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Turtle Care: Tank, Water & Food Requirements

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If you are thinking about getting a turtle as a pet, there are many crucial things that you need to know first.

While these guys can make wonderful pets, they are not for everyone.

You will have extra expenses to ensure your turtle lives a healthy and happy life.

Also keep in mind that turtles can live a long time.

Not doing enough research before committing to a pet turtle can be detrimental to both the turtle and you.

Turtle care can be easy if you know what you’re doing and are ready for a life-long commitment.

Turtles: The Basics

Before anything else, it is important to know that it is illegal to sell turtles whose shell is less than four inches in diameter.

It is unfortunately very easy to unknowingly purchase from these illegal sellers.

Research legal and reputable places where you can either adopt or purchase a turtle if you decide to get one as a pet.

Are Turtles Easy to Care For?

If you have the means of getting the proper equipment, turtles can be simple to care for on a day-to-day basis.

Turtles are not easy pets, however, as they require a lot of commitment and space, which can become very expensive.

How Long Do Turtles Live?

The lifespan of most turtle species is the main reason why a lot of thought should go into owning one.

Your pet turtle will live for at minimum a decade if properly cared for, but most species will live much longer.

Turtle Tank Requirements and Basics

A turtle’s tank is an important part of their care that affects their health and longevity.

What Size Tank Does a Turtle Need?

Turtles need a lot of space to swim in.

A general rule is that a turtle needs at least 10 gallons of tank volume—or swimming space—for every inch of shell length.

What Do Turtles Need in Their Tank?

Turtles need to have a basking area and an appropriate amount of water to swim in.

The basking area should be large enough for your turtle to easily climb completely out of the water.

Most turtles are not going to need any substrate in their tanks.

Do Turtles Need a Filter?

The filter is just as important as the tank.

Having a good filter will make or break your turtle-owning experience.

Turtles are messy—they eat and poop in the same water—and need their water to be filtered and regularly changed to prevent disease and bacteria buildup.

Do Turtles Need an Air Pump?

Turtles do not need an air pump if they are semi-aquatic.

Common pet turtles, like red-eared sliders, breathe air periodically when popping their head above water.

Do Turtles Need a Heater?

If you have trouble keeping their water at an appropriate temperature (75-82℉ or 24-29℃), you should have a submersible heater.

A standard heater for fish tanks will work fine for turtles.

Do Turtles Need a Light?

Turtles need a basking light to remain active and healthy.

Use a commercial heat lamp or ceramic heating bulb positioned outside and above the tank.

Do Turtles Need Live Plants?

You do not need to add live plants to your turtle’s tank.

Any plants added for decoration or enrichment need to be safe for the turtle to eat.

Turtle Water Basics

Turtles need their water to meet certain conditions to stay healthy and thrive.

Research what your turtle’s species require, as some turtles have more needs than others.

Can Turtles Live in Tap Water?

Aquatic turtles live in freshwater.

Often, municipal tap water is bad for them due to the chemicals used such as chlorine and fluoride.

Test your tap water with a water test kit before putting it into your turtle’s tank.

Chlorinated water can be used if dechlorinated with a water conditioner.

Using distilled water is another option—though more costly.

Distilled water is typically free of any harmful chemicals or contaminants.

How Long Should Water Sit Before Adding Turtles?

If you have dechlorinated the water, let it sit for as long as directed by the product used.

Once the water is safe and is at the proper temperature, you can add your turtle.

What Temperature Should a Turtle Tank Be?

Turtles need warm temperatures to stay active.

There should be a temperature gradient from one end to the other.

The end of the tank with the basking setup should be around 75-88ºF or 24-31ºC.

Tank water should stay at room temperature or about 75-82℉ (24-29℃).

Research if the species you are getting require different temperature ranges.

How Often Do You Change a Turtle’s Water?

You should change the water regularly—at least once a week but more often if needed.

Turtles eat and excrete in the same water, so leaving the tank to sit will risk it getting sick from swimming in filth.

After changing the water, ensure it has reached the proper temperature before returning the turtle to its tank.

Shocking it with a different water temperature may cause severe harm.

Turtle Diet and Feeding

It is important to note that aquatic turtles must be fed in water, otherwise they will not be able to eat.

What Do Turtles Eat?

Turtles can be carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous.

