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The Dos and Don'ts of Turtle Care

I love my pet turtle, and I like sharing tips on how to care for these reptiles.

How long can turtles stay out of water? What do pet turtles eat? Find out everything you need to know here.

How long can turtles stay out of water? What do pet turtles eat? Find out everything you need to know here.

How to Care for a Turtle

So, I think every kid goes through a phase where they want a turtle. I did myself. I had three.

My first turtle, Squirtle, ended up being a complete disaster because I had no idea what I was doing. In my state, North Carolina, it is illegal to own a Yellow Belly Slider, which was precisely what she was. So I couldn't really take her to a local pet store and say, "Hey, tell me how to take care of it."

I was a young teen, recently 13 and proud, so of course, I had the typical teenage disease called laziness. I wasn't about to sit there and look up information; I wanted my mom to do it for me. So I decided to write an article for the parents of kids who want a turtle. Here are the dos and don'ts, proper care, setup, and risks of having a pet turtle. I hope this will help determine whether or not a turtle is an appropriate pet for your child/children.

This is my red-eared slider, and, yes, his name is Puppy.

This is my red-eared slider, and, yes, his name is Puppy.

Is a Turtle Right for My Family?

That is the biggest question of all. If you honestly think your kid(s) won't take care of it, then don't get one. A turtle does have special needs that must be met to ensure good health and a long life. Most people overlook this aspect when getting a turtle.

When you get a dog or a cat, they have special needs, grooming and vet expenses, toys, etc. Although turtles don't need as much, if they're not properly taken care of, they will die. On the other hand, if they are well taken care of, they can live for long periods of time, decades even.

The Setup: Habitat, Tank, and Water Supply

  • The tank must be at least 40 gallons.
  • You need a land area as well as a water area.
  • You have to have a heat lamp. Turtles bask in the sun in the wild because the sun helps them produce a vitamin necessary for good health; your lamp will act as the sun. Without it, over time, your turtle will die. This is where I went wrong with Squirtle. Different types of turtles require different temperatures. Aquatic turtles cannot retain heat for as long as terrestrials. Around 80°F during the day, 70°F at night.
  • Turtles require 12 hours of sun a day!
  • Also, do not take your turtle in and out of the tank; it can severely affect its immune system.
  • Keep your turtle away from any other pets that can do harm to it. If you look back at the picture of Puppy, you can see some discolored lines on his shell. The previous owner's dog got ahold of him. Thankfully, all he came out with was a few scratches on his shell.
  • Any sort of wood chips in the habitat is a big no. These can be fatal if eaten and they fuel the growth of fungus and mold.
  • Your turtle should have some sort of shelter; this can be wood or stone.
  • Many people want to add plant life to the habitat. Just be sure, if they're real, that they're not poisonous to your turtle because it will try to eat them. Things such as duckweed, water lilies, and water hyacinths are all poisonous.
  • Tap water is another big no. The chemicals in the water can negatively affect the PH. Use natural spring water for their drinking and non-chlorinated water for the swimming area. (You can leave tap water out 24 hours before putting it in the tank to remove the chlorine.)
  • Keep the tank clean. Would you want to live in a filthy house?
  • As with any other pet, good hygiene is a must. If you're going to handle your turtle, wash your hands before and after handling. Some turtles do carry salmonella. Washing your hands before prevents you from giving anything harmful to your turtle and washing them after prevents him from giving anything to you.

A Turtle's Diet

What should I feed my turtle? It's not a dog, so table scraps will not do. You should feed your turtles with the same mindset I wish I had for myself: a healthy, balanced diet.

Most turtles eat a variety of things ranging from berries to live fish.

Vegetables? Yes. Lettuce, cabbage, spinach, alfalfa, and clover are good choices.

Live prey can include things such as: earthworms, crickets, mealworms, and feeder fish (goldfish and guppies). Make sure you don't give your turtle too much live food. It is best that you keep them separate until feeding time because chances are your turtle will overeat.

Fresh liver is a great choice of meat for your turtle, but make sure any meat you give, other than live prey, is cooked. Chicken, freshwater fish, and boiled egg whites are all great choices.

The older your turtle is the less protein it needs, so be careful when feeding.

Also, it is good to have food sticks in your turtle's diet. I use Tetra ReptoMin.

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Read More From Pethelpful

Seems like a lot of work? It isn't all that much. You don't have to cook separate meals for your turtle. If you're making fresh chicken for dinner, cut off a small amount and cook it unseasoned and there you go. Making a salad? Tear off some lettuce and put it in the food dish.

