If you’re thinking about getting a pet turtle, you probably have lots of questions like what kind of turtle makes a good pet? What do pet turtles eat? How big do pet turtles get? What habitat and tank setup do pet turtles need? This beginner’s guide will answer those questions and more to help you choose the best turtle for a pet.
Introduction – What Makes a Good Pet Turtle?
Turtles can make great pets with proper care, but they aren’t as low maintenance as some people think. It’s important to research different turtle species to choose what is a good turtle for a pet based on your lifestyle, experience level, living space, budget, and more. Overall a good pet turtle stays small, is friendly and interactive, relatively easy to care for, and fits your state laws on keeping turtles as pets.
Some things to consider when deciding what is a good turtle for a pet:
Space – Most turtles require large habitats with both land and water areas. Even small turtle species need sizable tanks. Make sure you have room for an adequate indoor habitat or outdoor pond.
Lifespan – Many turtles live for decades with 20-40 years being common. Are you ready for a long-term commitment to caring for a turtle?
Costs – The initial and ongoing costs for a turtle and habitat supplies can add up. Make sure the expense fits your budget.
Laws – Some states prohibit keeping certain turtle species. Know your local exotic pet laws before getting a turtle.
Top 5 Best Turtle Species for Pets
If you’re still wondering “What is a good turtle for a pet?”, here are five of the most common best pet turtle options:
Red-Eared Slider – Small Beginner Turtle
The red-eared slider (RES) is arguably the most popular pet turtle species kept today. It gets its name from the red stripe behind its eyes. Some reasons why a red-eared slider can make a good pet include:
- Stays relatively small at 5-12 inches
- Omnivores that eagerly eat commercial turtle diets
- Interactive and will learn to come when being fed
- Does well in indoor tanks or outdoor ponds in warm climates
- Inexpensive to purchase and care for
The biggest downside to a red-eared slider is that it requires significant space (75+ gallon tank) and aquatic habitat maintenance as an adult due to its large size compared to other small turtle breeds. This makes them best for experienced reptile owners who can properly care for them long-term.
Musk Turtle – Great Species for Aquariums
Musk turtles, also called stinkpots, are a small semi-aquatic species that stay under 6 inches in size. Some reasons a musk turtle can make a great pet include:
- Good size for aquariums as adults
- Don’t require basking areas like sliders
- Peaceful and do well alone or with small tank mates
- Unusual head shape and barbels on chin
- Lower maintenance than many semi-aquatic turtles
Musk turtles make excellent pet species for hobbyist aquarists wanting a small turtle tank inhabitant. Their smaller size and mostly aquatic habitat allow them to thrive in a 30+ gallon aquarium with strong filtration and water heating.
Painted Turtle – Colorful Pet Species
The painted turtle is a beautifully-marked species that grows to 7-10 inches long. Some reasons it can make a nice pet include:
- Bright red, yellow, and black markings
- Both aquatic and terrestrial habitats needed
- Does well in indoor tanks or backyard ponds
- Readily eats commercial turtle diets
- Generally docile and peaceful
Painted turtles are fairly easy to care for as far as housing and feeding requirements. Their moderate size allows juveniles to be kept in a 40-gallon breeder tank that is then upgraded to a 100+-gallon enclosure or pond. Painters also do well in outdoor habitats in many parts of the country.
Yellow-Bellied Slider – Smaller Slider Alternative
The yellow-bellied slider is very similar to the red-eared slider but stays a bit smaller at around 6 to 9 inches in size. Reasons it makes a nice pet include:
- Doesn’t get as large as the red-eared slider
- Bright yellow stripes on the head, legs, and tail
- Just as hardy and long-lived as other sliders
- Easily housed indoors or outside in ponds
For those who love the red-eared slider but want a slider species that doesn’t require a monster tank, the yellow-bellied is an excellent choice. Their care and housing needs are nearly the same just scaled down a bit.
Box Turtles – Whimsical Land Turtle
Box turtles represent some of the most endearing and personable pet turtle species that stay small and have more terrestrial habitat demands. Plus box turtles like:
- The Eastern box turtle grows just 4 to 6 inches
- Has a high-domed upper shell and hinged lower plastron
- Terrestrials so easier indoor enclosures than aquatic turtles
- Can have very charming, friendly personalities
- Does well in outdoor habitats in warm weather
For those wanting a pet turtle more suited for indoor life in a simple habitat, box turtles like Easterns are much easier to care for than sliders needing gigantic tanks. Their predominantly land-based enclosures are easier to maintain as well.
Turtle Habitat Needs – Space Requirements
One aspect that keeps some people wondering “What kind of turtle makes a good pet?” is the substantial habitat space most turtles require. To summarize basic indoor turtle tank sizes:
- 20-gallon long tank: Baby and juvenile turtles under 4 inches
- 40-gallon breeder: Small adult species like musk turtles under 6 inches
- 75+ gallon tank minimum: Small sliders, painted, and map turtles under 10 inches
- 100+ gallon stock tank: Large sliders, cooters, map turtles over 10 inches
- Custom ponds/pools/stock tanks: For multiple/large turtles and better aesthetics outdoors
Remember even if a turtle species itself is small, it still requires room to swim and completely submerge itself underwater along with a basking area. So think long term in housing pet turtles – they’ll quickly outgrow starter 10 and 20-gallon tanks.
Best Turtle Diet, Lighting, Temperatures and More
From proper heating and lighting equipment to the ideal diet, there’s more involved with turtle care than just an aquarium or pond. Here’s a quick look at some other key pet turtle care guidelines:
Food and feeding is a primary aspect of turtle ownership. Here are some tips:
- Omnivorous commercial diets like pellets and gel foods
- Some vegetables and fruits (never feed spinach!)
- Occasional treats like mealworms and shrimp
- Calcium and vitamin powders for shell health
- A varied diet is optimal but turtles beg for more food than needed
- UVB is critical for shell/bone health without direct sun
- Day/night heat/reptile basking bulbs
- Ambient and basking spot temps in the 80s and low 100s
- Strong water filtration system + air stone
- Digital thermometer with probe
- Water heater and thermostat
- Canister filter rated 2x enclosure size
Conclusion – What is a Good Turtle for a Pet?
Turtles can make engaging, personable pets but also require substantial habitats and specific care to thrive in captivity. Doing thorough research into what kind of turtle makes a good pet along with being realistic about your ability to properly care for one long-term is key to success. We hope this beginner’s guide to the best pet turtle species, proper diet, habitat considerations, and other care guidelines help you choose the ideal turtle companion animal. Let us know if you have any other questions about what is a good turtle for a pet!