Turtle Survival (Food, Water & Exercise Tips)

Reptiles, including turtles, undergo a period of inactivity, hibernation, during which they do not eat or drink and perform minimal activities to conserve as much energy as possible. When it comes to your turtle, they can stay without food or water for certain durations without their body functions coming to a halt. Whether your turtle is hibernating or not, we understand that the span they can stay without food is a matter of concern that requires attention.

So, how long can turtles live without food or water? Depending on their age, the duration a turtle can stay without food or water ranges from a couple of days to months. Baby turtles require food for growth compared to the adults who need it just for maintenance. Understanding this difference will help you know how often you should feed your pet to ensure they remain healthy.

Turtles are low maintenance pets, given their low demands and hardiness. Understanding their feeding habit is necessary to plan yourself, especially if you want to go for a tour or vacation and leave no one behind to attend to them.

The duration in which a turtle can go without food is dependent on the season and their age. During the cold season, turtles will go into hibernation and shun food for up to 5 months, and not eating during this season will not do any harm. On the other hand, a healthy and well-fed adult pet turtle can go up to six months without food. However, this is not the case with baby turtles, given that they are still growing.

Baby turtles require a lot of proteins to meet their growth and development needs and starving them for months will kill them. However, if you plan a one week or two tours, your baby turtle will survive, provided they have access to clean water and heat or sun.

Whether wild or in captivity, a turtle is likely to hibernate during the cold season. They will avoid food, and their metabolism will slow down to conserve as much energy as possible. This way, they are also able to keep warm. After hibernation, a turtle will reduce in body size and weight and will be very weak.

This is because their body utilizes its reserves by breaking down the fats to provide energy for body functions. Thus, you need to supply it with adequate food for it to regain its energy and weight. If your adult turtle has a small body, it will only survive longer periods without food if you fed it properly during its childhood compared to those which were poorly fed.

If your pet has access to water for swimming and drinking, they can last for weeks without food. They will still shed some fats, but this should not worry you, as it is common in the wild. If your pet has access to a basking area or a well-heated tank, the duration will also prolong as they will be able to conserve their energy without developing any serious health issues.

How Often Should I Feed My Turtle?

Wild turtles will find their food when hungry; hence, dictate their mealtimes. However, if you have a turtle in captivity, you need to know how often you should feed them to ensure they grow and remain healthy. If your turtle is new, you can develop a routine based on how they respond to the meals you bring to them; therefore, be keen on the days and times when you feed them.

Depending on the size, age and species, you will need to feed your turtle daily to four or five times a week. You can start by providing them with a cup of food and increase or reduce this amount depending on how your pet responds. Proteins comprise a major component of the turtle feed, but the amount varies with age. For younger turtles, you should provide more proteins to promote growth. Older turtles require fewer proteins and will naturally ignore some protein in their food as their bodies do not need them.

The turtle species you have will also dictate the type of food you give them. Some turtles eat vegetables, and you should supply them with adequate amounts. You can also opt to provide proteins and vegetables in split feeding but having them together is ideal for your pet to select what they want and leave what they do not need.

Depending on your turtle’s size, you can buy turtle food to serve as a supplement for the food you are giving them. Remember to feed your turtles from a different water supply to maintain the water quality in their habitat.

How Long Can Turtles Live Without Water?

Water is necessary for a turtle’s body functions to run properly. This is because of its role in the regulation of the body’s osmotic pressure. While turtles can last up to months without food, they cannot survive for this long without water.

A turtle can last for a few hours to a couple of days only without water. Aquatic turtles solely rely on water to survive and stay healthy. However, their reliance is not like that of fish, and they can stay out of water for more extended periods.

The duration a turtle can live without water will also vary depending on the temperature and humidity outside the water. If the temperatures are high and the humidity is low, the rate of dehydration will increase, and the turtle will last for only a few hours before they die.

If you plan to travel and have a turtle, you should ensure you have an adequate water supply around their habitat to save them from dehydration. When a turtle lacks water, they become weak due to dehydration and die. Some species, such as the box turtle, can last longer without water. However, they still require little water to swim and access food to survive.

Younger turtles also respond differently to lack of water compared to adult turtles. If you have a baby turtle and plan to go on a vacation, you may need to revisit this decision if you have no one left behind to provide them with water. This is because while young turtles can go for a couple of days without food, they may not survive without water. They need access to clean water, without which they will die. Thus, consider canceling your trip or hire someone to care for it while you are away.

How long can box turtles go without water?

We all love our turtle pets; therefore, our primary concern is that they get the food and water they need for their health and survival. However, there are some urgent cases where you have to leave them alone for a while. Considering turtles are known to flourish in humid or wet environments, will it be advisable to leave them unattended?

The longest time box turtles can go without water is about 12 hours; however, it depends on their environment. If they are in a hot and dry habitat, they tend to get thirsty faster, so they need to rehydrate more. In contrast, when it is cool, they can stay without water for longer and even last a day. Generally, water is vital for all reptiles, including the box turtle, since it is necessary for cooling and hydration.

