Red-Eared Slider Food List: Must-Haves & Foods to Avoid

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.

Red-eared sliders are by far the least fussy eaters you can have as a pet. Though this may sound great, it is not so good for your turtle friends. As for humans, it is critical for your pet’s health to have a well-balanced, versatile diet to be administered at all times.

Do not let this discourage you as the owner because there is still a comprehensive list of foods you can safely give to your red-eared slider pet(s).

This blog post will go into a complete list of the best and worst foods red-eared sliders can eat, the whys, and some alternatives you can administer instead.

The best foods for red-eared slider turtles

Plants:

  • The best food sources you can feed your pet red-eared slider(s) are dark leafy greens and aquatic plants. Dark leafy greens such as collard, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard provide the highest nutritional value to your red-eared slider’s diet.
  • Aquatic plants like Azolla, duckweed, hornwort, water lilies, and water weeds offer vital vitamins and minerals that red-eared sliders require in an even more nutrient-rich diet.

Insects:

  • As long as you create a healthy balance between live and dead insects obtained from a reliable source, you can feed them quite a variety of these food sources. Some popular options include crickets, dragonfly larvae, Dubia roaches, grasshoppers, snails, and worms (dead or living).

Fish and other meat:

  • Feeder fish such as goldfish, guppies, and minnows can be offered in decent quantities, according to a healthy, well-balanced red-eared turtle diet, to your pet turtle(s).

    When consumed whole (bone, flesh, and skin), fish provide a good source of calcium and nutrition to red-eared sliders’ diets. Additionally, your red-eared slider(s) gets some exercise and mental stimulation from being challenged to chase and catch its meal.

Frogs:

  • Tadpoles and frogs, bought from a reliable source, can be fed to adult red-eared sliders. This food source will be challenging for baby and juvenile red-eared sliders to consume and can be a potential choking hazard if they succeed in catching the prey.

    However, the younger turtles will most likely find it entertaining to chase after tadpoles and frogs, but it will not be a sustainable protein food source for them.

Vegetables:

  • Carrots are one of the best chunky vegetables you can add to your red-eared slider’s diet. The vegetable contains many minerals and vitamins that fulfill your pet’s nutritional value requirements.

    However, it should not make up most of your red-eared slider’s diet as they still require daily protein intake and other more nutrient-rich leafy greens. Nevertheless, you can feed bite-size carrots to your red-eared slider(s) with or without the skin, the former holding most of the nutritional goodness.

    You can also slightly cook the carrots before giving them to your red-eared sliders, but only if they do not enjoy the carrot in its original hard, uncooked form.

  • Other vegetables with similar qualities and benefits to carrots include green beans, squash, and turnips.

Reptile pellets:

  • Any reptile pellet product with low-fat content and high-nutritional value can be administered to your red-eared slider pet(s), provided it was bought from a reputable source.

    It is important to remember that commercial feed is designed for the animal’s specific needs and the different life stages of red-eared slider(s). My detailed blog post on best commercial turtle feed provides further information on commercial turtle feed, including reptile pellet options.

Fruits:

  • Strawberries are one of the healthiest fruit snacks you can occasionally add to your red-eared slider’s diet, as well as bananas.

Refer to my blog post on “A healthy diet for your red-eared sliders'' if you want to know more about the specific foods to feed at certain ages of the red-eared slider’s life cycle. Your hatchling, juvenile, and adult red-eared sliders have different dietary needs for optimal growth and gut health.

The “think twice” foods that red-eared sliders can consume

Fruits:

  • Apples, though rich in antioxidants and a source of fiber and vitamin C, are the least likely fruit you should be giving as a snack to your red-eared slider(s). The fruit is a bit more challenging for your pet turtle to break down than other fruits.

    Because apples comprise high amounts of sugar and acid, red-eared sliders’ enzymes are not efficient in breaking down all parts of an apple. Accordingly, severe health complications can develop, causing painful bloating and indigestion in red-eared sliders.

    If you want to experiment with bite-size pieces, make sure to scrub the outside before peeling and removing the seeds of the apple, and administer the small apple pieces very seldom.

Meat:

  • Cooked pieces of chicken, pork, or beef (or any other red meat for that matter), though thoroughly enjoyed by red-eared sliders, should be reconsidered as a food source in your slider’s diet.

    Meat can be nutritionally unbalanced, pollute the environment because of possible contamination in the water source, and exacerbate renal issues in red-eared sliders due to the high protein levels.

Vegetables:

  • Carrot leaves should only be fed occasionally in very small quantities to adult red-eared sliders. You should think twice before making carrot leaves a part of baby and juvenile red-eared sliders’ diets because they require more protein content to grow optimally.

    The high amount of nutrients in carrots will make the younger turtles feel full quicker. As a result, they will not have the healthy growth process required to live a long and healthy life.

  • Iceberg lettuce is one of the leafy vegetables you might have to think about twice before feeding it to your red-eared slider(s). Though it is not harmful in small quantities, now and again, when it makes up a considerable amount of their diet, you will be causing kidney problems in individuals due to the excessive calcium content in iceberg lettuces.

    Iceberg lettuces tend to make red-eared sliders feel full sooner, which results in the animal not getting the nutrients they require to stay active and healthy.

The occasional snacking food for red-eared-sliders

Fish:

  • Feeder fish that are high in oil content should either be fed to red-eared sliders sparingly or be avoided altogether. Fish like smelt, mackerel, and other rich, oily fish contain too much fat that can potentially upset your red-eared slider’s stomach and cause vitamin deficiencies.

    Furthermore, it is crucial to buy healthy fish from a reputable source or pet shop because feeder fish tend to carry bacteria and parasites that will adversely affect your red-eared slider pet(s).

