Best food for red-eared slider turtles

Red-eared sliders are some of the most popular pet turtles in the world. Also referred to as red-eared terrapins, they are resilient and can tolerate a variety of living conditions. Due to their tendency to get comfortable with people and how they greedily beg for food, both beginners and veterans in turtle-keeping love domesticating these turtles.

Over the years, the red-eared slider turtle has been a favorite pet turtle among many hobbyists. At some point in time, they were even sold in dime stores, but that soon ended since many people who bought them did not know how to take care of them properly. These medium to large-sized freshwater turtles are native to the Mississippi River Basin in North America. They derive their name from the red patch behind its eye, and its habit of sliding off a rock or log into the water when disturbed.

Many hobbyists prefer this turtle because they are easy to care for and manage. However, you still need to do your research on these animals and find out how to best care for them and ensure they are satisfied under your care. The analysis also aids in ensuring they stay healthy and do not transmit any bacterial diseases like salmonella. So, without further ado, let us find out some of the best foods for red-eared sliders.

Interesting facts about the red-eared slider turtles

Red-eared slider turtles have a dark green and oval shell, and the rest of its body and leg is dark with yellow stripes. Older turtles of this species have a thick coat of algae covering and can grow up to 12 inches when adult, with its female being the largest in body size. Their average lifespan is 20 years when cared for properly.

These turtles are highly adaptable and exotic cold-blooded animals. They can eat almost anything as they are omnivorous animals. In the wild, their diet includes mollusks, insects, water plants, and small fishes. Similarly, the red-eared slider basks in the sun for long hours on rocks and logs to warm themselves and digest the food they eat. Sometimes when there is no enough room, you will see them lying on top of each other, and other times, you will find them buried underground if the surrounding temperatures are too cold.

The red-eared slider turtles have ribs that are joined together and covered by a thin layer of skin. Each of its ribs consists of jigsaw-like sections known as scutes that grow at its edges. The scutes are responsible for the growth of the turtle without outgrowing its shell.

Female red-eared slider turtles are larger in body size than the males, but they have shorter tails. Another interesting feature about red-eared sliders is that a mature male has long toenails at the front of its feet that he uses when courting a female red-eared slider. Female sliders attain maturity at around 5-7 years, while males reach maturity at 2-4 years of age. However, in captivity, female sliders reach maturity at about 3.5 years.

Factors to consider when buying a red-eared slider

The red-eared slider turtle is the most common turtle sold in pet stores across the United States. You can also buy them from large-scale breeders, animal rescues, and dealers. However, keep in mind that it is illegal to sell red-eared slider turtle hatchlings with a carapace length of fewer than 4 inches for anything else other than for educational purposes.

It is vital to note that a red-eared slider turtle that has not been taken care of properly is likely to have health issues that may go unnoticed until you get home. While in pet stores, it is common that the red-eared slider is experiencing stress and is suffering from a bacterial infection, which is easily transmitted to children, the elderly, as well as those with special medical conditions. Often, these turtles do not eat when exposed to stressful environments and may also experience dehydration when the conditions in their temporary habitat are not suitable for their needs.

Improve your luck of buying a healthy red-eared slider pet turtle by examining the environment in which the turtles are being sold, as well as performing a physical examination of the turtle itself. Some crucial questions to consider while performing this analysis include: Is the water in their temporary habitat clean? Are they alert and active? Are they sold together with other exotic animal species?

Healthy turtles are usually alert and inquisitive. When approached, they should jump into the water from their basking area. More so, it is best not to pair these turtles with another species as it prevents the risk of disease transmission.

When performing a physical analysis before buying your pet turtle, pick it up, and feel if it is heavy, which would mean it is healthy. Proceed to pull one of its legs as watch its reaction as a healthy red-eared slider will react vigorously. If it does, go ahead and examine the top and bottom of its shell. It should be smooth, hard, and free of any dark or light spots. If it has any soft spots on the shell, it could indicate shell rot. Similarly, check if the turtle has any open wounds that require the attention of the vet.

