Can Turtles Get Fat?

Yes, it is certainly possible for turtles to get fat. You can tell turtle is fat by more than usual turtle flesh around neck and legs. The reason turtle get fat lack of physical activity and overeating. 

You don’t often think about pets as creatures that get fat.

Dogs and cats are usually known for their athleticism and sprightliness, Garfield excluded.

Perhaps hamsters might get a little roly-poly, but if you’ve ever seen one monkey-bar across the top of their cage like an Al Qaeda terrorist-in-training, you know how strong they can be. 

Among the pets that are known to get a little pudgy, turtles are near the top of the list.

Just like any pet, you run the risk of being overgenerous with food.

It’s completely understandable, you want to make your new friend as happy as possible. But overfeeding is not the only cause of obesity in turtles. 

In this blog, we’ll go over the various ways a turtle can become overweight, the health risks it presents and how you can avoid it.

Like any pet, you want the best for your turtle, and keeping them healthy is the first step in giving them a good life

How to Tell a Turtle is Fat

When an animal has a protective, hard shell that’s meant to be unbreakable, it’s not exactly easy to get a good look at its body.

You can’t rub its side, mock its love handles and hope it takes it as encouragement to get a gym membership.

But if you pay close attention, monitoring your turtle’s health is definetly possible. 

Turtles that are beginning to get obese usually start to get folds and flaps in the skin around the neck and arms, much like people.

If you’ve been around turtles, you should be able to tell the difference between the way a turtle’s flesh normally bends and folds and the way fat does

If you have the turtle from a young age, it should be even easier to tell if it’s gotten fat, as you’ve seen it since it was a baby.

Compare old photos of your baby turtle with how it looks today.

Older turtles that have packed on a few pounds will noticeably have limbs bulging from their sockets. 

These areas of your turtle will also feel squishy to the touch, though you don’t want to poke and prod your friend too much, as it will surely annoy them. 

Dangers of Obesity in Turtles

Turtles, like any creature on this earth, can have their overall health negatively affected by obesity.

It’s even fatal. 

One major risk of allowing your turtle to get fat is that he gets so big he can no longer fit his head back inside of his shell.

When a turtle develops fat deposits, the only place they can go is the neck.

This clogs the shell entrance. 

You should be especially watchful to see if sores can develop.

If they have developed sores, they need to be taken to the vet immediately to be treated for infection, though that’s far from the only risk they face from obesity. 

For a turtle to properly get back in its shell, the skin has to fold a little in order for the head and limbs to properly retract.

But the openings it retracts into are not known for their flexibility.

This is the same concept as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And for your turtle, it can be painful. 

It can even be lethal.

Turtles retract into their shell to protect themselves from more than just predators, and without that protection from the elements they can get very sick. 

If your turtle is unable to hide in its shell, which is often instinctually what it wants to do, it also won’t understand why it is having such difficulty doing so.

So they’ll keep trying, damaging their skin, leading to abrasions and sores that could get infected. 

While treatment for sores is available, it’s not necessarily going to be effective.

Sores can get infected very quickly, and you may not notice them in time.

It’s also likely that you’ll miss a sore on first inspection, as they often hide under folds of fat. 

Obesity in any animal can lead to various problems internally as well.

These problems add strain on the body, making treatments for injuries less effective. 

What Causes Turtles To Be Fat? 

There are several reasons your turtle may be getting fat, but the leading cause of excessive weight gain in turtles is overfeeding.

Turtles, on their own, are already carrying a lot of weight, but they’re built for it.

The shell they have on their backs is no added strain. 

But if they get fat, the added weight can be a problem.

Turtles that have gotten very obese may have difficulty moving around at all. 

Upon first getting a turtle, a lot of new owners are very nervous about overfeeding their new friend.

A turtle is not like a cat or a dog, it’s shell often hides the extra weight it is gaining in early development. 

So an owner might be confused with how much food you should be giving them, and as a result, accidentally give them too much. 

Often, a tortoise will need to go on special diets later in life because this issue has snowballed out of control. 

How to Feed a Turtle So It Doesn’t Get Fat

You can help your turtle avoid this problem by not overfeeding it and feeding it the correct kinds of food right from a young age. You can also help by giving it plenty of space to exercise. 

First, your turtle is going to require high levels of vitamin A in its diet. Foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers both encourage weight loss and give them the nutrients they need. 

You can help them exercise by providing them a living space with plenty of room both to move around as well as swim. Feeding your turtles live fish and guppies is also a great way to encourage exercise, not to mention the thrill your friend gets from hunting as it would in nature. 

Remember, though, that as your turtle grows, so must its habitat. An adult turtle is not going to be comfortable in a tank suited for a juvenile, and it won’t be able to get the exercise it needs to stay healthy.

