How To Take Care Of A Turtle

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how to take care of a turtle

It is critical to keep in mind that pet turtles need a particular environment with appropriate temperatures, light, and moisture levels in order to survive.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and add a turtle to your family, congratulations! Turtles make delightful pets.

Although they are low-maintenance, you need to take care of them so that they remain healthy. They may be fascinating to watch as they crawl around their tanks, but certain precautions must be taken.

But there are some things you need to know in order to provide your new friend with the best possible care. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of turtle care.

Introduction to Turtles

There are over 300 distinct turtle species in the world.

Tortoises account for about 60 of them, while sea turtles make up seven different species. Turtles may be found in a variety of climates, ranging from tropical Central and South America to temperate regions of the United States and southern Canada, with a few species existing in southern Canada.

Turtles spend the majority of their lives in freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers. Despite being in the same family as North American pond and river turtles, box turtles that live in the United States and Mexico are primarily land animals.

Tortoises are mostly land creatures with varied habitat and food requirements that we discussed in an additional article.

As for this article, we will mainly cover the aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles as a turtle guide.

Typical Turtle Appearances

tortoise versus turtle

First, you need to understand the differences between tortoises and semi-aquatic turtles.

TortoiseSemi-Aquatic Turtle
The shells of tortoises are more rounded and dome-shaped, while turtles have thinner, water-dynamic shells.The shell of a turtle is more streamlined to help it swim.
The majority of a tortoise’s life is spent on land.Turtles are suited to life in water because of their adaptations.
Tortoises have club-like front legs and elephantine rear legs. Because tortoises are often bigger and heavier, their elephantine hind legs assist them in moving about as well as carrying the excess weight!Turtles will have flipper-like legs or webbed feet to allow them to swim comfortably.

RELATED READ: How To Care For A Tortoise

Behavior of Turtles

Turtles have some interesting behaviors, which vary depending on the species:

  • There are different types of turtles that have different activity patterns. Some turtles are active during the day while others are only active at night or during the day.
  • Turtles bask throughout the hottest part of the day to assist with digestion, immunity, and growth.
  • Turtles maintain a constant body temperature by shifting between warm and cold regions of the enclosure.
  • Turtles prefer to eat underwater.
  • Many turtles are very territorial and will defend their territory against other turtles.
  • Turtles exhibit dancing behavior during periods of heavy rain.
  • Some turtles can vocalize, making a variety of sounds from clicking to purring.
  • Turtles communicate with each other by using their sense of smell, touch, and hearing.
  • Turtles don’t always need to be with other turtles to be happy. One turtle is just fine by himself in a tank. In fact, he might be happier by himself because most indoor tanks are too small for two turtles. If the tank is too small, turtles will fight each other. In fact, there’s no guarantee that any two adult turtles will get along in a captive environment.

RELATED READ: Do Red Eared Slider Turtles Hibernate?

Choosing Your Turtle

turtles with butterfly

If you’re interested in getting a turtle as a pet, it’s important to do your research first. You need to learn about the different types of turtles that are available, and what kind of care each type needs.

While the basics of aquatic turtle care are similar for all species, the species located outside of their native environment would need more extra caring.

When you’ve decided on a specific type of turtle, it’s important to find a reputable breeder. Reputable breeders will ensure that their turtles are healthy and have been properly cared for.

If you’re buying a turtle from a pet store, be sure to ask the staff about the turtle’s diet and care.

The best way to find a good breeder or pet store is by asking your friends, family, or veterinarian for a referral.

If you’re a beginner, try choosing a more hardy species of turtle, such as the red-eared slider, cooter, or mud turtle. Remember that sliders and cooters can grow up to 12 inches long while mud and musk turtles are only half that size.

Some turtles make good pets, while others are a bit harder to care for. For example, map and painted turtles are good choices for beginners, but softshell and snapping turtles are not as easy to take care of and may not be suitable for someone who is just starting out.

By federal regulations, the sale of pet turtles with a carapace (top of shell) length of fewer than 4 inches is prohibited.

Because of slow growth and delayed maturity, conservation agencies are concerned that turtle populations have been depleted. That means that there are restrictions in place for many species of turtles.

You should check with your state conservation or natural resources agency to find out about the restrictions on keeping pet aquatic turtles before you decide to get one.

What Turtle is the Easiest to Take Care Of?

