How to Care for a Pet Turtle
Turtles have been around since the Triassic period which means they’ve survived millions of years of evolution. They’re considered one of Earth’s oldest living species and were even used as early forms of medicine by ancient civilizations like the Aztecs in Mexico.
Today, we still love these long-lived reptiles because their longevity makes them perfect pets, but you’ll need to keep a few things in mind before taking this journey into turtle ownership. We spoke with reptile experts to ensure that you get all the information you need about caring for your own pet turtle. From choosing the right breed to keeping up with maintenance, here are some important things you’ll want to know before bringing home your new best friend.
What’s the difference between freshwater and saltwater turtles?
There are three types of turtles available for purchase today: freshwater (softshell), hard-shelled (common), and soft-shelled (Asian). Hard-shelled varieties are more popular than their softshell counterparts, according to the Turtle Conservancy.
Softshells, which make up just 10 percent of all turtles sold in the United States, are less common and require special care. According to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, “they grow larger, weigh more, live longer, and eat more.” The average size of a softshell turtle is anywhere from 5 to 15 inches (.2 to.4 meters), while the average weight ranges from 8 to 20 pounds (.36 to 9 kilograms).
“The largest factor in determining housing requirements for your pet turtle is its size,” says Dr. Kim Ngo, Director of Education at the Humane Society of Virginia. “Smaller ones will fit in smaller tanks, and larger ones will not fit in large tanks.”
Size isn’t the only consideration though.
There are other factors that contribute to how well your turtle will fare in captivity. For example, how active does your turtle tend to be? Does he prefer swimming or climbing?
How fast does he move through his habitat? And what kind of environment did he come from? All of these questions must be answered before purchasing any type of turtle so you can determine whether or not your new family member will thrive in your current situation.
Other general guidelines include ensuring that your aquarium has adequate filtration, enough room for exercise, a secure lid, and plenty of hiding space. Many experts recommend having at least two basins, one for water circulation and another for resting and acclimating. Make sure the basins aren’t too close together either.
You don’t want to put your turtle in an area where it will bump into walls or other objects. Lastly, turtle owners are advised to never place any aquarium over their heads. This could cause injury or death.
Now that you’ve got a better idea of why certain sizes and breeds may work out better for you, let’s talk about some specific issues you might encounter during turtle care.
How do I choose the right turtle for me?
When searching for a turtle, it’s recommended that you go online first. In addition to finding detailed descriptions of different species and breeds, you can read reviews and comments from customers who have purchased similar animals. It’s also helpful to see photos of actual turtles you might be interested in owning. Some sites offer free shipping, discounts, and coupons. However, you can always contact local dealers directly as well.
Once you’ve narrowed down the search to a particular variety, you can compare prices and features. Most people opt for buying turtles from local sources rather than ordering them online. If possible, try visiting a store yourself and speaking with someone knowledgeable about the animals’ needs. A good dealer should be able to answer most of your questions without being pushy.
Remember that you’re looking for someone who understands your interests and preferences. Also, check out local regulations regarding sales, taxes, and licensing. Local laws vary depending on where you live, so ask around.
Where do I find help if my turtle needs veterinary attention?
If your turtle gets injured or sick, you won’t necessarily need to consult a vet unless something serious occurs. But if symptoms persist or worsen, it’s worth making an appointment with an experienced veterinarian. Your turtle doesn’t have to see a doctor every single time it’s hurt just whenever necessary.
According to Dr. Ngo, “Veterinary treatment is needed for injuries sustained from accidents, fighting, etc., but no medical treatment is necessary for routine health problems such as constipation or difficulty moving around due to old age.” She adds that you shouldn’t ever give medications to your turtle unless prescribed by a licensed professional, especially prescription pain relievers. Overdosing on these drugs can produce toxic effects including seizures, coma, and death.
As far as illness goes, you shouldn’t worry if your turtle seems lethargic or displays unusual behaviors. These changes are normal for older turtles, and you should report them to your vet immediately.
What should I feed my turtle?
Feeding your turtle is a relatively simple process compared to other domesticated animals. Simply follow the instructions on the package, and remember to use safe food ingredients. Avoid feeding your turtle human foods like chips, cookies, hot dogs, raisins, grapes, and chocolate. Instead, look for high-quality pellets made specifically for turtles.
In terms of quantity, turtles should eat roughly 1/6th of their body weight daily. So if your turtle weighs 40 pounds, it should consume 16 ounces of food per week. If you’re unsure about how many calories your pet eats in a given meal, you can calculate this easily using an online calculator. Just input your turtle’s weight and a number of meals and it will tell you how many calories it consumes in a 24 hour period.
You can also supplement your turtle’s diet with vegetables and fruits. As long as you stick to leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale, your turtle will enjoy the benefits of antioxidants and vitamins. Other options include carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, green beans, onions, squash, apples, pears, and sweet potatoes.
How often should I clean my turtle tank?
It’s really easy to maintain a turtle cage once you understand basic rules. To start, remove dirty water from the bowl periodically and replace it with fresh water. Once a week, you should scrub the bottom of the tank with a brush or sponge to eliminate algae buildup. Then, dump the entire contents of the tank into a bucket of cool water and mix in the cleaning solution.
Next, rinse the entire tank thoroughly until all traces of waste are gone. Afterward, fill the tank back up with fresh water. On occasion, you may need to perform an extra deep cleanse using ammonia instead of chemicals.
How often should I change my turtle’s substrate?
Your turtle’s substrate is the material it uses to crawl across. When shopping for a suitable replacement, you’ll notice that some products are designed for indoor use and others are meant for outdoor environments. Before placing your turtle in a new habitat, you should test the surface to make sure it meets your expectations.
Ideally, you’ll want a substrate that drains quickly to prevent mold growth. Look for absorbent materials, as they won’t hold onto toxins. Additionally, avoid any substrates containing vinyl compounds, as these can harm turtles. Finally, make sure the texture of the substrate allows your pet to dig safely.
How much time should I spend with my turtle each day?
Depending on the species, your pet turtle may require anywhere from four hours to 14 days to adjust to its new surroundings. Like humans, turtles need time to relax after spending months inside cramped spaces. Take advantage of this downtime and interact with your pet frequently. Play games, sing songs, provide light entertainment and give treats. Experts say that interacting with your turtle will help make him feel comfortable and happy.
How do I know when my pet turtle is stressed or sick?
Aside from obvious signs of disease, the stress in turtles can manifest itself via loss of appetite, fatigue, excessive shedding, and a decrease in activity levels. If you suspect that your turtle is suffering, seek immediate assistance from a professional.
What happens if I accidentally kill my turtle?
Accidental deaths occur every year in households with pet turtles. Although accidental fatalities are rare, they usually happen when owners leave their turtles unattended in areas where predators are known to lurk.
Most turtles die within 48 hours of becoming separated from their group, so it’s vital that you know exactly where they are at all times. Never allow your turtle to swim away alone. Also, never attempt to rescue your turtle if it has become trapped under debris or caught in fishing lines. If your turtle becomes entangled in these situations, call a professional immediately.
Is there anything else I need to consider when caring for my turtle?
Yes! Turtles are sensitive creatures, and you should treat them accordingly. Keep in mind that your pet turtle may have unique dietary needs based on its ancestry, location, and climate conditions. Properly caring for your turtle requires you to research various species,