Feeding Your Terrapin

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Written by Anthony

I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

Last Updated on October 20, 2020

A terrapin can make for a fantastic starter pet, particularly for youngsters, as these creatures are easy to take care of and do not require too much space. They also live for a very long time. Those considering a terrapin as a pet will need to know what is required to take care of these wonderful creatures (in terms of housing, temperature, etc.). One especially important consideration is food. For example, you will need to know what type of food a terrapin enjoys eating, how often it should be fed, and how much food should actually be given. It is also worth knowing what to do if the terrapin stops eating.

What Do Terrapins Eat?

While generally omnivorous creatures, terrapins in the wild eat mostly live foods such as fish and insects, although they will eat some plants. In captivity, you have an opportunity to offer up a varied and balanced diet to ensure your pet thrives.

The Royal Veterinary College in the UK recommends that a terrapin’s diet should consist of 70-80 percent animal matter. The other 20-30 percent should be made up of aquatic plants or green leafy vegetables [source].

You can offer food sources such as bloodworms, earthworms, raw small fish, or even dried trout, dog, or cat pellets. You can also source specific terrapin food from a local pet store or online (Amazon has a great choice – click here to check them out). Such foods have been specially created to include an assortment of nutrients and minerals to ensure the health and wellbeing of the terrapin. One of the drawbacks of buying terrapin-specific foods is that although they have a long shelf life and are easy to use, they can be expensive to buy.

If you do buy terrapin food, you should also provide other options intermittently. It is quite important to offer variety when it comes to your terrapin’s diet. You will also need to supplement food with specific vitamins and mineral powders, which can also be purchased online or from a local exotic pet store. Click here to check out a great selection at Amazon.

What Human Food Can Terrapins Eat?

In addition to commercial terrapin food, you might be surprised to find out that there are some human foods you can also offer up. Small chunks of raw meat such as chicken, beef, pork, and fish are an option. Indeed, terrapin’s love fish such as trout as well as prawns, but they particularly love oily fish like mackerel, sardines, and tuna. If you are providing raw meat for the terrapin, do make sure that it is cut into small pieces to make it easier to eat.

Terrapins eat in the water and like to tear pieces of food off with their teeth and claws. Whatever falls to the bottom of the tank is likely to stay there and be wasted. As you can imagine, this can quickly lead to the tank and water becoming dirty. Therefore, the smaller the pieces of food you offer, the more likely the terrapin is to eat it all.

In addition to meat, terrapins also like to eat plant foods such as fruit and vegetables. You can chop up things like apple, strawberries, pear, carrot, and green leafy vegetables. Again, very small chunks are required here.

How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Terrapin?

Terrapins do not usually require feeding every day. In fact, only juveniles should be fed daily. Adult terrapins only need feeding every two or three days.

When providing food, offer no more than the terrapin can eat in a thirty-to-forty-minute period (initially, a bit of trial and error is needed).

When providing food, make sure to use long-handled tweezers to place the food in the water or just drop it in from above. Do not place your hand into the water as terrapins can be quite aggressive feeders. Large terrapins could accidentally nip your finger in their bid to get to their food quickly.

As terrapins are messy eaters, some keepers prefer to feed them in a separate tank in a bid to keep the main tank clean. However, it is important to note that regular handling of the terrapin could cause undue stress and may not be appropriate.

If you are handling the terrapin and moving it to a separate feeding tank, it is important that you practice good hand hygiene after. You must wash your hands thoroughly in soapy water as there is a risk that, like all reptiles, your terrapin is carrying salmonella. While unlikely to be dangerous to the terrapin itself, it can be transmitted to you.

Do Terrapins Drink Water?

A question we are often asked by those interested in keeping terrapins is whether or not they need to provide separate drinking water for the creature. While terrapins do drink water, it is not necessary to provide a separate dish of drinking water, as long as they have an area of water in which they can swim, soak, and drink.

Why Is My Terrapin Not Eating?

It is natural to be concerned if your terrapin is not eating as this could be a sign that something is not quite right. The first thing to do is try to determine why it is not eating as this may not always be caused by an illness.

In fact, terrapins can stop eating if they become too cold. Check the temperature of the water, which should be around 78F. Your terrapin’s basking area should be between 80F and 85F.

It is also important that the terrapin has adequate lighting. Both UVA and UVB lighting is required, and it is important to establish a day/night schedule. The optimum lighting schedule is twelve hours of light, followed by twelve hours of darkness. Less than twelve hours of light per day could result in a loss of appetite.

Of course, there is the chance that your terrapin is ill, so this is something you need to check. White patchy discoloration on the terrapin’s shell could indicate a deficiency in Vitamin A, which could in turn cause a respiratory infection. If the terrapin appears to also be struggling to breathe, has swollen eyes, is lethargic, and has what looks like a runny nose, contact an experienced exotic vet for advice.

How Long Can Terrapins Go Without Food?

As cold-blooded creatures, terrapins in the wild will have periods where they slow their metabolism down in response to a decrease in temperature. They will generally try to hide under mud and will restrict their movement and stop eating. This is known as hibernation and can continue for a period of between one and three months.

In captivity, the temperature of the water can be controlled and kept constant to prevent hibernation.

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