Feeding Your Red-Eared Slider: A Guide to Diet and Nutrition

Tanja is a qualified postgraduate scientist with a great passion for nature and how different ecosystems interact. Her education included coursework and practical experience to advance in biological sciences, farming, aquarium research and fisheries management. She has experience in constructing ponds, aqua- and hydroponics, productive gardens with a small worm farm and compost heap, and larger scale mariculture facility setups.

While a healthy diet for turtles generally consists of vegetables and meat, the ratio between the different food sources makes the most nutritional valued diet. This article will discuss the proper ratios, while important aspects of administering a healthy diet will also be mentioned. Further details on acceptable and no-go food sources are discussed.

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Captive bred versus wild sliders

In the wild, red-eared sliders are able to forage all over as opportunistic omnivores. This means that their diet can range from dead animals, caught fish, vegetables, various plants, and wild berries, depending on what is available in their immediate environment. Accordingly, red-eared sliders can choose to eat primarily meat for a while and then change over to only eating plants based on the available food source.

Due to their natural foraging behaviors, it will be vital to consider a related diet for your pet sliders in captivity. If your sliders were adopted from an animal center, you should confirm with the center whether your animal has been captive bred or was rescued from the wild.

The information will provide insight into their previous foraging behaviors, guiding you in administering the most appropriate diet. Red-eared sliders must eat in a water source in both cases as they lack salivary glands. This way, you will be guaranteed successful feedings every time and always have happy, healthy red-eared sliders.

Keeping it interesting

One would think administering an omnivorous (vegetables, fruits, and meat) diet should be easy. Though such a diet provides more food options, the correct quantity of each food source is still critical for the optimal health of red-eared sliders. Let us have a look at each category of food in more detail:

  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries (blueberries, mulberries, strawberries), grapes, and sweet melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon) are mainly offered as occasional treats/snacks and should be kept at a minimum.
  • Meat: Chicken (cooked pieces), feeder fish (goldfish, guppies, minnows, tadpoles), insects (bloodworms, crickets), shrimps, and snails are thoroughly enjoyed by red-eared turtles. However, it is always essential to supply them with reliably sourced fresh meat.
  • Plants: Green algae and/or dark leaves (kale, mustard) can make up the bulk of your turtle’s diet, i.e., approximately 60%. When in doubt, feed your red-eared sliders dark leafy greens. It is the cleanest and most dependable diet you can administer.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, cucumbers, green beans, lettuces, sprouts, and zucchini contain all the good calories and can, together with leafy greens, make up the majority of your red-eared slider’s diet. Baby turtles especially enjoy carrots and zucchini pieces. Although turtles can eat vegetables such as celery, leeks, bok-choy, and fennel, these food types are much lower in nutritional value and mostly dirty the water.
  • Other: Commercial pellets, sticks, and trout chow should only be bought from a reputable supplier and should also not make up more than 40% of your pet turtle’s diet. As your red-eared sliders age, you will likely move away from using pellets.

More information on commercial turtle feed can be read about in the article series. See the article titled “Best commercial turtle feed and food combos for red-eared slider pets.

Age-appropriate diet

Daily feeding is required when rearing baby and/or juvenile red-eared sliders, usually between the ages of zero and four years. As they are still growing, baby and juvenile sliders’ diets should primarily consist of meat. A meat diet will provide optimal nutrition for healthy growth and a more robust shell build.

Juveniles’ food ratio: The optimal food ratio to follow is a 2:1:1 = 50% meat: 25% vegetables and leaves: 25% pellets. You can reduce the percentage of pellets to 20% and substitute them with 5% fruit and other turtle snacks rich in calcium.

In contrast, young adult red-eared sliders of ages five to seven should only be fed every three days or once a week when the meal contains a higher protein content. Adult sliders older than seven should be fed a proper meal every two to three weeks.

Adults’ food ratio: It is advised to keep to a 1:2:1 ratio when your red-eared sliders have reached maturity (five years and older) = 25% meat: 50% vegetables and leaves: 25% pellets. Points%20scored 602w372h

Instead of pellets, you can substitute it with 10% more vegetables, 10% trout chow and sticks, and 5% fruits.

