turtling behavior known as brumation. It is seen when cold-blooded reptiles such as turtles are preparing themselves to deal with the cold temperatures coming in from Autumn. Turtles slow down their metabolism, cardiac, and heart rate by 80%.

If your water is too cold, your turtle might not want to eat because of the stress.

What this means is that if you live in a cold-wintered area, and you’re going into Autumn or Winter with water temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, then it’s possible she’ll stop eating as part of her turtling behavior known as brumation

If that sounds like what’s happening with your turtle, why don’t you consider investing in some kind of heating system for the tank? (NOT A HEATER!) I recommend an under-tank heater along with a basking light. This way they can be warm enough during their most vulnerable time! Making sure to invest in correct lighting will also help them come out of brumation sooner rather than later.

The water is too warm!

When water temperatures get too warm, your turtle might not want to eat.

Eating less for a couple of days isn’t so alarming if the tank is just at an uncomfortable level or she’s enjoying exploring more than eating but when you’re seeing consistent “no appetite” behavior with no signs of stress and there are other behaviors that indicate it could be due to temperature then why don’t you consider investing in some kind of cooling system? (NOT A COOLER!) I recommend either ice cubes or a variable-duty air conditioner depending on how big your tank is and what fits without disrupting airflow!

The best way to combat this problem is by making sure their environment stays cool enough. You can do this indirectly by keeping the room they are in cooler with air conditioners, Or you can get fans that blow on the surface of the water to cool it down.

The tank is too bright!

Turtles like a lot of dark spots to hide in and enjoy, so if the light’s making it hard for them to find those darker corners they’ll lose their appetite because they’re not feeling safe or comfortable.

If you want your turtle to start eating again, why don’t you consider turning off that high-powered basking lamp at night? If she does happen to eat during this time then no harm done! It might just take her some time before she feels freer around the environment.

This goes back into why baby turtles are such unpredictable little creatures. Baby turtles need VERY specific conditions with food choices; any deviation might cause problems down the line for adult turtles as well.

The water is dirty

Bad water parameters are a big stressor for turtles. If the water conditions are bad, why don’t you consider cleaning them?

If your turtle’s not eating for an extended period of time and it’s due to dirty tanks then why don’t you clean them?

Not only will this make her feel more comfortable but she’ll likely start enjoying food again as soon as the water is good quality!

The tank has too much ammonia in it!

Ammonia toxicity can cause extreme stress for a turtle. This might be why they stop eating if there is enough being produced or if their system isn’t able to handle absorbing any more toxins from the environment like when levels get high enough that pollution becomes an issue.

In order to fix this problem, first, check how much ammonia is in the water. There’s too much ammonia if you can smell it. But consider also doing a water test.

If you can smell it there’s way too much and it’s time for a huge water change.

Finally, your turtle is ill

This is the big one that none of us want to be so lucky to experience. If it’s a question of why she’s not eating, why don’t you take her in to the vet and see what they recommend?

It might just be something very simple that can easily be fixed.

Respiratory infection is very common among turtles and why they might refuse to eat.

If your turtle stops eating for a couple of days, why don’t you take her in? It’s better to get it diagnosed before too much time goes by.

Signs of illness include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Not coming out of brumation
  • Inactivity
  • Respiratory infection (runny nose)
  • Lack of energy
  • Lethargy
  • Inability to bask in the sun or under a basking lamp for long periods of time
  • Constipation
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Excessive mucus coming out from nose and eyes/unable to close nostrils shut when sneezing.

Uncertainty about what’s wrong can be stressful enough that turtles will stop eating! As soon as you’re worried why don’t invest some money into taking her in? It can take less than 30 minutes (or an hour, depending on how your vet is) and it could save you hundreds of more dollars down the line if they diagnose something simple like a respiratory infection that needs antibiotics or just doing water changes instead of spending days without food until she becomes

Add more calcium or vitamin D to the diet!

If your turtle is still not being interested in food after making all of these changes then why don’t you try adding a couple of teaspoons of either Vitamin D powder or powdered calcium supplement?

This might be just what she needs to start eating again. It’s important that turtles have enough calcium because it strengthens their shells and helps them grow strong and healthy, so if they’re missing out on this essential nutrient then why don’t you give her some extra help until things get back up and running smoothly? You can do this by mixing pureed vegetables with water for a tasty treat, too. Just make sure there isn’t any salt present when possible.

What else you can do

Assuming you did all of the above, change the water, lowered the light, Checked the temperature, cleaned the tank, and removed a noisy filter, and you even took her to the vet, and she’s still not eating then you might just need to coax her.

Consider giving her her favorite food every day for a week and see if that helps. This is why it’s so important to have different foods on hand!

Check that her diet is what she needs. Each turtle species requires its own special diet, So double-check the species of turtle you have is getting all the nutrients she requires. If your turtle is not eating because of a bad diet, then it’s easy enough to fix.

A red-eared slider for example requires a diet that includes crickets, fish, and a variety of vegetables.

Sticking to a commercial-only diet of pellets can be stressful. Turtles need variety and fresh foods.

If your turtle is not eating, why don’t you give her a treat?

This can be any food item that she likes! It’s important to get them back into the routine of what they need so why don’t you just try something new for today and see if it gets her going again? Remember: variety in diet keeps things interesting for everyone involved. And with all the different options out there these days why shouldn’t turtles have some fun too?

So keep making changes until your turtle starts eating again or take him/her to the vet as soon as possible! That way he’ll stay healthy and happy without an empty stomach which could lead him down a bad path.

Would you like to learn more about turtles? Our indoor box turtle habitat setup guide is for you! Did you know box turtles are great pets? Learn how to set up an outdoor box turtle habitat as well as indoor box turtle habitats. You will also find a list of plants for indoor box turtle habitats that are safe for turtles to eat!


Owner of AquariumGravel.com and also owner of actual Aquarium Gravel believe it or not! ;). Setting up beautiful aquarium sceneries and habitats since I was very young. Enjoy!