How to Get a Box Turtle to Eat

An eastern box turtle eating strawberries
Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

When pet box turtles stop eating for a short period of time but are otherwise healthy, it’s often because there’s something that’s not quite right with their environment. This can cause them stress, which leads to a loss of appetite. So it’s important to make sure you’re providing the correct environment, as well as the proper food choices, to minimize their stress and get them eating normally again. 

Check the Temperature of the Turtle's Environment

If your box turtle's environment is not warm enough, its metabolic rate will decrease. Consequently, it won’t be interested in eating because it's trying to conserve energy to stay warm.

For those who have a pet three-toed box turtle, Eastern box turtle, or Gulf Coast box turtle, the daytime temperature of its enclosure should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot that’s between 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The nighttime temperature should stay above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some other varieties of box turtles require slightly warmer temperatures, so it's critical to know your turtle's individual needs.

Add UVB Lighting

In addition to proper heat, exposure to ultraviolet light is important for your turtle's activity level, metabolism, and calcium absorption. It also might stimulate the turtle's appetite. 

If your outside climate is agreeable, time in an outdoor pen with exposure to natural sunlight is ideal for your turtle. Exposure to sunlight through glass isn’t beneficial because glass typically filters the UVB rays.

However, if you can't move your turtle outdoors for at least a few hours a day, you’ll 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 to locate the lights from your turtle and how often to replace the bulbs.

Make Sure You Have Quality Housing

Even though box turtles are not that large of an animal, they still need a spacious enclosure to move about and thrive. These animals roam over fairly large distances in the wild, so an enclosure that’s too small can stress them and potentially cause them to lose their appetite. In fact, most aquariums are much too small for a box turtle, especially once it’s fully grown. Instead, experts recommend a pen that’s at least 4 feet by 4 feet but preferably larger.

Box turtles tend to do best when they can be kept in an outdoor pen year-round where the climate allows or at least part of the time in other locations. When kept indoors, give them as large of a terrarium as possible. Make sure it includes the appropriate UVB lights and heating elements. And landscape it with a shallow pan of water and turtle-safe materials in which it can hide and burrow.

Offer Multiple Food Choices

If your box turtle isn’t eating, it might just be picky or bored with its food. So providing variety in its diet might do the trick to stimulate its appetite. Consult your veterinarian on the best diet for your particular turtle.

In general, juvenile turtles tend to be more carnivorous, so concentrate on slugs, earthworms, and other live items. And for all turtles, offer an assortment of produce, including dandelion greens, collard greens, shredded carrots, and small amounts of fruits. Bananas and strawberries tend to be popular options. But make sure anything you feed is fresh and free of pesticides.

Furthermore, try offering food first thing in the morning, as this is when box turtles naturally tend to look for food. Reach out to your veterinarian as soon as you notice your turtle isn't eating. If the issue persists for multiple days, a checkup is likely in order.