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How to care for pet turtle

How to care for pet turtle? – Habitat, Food, Health and More

How to care for pet turtle: Caring for a pet turtle can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it does require a commitment to meeting their complex needs. Turtles, which can live for decades with proper care, need much more than just an aquarium and some fish food. Here is a complete guide to successfully raising healthy, happy pet turtles.

Creating the Proper Habitat

care for pet turtle

One of the most important aspects of turtle care is setting up a habitat that meets all of their needs. Turtles require the following habitat elements:

– An adequately sized aquarium or turtle tub: For one small turtle, at least a 55-60 gallon tank is needed, with an additional 10 gallons per extra turtle. The more room, the better. 

– A basking area: All turtles require a basking area or platform under a heat lamp where they can completely dry off and warm up out of the water. This is essential for their health.

– UVB lighting: Needed to synthesize vitamin D3 for healthy bone and shell growth. Choose UVB bulbs designed specifically for reptiles.

– Heat lamp(s): Used in conjunction with the basking platform to create a thermal gradient in the tank. The water temperature should be around 75-80 F.

– High-quality filtration system: At least twice the tank volume per hour is ideal. Canister filters are usually preferred due to their excellent filtration capabilities.

– Hiding spots: So your shy turtle feels secure. Provide plants, rocks, or turtle-safe décor like ceramic items. 

– Substrate: Using large river stones or a bare bottom tank is safest for turtle health. Sand can cause impaction. 

Water Quality

In addition to strong water filtration, maintaining excellent water quality is crucial. This means:

– Weekly partial water changes of 25-50%

– Testing for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and pH routinely

– Keeping ammonia and nitrites at zero

– Nitrates < 20 ppm

– pH between 7.0-7.5

Signs of poor water quality include shell problems, respiratory infections, lethargy, and poor appetite. Invest in a good water testing kit and only use turtle-safe water treatments.

Lighting, Temperature & Humidity

As ectotherms that rely on external heat sources to regulate body temperature, lighting and heating for pet turtles must be monitored diligently. 

– Maintain ambient and basking temperatures in the acceptable ranges for your species. 

– Make sure heat lamps are on one side to create a thermal gradient.

– Use thermometer probes to frequently check temperatures in different areas.

– Day/night light cycles should mimic natural cycles as much as possible.

– Measure humidity levels and try to maintain 40-60% humidity.

Nutritious Foods & Proper Supplementation

Feeding pet turtles can be complicated, as different species have diverse nutritional requirements. Speak to your reptile veterinarian about your turtle’s needs. Here are some key rules of turtle nutrition:

– Offer plant-based greens daily along with animal protein several times a week. Pellets can also be fed. Feed babies and juveniles more frequently than adults.

– Variety is important! Rotate different leafy greens, vegetables, and quality protein sources. 

– Use calcium supplements 2-3 times a week for adults to prevent metabolic bone disease. Dust food with calcium powder.

– Offer a multivitamin once or twice a month.

– Always feed in a separate aquarium or bin, not your turtle’s home tank. This helps keep their habitat cleaner.

– Never feed only fish flakes, worms, or freeze-dried shrimp, which causes shell deformities over time.  

– Remove uneaten food promptly to avoid fouling the water.

Turtle Handling Best Practices

While cute, turtles generally do not enjoy excessive handling. Practice these proper handling techniques to keep your turtle calm and unstressed:

– Never pick up your turtle by the tail or pull directly upwards on their shell. 

– Scoop underneath or grasp the middle of the top shell. Support their body fully. 

– Keep handling sessions brief, only 5-10 minutes. Overhandling causes stress.  

– Babies and juveniles are especially sensitive to overhandling.  Let them settle in before touching frequently.

– If a turtle pulls in his head/limbs, place him back down. This signals he’s had enough!

– Make sure to wash hands before and after contact to prevent transferring germs.

Signs of Sickness in Turtles

Baby pet turtle

Even with ideal care, turtles can still become ill. Look out for these common signs of sickness in pet turtles and take your pet to the vet promptly if noted:

– Lack of appetite or extreme lethargy

– Soft, cracked, bubbled or molting shell

– Discolored or runny stools 

– Wheezing, nasal discharge, or mouth breathing

– Swollen eyes or reddened skin, especially around the neck

– Balance issues, swimming difficulties, or limb weakness

With attentive weekly care, these guidelines will help keep your cherished pet turtle healthy and active for years to come. Let us know if you have any other questions about properly caring for your turtle!

Frequently Asked Questions

What size tank does my turtle need?

For one small turtle, a minimum of a 55-60 gallon tank is needed, with an additional 10 gallons per extra turtle. Bigger is always better when it comes to turtle habitats. 

Can I keep different species of turtles together?

Generally, it’s best not to mix species due to different habitat needs, temperature requirements, and potential aggression between two species kept together. 

How often should I clean my turtle’s tank?  

Aim to clean about 25-50% of the tank water weekly, using a siphon to vacuum waste from the gravel. Deep clean the entire habitat every 1-2 months.

What temperature should the tank and basking area be?

Maintain water temp between 75-80°F and the basking platform around 95°F, allowing turtles access to different temperatures to properly regulate their body heat.

What should I feed my aquatic turtle?  

Offer a diverse diet including greens like kale, veggies like shredded carrots, quality pellets, occasionally earthworms, crickets, and thawed frozen shrimp. Supplement with calcium and vitamins.  

Why does my turtle float with its eyes closed?

“Floating and closing eyes is normal turtle behavior called basking. All turtles need to leave the water regularly to bask and properly warm up out of the water.”

Why does my turtle shed its scutes?

“Healthy turtles periodically shed outer layers of scutes on their shells as they grow. As long as the new layer underneath looks normal, some flaking is natural.” 

How often can I handle my pet turtle?   

Limit handling to 5-10 minutes a few times a week. Overhandling causes unnecessary stress, especially for younger turtles that require an adjustment period in their new home. 

What UVB lighting does my turtle need?  

Reptile-specific mercury vapor bulbs or fluorescent UVB tube bulbs should be replaced every 6 months, as their UV output declines over time.

Can I keep a baby or a small turtle in a small tank? 

No, all turtles have very high bio loads needing strong filtration. Even small turtles require an adequately sized habitat per the one turtle per 55-60 gallon tank rule.  


Though caring for these unique reptiles has its challenges, raising a turtle can bring immense joy and satisfaction to a dedicated pet owner. By mimicking natural habitats with proper lighting, steady temperatures, clean water, and a thoughtful diet, your turtle will not only survive but thrive in captivity. Pay close attention to their behavior as prey animals that tend to disguise illnesses, and don’t hesitate to call an exotic vet for guidance. With their tremendous longevity spanning decades, a pet turtle becomes a steadfast companion when responsibly cared for over its long lifetime. Spread the word so these amazing creatures stop being viewed as short-lived novelties and instead cherished for the wondrous animals they are.

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