How to Care For a Red-Eared Slider Turtle

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How to Care For a Red-Eared Slider Turtle

The red-eared slider has been a popular pet for many years, especially in the last two decades of the 20th century, and has been kept by a wide range of reptile hobbyists, both novice and experienced.

People have been living alongside animals since the dawn of time, and having pets is one of the most delightful and satisfying experiences available.

Reptiles are increasingly popular as pets among 21st-century modern families.

That’s because in their mind you don’t have to feed them every day take them outside to do their thing, yet these small pets can bring big responsibilities in your life.

Caring for a red-eared slider turtle comes with great responsibility.

Some reptiles may be cheap to buy, but to maintain them it’s very, very expensive since they require more special care than your typical domestic pet.

This article will unveil the best practices to maintain your red-eared slider turtle healthy and happy for many years.

You will learn everything about this turtle’s physical features, their habitats, food and feeding habits, breeding behavior, diseases, and how to make a proper turtle enclosure for them.

Here is the first rule: in most cases you will always want to buy an adult turtle, do not purchase babies since they’re very delicate and they require more care than an adult.

About Red-Eared Sliders & History

Red-eared sliders have been on the market for many years, but until recently, they were only available in pet shops. They perished in shocking numbers due to a lack of knowledge from the kids that begged their parents to purchase them.

In the past century when there was no internet or abundant literature on reptiles, people still bought red-eared sliders which were popular, cute, and small as a nickel.

baby turtle small as a nickel

After a few years when the turtles would grow bigger, owners would have no idea what to do with them or where to keep them, so most were released into nearby ponds.

A question that was not raised until recently is why the red-eared slider is the most common terrapin species in pet shops around the world.

It’s probably because red-eared sliders are the most adaptable and resilient of the Terrapin species.

Their natural habitat is North America but in the last decade, they have been spotted in many places in the world with the exception of the extremely cold areas.


The great enemy used to be nothing else but exploited small terrapins which were imported from Asian farms in massive quantities mostly through the illegal channel of the black market.

The red-eared slider soon became one of the most invasive species in regions where it wasn’t native, such as Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

red eared slider invasive species world map

The red-eared slider’s aggressive demeanor makes it one of the most dangerous and widespread species, capable of wiping out indigenous flora and especially in and around freshwaters.

In Australia, it is illegal for members of the public to import cheap trade or release red-eared sliders. Their import has been banned by the European Union and other specific countries.

Invasive red-eared sliders cause negative impacts on the ecosystems they occupy because they have certain advantages over the native populations.

They also transmit diseases and displace the other turtle species with which they compete for food and breeding space.

Not many people know that this little creature was the inspiration for the world-famous Ninja Turtles back in 1984.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank

What Does a Red-Eared Slider Look Like?

red-eared slider appearance
  • A red-eared slider is a medium-sized aquatic turtle.
  • They are usually red or orange on the inside of their ears and also on their heads.
  • They have webbed feet which makes them really good swimmers.
  • The shell (carapace) is usually dark brown with yellow or orange stripes.
  • It has a long tail which is why it’s one of the most popular turtles as a pet.
  • It also has a yellow or orange plastron (bottom shell).

RELATED READ: How Big do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Get?

Red-Eared Slider Turtle Facts

Care Difficulty ⚠️Red-eared sliders are excellent beginner turtles and the difficulty of taking care of it would be moderate.
Diet 🥫A red-eared slider is an omnivore. It eats plants, insects, worms, small fish, algae, and pellets. A red-eared slider has a beak-like mouth and it’s similar to that of a chicken. These kinds of jaws are really good for ripping apart plants, leaves, fruits, and veggies.
Size 📏After the first year, hatchlings should be around 2-3.5 inches long. They are about 1 inch long at birth and grow to be around 2-3.5 inches in length after their first year. Adult male red-eared sliders reach a length of 7 to 9 inches while females reach 10 to 12 inches.
Lifespan ❤️Red-eared sliders can live for 15 to 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
Behavior 🐢Wild red-eared sliders are usually very calm turtles and shy away from making contact with humans. However, they’re highly protective of their territory and can become very aggressive when it comes to defending themselves, especially the males.
Captive-bred red-eared sliders are more sociable than wild red-eared sliders, and at the tiniest sound or movement, they will plunge into the water for protection. Captive-bred red-eared sliders are the opposite, they will frequently swim up to you and beg for food.
Minimum Habitat Size 🏠A minimum of a 50-gallon long aquarium is necessary for one red-eared slider. Upgrading the size of the habitat will be necessary over time while the turtle grows

Where Can I Get A Red-Eared Slider Turtle?

