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How Long Can A Red-Eared Slider Go Without Food?

If you’re a turtle owner thinking about going on holiday or struggling with a turt that’s refusing to eat, you may be wondering: how long can a red-eared slider go without food? Days, weeks… months?

The answer to this question isn’t straightforward. It depends on several factors, including age, health, and even the season. Below, we’ll have a look at what your red-eared slider needs and what happens if it goes without food for longer periods of time.

What do red-eared sliders eat, anyway?

First off, let’s have a quick look at what should be on the menu for your red-eared slider. A balanced diet is key. Although it’s still commonly thought that this species is carnivorous, this actually isn’t the case!

Research clearly shows that wild red-eared sliders feed on a range of foods. Although the species’ diet varies according to location, what’s clear is that it involves everything from terrestrial foods like leaves, fruit, insects, carrion, and roots, to aquatic foods like algae, small amphibians, mollusks, and much more.

In captivity, their diet should consist of a mix of veggies, insects, and specialized turtle food you can pick up from the pet store. Variety is the spice of life—not just for humans, but for turtles, too.

Close-up of red-eared slider turtle face

How long can a red-eared slider go without food?

As mentioned, the answer to this question depends on different factors. Let’s assume for a second, though, that your red-eared slider is a regular healthy and active adult with access to clean water and everything else it needs.

In a pinch, a healthy adult slider can go without food for a few weeks. They’re pretty resilient. If you’re planning on going away for a weekend, for example, there’s no need to have someone do more than just check in on your pet. We’d comfortably leave ours for up to 2 weeks.

Just don’t push it—letting your turtle go hungry for extended periods of time can lead to health issues like malnutrition or a weakened immune system. It’s not a risk worth taking. You also shouldn’t leave it without food too often.

Tip: Going away for a bit and worried your turtle is going to go hungry? Automatic feeders do exist. You can even just toss a bunch of aquatic plants like Elodea in the water so your pet at least has something to snack on.

What affects food requirements?

OK, so a healthy and active adult red-eared slider can go at least two weeks without food, even up to a month or more in a pinch. But what if it’s not an adult? Or what if it’s winter and your outdoor turtle isn’t active? How does this influence things?

Here are some factors to keep in mind when figuring out how long your red-eared slider can go without a meal:


  • Juveniles: Require more frequent feeding, as they’re still growing. In fact, they may need daily feeding, and letting them go hungry is a problem.
  • Adults: Generally require less frequent feeding. Every 2-3 days is fine, and leaving them without food for two weeks or so is not an issue.


  • Warm Months: Stick to the 2-weeks rule, especially when it’s warm and your turtle is highly active. This also applies to indoor turtles in a temperature-regulated environment.
  • Cold Months/Brumation: Your turtle will be less interested in food. If things get chilly, it may not need anything for months at a time, so no worries if you’re going away over the holidays.


  • Healthy Turtles: You can stick to the standard guidelines, keeping age and season in mind.
  • Sick or Recovering Turtles and Rescues: Don’t risk it. If your turtle isn’t in tip-top shape, letting it go hungry for more than a few days just isn’t a good idea.

Help, my red-eared slider isn’t eating!

If it’s been a while since your turtle has taken a meal even though you’re offering it food, something may be wrong.

As mentioned, it’s normal for red-eared sliders to become inactive and refuse food if they’re exposed to the cold. Once things warm back up, your turtle will go back to being its ravenous self.

If you just brought your turtle home or changed up its environment, it might be stressed and not interested in eating for now. Be sure to check whether it has everything it needs: clean, warm water, UVB lighting, and healthy, varied food options.

If your turtle turns into a picky eater or flat-out refuses food even though it was eating normally before, and you’ve ruled out stress or brumation, health issues could be at play. Your first step should be to consult a veterinarian specializing in reptiles to make sure everything is okay.

Tip: it’s not too difficult to tell when a turtle is too thin. They’ll become slower, their eyes look sunken in, their bones show, their shell takes on a faded look, and they may have difficulty swimming. If this is the case with yours, you should take it to a vet no matter what.


So, how long can a red-eared slider go without food? Well, if it’s a healthy adult that has everything it needs to thrive, quite a while. Factors like age, temperature (brumation) and health status can change this, though.

All in all, you can go on holiday just fine if you have a red-eared slider. Do make sure to have someone check in on your turt every few days, even if they don’t feed it. They can make sure its water is clean, its filter is working, and your pet itself is still alive ‘n kicking.

Looking to set up your own indoor turtle tank, or even an outdoor pond habitat? We can help! FantaSEA Aquariums can design, build, and maintain your aquarium or pond for you so all you have to do is enjoy is. Just contact us with your ideas.

Still have questions, or something to share? You can leave a comment below.

Sources & further reading

Dreslik, M. J. (1999). Dietary notes on the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) and river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) from southern Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science, 92(3), 233-241.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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