Turtle Care 101: Caring For A Pet Turtle

Turtles are cute and are a generally low-maintenance pet, even if they are the opposite of snuggly and cuddly. All it really takes is a good knowledge base and some research on how to make a turtle a great pet and care for them properly. The most important thing for a turtle is that their environment is kept up and always kept in good shape. Since turtles are mostly aquatic and spend most of their time in water, they need both a habitat that gives them a place they can swim in and a place that’s an island in the sun so they can hang out on land whenever they are so inclined.

Turtle parents and turtle-dreamers alike- here’s a brush up on your turtle care that is more fun than the brushing of their shell.

Turtle Species and Terms

Turtles like to spend most of their time in the water. The incredibly long-lived tortoises live exclusively on land. Terrapins are also turtles, but most terrapins time-share their life spans between land and fresh water. There are well over 250 different types of turtles.

For the new turtle owner, the following species are best as they are some of the lowest maintenance of all turtles and are commonly available where turtles are sold as pets-

Red-eared sliders are a water-dwelling turtle that requires a dry area in its habitat. The red slider can grow to be as long as 11 inches, so it is an impressive dinner-plate or bigger sized pet. The red-eared slider is the most popular type of turtle to have as a pet throughout the world.

The painted turtle is a beautiful colorful omnivore that eats a great variety of things and can grow as long as seven inches. These are the most common native turtles found throughout the United States.

The Central American wood turtle is mostly an herbivore, but if you feel like offering the occasional insect or worm, they’ll gladly take it. They are opportunistic herbivores. They can grow to be as long as nine inches in length and are plate-sized as an adult.  These are also known as the ornate wood turtle

The African aquatic side neck is an omnivorous turtle loving plants and bugs in its varied diet. It is called the side neck due to its unique “folding neck” and can grow as long as eight inches. They prefer to spend most of their time in the water, but they require a nice place that’s dry to soak up the heat and light in its environment.

The Caspian pond turtle needs a balanced aquatic and dry habitat and grows to be about nine inches at maturity. It is an omnivore.

The Greek tortoise is a tortoise and therefore is a landlubber. It will need a shallow water dish where it can soak and drink. They are long-lived slow and are exclusively herbivorous. They can grow up to 12 inches.

The Russian tortoise is another land-dweller with the requirement for a shallow water dish. They can grow up to eight inches.

Pet Turtle and Tortoise Habitats

A terrarium makes the perfect habitat for a turtle and the bigger the better always applies to turtles and tortoises terrariums. These animals require both water and land and need ample room to explore and find the perfect spot to rest. Keeping the turtle environment in tip-top shape and healthy is the main necessity of having a happy, healthy pet because if anything, once you get a turtle and something goes wrong, the cause will be found here.

Turtles require constant clean water. They require the water to both be changed frequently and to have a strong filtration system. Clean water is even more important than the temperature provided they have a heat lamp to sun themselves under in the dry area. Keeping the water free of particles and algae is important for keeping your pet healthy. A turtle tank is far more maintenance than a fish tank.

If you think you will not have time to be wet regularly and be able to maintain a turtle’s aquatic environment, you may want to consider the land-dwelling tortoise. There’s less water to change but you will have to keep the terrarium clean and refresh the water regularly. With a pet turtle, an owner wants to make a few water changes every week. Turtles go to the bathroom in their water and therefore live in their own waste, by changing the water a few times a week, the turtle is not swimming around in their own waste and is more hygienic and the tank more pleasant. If thrice weekly water changes are not something you can be certain to do or find time for, a tortoise is less maintenance and just requires fresh water bowls and cleaning of their changes and much less frequent habitat deep cleanings/resets.

You will need thermometers for both the air and water. The goal is to create and maintain an environment as close as possible to what your turtle or tortoise would live in if it were in its natural habitat in the great outdoors. Researching and knowing what water and land temperatures are needed for your species should be learned before buying your turtle so you can set up the tank and get it set up. Do not guess what the temperature of the water or air is in the tank. Use the thermometer sets available at pet shops. A turtle that is constantly in air that is the wrong temperature can get a respiratory infection or stop eating and fall ill from malnutrition.