Fruits:

  • Bananas are highly beneficial to red-eared sliders. The fruit contains a rich quantity of fiber, energetic-rich vitamins, and potassium, encouraging excellent turtle heart health and boosting their immune systems. Additionally, you do not have to peel the fruit before feeding it to your red-eared slider(s).

    There is quite a high amount of sugar in bananas, though. Hence, the occasional snack will do. Otherwise, you can be ready to deal with diarrhea when feeding bananas to your red-eared slider(s) too often or in too large quantities.

  • Grapes are thoroughly enjoyed by red-eared sliders, given that it is seedless. If the grapes contain seeds, it can cause indigestion in turtles and even be a choking hazard. So, please be careful when feeding grapes in small quantities to your pet turtles.

    Because grapes comprise various minerals and vitamins that contribute to optimal turtle growth and bone and shell development, it makes for a great snack.

    Why only occasional then? The ratio of sugars and minerals in the fruit compared to the number of vitamins can pose problems when a red-eared slider consumes too many grapes. As a result, your turtle friend can experience an upset stomach, and even bone complications can occur.

  • Strawberries are nutrient-dense fruit to red-eared sliders. These fruits are packed with copper, good fiber, phosphorus, and are rich in vitamins. Not only do sliders find it tasty, but the amount of sugar in berries also equates closely to the nutritional value red-eared sliders require in their diet.

    However, because of the high amount of natural sugar in most fruits, strawberries and other berries should only be fed to your pet occasionally.

  • Red-eared sliders can definitely consume watermelons. The fruit contains excessive nutrients and minerals that can improve body functions. Once again, make sure to remove the watermelon’s outer skin (ensuring to first wash the skin before cutting it) and the pips.

    As watermelons are primarily water and sugar, take caution not to overfeed the fruit to your pet turtle(s). Overfeeding watermelon can result in red-eared sliders overeating, making them very sick, and can cause them to die.

Vegetables:

  • Celery should mainly be administered as a snack to your red-eared slider(s). This is because celery contains inadequate nutrition, vitamins, and minerals essential to red-eared sliders’ health.

    However, your red-eared sliders will enjoy bite-size celery stalks or, even a better choice, pieces of celery leaves. The leaves are easier digestible by red-eared sliders compared to the celery stalks. Also, the leaves comprise more calcium, potassium, and less water, resulting in your pet turtle(s) not getting too full.

  • Like celery, cucumbers should only be fed occasionally because of their low nutritional value and their consistency being majority water. It is, however, a refreshing snack for your red-eared slider pet(s).

The “no-go zone” foods to never feed red-eared sliders

Dairy products:

  • Say NO to dairy for reptiles! Rain check – why would you want to feed any dairy products to a pet turtle in the first place? Not only are these products expensive, but if dairy products already cause issues in human digestive tracts, imagine what they can do to a much smaller animal intestine.

    Dairy products are a “no go” for red-eared sliders at all times. Turtles do not have the enzymes to break down any part of a dairy product, even less so for processed dairy products (which are most dairy products we buy these days). Gastrointestinal distress is one of the first onsets your red-eared slider(s) will experience after eating a dairy product. After that, it only gets worse.

    So, say NO to dairy for your pet turtles!

Canned pet food:

  • Any canned pet food should be avoided. Period! Canned food almost always comprises harmful preservation ingredients, extra fat content, and excessive salt. When fed to your red-eared slider(s), canned pet food can cause irreversible health issues in their kidneys and digestive tracts.
  • You should only consider canned pet food if it is canned by reputable pet shops, veterinarians, or pet hobbyists and has been canned recently or using organic methods. Examples include canned insects (crickets, grasshoppers, snails, worms) and meat types (feeder fish, shrimp).

Fish:

  • It is not recommended to feed wild-caught fish or amphibians to your red-eared slider pet(s). This is because wild-caught fish are highly likely to have parasites and other infectious bacteria or diseases that can harm your red-eared slider’s health when consumed.

Fruits:

  • Avocados are one of the fruits that no domestic pet should eat, especially not pet turtles. The fruit is highly toxic to your red-eared slider(s) with the persin, a fungicidal toxin in avocados, causing lethal consequences for your turtle pet(s).

Meat:

  • Raw or frozen raw meat should be avoided at all costs because of the high risk of raw or frozen raw meat posing bacterial and parasitic illnesses.

Make sure the food type is cleaned properly

If you bought fresh produce from your local shopping center, a market, or a non-reliable source, please take extra care to properly clean the food before feeding it to your red-eared slider pet(s).

The food industry has been pushed to use relatively high amounts of pesticides on fresh produce to encourage better quality and quantity end products. Therefore, only rinsing the food is no longer enough. Instead, either soak your fresh produce in water with a generous amount of salt (at least a third cup full) or add baking soda (one to two ounces) to a half-full sink of water (about one gallon).

After the fresh produce has soaked for a while (12 to 15 minutes are recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture; give it another quick freshwater rinse. The food should now be ready for feeding to your turtle friends. It is advisable to use filtered water, but that is not always possible. However, a proper rinse after soaking your fresh produce will ensure safer, cleaner fruits and vegetables.

Final thoughts

When deciding what food to administer to your red-eared slider(s), the saying “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing” comes to mind. Remember to administer any food source, especially snacks, in healthy moderations, and you will be guaranteed stress-free feedings every time. Do not be hesitant to play around with different foods and keep your red-eared slider(s) diet versatile.

The rule of thumb here is ALWAYS to ensure the food type is from a reputable source, especially when buying fresh produce. You want to eliminate the number of harmful chemicals to nothing in any pet’s diet.

So, support your local farmers and look for sustainable, eco-friendly, organically produced food sources. Now that is a mouthful of wonderful “green” words to help you choose only the best foods for your red-eared slider turtles.

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