How to Care for Your Pet Turtle

Turtles can be beautiful and fascinating pets, but be sure to check which species is right for you before choosing a pet turtle.

The species of the turtle is important for its care. By: Clara S.

Turtles have been popular as pets, but they often perish because of improper care.

All turtles are not created equal. Turtles can be aquatic- or land-based, and different species have different dietary and habitat needs.

Before deciding on a turtle as your next pet, read the details below to learn how to care for your pet turtle. This information can help you decide whether a turtle is the right pet for you.

The first step to take before getting a new pet turtle is to research the different species and care requirements. Some turtles will require larger tanks with more water or plant-based diets, while others need more land area or meat and protein in their diets.

Your time, space and available budget may help you decide whether a good beginner turtle such as a red eared slider is an ideal choice or if a larger and more care-intensive species such as a snapping turtle is preferred.

The following information is for basic turtle care, but the needs of your specific pet turtle will depend on which species you choose.

Habitat Is Important

A turtle’s environment is crucial to its overall health. Aquatic turtles will require larger tanks with 75% water, semi-aquatics will need half water and half land, and land turtles and tortoises need only 25% water.

Ventilation, non-chlorinated water, filters, thermometers, heaters and specific bulbs are needed to create the proper environment. Read this article for tips on creating an awesome pet turtle habitat to learn more.

Turtles can carry salmonella, so it’s important to wash your hands after handling your turtle or cleaning the habitat. This practice is also important for kids handling the turtle, and there is a risk of bacteria being transferred from people to turtles.

What’s on the Menu?

The type of food you feed your turtle depends on the species. You should not feed your turtle table scraps or food created for other animals.

Vegetation such as lettuce, cabbage or other greens should be provided daily (around four to five leaves, depending on your turtle’s appetite). Other green vegetables such as broccoli and celery and fruit can be provided as additions, but fruit should be limited as a treat. Commercial turtle food should be supplemented with the above recommendations instead of being fed alone to ensure dietary balance.

Some turtles require a protein such as fish, shrimp, insects or other source, and two to three pieces daily is usually sufficient. Some turtles enjoy live fish that provide a food source and a means of exercise. Be sure to research your specific turtle’s species and its dietary needs to ensure the appropriate food is provided.

Spring water should be provided with food. Many owners also feed their turtles in an extra bowl of water instead of their habitat to reduce cleaning and help minimize debris in the water.

If you have trouble getting your turtle to eat greens, this video shows one turtle owner’s trick to entice her turtles to eat their greens:

Does a Turtle Need a Vet?

If you care about your turtle’s health and life span, you should expect to visit a veterinarian once per year. Annual checkups help set a baseline each year of your turtle’s health and can help identify any issues that need to be treated. Changes in appearance or behavior could be a sign of disease or a lack of nutrition in the diet.

The shell of the turtle can reveal issues that may need veterinary attention. Look for a clean shell free of cracks or other defects. If you notice a part of the shell has changed or been damaged, it’s a good idea to have it checked out by your vet.

If you are looking for a vet, a phone call to inquire about their turtle or reptile experience will let you know if the vet will be able to properly care for your pet. If the vet does not treat turtles, ask for a referral.

These basic care tips will help guide you in the right direction before choosing a turtle as a pet, but remember to research the species of the turtle you are interested in so you can understand the needs and requirements to keep that species healthy and happy.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, has been researching dog and cat breeds for nearly a decade and has observed the animals up close at dog shows in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has researched and written about pet behaviors and care for many years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, another bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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