Turtles like to sunbathe too. Sunlight makes their shells develop property and have strong bones from using sunlight to make Vitamin D.  Without sunlight, they can get metabolic bone disease.

Feeding A Healthy Turtle Diet

Turtles generally enjoy a diet of insects, fish (they especially like comet goldfish, which are smaller than the goldfish sold as pets and are typically just feeder fish) and enjoy a nice salad of dark, leafy greens.  There is also canned or pelleted turtle food and freeze-dried mealworms available wherever pet food is purchased that can add variety and more nutrition. Tortoises are herbivores and will require a mix of fresh vegetables (80 percent of the diet) with the rest of their diet coming from fresh fruit.

One good thing about turtles is that they don’t need to be fed every day. Feeding your turtle four to five times a week on average is completely fine. Only rapidly growing young water turtle should be fed every single day. Less food lying about that won’t be eaten also contributes to a dirty turtle habitat so try to not be wasteful and overfeed a turtle but if they still are looking for more food after they have clean dishes or have grabbed up all the bugs, a few more can be given, but just a few. In the wild, food is limited so turtles have learned even in captivity to eat all the food offered as Mother Nature does not serve food everyday and a turtle has to eat when there’s food. Mimicking the conditions found in nature is a key to pet turtle health and happiness.  You also will want to get a calcium supplement for your turtle and dust their food with it as recommended for the species and on the package.

Turtle Care

Providing regular care for your turtle or tortoise and keeping their environment clean will keep it healthy and happy. Health problems in these animals arise when owners don’t feed them properly, don’t clean the terrarium or maintain clean water, or if their pet is not being kept at the right temperature. Normal care can keep one healthy. If health issues do occur, vitamin A and calcium deficiencies are quite common in captive reptiles. Your turtle will require a visit to the veterinarian id they get a respiratory disease, a shell infection, a shell fractures, parasites, and abscesses. These can be noticed by paying attention to your turtle and it’s environment.

Turtles can carry the bacteria salmonella, which can be transmitted to humans and causes serious illness, especially in the immunocompromised. Keeping a clean terrarium, making sure hands are washed properly and rinsed fully before and after handling the turtle or the environment and using a commercial product to condition and treat reptile water can help organisms like salmonella not be present on your pet, tank and possibly even prevent turtle diseases from ever happening.

If you purchase a baby turtle, it will be swift growing and expect to offer it plenty of TLC and ensure these criteria below are met:

Turtles should always have a terrarium or aquarium no smaller than 29 gallons. Even tiny turtles need a space no shorter than 4 feet long, 18 inches wide and 18 inches tall (4’X18x18 minimum)

Change your baby turtle’s water every single day if you do not have a filter system.  Your baby turtle is swimming in their toilet. If you have a filter system, you will still need to change it two to three days.

Feed your baby turtle its appropriate diet and in pieces so larger than the space between its eyes as a general guideline every day, up to two times per day.

Keep the terrarium’s water and air temperature at about 86 degrees Fahrenheit and that your baby turtle has access to both land and water.

Your baby turtle is learning to swim and doesn’t really need a deep end yet. The rule of thumb is that the water end of a baby turtles aquatic section should be about an inch deeper than the width of its shell.

Be an observant turtle owner. When turtle watching, look for any physical signs of illness, including swollen eyes (some species of turtle come with bulging eyes as part of their charm). Look for discoloration on their shell and see if they are avoiding food. If you notice any of these, your veterinarian specializing in reptile care should be consulted.

Many pet turtles can live about 20 years so a turtle is a commitment. Never rush into a turtle as a pet. Turtles are a high maintenance pet to some degree and should not be a spur of the moment decision. You must have the dedication and be willing to make the time to have a turtle and be the best pet parent possible.

Image By GuideYourPet



1 Comment

  1. Eli Mcmullen

    Thank you for mentioning how feeding your turtle four times each week can help ensure that their habitat remains clean. My wife and I are thinking about getting a turtle for our son’s birthday next week, and we would like to find some nutritious food pellets that our son will be able to easily count in order to avoid overfeeding his pet. We’ll see if we can find some food for the turtle that we decide to get.


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