While not considered a traditional choice, turtles are surging in popularity among pet owners. As far as the Pet Race goes, they’re sneaking up on the competition to being a common household member. Though they have a reputation for being slow, low maintenance animals, turtle care comes with its own hurdles and challenges. There is a learning curve on how to take care of a turtle, but we are here to help.
This is a comprehensive adult and baby turtle guide, and we will also cover some basic differences between aquatic turtle care and land turtles. Turtles are perhaps the sweetest looking reptiles, and seem to have more personality than some of their species, but each breed of turtle requires proper research and attention.
We are going to cover some main points about turtle care today, and give you some tips on how to get ready for your new turtle pet.
What Kind of Turtle Should I Get?
To get things started, it’s important to talk about the differences between Water Turtles and Land Turtles. We are going to try to cover information that is pertinent for both to help you learn how to care for a turtle properly. However, most of information will be geared towards how to take care of a baby turtle.
The first step to acquiring a pet turtle is going to be preparing their environment. We encourage you to always do research on breeds before getting a pet from a pet store. Talk to the specialist that helps you to make sure that as your baby turtle grows, you are prepared to change the environment to fit its needs.
Even the smallest of baby turtles can grow quite large, so know what you’re bringing home!
Pet Turtle Tanks and Habitats
Make sure that you get a large aquarium/terrarium so that your turtle has both land and water. If you have decided to get a land turtle, they will still need access to water for drinking. Some turtles will grow large enough they will need a bigger area, such as a place in the backyard. If you live in an area with harsh climate this might not be a good idea. If they are exclusively an indoor turtle, consider finding plants to spruce up their habitats and make them feel right at home.
Again, determining the right turtle for you will take some research, some turtles can live in a backyard for most of the year but will need to be inside during colder months and nights. If they are going to be outside, make sure they have access to a shelter to keep them safe from potential predators as well as a place to escape the sun if needed.
Keep Your Pet Turtle Healthy
Pet turtle care requires the right environment, and all baby turtles need climate control. A heat lamp should be next on your list of things to purchase for caring for a turtle. Some adult turtles will need them as well, especially if they are a breed that require certain temperatures to remain healthy.
Having the right environment ensures a longer and healthier life for your pet turtle. UVB rays are necessary for a turtle to live, so if you have an indoor environment for them this is a must.
Some species of turtles can live more than 100 years in the wild.
Because stereotypically Turtles are thought of as slow and laid back, exercise can get overlooked. If you are planning on keeping your turtle in a close aquarium for sleeping, let it roam in a safe room or outside from time to time. Learning how to care for turtles, means learning how to adjust to it.
Make sure you are taking precautions- such as removing rocking chairs and keeping an eye on your little ones (and your own feet). A broken shell can happen easily during these times of exercise, but as long as you look for hazards ahead of time you’ll be good to go.
It’s important that your turtle get some movement from time to time so the extra safeguards are worth it.
What Do You Feed Baby Turtles?
Well, baby turtle food, of course. Do not overfeed your pet baby turtle, they need to grow at the same rate as their shell, which is naturally- slow and steady. If they are overfed this will cause them to grow too quickly and end up with deformities. If there are edible plants in their habitat, or bugs than you can use baby turtle food such as pellets as a supplement. If their diet is going to be controlled, then make sure to feed them only once or twice a day based on their size and age.
Different kinds of turtles are going to all have very similar needs, but just like any baby animal, baby turtles require a lot of time and attention.
Reminder: Carnivore vs Omnivore
Turtles have a diverse diet! This is a crucial part of how to take care of a turtle properly. Exclusively Baby turtles eat primarily meats and are carnivorous until they mature. As adults, turtles eat both plant and meat, making them omnivores. one or the other will not get them the nutrients they need to live a long and happy life. Keep track of their diets and feed them accordingly.
The alligator snapping turtle’s tongue looks like a worm. It uses it to catch and devour unsuspecting fish!
Tankmates for Your Turtle
One thing you can consider if you are getting an aquatic turtle is to get it some “roommates” to share the tank with. Goldfish or snails are cheap and easy to take care of and can add some life to your pet turtle’s home. Do your research on turtle care first, there are fish that won’t make good tanks mates and can harm your hard-shelled buddy.
Grooming Your Turtle
A dirty tank means a dirty turtle. If you want your pet baby turtle to grow into a healthy adult and live a long, happy life, cleaning is a must. Clean your turtle tank and habitat regularly and thoroughly. Harmful bacteria can be thriving even if it’s not visible. Fresh water in a dirty environment is moot.
Pet Turtle Checklist
Now that you know some of the basics, we are going to go over a quick checklist of what you need to be able to care for turtles at home. With some of these essential items and habitat features you will be on your way to hosting your new pet turtle!
