I can't seem to get my box turtle to eat …

I can't seem to get my box turtle to eat his greens, I've tried a bunch of differnt types from lettuce to dandelions and nothing. But he'll eat his fruits bugs and even the canned box turtle food from zoo med. Any suggestion? Oh he also wont touch his calcium bone either.

Hi @bubblebeebubby !
Thanks for writing. 

First things first: I’m not a Box turtle expert by any means. I have books and reliable sources that I’m using to help me answer your question but hopefully others here on Reptiblr, with hands-on experience, can add their suggestions!

Box turtles need a hefty portion of protein compared to greens in their diet (about 50% protein and calcium), 30% or so of veggies and fruits, and 10-20% dark leafy greens. The kind of greens is essential as well; not all greens are appropriate for box turtles.

My first suggestion for you, and for all shell parents, is to mix the good stuff in with the stuff they love.  For example, I use TNT (a natural calcium source I get from Carolina Pet Supply), and when I sprinkle it on Zoya’s food, I mostly do so on Raddichio (Zoya’s favorite food other than dandelions). This way when she goes through and picks out the radicchio to eat first, she’s also getting her supplements and not eating around them. Sometimes are more effective than others.  This is harder to do with worms and greens. but you could try to put the worms with greens and see if he’ll ‘accidentally eat the healthy food.’ This can also be done with calcium supplements (though do not go for calcium supplements with phosphorus! Crushing up a cuddle bone into a powder can work too though it doesn’t help with beak maintenance in that case.)

From my care books and the box turtle sites I checked out, it seems that hunger strikes and box turtles are an unfortunately common occurrence for box turtles in captivity, often for no reason.

BoxTurtles.com (a newer version of a site that’s been around for a while and is referenced by longtime rescuers) has some useful information on how to get your turtle to eat their food as well as useful information on the proper diet for box turtles, including specifics for subspecies of box turtles. I would give it a good read for details on specific greens that might work better for your shell.

Here are the Tips on getting your turtle to eat (Via BoxTurtles.Com):

  • In the wild, box turtles tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, and feeding a box turtle at those times can, therefore, make it more interested in eating.
  • For unknown reasons, some box turtles are reportedly more keen on eating after a rain.
  • Late morning hours is another time of day when box turtle owners have noticed an increased interest in food in their pets. This is probably because the turtle has had a chance to warm up a bit after the cooler night. Cold turtles cannot digest food properly. (A box turtle is too cold to digest when the room temperature is 65° F /18° C or below.) If you are keeping your box turtle outside, ideally place the enclosure in a spot where it will get plenty of morning soon. That way, it doesn’t have to wait until afternoon to get warm enough to eat its box turtle food.
  • Some box turtles dislike eating out in the open, so feeding them in a sheltered area is recommended. You can for instance include a shrub in the set up and place the box turtle food underneath.
  • During sunny summer days, avoid placing box turtle food in a sunny spot since the turtle may not be able to eat there without having to risk overheating.
  • If your box turtle has become obsessed with one particular type of box turtle food, try serving it mixed with other types of food. Let’s say your turtle loves all kinds of worms but refuse to eat any greens. Mixing chopped up worms with chopped squash can coax in into realizing that squash are food too. If your turtle loves pumpkin but hates protein rich food, then mashing some meal-worms in with the pumpkin can make your pet broaden its horizons.
  • Is your turtle being bullied? If you keep two or more turtles together, a weak turtle might be to scared to eat its box turtle food in the presence of a more dominant turtle. Make sure there are several sheltered feeding spots. If this is not enough, separate the turtles permanently or at least during feeding times.
  • For turtles kept indoors, UVA and UVB producing fluorescent lights are strongly recommended for a variety of reasons, unless they have access to plenty of real sunlight. Proper lighting will have numerous positive effects on the turtle, including increased appetite. Full spectrum light is required for vitamin D3 production.
  • A medical problem may be the root of your turtles’ eating disorder. Contact a veterinarian for more information. (Also, a prolonged hunger strike may necessitate medical treatment. A vitamin A deficiency can for instance easily lead to dry and infected eyes in box turtles.)

I hope this helps some! Keep us updated on your boxie friend and tell him Zoya says hi!