Therefore, if you decide to buy a red-eared slider to keep as a pet, it is also advisable that you take the turtle’s fecal sample to a veterinarian. Have it tested for nutritional deficiencies, fungal infections or topical bacteria, and even overgrowth or any other physical deformities. Make sure you also check for eye and respiratory diseases. Providing your red-eared slider turtle with the appropriate stress-free environment and proper diet ensures that the turtle is healthy and strong, and in some cases, they are likely to outlive you.

Food and Nutrition for red-eared sliders

Red-eared sliders are omnivorous animals as they enjoy feeding on aquatic vegetation, decaying material, like dead frogs and fish, and small fishes. While in captivity, they are likely to feed on just about anything you feed them. However, you need to ensure that they have a proper diet that supports a healthy, long-lived, and strong turtle. You will have to feed them a variety of diets, including that of a juvenile and adult slider.

Keep in mind that adult slider eats more of vegetable matter than protein and eats once every two to three days, while the juvenile slider must eat daily. Ensure you give your pet enough food, and excess food just goes into the water and contaminates the tank.

Similarly, ascertain that you do not provide your red-eared slider with too much pellet food. Limit the pellet quantity to 25% of its diet and also remember to feed your turtle while in the water. The rest of its diet may consist of any of the following supplements.

Green and leafy vegetables: Leafy greens like dandelion greens, collard greens, bok choy, mustard greens, and kale are excellent options for this category. Avoid feeding them with head lettuce as they consist of minimal nutritional benefits. Look for greens that have good phosphorus and calcium levels. You may also opt to feed your turtle with other vegetables, like carrots, squash, and green beans.

Green and leafy vegetables: Leafy greens like dandelion greens, collard greens, bok choy, mustard greens, and kale are excellent options for this category. Avoid feeding them with head lettuce as they consist of minimal nutritional benefits. Look for greens that have good phosphorus and calcium levels. You may also opt to feed your turtle with other vegetables, like carrots, squash, and green beans.

Aquatic plants: plant matter such as duckweed, water hyacinth, Azolla, frogbit, and anacharis are an excellent treat for these turtles.

Prey food: Foods like earthworms, crickets, silkworms, aquatic snails, krill, daphnia, mealworms, bloodworms, shrimp, and wax worms are perfect for this category. If you are feeding a small red-eared slider, ensure the prey food is cut into tiny pieces. Adult ones can eat feeder fish or tadpoles. However, you have to exercise care when it comes to the type of feeder fish as experts say some of them carry parasites. Similarly, fish like goldfish are not to be given as food regularly as they are fatty.

Here are some commercial food diet suggestions to feed your red-eared slider.

Name of product
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Natural Turtle Food by Zoo Med
All-natural ingredients including soybean meal, fish meal, wheat mill run, fish oil, vitamin E supplements, choline chloride, and many others
Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet
Premium ingredients rich in animal-based and fish protein
Wardley Premium Amphibian and Reptile Food Sticks
All-natural ingredients with extra minerals and vitamins
Tetra Reptomin Floating Food Sticks
Highly nutritious ingredients such as fish meal, dried yeast, shrimp meal, wheat starch, soybean oil, and many others
Turtle Adult Food by Exo Terra
Premium ingredients including Gammarus shrimp
Hikari Saki Turtle Food
Premium and balanced odor-stop ingredients that contain a probiotic enhanced nutrient mix

Zoo Med Natural Turtle Food

Available in three pellet sizes, Zoo Med Natural Turtle Food has sufficient protein levels for hatchlings, growth, and maintenance formulas. Ideal for your turtle during all stages of its life, each recipe comes with the essential nutritional requirements for your pet turtle at their specific life stage.

The hatchlings pack has a lot of protein since they need it for rapid growth. Growing and mature turtles should feed on the growth and maintenance formulas. More so, these pellets float to the top of your tank, making it easy for your red-eared slider to locate them and eat.


  • Floating food type
  • Highly nutritious
  • Easy to digest


  • Its remains may clog your tank’s filter


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Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet

Ideal for the complete life cycle of your turtle, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Food is specially formulated with premium ingredients that have a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals to keep your red-eared slider strong and healthy. It is a healthy and well-rounded diet that does not require any extra mineral or vitamin supplements. Once you throw it in your turtle’s tank, it stays afloat, allowing your pet turtle to pick and eat it comfortably.