The easiest turtle to take care of is the red-eared slider. They are hardy and can adapt to a variety of water conditions. They can also survive outside of water for short periods of time.

Sliders are omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, and pellets. They should be fed a diet that is high in protein.

Cooters are also good turtles for beginners. They are hardy and can live in a wide range of water conditions. They are also omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods.

Mud turtles are also hardy and can live in a variety of water conditions, but they are more particular about their diet. They should be fed a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

When choosing a turtle, it’s important to do your research to find out what type of care each species needs.

RELATED READ: Musk Turtle Care

Aquatic Turtles Care Difficulty and Children

turtle with kids

When giving turtles as a pet, realize that there are different levels of care difficulty. Turtles that live in the water are easier to take care of than those that live on land. As well, the larger the turtle, the harder it is to care for.

For these reasons, we do not generally recommend turtles as a pet for very young children.

That said, with some adult supervision, even young children can learn to take care of a small aquatic turtle.

The level of care for a land turtle is much more difficult and is generally not recommended for children.

How to Take Care of a Pet Turtle

If you’re thinking about adding a turtle to your family, there are a few things you need to know before bringing him home.

Here is a guide on how to take care of a pet turtle:

1. Housing

Turtles need a place to live, and you can buy an enclosure or use an aquarium. Make sure the tank is big enough for your turtle to swim around in and has a basking area where he can get out of the water and dry off.

The water should be deep enough that your turtle can submerge himself, but also have a shallow area where he can get out easily.

If you are housing the turtle outside you will need to make sure that it’s in a shaded area and that the enclosure is fenced accordingly against predators.

How To Clean Turtle Habitat:

  • Place the turtle(s) in a secure habitat that is not connected with other animals or people.
  • Unplug all of your appliances. (lights, heaters, filters, etc.)
  • Empty out all the water from the turtle tank.
  • If there is a substrate in the tank, add a small quantity of water to the tank and stir up the substrate to free any debris trapped beneath it.
  • Drain the dirty water back, then refill it with fresh water to rinse out the substrate.
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings (including the filter) with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution, then a disposable sponge or rag; move the substrate around to scrub around it and beneath it
  • Both the interior of the habitat and the décor should be washed clean with water, removing any scent of habitat cleaner or bleach.
  • When the interior of the tank and its contents are dry, replace things back inside and fill it with dechlorinated water at the same temperature (about 75°F) as before; water may need to be heated or cooled as required.
  • Once all furnishings have been replaced and the water has reached the proper temperature, the turtle(s) can be added very carefully.
  • After handling your turtle(s), tank, or any tank decorations, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank

2. Temperature

You should set up a temperature gradient in your tank. This means having one area that is around 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit and another area that is around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can use a basking bulb or ceramic heat emitter to make the first area warm and a submersible heater to make the second area cool.

Make sure the temperature at night doesn’t fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so you might need to use supplemental heat if it gets cold.

3. Lighting

Turtles require UVB radiation to be healthy. Each day, they need 10-12 hours of UVB exposure. This aids in the development and maintenance of their bones. A mercury vapor bulb may be used in the basking area to provide heat as well as UVB light.

The bulb should be placed in an area where the turtle can get close to it, but not too close.

Also, the UVB light can get filtered by glass, so if your tank has a glass cover you might need to move things around the turtle tank so the turtle can get the right amount of UVB exposure.

4. Basking

Turtles need a place to bask in order to regulate their body temperature. You can provide this by adding a basking area to the tank that is made of a material that will hold heat, such as a rock or a piece of wood.

Basking areas should also be easy to access from the water.

The materials used for the basking area also need to be taken into consideration since the number one plaster damage for turtles comes from incorrect and rough materials used for the basking area.

5. Food

Turtles are omnivores and eat both plants and animals. You can give your turtle a diet of commercial turtle food, fresh vegetables, and fruits. Baby turtles tend to be more carnivorous while adult turtles tend to shift more in eating vegetables and plants.

Be sure to clean out the tank regularly so that it doesn’t become dirty and foul-smelling. The best way to keep the tank clean is to feed the turtle into a separate container where there is just enough water for him to digest.

