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Red Eared Slider Care

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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Water turtles are primarily carnivorous and benefit from a varied diet. Goldfish, guppies, minnows, trout and smelt are all appropriate in small quantities. Live fish should be well fed before being killed and fed to the turtle. Wild caught fish should not be fed, as they may carry parasites transmissible to the turtle. Fish should be fed only in moderation to all commonly kept turtles. Chopped or whole baby mice or skinned, chopped whole adults may be accepted. Pinkies (furless young mice) cannot be fed exclusively as this results in a calcium deficiency. Whole adult mice are nutritious; however, they must be pre-killed.

Commercial diets should be fed in moderation. Be sure that these are not composed primarily of insects. Cat and dog food should be minimized in the diet (not more than 5 percent), but are valuable supplements. Insects, earthworms and mealworms are calcium deficient, but also can be fed in moderation. Earthworms should be cultivated in a wormery, as wild worms may carry parasites or bacteria harmful to reptiles.

Feed very little, if any raw meat, liver, chicken gizzard, mince or heart. These have an extremely low calcium content. Do not feed crayfish, shrimp, wild caught insects or spiders, as these may carry harmful bacteria. Trout chow and rabbit pellets can form part of the diet. Do not offer medicated feeds.

Bone meal or calcium carbonate can be used as sources of calcium to supplement the diet. These can be included if the diet is prepared in bulk. For large collections, food can be prepared in advance, bound in plain gelatin, cut into portions and frozen.

As they age, turtles may be more willing to consume fruits and vegetables. Dark leafy greens (kale, collards, chard, romaine lettuce, spinach, bok choy) should be offered. Fruit should be offered only in small quantities (not more than 5 percent of the diet) and only very occasionally. Greens can be added to a gelatin to force the consumption of vegetables along with more palatable protein foods.

The exact nutritional requirements of turtles are not known, and so variety and frequent revision of the nutritional value of what the turtle actually eats, as opposed to what he is offered, is important. It may take weeks for a turtle to accept a new food, but if the turtle is warm enough, and healthy, persistence will be rewarded. If your turtle is ill, or if his environment is not appropriate, he will be far less likely to have a good appetite or to try new foods.

Very young animals should be fed daily, juveniles every other day and mature turtles every 2 to 4 days.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Turtles should visit a veterinarian yearly, but the following symptoms should alert you to the possibility that your turtle is ill, and their presence will usually warrant a prompt visit to your reptile's veterinarian:

  • Lethargy
  • Decrease in appetite or anorexia
  • Eye or nose discharge
  • Swellings on the head, limbs or shell
  • Depressions or soft spots on the shell
  • Sores on the head, limbs or shell
  • Reluctance to swim, swimming crookedly
  • Weight loss (it is recommended that turtles be weighed monthly)
  • Swollen or itchy eyes
  • Difficulty breathing, gasping, respiratory wheezing, open mouth breathing

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