  • Floating pellets for easy reach and consumption
  • Free of any artificial colors and preservatives
  • Highly nutritious
  • Suitable for turtles throughout their life cycle


  • It contains hard pellets that are difficult to soften when in water


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Wardley Premium Amphibian and Reptile Food Sticks

Wardley Premium Amphibian and Reptile Sticks are guaranteed to provide your red-eared slider with its basic nutritional requirements while making it feel like it is still in the wild. It is packed with sufficient vitamins for a healthy immune system as well as enough calcium for strong and healthy bones. More so, not only is this commercial food ideal for your red-eared slider, but it is also suitable for other reptiles and amphibians.


  • Ideal for daily use
  • Suitable for all aquatic amphibians and reptiles, including frogs, newts, and turtles
  • Fortified with all-natural ingredients, including vitamin C and calcium, which promote a strong immune system, healthy shell growth and strong bones in turtles
  • Free of any artificial colors or dyes that could cloud water or harm your aquatic pets


  • It does not break down easily


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Tetra Reptomin Floating Food Sticks

For many years, the Reptomin Floating Food Sticks are a favorite commercial food among many turtle owners and breeders. Designed to make feeding your turtle super easy, this diet is rich in calcium, which promotes shell growth and health, as well as proteins for overall turtle health and growth. It is also available in various sizes and stays afloat for easy feeding.


  • Easy to digest
  • Contains high-quality proteins and amino acids
  • Affordable
  • Does not contaminate the water
  • Rich in calcium and vitamins


  • Food sticks sink in the water quite fast


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Adult Turtle Food by Exo Terra

This turtle food from Exo Terra is specially made for adult turtles and contains premium ingredients such as shrimp and vegetables and has good mineral and vitamin content. It is also rich in calcium, which aids in ensuring your turtle has a strong and healthy shell, vitamin D3 for proper calcium absorption, and proteins. Just like the other foods on this list, the pellet of this commercial food float on the water surface, making it easy for your red-eared slider to feed.


  • It consists of floating pellets that allow the turtle to reach them comfortably
  • Contains high amounts of minerals and vitamins that promote a healthy immune system
  • A balanced diet for your red-eared slider


  • Some turtles do not like the taste


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Hikari Saki Turtle food

Ideally designed to get rid of the mess involved when feeding turtles, Hikari Saki Turtle Food consists of ingredients that maintain clean water in the tank while preventing any odor. Since we usually feed our aquatic pets while they are in the water, this commercial diet nourishes your pet while ascertaining that its tank remains as clean as possible.

Turtle food by Hikari Saki is a floating and medium-sized food material that contains probiotics that support flora within the intestines. Some of the vitamin content in the food includes vitamin E, selenium, vitamin A, zinc, biotin, vitamin D3, copper, folic acid, and calcium. Other ingredients in the food include oregano oil, garlic, cinnamon bark oil, and dried seaweed, among many others.


  • Packed with odor-stop ingredients
  • Floating food for easy consumption
  • Made from premium ingredients with lots of essential minerals and vitamins


  • It consists of medium-sized pellets that are too small for adult turtles


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Even after providing your aquatic pet with the proper diet, you should always be on the lookout for any signs of illness. Check the condition of its shell, cheeks, eyes, mouth, nose, and breathing patterns. In case of any irregularities, contact your vet as soon as possible. Other signs to look out for are if your pet is shedding excessively, has lost its appetite, or if it is showing any other unusual bodily changes. Your veterinarian should provide a detailed assessment and provide the appropriate treatment.

Kerry Blake

Since I was young, I have always had a thing for sea creatures. Being raised along the beach gave me the chance to interact with all kinds of reptiles, including turtles. I have always found this creature quite fascinating, and at a young age, I asked my parents to get me one as a pet. My love for turtles is what inspired me to pursue marine science when I got to college. Specializing in this field made learning so much about such reptiles. If you would like to get a pet turtle at your home, this guide will be of great help.

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