A well-balanced turtle diet consists of: 

  • Commercial turtle food pellets are a good source of protein and calcium for turtles. You can give them up to 25% of their diet in these pellets.
  • There are different types of food that you can give your turtle as a treat. Live crickets, earthworms, bloodworms, and rosy reds are all good options. However, it is important to only buy comet goldfish or freeze-dried krill from a reputable source, as they can sometimes carry parasites that can affect turtles.
  • Spinach, chard, and turnip greens are all good sources of vitamin A for turtles. Spinach contains high amounts of iron (important for red blood cells) and potassium (essential to the function of muscles), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants that protect against eye problems). Collard, mustard, dandelion leaves, kale, bok choy, deep green lettuce, or parsley greens provide a lot of vitamin C.
  • Small amounts of fruit (like apples and berries), can be offered as occasional treats but not too often since they contain a lot of sugar.

How to Feed Your Turtle

  • Aquatic turtles must be fed while in the water to eat their food because turtles cannot produce saliva and it’s easier for them to push food down their throat with the help of water.
  • In general, aquatic turtles require both animal and plant components to thrive so variety in the turtle diet is key
  • Because young aquatic turtles are developing, their diet is typically more meat-based than plant-based.
  • Vegetables should still be offered to hatchlings so that they will become accustomed to them and want to eat them as they get older.
  • Turtles should be fed at least once a day if they are a baby and every couple of days as they grow older.
  • Turtles enjoy eating food that is floating in the water or attached to the tank in the water.
  • Aquatic turtles are messy eaters, so consider purchasing a separate feeding tank.
  • Pellets may make up a large portion of your turtle’s diet, but offering them a variety of different foods in addition to pellets can keep them occupied.
  • Avoid overfeeding foods that are high in fat and sugar since that can lead to obesity.
  • Do not feed frozen fish, since vitamin levels can be harmed by freezing.
  • Avoid offering raw or cooked chicken or beef, since these foods lack the desired calcium and phosphorus ratio for a turtle.

RELATED READ: Best Turtle Foods 

6. Water

Turtles need clean water to swim in, so change the water in the tank every 1-2 days. You can use a filter system to help keep the water clean.

For a newly created aquarium where water is added you should also dechlorinate the water with a product to remove Chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals.

You should use spring water, distilled water, or rainwater to top off the aquarium and avoid using tap water that is not in the correct pH levels.

Ideally, the pH of the water in your turtle tank should be around 6.2-6.5 for aquatic turtles.

If your water is not in this range, you can use a pH adjuster to help get it there.

Common water problems that can occur in turtle tanks are:

  • Too high of a pH level
  • Too low of a pH level
  • Chlorine and chloramines in the water
  • High levels of nitrates and ammonia
  • Hard water levels

7. Enrichment

Turtles like to explore, so give them new things to inspect and explore.

Making the turtle tank as close as their natural environment should be the top priority after you set up the basic equipment needed.

Plants, such as water lettuce, hyacinth, duckweed, and even fake plants, may provide hiding places for turtles that make them feel more secure and assist with the good bacteria inside the turtle tank.

You will find that having an active turtle is usually a sign of a happy turtle.

RELATED READ: The Best Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

8. Handling

Turtles should not be handled frequently, as it can stress them out. Handle your turtle only when necessary and always be gentle. You should also try and grab them from the back of their shell to avoid getting bit.

If your turtle is sick, you will need to handle it more frequently in order to administer medication or treatment.

9. Health

Turtles have been popular for a long time. Many years ago, baby turtles were readily accessible and inexpensive, which resulted in many abandoned and neglected turtles.

Turtles can get sick just like other animals, so watch for signs of illness such as changes in behavior, lethargy, the presence of mucus or parasites, and swollen eyes. Take your turtle to the veterinarian if you think he is sick.

Common Health Problems:

  • Internal parasites such as roundworms and other species are found in turtles, and they seldom produce visible signs. When these are discovered during a reptile doctor’s examination, it’s usually because of an external source.
  • Vitamin A deficiency is another frequent problem among turtles. Ear abscesses can cause swelling behind the turtle’s eye, as well as puffy eyes. Make sure your turtle receives a vitamin supplement from a reliable vendor to prevent these issues.
  • Turtles are susceptible to respiratory illnesses, which include wheezing, nasal discharge or bubbling, breathing difficulty (open-mouth breathing), and lethargy. Respiratory infections that affect the lungs in reptiles (such as pleuropericarditis) can be fatal if not treated promptly.
  • Shell rot is a common problem among aquatic turtles. This happens when the turtle has a bacterial or fungal infection, many of which can produce ulcers on the shell. Because the shell protects its internal organs, this is particularly distressing for the creature. To help avoid these problems, make sure your water quality is in safe parameters.

