How Long Can Small Turtles Go Without Food And Water?

How Long Can Small Turtles Go Without Food And Water?

September 13, 2018

How Long Can Small Turtles Go Without Food And Water?

In this article, lets take a look at small turtles and how well they can get by if they have limited resources. The answers may surprise you, but don't forget, there is also a difference between getting by and thriving or being healthy. 

The Type Of Small Turtle

To just say “small turtles” could also mean nearly anything, so we’ll have to narrow that down. Technically you could call a Leatherback sea turtle hatchling a small turtle since its small when it emerges from the egg. A Leatherback won’t stay small for very long at all, though, these actually grow to be the largest turtles! A leatherback will easily reach 2000 pounds and grow over 6 feet tall in adulthood. Usually, when people ask about small turtles, they mean the kinds of turtles that might be kept as pets or have around the backyard pond or hanging out in the grass. For this article, we will stick to turtles like that when we refer to small turtles. 

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water?

Some people use the word turtle for land-dwelling, water-dwelling semi-aquatic turtles. So, our list may include any reptile in this overall family whether it’s fully aquatic or not. Even if a turtle is considered a land-dweller, though, all turtles need water frequently like most other animals. Some rely on water mainly to drink and digest food while others actually live part or all the time in the water. For the purposes of this article, we have to assume that no turtle can live very long without water. If any turtle is kept in a habitat or some kind of enclosure and has no access to water, it will die soon. The exact time might depend on the age, species and air humidity, so we won’t try to pin that down.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Food?

Food is an entirely different issue. A turtle has a very slow metabolism, so they aren’t anything like mammals when it comes to food consumption. For the sake of defining small turtle a little more clearly, the turtles that are often considered as backyard pets include:

  • Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
  • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii)
  • Wood Turtle (Glyptemys [Clemmys] insculpta)
  • Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)


All of these turtles tend to stay under 10-12 inches at maximum which for arguments sake qualifies them as small turtles. So, how long can these particular turtles go without food?

If they are already healthy and are full-grown adults at a good weight and with access to some water, all of these turtles could actually survive for months without food. A little different from the household dog or cat?  Yes!  In fact, many turtles do go months without food in the wild. They may do this during a hibernation period, usually in winter, or they may do it for specific reasons such as during recovery from an injury or illness. Hibernation is the most common reason and in turtles, it is called brumation. The metabolism of the turtle slows way down which allows the turtle to stay still and wait out winter months when food is already scarce. Some turtles don’t need much water during this period either, but indoor pet turtles do not bromate or hibernate, so food and water should not be deliberately limited for long periods.

Pond Turtles

Turtles that live outside should be allowed to do what their bodies tell them to do, but it’s good to study up on the type of turtles that live around your home. By knowing what to expect you will also know if something is wrong.

Can I Go On Vacation Without Feeding My Pet Turtle?

In spite of the turtle’s ability to hibernate, turtles with access to warmth, light and a food source should not be cut off so you can go on vacation. Turtles rely on water for hydration and digestion and when they are used to getting food regularly, they should continue to do so.

How Often Should A Pet Turtle Be Fed?

Most pet turtles are fed protein 2-4 times per week depending on the species and size. Turtles that are younger than 6 months to a year will need more protein to grow. Turtles that also eat vegetation should get a reasonable supply each day. Most vegetable-eating turtles will eat a serving of green-leafy vegetables once a day. Older turtles may require less protein than they did at a younger age, so as long as they are eating veggies, don’t worry too much if they ignore some of the protein given to them. Depending on the type of turtle you have, all of this varies somewhat. Give them a chance to show you what they want and need and they will teach you.

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