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Why Isn’t My African Sideneck Turtle Eating?

If you have noticed your African Sideneck Turtle has stopped eating, you’re probably wondering why and feeling concerned. 

There are several reasons an African Sideneck Turtle may have stopped eating. Loss of appetite can be a sign of poor health, stress, or inadequate living conditions.

If you notice that your turtle is not eating, it is important to identify the cause. You should also contact your veterinarian if your turtle’s appetite does not improve.

Your African Sideneck can make a great pet for many years to come if you give it the proper care it needs. However, inadequate care and poor health can harm your turtle, or even lead to death. 

Don’t ignore your pet if it stops eating. Read more to learn about why African Sideneck turtles lose their appetites and how to resolve the issue.

Causes for lack of appetite

Water quality

Dirty water can make your pet turtle sick and stressed. It is important you provide your pet with clean, safe water for drinking and swimming. 

Aquatic turtles like African Sidenecks need to be fed in the water. They are messy eaters, so this can cause extra food debris to get loose and float away.

If uneaten food is left in the water, it can lead to fungal or bacterial infections. 

Turtles also defecate in the water, which means they live in their own waste. If you do not have a strong or large enough filter, it can cause waste to build up in the water.

Poor water quality increases ammonia and bacteria in the water, which can lead to shell rot or other illnesses. 

If your turtle develops an illness from dirty water, then it may stop eating as a result. 

Enclosure size

Every turtle needs enough space to swim, and plenty of places to hide. 

Additionally, the basking area needs to be large enough that your turtle can get itself completely out of water.

If your enclosure is too small, your turtle may feel stressed, and that can result in a decreased appetite.


Turtles are ectothermic, which means they have to generate heat from outside of their bodies. Therefore, they need appropriate lighting and heating. 

If turtles do not have adequate lighting and heating, they are unable to metabolize food. This can result in both stress and illness, and a reduced appetite. 

If temperatures get too cold too fast, your turtle can develop a respiratory infection or another illness.

Wild turtles also brumate or hibernate, in the colder months. However, since a terrarium’s temperature is constantly warm, most captive turtles do not brumate. 

If the water stays cold for too long, your turtle may think it is time to brumate. When turtles brumate, they stop eating because that’s how they prepare in nature. 

If captive turtles attempt to brumate under the wrong conditions, it can lead to death.

Diet and nutrition

African Sidenecks are omnivores and need a variety of foods to stay healthy. 

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Unfortunately, poor diet or inadequate nutrition can lead to many health issues or even death.

Also, without the proper foods and nutritional supplements, your turtle could develop vitamin deficiencies, which make it sick or cause other ailments. 

One of the many symptoms caused by a lack of proper nutrition and vitamins is a decreased appetite.

Finally, a poor diet can cause your turtle stress, which as mentioned, can lead your turtle to stop eating. 

Illness or injury

Some common health concerns for aquatic turtles include respiratory infections, parasites, dehydration, shell rot, and intestinal obstructions. 

A decreased appetite can indicate your turtle is suffering from one of these illnesses. 

Injuries also need attention. If your pet has an injury inside its mouth or around its jaw, it could be difficult or impossible to eat. And leaving any wound untreated can lead to infection. 

In addition to not eating, other signs of illness are:

  • withdrawing into its shell for long periods of time
  • swollen eyes or limbs
  • lethargy 
  • aggressive behavior
  • tilting or swimming lopsided 
  • bubbles around the nose
  • keeping eyes closed constantly

Addressing the issue

Steps for properly diagnosing the cause

Start by observing your turtle’s behavior regularly, especially after feedings.

Observing your turtles when they are healthy and eating regularly can help you identify changes in behavior and diagnose issues quickly. 

Next, evaluate the cleanliness of your turtle’s water and enclosure. Make sure your water filter is working correctly and the water is clean. 

Then, check that the heater, lights, and thermostats are working to ensure temperatures are remaining warm and constant.

Also, ensure your turtle is getting enough nutrients by giving it nutritional supplements. And try giving your turtle more food variety to determine if the diet is the issue.

If you’re still unable to determine the cause, then conduct a health inspection to look for signs of illness, injury, or stress. If you find signs of any, contact your vet for further diagnosis.

Tips for addressing each potential cause

Keep the water clean

Since clean water is crucial for your turtle’s health, there are some steps to take to ensure you keep it clean.

Always use a strong filter that is large enough to support the size of your tank.

You should also empty half of the water and clean the entire enclosure at least every two weeks. Completely change the water once each month. 

If you are not using a filter, change the water every two days. Clean the enclosure every week.

You can also feed your turtle in a separate enclosure to keep the water clear of food debris

Provide enough space to reduce stress

To avoid stress, provide your turtle with a large enclosure with space to swim, bask, and hide. 

You should have at least a 75-gallon tank for one African Sideneck. This includes the basking area. 

Always use safe and non-toxic decor to reduce stress.

Additionally, use a substrate that is too big for your turtle to swallow. This will decrease the chance of intestinal obstructions.

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Keep temperatures consistent and warm

Keeping the right temperature in your enclosure is important to your turtle’s overall health.

It is important to use heat-emitting UVA and UVB lights for heat-basking areas. 

The UVB light provides your turtle with the artificial sunlight it needs to metabolize food and stay healthy. It also keeps temperatures consistent.

Keep the temperature above your basking area around 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Also, use a water heater to keep the water temperature around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Provide a balanced and nutritious diet

Your turtle cannot survive without the proper food. There are steps you can take to provide your turtle with the diet and nutrition it needs.

  • Choose the right balance of foods: African Sidenecks are omnivores but should have a high-protein diet.  
  • Offering a large variety of foods: African Sidenecks enjoy proteins like chicken, pinkies, and shrimp. They also eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, like strawberries and romaine lettuce. They also eat turtle pellets.
  • Give nutritional supplements when needed: Your turtle may benefit from calcium, Vitamin A, or other supplements. But don’t overdo it because it could become toxic.
  • Develop a feeding schedule: Your turtle will eat more consistently when on a schedule.
  • Don’t overfeed: Overfeeding can lead to obesity and illness. Only give your turtle what it can eat within twenty minutes. Remove leftover food from the tank. 

Get veterinary care

It’s important that your veterinarian gets familiar with your turtle before an illness. 

Your vet will likely diagnose your turtle faster if they can compare its normal behavior to its symptoms. 

Contact your veterinarian when you begin to see any changes in eating or other behaviors. 

It is also a good idea to make a record of any symptoms you observe and share them with your vet. 

They may prescribe antibiotics or other medications for treatment.

Be consistent and patient when addressing the issue

Proper care can prevent issues from arising. However, if your turtle does stop eating, it is important to remain consistent and thorough with treatment. 

Observe your turtle daily. Note if symptoms get better or worse. 

Additionally, check your equipment regularly. Make adjustments or changes to equipment as soon as it’s needed. 

Also, be sure to vary your turtle’s diet, but keep a consistent feeding schedule.

Having patience can help you provide the care your turtle needs, but reach out to the vet if its appetite does not improve.


Your African Sideneck Turtle could stop eating for many different reasons. 

To address the issue, first, start by trying to identify the cause. Dirty living conditions, lack of space, an insufficient diet, illness, or injury can all decrease your turtle’s appetite. 

To ensure that your African Sideneck remains healthy and eats the necessary amount of food, it is important to provide the proper care and a nutritious diet. 

If you’ve tried to remedy the situation but cannot get your turtle to eat, contact your veterinarian.

A timely diagnosis and fast action could save your turtle’s life.