Just like people, your pet’s appetite may vary from day to day.
In general, you only need to feed an adult box turtle every two or three days. So if your box turtle won’t eat for a few days, it’s probably nothing to worry about. Even so, it’s important to pay attention and make sure he does start eating again.
If not, have your reptile vet take a look. You don’t want to delay treatment if it’s something serious.
Try to Figure Out Why
First you’ll want to try to figure out why he’s not eating. Ask yourself these questions.
Did you just get him? He might just be feeling a little stressed with his new home. When he gets used to it, he may start eating again. Or you might be feeding him foods he’s not used to. Some boxies can be like little kids, wanting only certain foods.
Which brings us to …
Has he become a picky eater? This could apply to a turtle you just got (like we just discussed) or to one you’ve had a while. Sometimes they’ll con you into feeding them just their favorites. And then they’ll decide they won’t eat anything else.
Is his home too cold? It’s a good idea to check the temperatures regularly to make sure your heating set-up is still working right. When temperatures get too low, turtles get sluggish and eat less or stop eating completely.
What’s the weather like? Box turtles like to eat in wet weather. This might be because some of their favorite foods—earthworms!—come out then. They know they’re more likely to find food in wet weather and less likely in hot, dry weather. So in nature they’ll look for food when they know they’ll find it. Your pet turtle may be doing the same thing. Believe it or not, she “knows” what the weather is like outside even from inside. Box turtles can sense the changes in air pressure.
What time of year is it? Much like they “know” the weather, even box turtles kept as pets can often sense the time of year. Their instinct is that there’s not much food available in the fall, and they’re supposed to be hibernating in the winter. So your pet may eat less. Keep in mind that less is not the same as nothing. You can’t let your pet stop eating completely all winter if he’s not hibernating. Even if that’s what he thinks that’s what he’s supposed to do.
What time of day are you feeding her? Many box turtles prefer to eat in the morning, around dawn. They may refuse to eat at any other time.
Many of these problems are temporary and your box turtle may simply start eating again on his own when he feels like it. Or when weather conditions are more favorable for finding food. That said, don’t let him go weeks without eating. Not only is that not good for his health, but you might be delaying needed vet treatment for a more serious problem.
Try Stimulating His Appetite
So how can you encourage your reluctant boxie to dine? There are a few things you can try that may work to stimulate his appetite.
Mist him. Yes, really. Since they like to eat after a rain, mimic rain in his home. Obviously you don’t want to soak his home with water, but get him and his enclosure a bit more damp than usual.
Since earthworms and other bugs come out after a rain, it might also be helpful to …
Feed him live prey. This can work whether or not you’ve misted him. Wriggling earthworms, mealworms, crickets or slugs are very enticing to a box turtle.
Or at least meat. If you can’t get live prey or prefer not to handle it, cut-up pieces of unseasoned chicken or beef (cooked) works too. Several companies also sell canned insects that some people swear their boxies love. Although other boxies apparently have no interest in them. So no guarantees!
Give him his favorite food. While it’s not a good idea to let your turtle only eat one or two foods, it’s better than letting him starve. You will want to work on weaning him off it and back to a more varied diet once he’s eating good again. But again, eating something is most important if it’s been more than a few days.
Try fruit. Many box turtles love berries, bananas and other fruits (they might even be your pet’s favorite food!).
Once you find something your box turtle will eat, let him fill up on it. Then slowly start re-introducing a more varied diet again to make sure he gets all the different nutrients he needs. If nothing works and it’s been more than a week, consider bringing your pet to the vet. She might be sick or have an impaction. If you suspect an impaction (you haven’t seen any poop in several days), don’t wait, bring her to the vet right away.