How to Get a Box Turtle to Eat

EASTERN BOX TURTLE EATING STRAWBERRIES (TERRAPENE CAROLINA)
Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

When box turtles move to a new home or new environment, it is not unusual for them to stop eating for a short period of time due to the stress of the move. However, it is important to make sure you are providing the right environment and the right foods to minimize the experienced stress and get them eating normally again. There are a few things you can do to get your turtles feeling happy and to help them start eating.

Check the Temperature

If your box turtle's environment is not warm enough, their metabolic rate will decrease and they will not be interested in eating (because they are trying to conserve energy to stay warm). For a three-toed, Eastern, or Gulf Coast box turtle, this means day-time temperatures in the enclosure should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot of 85-88 degrees Fahrenheit. Ornate and Asian box turtles need slightly warmer temperatures.

UVB Lighting

In addition to proper heat, exposure to ultraviolet light is very important for your turtle's activity level, metabolism, calcium absorption, and it may also stimulate your turtle's appetite. If your outside climate is agreeable, time in an outdoor pen with exposure to natural sunlight is ideal (exposure to sunlight through glass does not count because glass filters the UVB rays). If you can't get your turtle outdoors for at least a few hours a day you need to get ultraviolet light bulbs that produce UVA and UVB light.

Special reptile bulbs are available for this purpose. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for how far the lights should be located from your turtle and how often to replace the bulbs (usually every six months).

Housing

Even though box turtles are not that large of an animal, they still need a large enclosure in order to thrive and move about.

Juveniles can sometimes adapt to a large aquarium, but overall, box turtles seem to do best in an outdoor enclosure. Ideally, they can be kept outside all year long where the climate allows and at least part of the time in other places. When kept indoors (as hatchlings or when cold weather forces them indoors), give them as large of a terrarium as possible. Make sure it is well landscaped with the appropriate UVB lights and heating elements.

Feeding

It is important to make sure you are providing multiple food choices to your box turtle. Juveniles tend to be more carnivorous, so concentrate on favorites like slugs and earthworms and other live items (make sure they are pesticide free!) for your younger turtle. For all turtles, offer some vegetables, such as dandelion and collard greens, shredded carrots, and small amounts of fruits (bananas and strawberries tend to be popular). Feeding a variety of items is important as some turtles get picky or bored.

Try offering food first thing in the morning as this is when box turtles naturally tend to look for food. Also, depending on the weather (too hot, too cool etc) your turtle just might not be interested in eating much. If your new turtle has gone several days without eating, it might be a good idea to check with your exotics vet to rule out medical problems.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT