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Home > Turtles > Can Turtles Eat Meat? Our Vet Answers

Can Turtles Eat Meat? Our Vet Answers

Can Turtles Eat Meat

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Written by

Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles can make great pets, though they aren’t suitable for every home. They require a serious long-term commitment and appropriate husbandry to thrive. This includes offering them a species-appropriate diet.

The ideal diet for your turtle will depend on several factors, including (but not limited to) their size, age, and species. Most pet aquatic turtles are omnivores, requiring a diet of both plant and animal foods, though the exact ratio will depend on a myriad of factors. Some carnivorous species eat a primarily meat-based diet throughout their entire lives.

This might make owners wonder if it’s safe to offer them meat. While meat can be offered as an occasional treat to some pet turtles, it isn’t something that you should go overboard with.

Read on to learn more about turtles and their relationship with animal-based foods.


Can Turtles Eat Meat?

The nutrition of turtles is a very complex topic, and it encompasses many variables which make it almost impossible to make a sweeping generalization or statement about the safety of certain human foods. Generally speaking, most freshwater turtles tend to lean towards a carnivorous diet to some extent, and to a very high degree as juveniles. As adults, their diet largely depends on their species; purely carnivorous species will obviously remain as such throughout their lives, whereas turtles classified as omnivores tend to incorporate more plant matter into their diet as they reach adulthood. This is likely an evolutionary adaptation, as adult turtles would be more weighed down by their shells and therefore, would likely consume less prey than juveniles would.

Regardless of the species, it’s safe to say that there’s no way a turtle would encounter human meat in the wild – be it chicken, beef, lamb, or other popular items we readily consume. The prey wild turtles sustain themselves on include insects, molluscs, and at times, fish. Therefore, it’s a reasonable assumption that meat prepared for human consumption isn’t necessary for a turtle to survive.

This leaves the concern of safety. Omnivorous turtles can likely digest meat prepared for human consumption, provided it is something they find palatable and provided that it isn’t contaminated or cooked with seasonings meant for human consumption. However, it’s not something you should seek to incorporate into your pet’s diet, for reasons we’ll explore shortly.

Turtle eats fish from hands
Image Credit: Sharomka,Shutterstock

How Much Meat Do Turtles Need?

There are many factors that determine how much meat a turtle requires in their diet. The most important factor is their species, as some species are carnivores and have a higher requirement for meat than their omnivorous counterparts. Please note that almost all tortoises are herbivores, and shouldn’t be offered meat.

Other factors which determine your pet’s requirements include their age, health status, reproductive status, metabolic status, and the other components of their diet.

What Are the Drawbacks of Offering Meat to Turtles?

The primary issue with feeding turtles meat is that because it isn’t meant for them to consume, it makes balancing the rest of their diet very difficult, and hypothetically likely makes it impossible for us to ensure they’re receiving adequate nutrition. Overfeeding turtles is just as detrimental to their health and development as underfeeding them. Anytime a food item that’s not properly assessed is added to their diet, it makes the job of balancing the rest of their diet that much more difficult. This is made worse by the fact that different meats have a different nutritional composition, and cooking them changes their nutritional composition as well.

Broadly speaking, almost all animal sources of nutrition have very low calcium, a very important mineral for turtles. When turtles are offered insects, this problem can be somewhat circumvented by “gut-loading” the insects and even dusting them with a calcium supplement before it is offered. This might not be possible with meat.

Another issue with feeding turtles human food is that the risk of cross contamination may increase. All turtles naturally harbor pathogens that can be harmful for humans; chief among these is Salmonella. Feeding turtles human food increases the potential of contact with these pathogens. For example, a child feeding a pet turtle may use the same utensil for feeding the turtle and then forget to thoroughly wash and disinfect their hands and the utensil. Likewise, placing your turtle on a kitchen counter to feed them (a practice that’s very unhygienic but unfortunately somewhat common) can drastically increase the risk of cross contamination.

In addition, feeding your turtle like prey comes with the added benefit of enrichment. Many turtles are stimulated to chase and hunt their prey. This also allows them to exercise in captivity, a very important benefit that cooked foods don’t offer them. Meat is arguably also more expensive and less environmentally friendly than feeding your turtle an inexpensive and sustainable prey, such as worms or other insects.

Finally, feeding a novel food item to your turtle comes with the risk of an upset stomach; since most turtles are not fed meat, the first time you offer them meat might be met with unwanted health issues. Instead, you should stick to meats that are safe for turtles. These are usually insects, molluscs, and some fish (in moderation).

Two red-eared turtles eat fish meat
Image By: BetterPhoto, Shutterstock

What Are the Benefits of Offering Meat to Turtles?

There is no benefit in meat that can’t be found in other prey you offer your pet. Though meat is a source of protein, it often cannot offer your turtle the amount of protein that prey (in particular insects) can offer.

What Live Food Can Turtles Eat?

Live food is an important part of the omnivorous and carnivorous turtle’s diet. It is a much more species-appropriate protein than offering the meat you’re whipping up for dinner.

Insects remain a popular protein choice for pet turtles. Other options include slugs, some molluscs, and in some circumstances, fish. However, some countries have begun to prohibit feeder fish due to animal welfare and health concerns, and therefore, feeding your turtle fish remains somewhat controversial. It is best to consult your vet to determine which live prey is best for your turtle.



While you can theoretically offer your pet carnivorous or omnivorous turtle cooked meat such as chicken, turkey, or beef occasionally, it shouldn’t be a staple of their diet and there are no real benefits to offering them these foods. These food items are not something your turtle would encounter in the wild, so it’s much better to offer species-appropriate protein options like live prey.

It is very important to remember that the nutrition of pet turtles is a complex topic and something that must be carefully considered for your pet on an individual basis. Therefore, you should always consult your veterinarian before incorporating any food item into their diet.

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Featured Image Credit: Korkusung, Shutterstock

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