Even if you are positive that you want to have a red-eared slider as a pet, do not buy it.

We should not support farming and the exploitation of this beautiful prehistoric creature that only wants to survive.

Instead, we should try and adopt an abandoned red-eared slider because this is how we show we care and this is how we make a change.

If you already have one or more red-eared sliders as pets, that’s great! Now is your time to learn how to take care of them.

RELATED READ: Caring For Baby Red Eared Sliders

Red-Eared Sliders as Pets

Red-eared sliders are pets that require proper care, attention, and housing.

They are usually bought in pet shops when they are babies or very small juveniles since they are very cute and small.

This is the biggest mistake you could make because baby turtles require a lot of care and attention and they often perish because of carelessness or ignorance. Not to mention that it’s best to adopt a red-eared slider instead of buying as we already stated.

What most people don’t know is that the red-eared slider is a reptile and therefore, it requires high temperatures and humidity levels.

This is why it’s necessary to understand how to provide the right environment, with the most suitable temperature and humidity for this type of pet.

Are Red-Eared Sliders Good Pets?

baby red-eared slider

Yes, they can make good pets. Red-eared sliders are very common and often available in pet stores.

They are inexpensive, pretty easy to care for, and can be quite long-lived. However, they grow fast and are very large!

They also have a unique personality that doesn’t suit everyone. If you get one, think carefully about where it will live and who will care for it when you move on to your next grand adventure.

How Much Does It Cost To Own a Red-Eared Slider?

A red-eared slider might seem like a cheap pet but that’s a huge misconception.

Red-eared sliders can cost around $20 – $50 but there are additional costs added to this price 💲:

Initial Costs for Setting the HabitatYou will need a proper habitat, such as aquariums and filtration systems. You’ll also need an upgraded basking lamp ($25), a basking platform ($30), a 40-gallon tank which costs about $140, a UV light to avoid Vitamin D3 deficiency ($40), a water filter ($40), water heater (30$) and other decoration things.
Food CostsIf you buy your red-eared slider in a pet store, food will be available for purchase.
However, if you get your turtle from someone else, you’ll need to do your research about what to feed it. Food for red-eared sliders can cost $10 – $15 per week, on average.
Veterinary Visits CostsEven if your red-eared slider looks healthy, it’s important for them to have regular checkups. A visit to the vet can cost $50 – $100 per appointment, with yearly checkups costing more.
Maintenance CostsWater changes are necessary, even if your red-eared slider’s tank is filtered.
It’s also important to change the water regularly, which can cost $5 – $10 every 1-2 weeks. You’ll also need to replace the water heater, which can cost about $20.
The other monthly costs are for electricity, which will depend on how much you run your tank’s filter and heater.

Choosing a Healthy Red-Eared Slider Turtle

Before going and looking for a red-eared slider to make them your pet, you should visit an exotic pet store and ask the seller if the terrapin you are about to buy is healthy and if it has been vaccinated.

People often choose a red-eared slider that is bigger than the rest or that moves more because they think that these are the most active and healthy terrapins. The reality is that they will grow bigger anyway, so there’s no sense in buying the biggest turtle.

The most important thing is that the eyes are rounded and plump, not sunken, and there are no visible wounds.

appearance red eared slider
healthy looking red-eared slider

The shell (carapace) should be bright and the claws and skin should be bright and without blemishes or abnormalities.

You should also check that the turtle reacts properly when you turn it over to examine its plastron (bottom shell). If the animal has been in the water for a while, the plastron will be wet. But when you pick it up or have it picked up by the seller, the plastron should not be wet and it should feel dry to the touch.

The seller should also let you examine the animal’s beak, the inside of the mouth, and the skin around the eyes. If there are any red or whitish dots on them, this is a symptom of an eye or respiratory disease.

You should not take the turtle if it has whitish dots on its eyes, mouth, nose, or if has dried feces on its bottom shell.

If it is an aquatic turtle, the seller should submerge it in water so you can watch it swim. During this time, you should check that it swam properly and that the turtle moved its front legs when it was in the water. The front legs should be firm and the claws should not be outside of its feet.

RELATED READ: How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Live Without Water

Common Health Issues

Signs of a healthy red-eared slider should include the following:

  • Eats regularly
  • Active
  • Clear eyes
  • Clear nose
  • Hard shell of about two centimeters thick
  • Healthy skin

The more time you spend with your turtle the more signs you will be able to see. A red-eared slider will rarely get sick as long as the home is healthy and comfortable for him.

Signs of an unhealthy red-eared slider should include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Avoiding food
  • Swollen eyes
  • Protruding eyes
  • Mucus around the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Lack of appetite

Red-Eared Sliders and Salmonella

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of bacterial infections such as salmonella, it is very important to make sure you use proper hygiene when caring for them.

