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Dietary Concerns

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The quality and balance of the foods you offer your RES is important for its continued growth and health. A critical element for healthy shell and bone development is calcium, especially for hatchlings and egg-laying females. A poor diet can interrupt calcium absorption or cause calcium loss from the bones and shell. Phosphorus is also a necessary element that is critical to the regulation of metabolic processes and is involved in many biochemical reactions. It is combined with calcium as the important elements of the bones and shell. However, excessive amounts of phosphorus must be removed from the body with soluble calcium. If the calcium requirement is not met, then calcium present in the bones and shell is absorbed - leading to metabolic bone disease (MBD) and soft shell. In a balanced diet, calcium is given in a greater ratio than phosphorus. Certain plants may also block calcium absorption. They may contain oxalic acid and oxalates, which binds and inhibits calcium. Plants like Rhubarb, contain very high – and dangerous - amounts of oxalic acid and should absolutely be avoided.

Just like there are certain plants that block calcium absorption, there are ones that block iodine absorption. Collards and other plants from the Brassica group (also called Cruciferae) may inhibit absorption, resulting in goiters. Though not clinically proven to do so in sliders, they are suspected of being able to. Some of these plants are acceptable in small amounts and adding an iodine rich food, like kelp, is believed to counteract any effects.

Reptiles and turtles can also develop gout - a form of arthritis caused by the accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints. The most likely cause of gout is the use of a high-purine diet. Purine breakdown produces uric acid that is normally filtered out of the body. Generally shellfish and other foods such as mushrooms and anchovies also contain large amounts of purine and should be avoided.

An excessive amount of protein is a more realistic problem to turtles. Some RES keepers use only one source of food - a turtle pellet. It is not a complete dietary package and should not be used indiscriminately. While younger turtles are expected to receive more protein, they are often given too much. Excessive amounts of protein cause very fast, unhealthy growth that puts a strain on internal organs, especially the kidneys. Fast growth also causes pyramiding, a long-term and sometimes permanent shell disfiguration and premature sexual maturity. Please refer to the Commercial turtle pellets section for feeding recommendations.

Other foods to limit or avoid are shellfish, which may contain bacteria that is linked shell rot. Fish, notably goldfish, may contain thiaminase, an enzyme that destroys Vitamin B1 (thiamin). Live foods are also expected to be more prone to carry disease or parasites. In rare and small quantities, certain prey is an acceptable offering.

Article: Anapsid.org - Calcium metabolism and metabolic bone disease
Article: Tortoisetrust.org - Promoting Proper Bone Development (Calcium information)

Problems Related to Diet

In addition to the above concerns, a very common mistake for captive turtles is overfeeding. Most RES are aggressive beggars and many owners succumb. They may believe they are not feeding enough or they believe they will pacify the turtle. Overfeeding, especially of protein, results in obesity, rapid growth, shell pyramiding, premature sexuality, liver failure and kidney failure. These can shorten the life expectancy, cause irreversible damage and may require expensive medical care. If your turtle is overfed, immediate steps need to be taken to prevent it and you need to establish a varied diet. Refer to the frequency and quantity section. Additionally, you might want to take regular notes on the length and weight of your turtles.

Deficiencies are another diet related-problem, specifically a lack of calcium that can cause bone diseases and shell problems such as "soft shell". For your turtle to benefit from calcium, Vitamin D3 is also needed. It aids in calcium absorption and a slider can produce its own Vitamin D3 in the presence of UVB rays (from a special bulb or direct sunlight). Additional Vitamin D3 can be offered as a dietary supplement, however you should consult your herpetological veterinarian before offering this.

Overall, you need to adjust your turtle’s diet to ensure it is balanced and varied. Problems must be addressed quickly and corrected. They can be picky and stubborn, however you can be patient and resourceful. A healthy diet is necessary for your RES to thrive and avoid potential problems.

Related Topics: Pyramiding, Soft Shell
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This page updated: 2011/01/28 Copyright © 2005-2011 Red Ear Slider. All rights reserved.