How Long Can Turtles Live Without Food? [Truth Revealed]


Food is an essential need for every animal, including hardy reptiles like turtles. Therefore, perhaps you want to get your first turtle pet, or you want to travel, you may be concerned about how long it can go without food. 

A turtle can survive for a few months without food, depending on its age and living conditions. Juveniles need to eat at least once a day because they need more food for their rapidly-growing bodies. However, adults are more adapted to food scarcity and can stay for longer.

If you prefer reptiles as pets, turtles are a good option. To start you off, we investigated all the food and water requirements of different turtle ages and sizes. Read on to find out the easiest and the best way to care for your turtle.

How Long Can Turtles Live Without Food

How Long Can a Turtle Go Without Food and Water?

Like any concerned pet parent, it is understandable to worry about your turtle, especially in matters as critical as food and water. Therefore, you or a prospective turtle owner should always know the maximum time your pet can live without food. 

Considering several factors, a healthy turtle can go for weeks or months without food since it can slowly utilize the reserves in the body. Turtles also need water for their hydration and general physiological processes; hence, can only live for a few weeks without it. However, it isn’t advisable to deliberately starve them, as it takes a toll on their health. Such turtles tend to lose weight drastically and may take a while to recover. Baby turtles are particularly more at risk if they starve for long because they need many proteins for bodybuilding. 

Fortunately, turtles are pretty hardy, especially when in the wild, explaining why their bodies naturally adapt to scarcity as they make use of the food reserves. This aspect is particularly essential during brumation when their metabolism slows down to prepare for months of inactivity. It is a natural process for them to survive the punishing winters when in the wild. 

Notably, pet turtles don’t have to hibernate naturally as their counterparts in the wild do unless their owners create suitable conditions for them. In captivity, pets always have access to food and water; therefore, their bodies don’t have to slow down for better resource utilization. Secondly, they live in controlled temperatures due to the provision of heat and basking spots. This way, they can stay active and don’t need to shelter from freezing winter temperatures. With time, pet turtles’ bodies get used to the conditions and don’t see the need to hibernate.

It is wise to avoid forced hibernation unless you are sure about the requirements. The activity is quite risky, such that there are many reported cases of fatalities when something goes wrong. However, it doesn’t mean that it is okay to leave them without food for that long since it puts their lives in danger. Thus, we usually recommend at least a meal a day for juveniles and adults a few times a week. It is also best to provide the most nutritious food options like vegetables and proteins and clean water for drinking.

Factors Determining How Long a Turtle Can Go Without Food

Each turtle is unique. As such, not every pet will survive months without food or water. Therefore, what determines how long a turtle can go without food?

The most significant factor to consider is the age since adult tortoises are more flexible and can withstand food scarcity better than hatchlings or baby turtles. The juveniles need more food, particularly proteins, for bodybuilding and general development. Secondly, turtles with access to water, UVB, heat, and overall favorable conditions tend to survive longer in such situations. You will also notice that if a turtle can quickly adapt to the environment by lowering its metabolic rate, it can adjust better to months without food.

Here is a detailed account of the main factors that determine how long a turtle can go without food.

  • Availability of Water

Water is one of the most critical needs of any animal, including turtles. It aids in digestion, hydration, and smooth physiological processes. If your turtle has clean water to drink and dip in, it will survive relatively longer, even without food. Similarly, it will suffer more without water in addition to food scarcity. 

  • Turtle’s Age

One important consideration is your turtle’s age because, unlike adults, baby turtles suffer more when there is no food. A mature tortoise is hardier and adaptable; therefore, they can live longer without food. However, if your pet is six months old or younger, it may easily succumb due to starvation. Compared to adults, juvenile turtles need as much food as they can get to help in their growth and development. They need proteins for bodybuilding and other nutrients for their immunity; hence, they should eat at least once a day. 

  • Metabolism Rate

Reptiles are famous for their ability to go for long without food. Biologically, they are cold-blooded creatures, meaning that they have a comparatively slower metabolism, unlike mammals. As a result, the food they eat stays longer in their bodies, and they can easily survive on that until the next meal. When it gets icy during winter, their metabolism goes even lower than usual, enabling them to survive without food until it gets warmer. 

  • Living Conditions

Besides food and water, turtles also have other essential needs such as heat and UVB lighting. If you meet all their needs, they can grow healthy and happy and survive any harsh conditions. UVB is critical for their shell growth because it mimics the sun’s rays, while a basking spot provides the necessary warmth, given that turtles are cold-blooded. Therefore, as long as you take great care of your turtle, it will survive for a long time even when food is scarce. 

Read more: Best Turtle Food

How Often Should I Feed My Turtle?

Most turtles have omnivorous tendencies, while a few species incline to meat or vegetables. Therefore, you need to know your turtle’s feeding habits to give it the correct food. However, you also need to consider the frequency of its meal.

If your turtle is a hatchling or a juvenile, it may need food at least once a day; otherwise, it can eat thrice or twice a week if you have a mature one. The juveniles are still growing; hence, require adequate energy foods, minerals for a robust bone system, and proteins for bodybuilding. Older turtles, on the contrary, have a slow metabolic system that leads to less food intake. Also, note that turtles can also suffer from obesity due to overfeeding. Therefore, it is best to be careful with their portions. Lastly, it is advisable to avoid giving them food when they are hibernating. 

The younger turtles need more proteins, preferably once a day, supplemented with vegetables and clean water. They also require calcium and vitamins for better shell development and higher immunity. However, mature turtles can live on less food as long as it has the right nutrient content. Unlike juveniles, they don’t need a lot of proteins since their bodies are already fully developed. 

Besides, excessive proteins at this stage can lead to critical conditions like obesity. Grown turtles don’t have to eat daily and can survive with two or three meals a week. Experts also recommend not feeding the turtle at all during hibernation because the body at that time is shutting down, getting ready to use the remaining food reserves. As a result, providing food may be fatal, and your pet may fail to slip out of brumation.

Unless you are confident in caring for a hibernating turtle, we advise pet parents not to force the process because there is no harm in failing to brumate as long as the prevailing conditions are favorable. The best way is to offer highly nutritious veggies, occasional fruits as treats, and a lot of drinking water for enhanced digestion and hydration. 

Some owners have concerns about leaving their pets home alone when they have to travel. Fortunately, many food dispensers in the market can help feed your turtle in intervals if you will be gone for a few weeks. However, it is best to go for a great product that won’t break down or dispense a lot of food at a go.  

Finally

As a loving and responsible turtle owner, it is best to provide the right amount of food and at the right time. If you have a baby turtle, you can feed it once a day with proteins for its general body development. However, an adult can live with two or three meals every week provided that it has the right nutrient level. Your pet can stay without food for a few months, but it isn’t advisable to starve them deliberately. If you must leave them when leaving the house, we recommend feeding them using a food dispenser or placing them under a friend’s custody instead. 

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Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

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