Feeding the Hospitalized Turtle or Tortoise

Key Points

  • Make sure the patient is hydrated and warm before initiating nutritional support.
  • Chelonians display a variety of dietary strategies. Many tortoises are herbivores while some species such as the Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina) are opportunistic omnivores. Juvenile omnivores often eat diets higher in fat and protein.
  • When trying to determine if nutritional support should be initiated in an anorectic turtle, determine if the species normally brumates in the wild. “Brumation” is a period of fasting and reduced resting metabolism. Species enter this period of dormancy for weeks or months as an adaptation to excess heat or cold, drought, or lack of food.
  • Many gravid females also eat less or go off feed entirely.
  • Regular weighing is recommended for fasting reptiles.
  • Maintenance energy requirements (MER) in the reptile are derived from equations for Standard Metabolic Rate (SMR) 32 (BW0.75) where BW is in kilograms. MER is expressed in kcal/d and are based on values at 86°F (30°C). In the debilitated patient, only a fraction of the MER is offered at the first feeding and all volumes offered are increased only gradually.
  • Small amounts of brightly colored produce such as strawberry, tomato, melon, banana (with peel), yellow squash, and cooked sweet potato can attract the attention and stimulate the appetite of many chelonians. Live fish of appropriate size can attract the attention and stimulate the appetite of aquatic turtles.

Turtles and tortoises display a variety of dietary strategies ranging from the complete herbivory seen in many tortoises to the strict carnivory displayed in aquatic species like the snapping turtle. There are also many chelonians, such as the Eastern box turtle, that may be considered opportunistic omnivores. This review article, critiqued by reptile nutritionist, Susan Donoghue, discusses clinical concerns related to feeding the hospitalized turtle or tortoise. Topics covered range from recognizing true anorexia to food items to avoid. Practical technical concerns related to nutritional support such as tube feeding and daily caloric requirements are also discussed . . .


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References

Boyer TH, Boyer DM. Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. In: Mader DR (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd edition. Saunders Elsevier; St. Louis: 2006. Pp. 90-98.

Da Silva RS, Migliorii RH. Effects of starvation and refeedig on energy-liked metabolic processes in the turtle (Phrynops hilarii). Comp Biochem Physiol 96A:415, 1990.

Donoghue S. Nutrition. In: Mader DR (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd edition. Saunders Elsevier; St. Louis: 2006. Pp. 251-298.

Kuchling G. Restoration of epidermal scute patterns during regeneration of the chelonian carapace. Chelonian Conserv Biol 2:500, 1997.

McCauley SJ, Bjorndal KA. Response to dietary dilution in an omnivorous freshwater turtle: implications for ontogenic dietary shifts. Physiol Biochem Zool 72:101-, 1999.

Miller JK. Escaping senescence: demographic data from the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene Carolina triunguis). Exp Gerontol 36:829, 2001.

Nagy KA, Girard IA, Brown TK. Energetics of free-ranging mammals, reptiles and birds. Annu Rev Nutr 19:247, 1999.

Nagy KA, Morafka DJ, Yates RA. Young desert tortoise survival: energy, water, and food requirements in the field. Chelonian Conserv Biol 2:396, 1997.

Rossi JV. General husbandry and management. In: Mader DR (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd edition. Saunders Elsevier; St. Louis: 2006. Pp. 25-41.

Sievert LM, Sievert GA, Cupp PV Jr. Metabolic rate of feeding and fasting juvenile midland painted turtles, Chrysemys picta marginata. Comp Biochem Physiol 90A:157, 1988.

Tothill A, Johnson J, Branvold H, et al. Effect of cisapride, erythromycin, and metoclopramide on gastrointestinal transit time in the desert tortoise, Gopherus agassii. J Herp Med Surg 10:16, 2000.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Feeding the hositalized turtle or tortoise. March 25, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/feeding-the-hospitalized-turtle-or-tortoise/