The Salmonella bacteria, which can infect humans, can be found in the feces, mouth, and cloaca of your red-eared slider.

Precautions When Handling A Red-Eared Slider

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after touching the turtle or anything in its habitat.
  2. Don’t kiss your turtle or put your face near its mouth.
  3. Don’t let young children handle the turtle without adult supervision. Children are more likely to put their fingers in their mouths after touching a turtle.
  4. Don’t allow other pets to have contact with your red-eared slider without supervision. Other animals may transmit Salmonella to your turtle.
  5. Don’t feed or handle your turtle if you have a cut or open sores on your hands, or if you are experiencing flu or cold symptoms.

If your red-eared slider gets sick, see a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles.

RELATED READ: Do Red Eared Slider Turtles Hibernate?

Feeding Your Red-Eared Slider

red-eared sliders waiting their turn

Red-eared sliders are omnivores that must be fed with commercial turtle food in order to grow properly and stay healthy.

On occasions, you can offer them leafy greens, freeze-dried shrimp or krill, crickets, super worms, rosy-red minnows, and even pinky mice.

The nutritional needs of red-eared sliders vary as they grow and mature. While sliders of all ages are omnivores, juvenile sliders require more animal protein for growth, and fully grown adults consume more plant food to avoid weight gain.

When fed a commercial diet, turtles can develop health issues. This depends on the amount of vegetable matter given and whether it is chopped or whole. The vegetables should be fresh (unfrozen) from the garden before being added to the tank, as frozen veggies might cause problems in your aquarium.

When growing vegetables for yourself, make sure they’re not treated with pesticides or fertilizers.

Chopped lettuce, cabbage, celery, and kale are good for your turtle’s digestive system.

When feeding your turtle with these vegetables, you should ensure that they’re finely chopped.

Aquatic plants that are nontoxic (such as anacharis and water lettuce) may provide a good source of vegetable matter.

The diet of an adult turtle should consist of 50-60% vegetables.

Small quantities of fruit (apple, melon, cantaloupe, berries), freeze-dried krill or bits of cooked chicken, and earthworms and insects may be given as special treats.

It’s best to keep the frequency of your pet’s treats at around once a week. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s overall diet.

finely chopped vegetables

Things to remember when feeding your red-eared slider:

  • Water should be accessible at all times, and it should be fresh and clean.
  • Turtles need to eat plants as well as meat.
  • Try not to feed them meat more than once a week.
  • Daily feeding of juvenile turtles is recommended. Adults can be fed every other day unless advised by a veterinarian.
  • Turtles should be fed while they’re in the water.
  • Consider feeding food in a smaller feeding aquarium to assist keep the habitat tidy.
  • Don’t feed them with cat or dog food as it harms their liver.

RELATED READ: The Best Food for Red Eared Slider

Housing Your Red-Eared Slider

red-eared slider in a pond

For mature red-eared sliders, you must provide adequate space such as a tank with a sunlight lamp to ensure D3 vitamin, 1/3 dry area, and 3/4 water for swimming.

Choosing The Red Eared Slider Tank Size

A good rule of thumb when it comes to selecting a turtle tank for your red-eared slider is to use 10 gallons per inch of the shell if you want him in a 30-gallon tank. For a 3-inch long red-eared slider, that’s approximately 30 gallons.

To get the proper measurement for your red-eared slider, line up a measuring tape from the front edge of the shell to the rear edge.

The best thing that you can do is to directly buy the biggest tank you can get because they will eventually outgrow it and you will have to buy a bigger one. A larger tank can be as big as 75 gallons for an adult red-eared slider.

Having a pond is also a great solution as the red-eared sliders love them. If you plan to keep them in a pond, make sure you have an appropriate fence all around so that the turtle will not be able to escape.

Believe it or not, sliders are excellent climbers.

RELATED READ: The Best Tanks for Red-Eared Sliders

Temperature For Red-Eared Slider Habitat

Red-eared sliders need a basking area that is warm enough to support their metabolism.

A red-eared slider basking lamp has to be set at a level that will provide an ambient temperature around 88-92F during the day. The night temperature should range from 76 to 80F.

The basking area can be a rock or a brick and not soaked in water.

As for the water, the temperature should range from 72 to 80F.

A water heater can help you keep the temperature consistent and will protect your red-eared slider against diseases and illnesses.

Turtle Basking Temperatures
temperature chart for different turtles

Lighting in the Tank

The red-eared slider should have access to UVB light for 12 – 14 hours a day, but only during the spring and summer seasons.