Research the required diet of your turtle and follow it properly.

It is recommended you offer your turtle a variety of different foods suitable to its diet.

How Much Do You Feed a Turtle?

A good rule of thumb when feeding your turtle is to follow the “hollow head” method.

Estimate how much food would fit into their head if it were hollow—this gives you a good idea of the proper portion size.

How Often Do You Feed a Turtle?

Adult turtles typically do not need to be fed daily.

Giving them a proper portion size every other day should be enough to keep them happy and healthy.

Setting and keeping a schedule can help ensure that your turtle is getting fed enough and help you notice if their appetite changes.

Turtle Tank Mates

If you want multiple animals in a tank, you must research if the animals will be compatible.

Can a Turtle Live Alone?

Turtles are not social creatures.

You do not need to adopt them in pairs.

Often, they will be perfectly content—if not happier—having their tank all to themselves.

Can a Turtle Live With Other Turtles?

If you want to house multiple turtles together, they must be the same size and species and do not have more than one male in a tank.

Animals should have a lot of space—two 4-inch turtles should be kept in an 80-gallon tank instead of a 40-gallon one.

Some species of turtle can be kept together, but it is very conditional and should be researched thoroughly.

How Many Turtles Can You Keep Together?

If you are going to keep the turtles in an aquarium tank, you should not have more than 2 or 3 together, as they will need an 80-120 gallon tank minimum.

Larger turtles will need even more space to be healthy.

Can a Turtle Live With Other Types of Fish?

Housing a turtle with other types of fish can be done, but the fish are likely to suffer.

Turtles are still predators and will hunt fish they see as food.

Avoid small fish entirely, as they are likely to be eaten.

Recommended Tank Mates for a Turtle

If you decide to get a tank mate, there are a few safe options.

Same-species Turtle: another turtle is likely the best to keep in a shared tank, as they are less likely to prey on each other.

Large fish, such as koi: some large fish, such as koi, may cohabitate with a turtle.

But the fish must be bigger and faster.

How to Care for a Turtle

  • How to Feed a Turtle: dropping the food into the water is generally all you need to do when feeding.
    You should remove any leftover food—especially vegetables or fruit—before it can soil the water.
  • How to Clean a Turtle’s Tank: Dump all the water out of the tank and thoroughly scrub the aquarium with a soapy mixture. Clean all rocks and decor and disinfect with a diluted bleach mixture as needed.
  • How Can I Play With My Turtle?: Don’t play with turtles. Provide them with safe means of enrichment—floating bath toys or ping pong balls can be a source of play—and watch them interact with their environment.
  • Can a Turtle See Me?: Your turtle can see you—barring any blindness or conditions affecting their eyes or eyesight. That’s how they know to swim up to beg for food when you come near.
  • Does a Turtle Recognize Me?: While it is hard to definitively know what is going on in a turtle’s head, it appears they can recognize you on a basic level as their food-bringer.

Turtle Behavior Basics

Knowing the basics of turtle behavior can help you identify when something is bothering your turtle or if they are showing signs of distress or illness.

How Do You Know if a Turtle Is Happy?

Happy turtles won’t purr or kick their legs as cats and dogs will, but you will know if they are expressing normal behaviors that they are happy and healthy.

Active turtles that bask, eat, and interact with any enrichment toys (or continue begging for food) are probably happy turtles.

What Does a Stressed Turtle Look Like?

An unhappy turtle will act out by hissing, biting or snapping, or lifting its head.

How Do I Know if My Turtle is Healthy?

Healthy turtles will be active and eat normally. Their shell will be hard and heavy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a turtle a low-maintenance pet?

Turtles are not low-maintenance pets. Their care can be simple once you have a system and all necessary equipment, but turtles should never be mistaken for an easy pet. They require a lot of commitment, space, and money.

What do turtles like to play with?

Turtles can play with things like ping pong balls dropped into their water.

They are not dogs, so don’t expect them to be very interested in the toys you try to give them. They are much more interested in food.

Wrapping Up

Turtles are not a pet you should impulsively buy—or get for a child at all.

If you have done your research and decided that you can commit to a turtle for the next few decades, they can be rewarding animals to watch and care for.

If you aren’t sure, there are beautiful fish that will give you almost the same experience—without the cost and risks.

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