What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

what do red-eared sliders eat - turtle pellets

What do red-eared sliders and other pond sliders eat? These turtles are opportunistic omnivores, which means that they can eat a variety of animal- and plant-based foods, depending on what’s most abundant in their area (source).

As pets, however, red-eared sliders do best with the following feeding schedule and ratios:

Red-eared sliders younger than 1 year:

  • 50% protein / 50% vegetables
  • protein food daily
  • vegetable food daily
  • turtle pellets every other day

It is not unusual for young turtles to be reluctant to eat vegetables, but you will still need to offer them.

Red-eared sliders older than 1 year:

  • 25% protein / 75% vegetables
  • protein food 1-2x/week
  • vegetable food daily
  • turtle pellets 2-3x/week

Pond sliders don’t have salivary glands, so they can only eat in the water, not on land. So, you will need to sprinkle or drop the food into the water when it’s mealtime.

  • A single portion of protein should be as much as your turtle can eat in 5-10 minutes, depending on how quickly they eat.
  • A single portion of vegetables should be roughly the same size as the turtle’s shell.
  • A single portion of pellets should be about the same size as your turtle’s head.

Some people recommend feeding red-eared sliders in a separate container full of water to reduce mess, but as with other reptiles, moving to feed is stressful for the turtle and generally not a good idea. Just because it’s convenient for the human doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the turtle.

PRO TIP! Use an aquarium fish net to remove debris from the water after feeding time is over. This helps keep your tank clean and helps keep your turtle healthy.

Variety is the key to good nutrition, so make sure to offer as many different types of foods in your turtle’s diet as possible! Feeding the same thing to your turtle every week (especially pertaining to protein sources and vegetables) is likely to cause nutritional imbalance and potential illness.

Protein

In the wild, red-eared sliders and other pond sliders are known to eat a variety of invertebrates, crustaceans, small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and birds (source). They even have been observed scavenging on dead carcasses! For pet pond sliders, however, here is a good list of appropriate animal-based foods to reference. It is best to provide whole feeders rather than pieces of meat, as animal parts are not nutritionally complete.

  • chicks (frozen) (treat only) (very messy)
  • crayfish (pre-killed only)
  • crickets
  • earthworms
  • dubia roaches
  • freeze-dried shrimp or krill
  • fresh shrimp
  • frogs (captive bred only)
  • frozen bloodworms
  • mealworms
  • nightcrawlers
  • pinky or hopper mice (frozen) (treat only)
  • quail (frozen) (treat only) (very messy)
  • silkworms
  • snails (canned or captive-bred only)
  • superworms
  • tadpoles (captive bred only)
  • tubifex worms

Avoid feeding wild insects to your turtle, unless they were caught in a chemical-free area and you know exactly what it is and whether it is safe to feed. DO NOT FEED processed meats or fireflies to your turtle!

You can also give live fish to your red-eared slider. However, some are safer to feed than others:

Safe feeder fish

  • endlers
  • guppies
  • mollies
  • mosquito fish
  • platies
  • swordtail

Generally speaking, livebearing types of fish are going to be a safe bet. Avoid offering pieces of fish rather than the whole fish, as pieces are not nutritionally complete.

Unsafe feeder fish

  • goldfish
  • spottail shiner
  • rosy red minnows
  • emerald shiner
  • white suckers

These fish contain thiaminase, which breaks down and inactivates vitamin B1. If fed in large doses or over a prolonged period of time, it can cause severe vitamin B1 deficiency, which can be fatal if untreated. That being said, they are okay to use every once in a while as a treat.

red eared slider food - shrimp

Vegetables

In the wild, red-eared sliders and other pond sliders are known to eat algae and the leaves, stems, roots, fruits, and seeds of both aquatic and terrestrial plants. In fact, they eat so much vegetation as adults that they are considered primarily herbivorous!

As pets, you probably don’t want them mowing down the live plants in your tank, so here are some alternatives to keep them satisfied. Make sure to bookmark this page on your phone or screenshot so you can reference it while at the grocery store. The key to balanced nutrition is VARIETY, so make sure not to use the same old thing every time!