RELATED READ: Do Turtles Eat Rocks?

Turtle Care Checklist

turtle care checklist
  • Indoor turtles are not required to hibernate during the winter, but most aquatic turtles can do so if their pond is sufficiently deep. Hibernation is a procedure that requires certain temperatures over an extended period of time; it does not occur overnight and does not take place at room temperature.
  • One adult of a smaller turtle species may be kept in a small to a medium-sized aquarium (20-40 gallons) that is sufficient for one adult. Turtles of larger sizes may require tanks greater than 100 gallons.
  • If you’re housing more than one individual or species, expand your aquarium.
  • Some turtles like to swim around a lot, while others prefer to stay closer to the bottom of their tank. If you have a painted turtle, they will need a larger tank with deeper areas. If you have a mud turtle, they will be happy in water that is 6-8 inches deep.
  • Most veterinarians will not (or are not qualified to) treat turtles, but it is a good idea to have your pet turtle examined once a year.
  • It is also unlawful to release a pet turtle into “the wild” or into indigenous water. To prevent a pet turtle from escaping, make sure the backyard pond is enclosed.
  • Daily, feces and unclean food should be removed.
  • To keep the water clean, a high-quality water filter is recommended.
  • Because aquatic turtles drink the water they swim in, it must be replaced on a regular basis.
  • Weekly partial water changes (10-20% of the total water) should be done; dechlorinated water at the same temperature as the previous water in the habitat is added.
  • Every 2–3 weeks, clean and disinfect the habitat thoroughly.

Avoiding Human Illness

  1. Turtles, along with other reptiles, can carry germs that cause illness in humans. When interacting with reptiles, follow these guidelines to minimize the risk of getting sick:
  2. It is important to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling reptiles or anything in their environment.
  3. Avoid making close facial contact with your turtle.
  4. Never let your turtle into the kitchen.
  5. Aquatic turtles are not advised for homes with children under the age of five, pregnant women, elders, or anybody with a weakened immune system because of the greater potential for salmonellosis disease.

Turtle Supplies Needed

  • Habitat that is adequate in size
  • Commercial turtle food and treats
  • Substrate (Optional)
  • Basking light and fixture
  • Basking area
  • Thermometers (point-and-shoot guns) can be used to determine the temperatures of the basking zone, cool zone, and a fixed water level.
  • UVB lighting and fixture
  • Water heater
  • Water filter
  • Treat clips
  • Live or artificial plants
  • Tank mates like fish (Optional)

RELATED READ: The Best Turtle Tanks

Turtle Facts

Turtles are some of the oldest reptiles in the world. They are even older than snakes, crocodiles, and alligators.
Turtles have a bony, cartilaginous shell which is very tough. This shell helps protect them from predators. Some turtles can even tuck their heads into their shells to be extra safe.
A turtle’s shell is, in fact, a part of its skeleton. The shell consists of 50 distinct bones, including the rib cage and spine of the turtle.
A turtle is unable to get out of its shell, as it is popularly thought. Because the turtle’s shell grows with them, they are unable to become too large for it!
Turtles are omnivores and, as a result, their diet varies depending on the environment in which they live. Beetles, fruit, and grass are all common foods for land-dwelling turtles, whereas sea dwellers eat everything from algae to squid and jellyfish.
Some turtles are meat eaters (carnivores), while others are plant eaters (herbivores) or omnivores (a mix of the two!). Many baby turtles begin life as carnivorous predators but mature to be herbivorous.
Turtles are classified as amniotes. This means that they breathe air and lay their eggs on land, although many species live in or around water.
These creatures have a very long life span.
Male turtles have significantly longer front claws and tails than female turtles in most turtle species.
The size of a turtle affects when it becomes sexually mature more than how old it is.


When taking care of a pet turtle, it is important to remember that they require a specific environment with proper levels of heat, light, and humidity in order to stay healthy.

Make sure to provide your turtle with a large tank with a basking area and plenty of clean water to swim in. You can also give your turtle a diet of commercial turtle food, fresh vegetables, and fruits.

Be sure to keep an eye on your turtle for signs of illness and take him to the veterinarian if necessary. By following these guidelines, you can help your turtle live a long and healthy life.