1. Turtle Tank or Terrarium
The first step is to get the right habitat for your new pet turtle. As mentioned above, environment placement is crucial. Make sure they are in a safe place in your house, and have access to climate control.
If you’re getting an aquatic turtle, you will likely be looking at getting a tank with a filtration system of some kind. These are available in most pet stores and online. Make sure you don’t forget to make and area for your turtle to be out of the water, as well.
If you’re getting a land turtle as a pet, look for a terrarium of some kind with enough room for it to move around and have access to water and food. Baby turtles are small, but unless you want to have to continue buying new habitats for them you will want to start out with something that can “grow with them” so to speak.
Despite the assumption that all turtles are slow, they still need exercise, so having space to move around when you aren’t home is important to their growth and health.
2. Heat Lamps
Turtles need a UVB rays to survive. Luckily there are lamps made so that you don’t have to have a setup outside for your pet turtle. Even aquatic turtles spend plenty of time basking in the sun. Make sure that the lamp is set up away from the water and follow instructions as for when to have it on, and for how long.
Your turtle might also need a basking lamp, that can be set up to keep a part of the habitat at a certain temperature. This sort of climate control is crucial for the health your turtle.
It is well known that turtles like to get away. Unlike the cartoons, the inside of their shell is not a well decorated cottage- nor do they have a ninja bunker in the sewers. For this reason, it’s a good idea to safely construct a shelter, or buy a small cave to add to your turtles habitat. They need a little R&R every once in a while to escape the realities of their oh-so-difficult lives.
Depending on the type of turtle you have, the tank/terrarium/habitat needs to have varying amounts of water within it.
And aquatic turtle needs 75% or more of it’s tank to be water. A small landing area for basking is necessary, and you can even put things in the water for it to float on. Aquatic pet turtle care means makings sure they have enough room to swim, and that the water is kept clean.
We haven’t talked much about this category, but if you do get a semi-aquatic turtle you will want the tank to be 50% water, and 50% land.
Any land turtle still needs water access to be able to drink. Get a water dish that is shallow, but big enough for them to get into.
You can buy turtle food from reputable brands at most pet stores and online, but mixing it up a bit never hurts. Leafy greens and some melons can be great treats for your turtle- in moderation. If you’re balancing treats with food and a properly lit habitat, you likely won’t need vitamin supplements or anything like that.
However, if you have just adopted a turtle that wasn’t well taken care of, or have changed environments it might be a good idea to get a supplement and try it out until the balance is restored.
If you’re turtle is a carnivorous turtle they might appreciate live or frozen meats (thawed before serving) as a part of their regular diet.
6. Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning your turtle tank regularly is crucial. Have a secondary “habitat” or container to put your turtle in during cleanings to keep it safe. You will need brushes to be able to clean things, and turtle-safe chemicals.
Aquatic turtles require water with a special pH balance. Make sure you have tester strips to keep an eye on this component, and the tools and chemicals required to keep it in the right range. All tools used to clean the tank should be sterilized. You will also want a net to be able to scoop out food bits and waste on a more regular basis.
While the land turtles don’t need quite as much maintenance on their habitats, it is still important to do weekly cleanings. Check their water frequently, and make sure you are cleaning out droppings regularly. Unwanted food can easily spoil, so remove it to keep bacteria from growing.
FAQ about Pet Turtle Care
Here are some commonly asked questions about getting a pet turtle and some key points on how to care for them.
Is all pet turtle care the same?
Naturally, the care advice we have given will vary depending on the type of turtle it is. Read through our full article to learn more. We also suggest doing some research or talking to an expert before bringing one home.
What do baby turtles eat?
Baby turtles eat primarily meat with some plants mixed in. However, there are some breeds that only eat plants as babies, and switch to meats as the mature. Baby turtle care requires a lot of attention, making sure to feed them the right things in the proper amount is crucial.
What do I do with my turtle when I go on vacation?
It’s best if you can have somebody visit your home to take care of your turtle while you are on vacation. The less you must move their habitat, the better. This will reduce any stress the animal might experience in a new area. If it is someone that has little or no experience with turtles, make sure that they have access on proper information about how to take care of turtles.
How long do pet turtles live?
A well taken care of pet turtle can live up to 60-100 years. Don’t refresh the page, you read that correctly. If you have a healthy pet, and pay close attention to pet turtle care instructions, your pet turtle can have a long and happy life. However, it takes the whole family, and commitment to changing the habitat to fit it’s growth and needs regularly.
Where can I get a pet turtle?
Try to find a reputable source to buy turtles from, some Pet Stores are OK, but do your research first. If anything, we would encourage you to look for turtles that are up for adoption. Many people give up their turtles because of how long they live, and your local shelter might house reptiles.
Do not take in wild turtles as pets. In fact: there are some breeds of turtles that are illegal to keep as pets in some states.