Your Turtle Tutorial
Looking for an out-of-the-ordinary pet that will be happy in your home? A turtle may be for you. These cute, water-friendly companions offer a unique opportunity to bond that you won’t find with a dog or cat.
Turtles are great for pet owners who are just starting their journey into more exotic pet ownership. Though they require different considerations than your average furry friend, those who do own them, love them!
Types of Turtles
Did you know there are about 270 types of turtles? Many will require a long-term commitment, as they can easily live about 20 years. These are generally considered ideal for exotic pet owners looking for a reptilian companion:
- African Aquatic Sideneck
- Caspian Pond Turtle
- Central American Wood Turtle
- Greek Tortoise
- Painted Turtle
- Red-Eared Slider
- Russian Tortoise
A note on distinction: tortoises live on land. While terrapins are turtles, they typically split their time evenly between land and fresh water.
Turtles need a few elements in their living environment to thrive. These include:
Since your pet will need both land and water environments with lots of room to explore, an appropriately sized terrarium is likely an ideal environment for a turtle. Because they do everything in the water — including going to the bathroom — a turtle’s environment must be closely monitored. Ensure you are using a high-quality filtration system and change the water a few times each week to ensure it stays clean.
Clean water will go a long way to keeping your turtle healthy and preventing infections.
Contrary to what you may think, though they’ll need a heat lamp and a spot to bask in addition to thermometers for both the air and water, water temperature is not as high of a priority. However, keep in mind that the environment should be kept as close as possible to what your turtle would gravitate to in the wild.
Learning the right air temperature may take some research, but is time well spent as the wrong air temperature can lead to respiratory infection. Some sunlight will also aid in the proper development of your turtle’s shell and prevent metabolic bone disease from developing.
Lighting & Heating
You may be interested to know aquatic tools are most active during daylight hours. If they're kept away from daylight, their tank should be lit with a UVA or UVB bulb for 12 hours every day.
A heat bulb should be hung over the dry side of the terrarium. If tank temperature goes under 70 F overnight, we recommend getting a night-specific heat lamp. To maintain water temperature, use an underwater heater.
Here are the best temperature ranges for turtles:
- Water temperature: 72 to 77 F (22 to 25 C) day and night
- Wet side of tank: 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C)
- Dry side of tank with basking spot: 85 to 90 F (29 to 32 C)
- When basking light is turned off: Temperature inside tank should remain 65 to 75 F (18 to 24 C)
We recommend creating a sloped area above water level for your turtle to bask. This can be done with aquarium gravel or by using a landing dock.
Though diet will vary depending on the type of turtle, most eat fish (comet goldfish), leafy, dark greens, canned or pelleted turtle food, insets and/or freeze-dried mealworms.
While turtles don’t need to be fed every day, they should eat 4 to 5 times per week (except for young water turtles, who should eat every day). Your vet may also recommend a calcium supplement to provide your turtle with twice per year.
Safely Caring for Your Turtle
Like most pets, turtles need good, consistent care, including sticking to a proper feeding schedule, along with providing access to both water and land, having their water cleaned regularly and the right temperature for air and water.
Health risks include parasites, abscesses, shell fractures and infections and respiratory disease due to vitamin deficiencies.
In addition, we always caution turtle owners to prevent salmonella (which can be transmitted and cause serious disease in humans) by maintaining good hygiene practices and adding conditioner to the water to help prevent salmonella and other diseases from occurring.
Here are some more tips:
- Lift your turtle at its midsection, not its legs. Always wash your hands before and after touching your turtle, and watch kids closely around your pet.
- Regularly check for signs of illness. Is your turtle avoiding food? Are its eyes swollen or is its shell discolored? Time to call a vet who specializes in exotic and reptile care.
- Keep the water about 1 inch deeper than the width of your baby turtle’s shell — deep enough for a growing reptile that’s learning to swim.
- The smallest terrarium or aquarium should not be shorter than 4 feet long, 18 inches wide and 18 inches tall. Look for one under 29 gallons.
- Baby turtles should eat up to two times daily.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
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