If you’re looking for a unique and interesting pet, you may be considering getting a turtle. Turtles can make great pets since they are generally quiet, low maintenance, and fascinating to watch. However, while turtles seem simple, there’s actually quite a bit you need to know about how to keep a turtle as a pet properly. Setting up the right habitat and providing good care is key to having a healthy, happy turtle.
This complete beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know about how to keep a turtle as a pet. Read on to learn about choosing a turtle, setting up their habitat, their diet and nutrition needs, proper handling techniques, and more turtle care tips.
Choosing a Turtle Breed
There are many different turtle breeds to choose from when picking a turtle pet. Some popular breeds kept as pets include:
- – Red-Eared Sliders: small freshwater turtles, that remain small enough to keep indoors
- – Russian Tortoises: easy to care for, primarily vegetation diet
- – Greek Tortoises: gentle, make good pets, vegetarian
- – Painted Turtles: beautifully colored aquatic turtles
- – Box Turtles: colorful terrestrial turtles, that need an outdoor enclosure
The type of turtle that will make the best pet depends on their housing and care needs, as well as your experience level with turtle care. Do thorough research on any breed you’re considering so you can be prepared to give them the habitat and diet they require.
Habitat Needs for a Pet Turtle
Setting up the proper habitat is incredibly important for keeping a turtle healthy and happy. Their habitat needs vary greatly depending on whether you choose an aquatic turtle that lives predominantly in water or a semi-aquatic/terrestrial turtle that lives on dry land.
Turtles that spend most of their time in the water, like Red-Eared Sliders and Painted Turtles need:
- – A large aquarium or plastic pond, at least 75-100 gallons big
- – Powerful filtration system and heater
- – Basking area they can completely leave the water on
- – UVB lighting over the basking area
- – Hiding spots and plants
Species that only require a shallow water area for soaking and don’t spend much time swimming, like tortoises and box turtles need:
- – Low-sided habitat for easy entry/exit
- – Shallow water dish big enough to soak in
- – Dry area with proper lighting & heating
- – Outdoor enclosure once they reach adulthood
For any type of turtle, closely mimicking their wild habitat as much as possible will result in a healthier, happier pet turtle. Be sure to do your research on the specific breed’s natural habitat first.
Turtle Diet & Nutrition
To keep a turtle as a healthy pet, a proper diet is essential. Just giving them the right foods is only half the battle…you also need to ensure they maintain a proper feeding schedule.
What to Feed Pet Turtles
Turtles generally fall into three diet categories:
Omnivores: Will eat both plant and animal materials, about 50% vegetation/fruits, and 50% protein from feeder insects, small fish, earthworms, etc. Popular omnivorous turtle breeds include Red-Eared Sliders.
Herbivores: Strictly vegetarian, eat plant materials only. Herbivorous turtles include many tortoise species like Russians, Greeks, and Sulcatas.
Carnivores: Only eat meat in the form of insects, small fish, and bloodworms. Examples are Snapping and Soft-Shelled aquatic turtles.
When picking food, aim for a large variety within appropriate categories. Offer greens, vegetables, and fruits for herbivores & omnivores and appropriate meat proteins for omnivorous & carnivorous turtles. Calcium supplementation is also extremely important.
Proper Feeding Schedules
The right foods are useless if you don’t adhere to a proper feeding schedule for your turtle. Follow these tips:
- – Feed babies & young turtles daily
- – Feed adult turtles 2-3 times weekly
- – Avoid overfeeding- only feed an amount they can consume within 10-15 minutes
- – Use feeding time to inspect your turtle’s health
With routine, controlled feedings your turtle will receive better nutrition.
Handling Turtles Safely
Turtles generally prefer not to be picked up and handled excessively. Their bodies are heavy and dragging on surfaces puts them at risk of shell injuries. However, occasional handling is needed for health checks, moving them short distances, helping hatchlings out of eggs, etc.
To safely handle a turtle:
- – Never pick up by the tail! This can injure their spine.
- – Support the belly from underneath at all times.
- – Keep low the ground in case they flail and fall over.
- – Move deliberately and gently without excessive jostling.
- – Immediately return them to their secure habitat after handling.
Take the time to properly handle your turtle using these methods any time picking up is required to keep their stress levels low during human interaction.
General Turtle Care Tips
Here are some other top tips to employ for keeping a happy, healthy pet turtle:
- – Maintain Temperature & Humidity
Turtles require consistent, appropriate temperature and humidity levels. Set this up correctly from day one.
- – Give Them Security
Make sure shy species have plenty of plants and hiding spots in their habitats. This reduces stress.
- – Practice Good Hygiene
Keep both turtle habitat and feeding areas clean to prevent illness. Disinfect as needed and replace substrates/filters regularly.
- – Invest Time Socializing
Spend time near their enclosure and move slowly when interacting so they become comfortable around humans.
- – Enrich Their Habitat
Add elements to their habitats that encourage natural behaviors like basking, swimming, digging, etc. Feed them inside the enclosure when possible.
The unique challenge of keeping a turtle lies in recreating key elements of their natural environment properly in home enclosures. While they make interesting pets, turtles are definitely not a hands-off species you can just “set and forget”.
Paying close attention to temperature gradients, lighting, habitat materials, nutrition, handling methods, and behavioral enrichment is how you succeed with pet turtle care. Do plenty of breed-specific research beforehand on how to keep a turtle as a pet properly so you can meet all their needs from the start
If after reading this turtle care guide you feel prepared to provide everything a turtle requires, one of these unique reptiles may make the perfect pet choice for your home! Just be sure you’re fully committed to understanding their needs before bringing one home.