Foods to Never Feed Your Box Turtle


Foods to limit in your box turtle's diet include potato leaves, which contain toxic compounds - neither you nor your box turtle should eat them.

Potato leaves contain toxic compounds – neither you nor your box turtle should eat them.
Photo credit: “Potato leaves” by NamskarOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There are very few foods that box turtles should never eat. They can tolerate almost anything in moderation and have even been known to eat poisonous mushrooms without any ill effects. The problem is, we don’t really know how much of these things they can eat or why they can tolerate them.

To be on the safe side, it’s best to keep known poisonous plants away from your box turtles. This includes things like:

  • The leaves of rhubarb, potato and tobacco plants
  • Avocado peel, seeds and leaves
  • Tomato leaves and vines
  • Poison ivy

You can find more information on the California Turtle & Tortoise Club website. It has a Poisonous Plant List that you can refer to both for choosing plants to feed and choosing plants to grow in your turtles’ habitat. The list is old, but since plant toxicity doesn’t really change, it’s still a useful resource.

In addition to toxic plants, there are a few other foods and food products that we eat but shouldn’t share with our turtle friends.

  • Dairy: Turtles in the wild do not eat dairy. In fact, reptiles are lactose intolerant (can’t break down lactose). So milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are not good food choices for box turtles.
  • Processed foods: This includes things like lunch meat, sausage and canned foods. Basically anything high in salt or other preservatives. These things are not good for humans either, but we can make the choice to eat them or not. Your box turtles rely on you for their food, and they would never find these things in the wild, so don’t feed them to captive turtles.
  • Non-food foods: This means things like candy, chocolate or anything else made with refined sugars. They’re technically edible but for the most part not exactly nutritious. Again, your turtle won’t find them in his natural habitat and probably can’t metabolize them well.

Box turtle eating strawberry

So there you go. A very short list of things your pet box turtle shouldn’t eat. Since most of them are also things you also shouldn’t eat much of, it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid them!

16 thoughts on “Foods to Never Feed Your Box Turtle

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Damon,

      Yes, turtles can eat potatoes. But never the potato leaves!

      Sweet potatoes are also good for them.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Good question! Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer for you. As far as I know, they can, but they shouldn’t get it too often. As you know, fruits in general should be only a small part of the diet. And oranges don’t really have much of the nutrients they need. They also have a lot of acid, which may also not be good for turtles in high amounts.

      Personally I’ve never fed oranges (and don’t think I ever will). There are many better options.

  1. joey

    My red eared slider loves eating curd. He refuses to eat any food other than curd. Can you please suggest me how do i divert him to another food? I am scared if his health gets into risk

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Joey,

      I’m less familiar with red eared sliders, but what I’d do for a box turtle is mix small amounts of new foods with the preferred food (in your case curd). Slowly increase the amount of new foods and decrease the amount of curd until he’s eating a better balanced diet. You might want to try using a commercial aquatic turtle food. Those will have a good blend of nutrients to hopefully avoid health problems. Once he’s eating better, add some fresh vegetables.

      I’m not too sure how well this mixing of food will work with a turtle that needs to eat in water. That might make it too easy for him to pick out only his favorite curd. I did find a page with tricks to encourage a RES to eat. It looks more focused on a turtle that refuses to eat at all, rather than one that’s picky. But it might still help you.

      Good luck!

  2. Makayla

    Can they eat cat food? I heard that they could, but couldn’t find a valid source and didn’t want to risk it.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Makayla,

      Can and should are two very different things. They can eat both dog and cat food (low-fat). But it shouldn’t be their main foods. Neither pet food has the right amount of protein for them. The wet foods tend to have too much protein (especially the cat food). Dry foods often don’t have enough.

      I really like Tess Cook’s website and her Box Turtles book for good box turtle info. They’re both a bit old now, but the information is still solid. She says dog and cat foods should only be occasional foods.

      And there are so many choices in box turtle foods these days, if you’re going to be buying pet food, you might as well buy some specifically for turtles!

      Hope this helps!

  3. Michelle

    my box turtle won’t eat mustard green or turnip greens collard greens so what type of greens should I give her?

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Michelle,

      We have more information on greens & veggie choices on our Plant Foods page.

      But basically, you’ll probably just need to keep trying different things. See if she’ll eat different kinds of lettuce. You also might eventually convince her to eat mustard, collard, etc. if you mix small amounts of them with foods she does like. Increase the amount slowly.

      Like people, turtles have their quirky preferences! It just takes some trial and error to find the things they’ll eat. But they can also (usually!) be trained to eat a wider variety of foods with patience.

      Good luck!

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Well, I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I would think so. Inchworms are just some type of moth larvae, and boxies eat other larvae (mealworms, etc). I’ve never fed inchworms personally … we stick with earthworms & the occasional grub from the yard.

      Also only feed your pet from your yard if you don’t use herbicides/pesticides in the area.


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