  • chickweed
  • cilantro
  • collard greens (“spring greens” in the UK)
  • dandelion greens + flowers
  • endive
  • escarole/frisée
  • green beans
  • green leaf lettuce
  • hibiscus greens + flowers
  • kale
  • red leaf lettuce
  • romaine lettuce
  • spinach
  • spotted deadnettle
  • swiss chard
  • turnip greens
  • white clover

Fruit can be offered as an occasional treat:

  • apple (skinned)
  • berries
  • figs
  • grapes
  • mango
  • melon
  • papaya
  • pear

DO NOT FEED THE FOLLOWING FOODS!

  • avocado
  • bean sprouts
  • citrus
  • currants
  • eggplant
  • hot peppers
  • gooseberries
  • mushrooms
  • onion
  • parsnip
  • pomegranate
  • rhubarb
  • tomatoes

If you want to feed your turtle plants gathered from outside, wash them and make sure they weren’t exposed to herbicide or pesticide. For more information about safe plants, vegetables, and fruits for your turtle, refer to The Tortoise Table and Beautiful Dragons for information about safe plants.

If you are unsure about the identity of a potentially edible plant from outside, DON’T give it to your turtle — it could be poisonous! In other words, when in doubt, don’t feed it to your turtle.

Turtle Pellets

Typically the best way to give supplements to a pet reptile is to sprinkle a supplement powder on its food. But since red-eared sliders eat in the water, supplement powders don’t work. Turtle pellets are an alternative method to help make sure that your aquatic turtle is getting enough vitamins and minerals.

These are the most trusted brands of turtle pellets. Although these are often advertised as a turtle food, pellets should make up no more than 25% of your red-eared slider’s diet.

For best results, use a rotation of multiple different commercial formulas from the above list to create more variety in your turtle’s diet! This helps promote more balanced nutrition and also provides a source of sensory enrichment.

Pro tip: Use a pill container to measure out pellets throughout the week!

Cuttlebone

“Cuttlebones” aren’t actually bones at all — they’re a block of calcium carbonate made to resemble the flattened oval skeleton of a cuttlefish. Real cuttlefish bones used to be used in the hobby, but these are no longer available due to concerns about parasites.

Turtles seem to have an instinct that drives them to start biting hard objects when their bodies need calcium. Providing a cuttlebone in their enclosure fulfills that need and helps prevent calcium deficiency problems such as MBD. Chewing on cuttlebones also helps keep your turtle’s beak trimmed!

Depending on the size of your turtle, it may be best to put the cuttlebone into your turtle’s tank whole or to chop it into chunks. But don’t just toss the cuttlebone into your red-eared slider’s enclosure without properly preparing it first:

Storebought cuttlebones have a hard plastic backing that can make your turtle very sick if it gets accidentally ingested. So you need to remove that plastic. You can do this by sawing it off with a serrated knife (be careful!), prying it off with a butter knife, or peeling it off with a vegetable peeler after soaking it in hot water. You will have removed all of the plastic when you can dent the plastic side of the cuttlebone with a fingernail.

Expect to replace your turtle’s cuttlebone every 1-2 months.

Should you move your red-eared slider for feeding?

Many people recommend using a separate, designated feeding container as a method of keeping their turtles’ water cleaner. But is this actually good practice?

Answer: it depends on your turtle.

If your turtle doesn’t seem bothered by it, this can be a good way to keep your turtle’s water a bit cleaner, clearer, and less likely to accumulate waste. It is more labor-intensive, though, and completely optional.

However, if your turtle is significantly stressed by handling, it’s best to simply feed them inside their “home” enclosure.

How to feed your turtle outside of its enclosure: You will need to a plastic tub (preferably opaque), fill it with enough water to cover your turtle’s back, then add your turtle to feed. Water is required — red-eared sliders can’t swallow properly without it! When your turtle is done eating, place your turtle back in its enclosure, empty the feeding tub, and disinfect it with F10SC, Rescue, or Clean Break veterinary disinfectant. If you emptied the tub into a sink or bathtub, make sure to disinfect that as well.

SUMMARY —

  • Red-eared sliders <1 year old need a diet of 50% protein / 50% vegetables. They should receive protein and vegetable foods daily, and turtle pellets every other day.
  • Red-eared sliders >1 year old need a diet of 25% protein / 75% vegetables. They should receive protein food 1-2x/week, vegetable food daily, and turtle pellets 2-3x/week.
  • Turtles should only be fed in the water.
  • Not all protein foods, vegetable foods, or pellets are good for your turtle — check first.
  • Remove the hard plastic backing from the cuttlebone before use.
  • Moving to feed can be a good way to keep the water clear.
  • A varied diet is key to balanced nutrition.

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