Generally, you should have ten gallons of water in the tank for every inch of shell the turtle has. 

Before starting your turtle on any diet, it’s vital that you consult with your veterinarian on the specific foods it will comprise so that they can safely lose weight. 

The simplest answer to the question of how much food you should be giving your turtle each meal is to go by the size of the head rule.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a container such as a medicine bottle lid or small tupperware that is approximately the same size of your turtle’s head. 

Then, fill that container to the top. Once you get used to this, a container probably isn’t necessary.

You’ll be able to eyeball the amount of food expected.

You should concern yourself too much with preciseness, as small inconsistencies in the amount every day is not going to affect your turtle significantly. 

Following this rule is also a great way to figure out how much food you’re supposed to feed a turtle.

A hatchling should be fed every day, a juvenile should only be fed every two days. When they grow into adults, they should only get a container full of food every three days. 

If you don’t know how to determine your turtle’s age, it’s quite simple. A turtle is considered a hatchling until it has grown over 4 inches in shell length. They typically remain juveniles until they’re around five years old. 

So what should go in that container of food apart from Vitamin A-enriched foods? 

Surely you’re aware of a turtle’s fondness for leafy greens, and they’re especially healthy for them.

Most turtles are omnivores, though their preference for meat varies depending on the kind. 

Red Eared Sliders, for instance, have a particular hankering for meat.

There are plenty of articles that list various diets for specifics kinds of turtle, but since most are omnivores,  other foods that you should consider for your turtle include:

  • Berries
  • Fruits
  • Meat
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Insects
  • Turtle Pellets
  • Worms

The fruit, vegetables and berries have all the nutrients that they need to grow and remain healthy.

The meats, on the other hand, are rich in the protein necessary for body strength and promote growth. 

Too much protein, however, is a dangerous thing.

This is one of the oddest body deformations that can happen to an animal, though it’s not as bad as it necessarily sounds at first blush. If a turtle consumes too much protein, it can pyramid. 

Pyramiding is when the protein begins to form ridges on the turtle’s back, rising above the way the dome is normally shaped.

Normally, this isn’t dangerous at all, but when these bumps become more pronounced, it can be serious. If you see any signs of pyramiding, you should consider changing your turtle’s diet. 

What To Do With A Fat Turtle

If you find that your turtle has gained too much weight, the first step in reducing its weight safely is taking it to your veterinarian. The vet will determine a healthy way for your turtle to diet, as well as suggest some exercise and ways to encourage it. 

Some turtles may not be in good enough shape to properly exercise right away, and the vet may begin by recommending food tapering to get it on the right track before any exercise is attempted. 

Now that you have your turtle on a new diet, measurements of food are going to have to be more exact. If your turtle is having too much food, the idea is to still feed them, but make sure they aren’t having excessive amounts or leaving extra for later. 

When it comes to exercise, a turtle is not an animal that’s ever going to get on a treadmill. They don’t make treadmills small enough, or slow enough, to accommodate a turtle. Instead, you can encourage exercise very easily by putting objects in the way of their food dish. 


Forcing your turtle to walk over a big stick or two before it can chow down on some luscious greenery may irritate them slightly, but they’ll thank you for it when they’re living longer and eating healthier. 

Provided you always feed your turtle the appropriate amount of food for its age, it should grow healthy and you never run the risk of overfeeding it. But a turtle’s lifestyle can also have an impact on its health. The benefits of hunting live fish and eating well can enrich your turtle’s life in more ways than one. 

It’s also important, however, to always ensure that you are feeding your turtle the right foods in its diet. This will include a lot of Vitamin A and leafy greens, as well as protein to grow. Again, it’s important to never give your turtle excessive amounts of protein. 


Following these steps are the key to giving your turtle a long, healthy, happy life. 

F.A.Q. 

How Do You Know If A Turtle Is Underweight?

Just as risky as it is to overfeed a turtle, underfeeding them means not giving them the nutrients and protein they need to remain healthy and grow properly. Fortunately, there are ways to tell if your turtle is not getting enough food in general or the right food. 


An underfed turtle will look sickly. It’s legs will be thin, it might have trouble supporting the weight of its shell. You might see it struggling to move. It also may not feel very heavy when you pick it up, almost having no weight at all. 

Increase the daily amount of food immediately if you notice any of these signs.

If you find that your turtle is not eating at all, there may be some underlying cause.

The veterinarian will have to determine what it is, and you may have to provide your turtle some supplements through a syringe. 

Also read

Why is Your Turtle Upside Down?

Do Turtles Have Tails?

Is My Turtle Underweight or overweight?

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