Generally, the younger your pet turtles, the more protein-rich meat they require, and the older they get, the more vegetables and leaves are necessary.

Feeding times

Red-eared sliders are the most active during the early mornings and afternoons. Thus, it would be most beneficial for sliders to be fed during those times. Keep seasonality in mind, which will affect the time of the day to feed your animals.

For example, winter and fall months being colder and turtles being less active will result in less food and later feeding in the day. Whereas spring and summer months, red-eared sliders tend to be more active and require more food and earlier feeding during the day.

It should also be mentioned that the vegetables must be cut into bite-size pieces, or first be cooked if it is bulkier, harder pieces.

Always remember to do a water change within 12 to 16 hours after the red-eared sliders have enjoyed their feeding frenzy. If you find regular water changes demanding or not possible to do for some time, you can feed your red-eared sliders in another water source like a container or similar-sized enclosure. However, this is not recommended as too much movement between different habitats causes stress.

Try avoiding the urge to handle your red-eared sliders for at least four to five hours after they were fed. This will prevent individuals from regurgitating their food in an attempt to better go about their “fight or flight” responses. Do not give them a reason to feel vulnerable unnecessarily. Leaving them alone for a good while after feeding, allows for proper digestion.

Abstaining feed period

Please resist the temptation to feed your turtle friends whenever you see them gaping for food! Red-eared sliders are prone to overeating because of their natural instincts to stock up and prevent starvation.

While the gaping behavior stimulates hunger, red-eared sliders are known to beg for food when their owner comes into sight. Feeding your pet turtle too often will lead to overfeeding, which can result in obesity, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), and even death. If you have overfed your turtles, abstain from feeding the adults for at least three weeks and visit the veterinarian for a general check-up.

The adult red-eared sliders that weigh more than six pounds, are more than likely overweight!

Baby turtles will require an immediate veterinary consultation due to the size of their intestines. The most likely treatment for your baby turtles will be an intestinal flush with a strict diet plan to follow for a few months. After that, you can resume feeding them a healthy diet daily or every other day.

Suppose you must go away for a specific time, and do not have someone to feed your turtles, you should first consider the age of your turtles. Though three to four days without food will be feasible, baby turtles require daily feeding for optimal health.

Alternatively, change your travel arrangements or try and find someone online that gets paid to look after your pets while you are out of town. Remember the lifetime commitment made when you decided to home red-eared sliders as pets.

The no-go zone food

Though our slider friends are not “fussy” eaters, certain foods should either be avoided entirely or hardly ever be administered to your pet in minuscule quantities. Such foods usually include:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Excessive fruits
  • Feeder fish
  • High-fat content food
  • Radishes
  • Raw or frozen meats

The more apparent foods to NEVER feed our turtle friends include:

  • Acidic-rich food
  • Avocadoes
  • Chocolate and other sweets
  • Random garden plants
  • Unhealthy cooked- and leftover human foods

Here you can follow the rule of thumb “If I enjoy it as either a snack or a main meal, my red-eared slider cannot or should not eat it!” Always remember to remove any uneaten food that is not alive from your animal’s environment. The removal of uneaten food should be done after about 30 to 60 minutes from the time the food was administered. Live feed such as crickets, fish and worms can be left for two to three days.

Supplements, supplements & more supplements

The importance of supplements in an animal’s diet cannot be stressed enough. Similar to the diets of humans, animals require eating more of a particular food source to get all the necessary nutrition and supplements.

If your food source does not contain enough nutrients and/or supplements, you must either change the turtle’s diet or add a reptile multivitamin administered by your local veterinarian. More information on supplements in a turtle’s diet can be found in the “Best commercial turtle feed and food combos for red-eared slider pets” article.

It is recommended for low-nutritional diets to include reptile multivitamins with vitamin D3 and calcium. You can also buy a cuttlebone from your local pet store and install it somewhere in the turtle tank, which will simultaneously allow for a surplus of calcium in the turtle’s diet and provide a form of enrichment.

Accordingly, you can be assured your turtle friend(s) will live a long and healthy life, as well as a more stress-free experience will be created for the owner.

Happy feeding!

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