Food and water are the basic requirements for all animals, but some animals are adapted to stay extended periods without them. Your main concern as an owner is whether you need to supply water to your turtle and the maximum time, they can go without it.

Water is vital for the survival of the box turtle. They need it for hydration and to cool down if it gets too hot. If water is scarce, they can survive for approximately 12 hours, depending on their climatic conditions. When it is too hot, they need it to keep hydrated, but they can go for a longer time without it if it is cold. In summation, the box turtle cannot entirely survive without drinking water.

Compared to turtles living in hot environments, those living in cold areas can last relatively longer without water. However, they cannot last more than a day, regardless of the species. The water is necessary to lower their temperature, so you are likely to find them regularly dipping in water, especially when there is no source of shade. Not only do they need water to survive, but it has to be clean. They are sensitive creatures, so providing impure water may be harmful to their general health.

Without water in their bodies, the turtles tend to get weak and eventually dehydrate and die. However, the good news is, in dire circumstances, they can extract water from their food, enabling them to go for long hours without water. On the contrary, the amount of water they obtain from their food may not be enough.

One question among pet owners is what happens if they need to travel and leave their turtles alone. To ensure that they survive, we advise that you delegate their care to someone else; this way, you will be sure that they will get the food and water they need even when you are away. Moreover, to ascertain that they get the perfect humidity levels, some keepers keep their home wet by regularly spraying water.

Do Box Turtles Need To Be in Water?

Typically, terrestrial animals like box turtles spend a large part of their day on land thanks to their specially designed features. As much as the turtles prefer land, we aim to determine whether they can be in the water and whether they can swim.

So, do box turtles need to be in the water? The box turtle is a terrestrial animal, so it doesn’t need to stay in the water. They spend most of their time on land and only need to remain in the water when necessary. Even if they have short feet, they can still swim but not as well as their aquatic counterparts. When in the wild, you may notice that they swim when they need to go to a different place or when they want to escape from a predator.

These reptiles are not great swimmers like aquatic turtles such as red-eared sliders or cooters. They also don’t swim for a long time, and their swimming is somewhat clumsy. Marine turtles have longer bodies and webbed feet, making it easier for them to swim. However, terrestrial turtles’ feet are shorter since they mostly live on land. But as much as they don’t need to be in the water, they still need it to keep hydrated. Most owners provide them with a tank with shallow water for them to frequently dip in.

How Long Can a Box Turtle Stay Underwater?

Although turtles are modified to live on land and water, there are drowning cases reported when they stay underwater for too long. Unlike other animals like fish, they lack the gills necessary for underwater breathing, so they use their lungs for respiration. However, you will notice that some turtle species can survive longer underwater than others.

So, how long can a box turtle stay underwater? Depending on your pet, the box turtle can stay for 15-30 minutes underwater. They cannot stay longer than that because they are terrestrial; hence, their bodies are not well adapted for swimming. They are not great swimmers, so they are likely to drown if anything goes wrong. When you build a tank, the water level needs to be shallow enough to make it easier for them to resurface if they can’t swim anymore.

There are so many reported cases of pet turtles drowning even when they are avid swimmers. Depending on the turtle species, they need to come up for air frequently. Suppose they get stuck while in the aquarium; they may not make it to the surface. In turn, they will struggle to free themselves and, in the process, get agitated, and, in this panic state, they end up losing more air, increasing the probability of drowning.

To keep your turtle safe, you need to pay close attention to them when you let them swim. If you notice any signs of struggling, it is best to take the necessary action. Moreover, if you wish to build them a tank to soak in when it gets hot, you can ensure that it is shallow since they can drown if the water is too deep. You also need to take extra care if your pet is a baby turtle since they tend to get stuck, and they have trouble telling when it is time to resurface for more air.


Turtles can live without food or water. However, the duration they can last will vary depending on their age, health, and species. Water is an essential requirement for a turtle to survive. While they can stay up to months without food, it is difficult for them to go for days without water. Therefore, a reliable water source is necessary to ensure your pet survives should you step out for a vacation.

As a pet owner, you should also understand your pet and time your vacations to avoid tragedies that may result from a lack of food and water. Having someone remain behind to care for your young turtles is ideal, given that they cannot go for many days without food.

Water is crucial for all animals’ survival, even when they can go for long without it. For turtles, the water is not only necessary for drinking but also for thermoregulation. If they don’t get enough water, they become weak and may eventually die. The longest the box turtle can go is 12 hours; therefore, it is best to provide the water regularly as an owner.

Turtles are majestic reptiles, and they can live on land and water, depending on the particular species. For instance, the box turtle lives on land, but it spends some time soaking in cold water when it needs to.

The only disadvantage is that they are not skilled swimmers, so they cannot swim for long or stay underwater for more than 30 minutes. Therefore, as you provide some water for them to soak in, you need to make it shallow; this way, they can be fine if they tire of swimming. You wouldn’t want your pet to drown accidentally.

Bal Kang

Bal Kang is an owner of several pets including reptiles, cats and dogs. An avid writer, who loves to share her insights into caring for pets.

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