You can use a UVB fluorescent tube that emits between 5 and 10% of UVB.

During the winter, you should switch to a 15-30 inch standard fluorescent tube that emits UVA/UVB light.

You should set both types of bulbs one hour before the red-eared slider basks to achieve optimum levels of vitamin D3.

Red-eared sliders are not nocturnal animals.


Things That You Need For A Red-Eared Slider Tank

  • Rocks, driftwood, or clay pots to create hiding spots
  • Large water plant for the turtle to eat and hide under at the same time
  • Heating pad under the tank to maintain the proper temperature for the turtle
  • Pebbles or big rocks
  • Lights for the enclosure
  • Basking area with UVA and UVB lights
  • Water heater
  • Strong filter to maintain water quality
  • Thermometer
  • Submersible fountain pumps to create the right water depth
  • Water conditioner
  • Test strips for pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates




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Zoo Med Repti Ramp Bowl (XLarge)

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Penn-Plax Reptology Turtle Topper and Extension Clips – Above Tank Basking Platform

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Zilla Shale Rock Den One size

chewy product

Zoo Med Turtle Clean External Canister Filter, 50-gal

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Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit

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Cobalt Aquatics Neo-Therm Pro Aquarium Heaters (Multiple Sizes)

Maintaining The Red-Eared Slider Tank

Aquatic turtles drink the water they swim, eat and defecate in.

As such, you must make sure that your red-eared slider tank is clean and has the proper water quality.

You should routinely test the water for the following:

  1. Ammonia.
  2. Nitrite.
  3. Nitrate.

All of these are very toxic and your turtle is at risk of getting sick. As such, you should always maintain water quality by changing 20% of the water every week.

You should also do frequent water changes if the tank is overcrowded, your turtle lives in a small tank, or there are too many animals in the tank.

A 10% change should happen after feeding your turtle or if his behavior indicates he is stressed.

A 20-30% change should happen in the spring and summer when it is warmer.

You should remove the basking platform every week to clean it.

The water filtration system in the tank should be replaced every 3-4 months.

RELATED READ: The Best Filter for Red Eared Slider

Sexing Red-Eared Sliders and Reproduction

turtle eggs

Sex determination is really simple if the red-eared slider is mature enough meaning longer than 6.7 inches.

Males tend to have longer claws on their front legs and significantly longer and wider tails. The plastron of a male is slightly on the concave side.

Veterans can recognize a sharper shape of the head in males which is also a relevant factor for sex determination.

The female specimen is usually bigger than the males, they don’t have long claws and their tails are visible shorter, and thinner than those of the male.

With this fact in mind and knowing how to distinguish males from females, it is recommendable to keep female red-eared sliders as they require no special care, unlike males who can be territorial and aggressive.

Since the red-eared slider is considered invasive and threatening to other species, breeding is not recommended but if one plans to become a more serious reptile hobbyist this is an excellent species to start with and to gain some experience.

Before even starting one should make sure there are enough future owners who would like to adopt a red-eared slider.

Once the suitable mating area is provided there must be a mating family with sexually matured red-eared sliders. The mating family usually consists of one male about 6.2 to 7 inches long and two or three females of about 7.8 inches.

Create a dry nesting area with suitable compost, clean fresh water for swimming, sunlight, and fresh protein food with calcium additives.

These are the crucial elements needed for breeding.

Mating activities for red-eared sliders usually occur between March and July and take place underwater. The male swims around and toward the female and if she is receptive she will sink to the bottom for mating.

After mating the female spends extra time basking to keep her eggs warm. When she finds the perfect sport using her read legs she will dig a hole 5.9 inches deep and 5.1 inches wide. A single adult can lay from three to thirty eggs depending on the size and quality of life.

One female can lay up to five clutches in the same year and clutches are usually spaced from 12 to 36 days apart, even the slightest vibration or rough movement can damage or kill the fertilized egg yolk.

This is the main reason why the location of turtle eggs must always be marked. If the egg is turned upside down it will eventually terminate the embryo and the smallest movement will be fatal.

RELATED READ: Do Turtles Fight and Why?


Remember that an animal in your home especially those that are not domestic require responsibilities beyond regular pet care. They may have left their natural habitat but a part of them will always remain wild.

It is important to keep your red-eared slider healthy and happy by giving it the opportunity to bask in the sunlight, eat a balanced diet of live insects or commercially available food, drink clean water that has been treated with chlorine (or another appropriate disinfectant), have an area for laying eggs where they are not disturbed.

If you follow these simple steps when caring for your turtle, you will be able to enjoy their company for many years without worrying about neglecting them.