What Should I Do if My Box Turtle Won’t Eat?


Box turtle eating strawberries; sometimes berries can help if your box turtle won't eat

Many box turtles love berries
Enhanced version of photo by Janice Waltzer @ Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0



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 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.Box turtle eating strawberry 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.


9 thoughts on “What Should I Do if My Box Turtle Won’t Eat?

  1. Cats

    I have had turtles for years eastern turtles if you have older ones that are eating less it maybe he is full if so they will stay asleep for a week or two as mine use to then they would wake up on the second week to eat and drink water and soak up the sun or the uv lights. Most people think a box turtle belongs in a box because of that name that’s not true most people also believe they only eat lettuce but they don’t.

    I found a baby eastern box turtle stuck down in a pole hole the road crew dug and never did fill back in which they need to on both poles the holes are knee deep that little turtle would never got out if I didn’t see her it’s a baby girl eastern turtle it’s had damage to the back lower shell that damage looks to be heald up now the spot that turtle originally came from is not safe one bit for her because their building a new highway and its right by a highway I hope the parent mother turtle is ok I saw her in May.I like turtles I like to know I can let mine go in the wild wooded area somewhere away from roads but near a pond or water turtles lay eggs in early spring time mine us to their wouldn’t be no turtles around here had I not let some go but shit even in a small neborhood the turtles get ran over because people don’t care they just don’t give a shit an run them over like it’s nothing.

  2. rayna marek

    thank you! That was very helpful we found a box turtle crossing a busy road and took it in. we do not know anything about them. all that information was very he was full!

    1. Debbie

      You may want to contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Turtle numbers are in decline in the wild, because of humans. They have a very specific habitat, and know their area very well, and have adapted to it. If you google Wildlife rehabilitators and your city, it should pop up. Thank you for helping it!

  3. Neondra

    My box turtles usually eats earthworms. So that’s what I feed them and recently one of my box turtle has completely stop eating. I thought it was because she was hibernating until I saw she can not open her eyes and hibernation is over. So I gave her a bath because I’m crazy and I give my turtles baths occasionally to clean off the build up of dirt on them. Then her eyes opened and I tried to feed her again yet all she does is put her mouth on the worm and like her nares but doesn’t eat it. So I thought maybe it is her jaw hurting and I checked. NOPE she opens her jaw and her mouth open so it can’t be that and then I thought maybe her leg because of her minor injury. So I use to keep the boy and girl together until they had eggs and then ate them because the boy had an endless appetite. And then she would hide in her shell and like make noises when he was on her so I separated them. Then one night the boy was like flipping out hitting his head against the side of his home and she was too so I thought maybe they want to be together. Then I put them together and watched as they got close and then he bit her leg. I stopped it immediately. She moved around like her led was fine and I checked on it often. So I checked it again because I thought she was walking weird and that could be why but no she is walking perfectly so now I just don’t know why she isn’t eating and I’m scared she will die soon because it has been a while and I got her illegally so I don’t want to take her to a vet and get her taken away.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Neondra,

      I’m so sorry this is happening to your turtle. The best way to find out what’s going on is to take her to a vet. I know you don’t want to, but it’s really your best option if she doesn’t start eating on her own. It’s not possible to evaluate her through the internet.

      I hope you get an answer.

  4. Logan Gallagher

    if u find a turtle crossing the road whatever way it was crossing u should take it that way and put it about 5 to 10 feet away from the road becausee it ma be laying eggs or getting food just for a little info

  5. Lauren

    I have a paralyzed wild caught baby box turtle. I have had him since August. He was hit with a weed wacker and has no use of his hind legs. I have tried to feed him a varied diet with no success. The ONLY thing he will eat are fresh mealworms. I have to drown the mealworms for a few hours before I feed him since he can not catch them. He has a hard enough time catching the dead ones. Is there any tricks of foods that might get him to eat something besides fresh mealworms? He is starting to get shell deformities because of the diet. His shell is starting to curve up in the back. I have a vitamin powder and a calcium powder that I have tried with no success. He will not eat the mealworms if they have any amount of powder on them.

  6. Luhun

    Hello, I have recently rescued two baby box turtles. I never new much about turtles only small, small basics. So as we setup the temporary cage, I did some research. I’ve been feeding my baby box turtles mealwarms and these little orange square snacks, but neither turtle has eaten any. Yesterday the biggest turtle bit the head off of one of the meal warms and that’s it. Sadly they both won’t eat. I’ve even tried giving them kale. I knew turtles normally didn’t eat like leafs until they were older, but might as well give it a try right? Well, neither one has consumed anything (besides the meal warm head.) We don’t have any actual vets were I live, only peto :/ sadly. Idk what to do honesty. I don’t want them to die and I feel so bad for them. (By the way, I’ve had them for 3 days now).


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