What to Feed a Turtle

Be sure to include food sticks in your turtle's diet, such as Tetra ReptoMin.

VegetablesLive PreyCooked Fish






Freshwater fish



Boiled egg whites


Feeder fish


Risks of Owning One

There really aren't that many risks of having a turtle for a pet.

  • Salmonella: There will always be a chance of salmonella, but that is only if you don't use proper hygiene.
  • Biting: Turtles do bite. They may not have teeth, but they bite, and they bite hard. I have been bitten a few times, but this generally only happens if you go poking around in their faces.
  • Sickness: If you notice blotchy patches on your turtle's skin or cloudy eyes, this may be because of a poor diet, but it is always good to take it to a veterinarian who knows about reptiles.
  • The turtle's death: And if your kid(s) tend to get attached to things, there's always the risk of the turtle dying. If you take proper care of it, then it shouldn't be an issue for a long while.

Is Getting a Turtle the Right Choice for You?

That is for you and only you to decide. I have had my turtle for almost three years now, and I haven't had any problems other than the issues with his scratched shell. I love my turtle, and I think it's an excellent pet that can teach kids responsibility.

I hope this article will be helpful to you with your decision about turtles, whether it's for your child or for you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Sun24 on August 13, 2020:

Duckweed is good for my turtle. Do your research before reading this.

moon751 on June 29, 2020:

what temperature should the cage be for a ornate wood turtle ????

Anonymous on June 13, 2020:

Can I take my red eared slider turtle outside in my backyard?

Karenk77 on June 08, 2020:

Hello I bought 2 new musk turtles today put them in my set up, but both have sadly died bit confused could anyone shed some light on what I could of done wrong please

ABC123 on May 12, 2020:

the turtles nails are getting long should I cut them

washeredummies on May 03, 2020:

I think it was good but I wish you have me more information about my turtles needs PPPLLLEEEAAASSSEEE

Big Son on November 10, 2019:

Lol rookie mistake ayush.

ayush on November 10, 2019:

i kept my turtle in water under the sun for 2hr now she is no more

kc on August 15, 2019:

I have had a baby pet alligator snapping turtle for 3 years and I kept her in a smaller tank with one fish toy and she is fine. She eats any kind of fish food and makes a great pet. So this girl said that they need 40 gallons of water in nuts my tank is 5 gallons. bye1

jayden on August 05, 2019:

spinach can be very bad for many turtles do research on diet before hand red eared slider (a common usa pet) cannot eat spinach

Karen1972 on July 26, 2019:

some of the things she's said is bullcrap, she never said anything about different species of turtles will need different needs like different temperatures of the water, it's the same for the basking area only they will need two different kinds of light to bask under. she never mentioned that the tank will need a pump/filter all species of turtles are cold-blooded, so they will need a water heater to keep them warm in the water. as for the plants she's mentioned not all of them are poisonous, turtles can eat duckweed and hyacinth plants not all species of turtles will eat plants or fruit though. she also says something about tap water being a big NO, but then goes on to say U CAN LEAVE TAP WATER OUT 24 HOURS B4 PUTTING IT IN THE TANK TO REMOVE THE CHLORINE. all I've got to say is do proper research cuz laziness will kill ur turtle then u will wish u had done the proper care.

Big son on July 16, 2019:

This is bullshit, the truth is that any aquatic turtle would rather dirty water that they can't be seen in. And you don't what so ever need to cook food for your turtle. What do you think they eat in the wild.and your turtle does not need to be separated from your live prey. It wont over heat. And tap water wont hurt your turtle at all. This is truly bullshit. And dont feed your aquatic turtle vegetables or fruits they don't really eat that in the wild. I hope I helped

jay on April 30, 2019:

my turtle died

AJ on January 11, 2019:

I put my RES turtle (3 inches) in a feeding container and left it to eat for 2 hours like I always do but this time when I came back, he was dead. I thought it was weird because he usually floats and doesn't even need to swim... Did he drown?

Angela on November 12, 2018:

I have a 2-inch baby red-eared slider turtle which is illegal to own since its two inches below the legal length. I give it food but it doesn't eat it. I'm worried about it and was wondering what I should do. Any advice would be helpful.

Deana on September 20, 2018:

Duckweed is good for turtles I don't know where you got that from. I always feed my turtle Duckweed.

melissa on August 06, 2018:

hi, I've had my yellow belly turtle now for 21 years and I never let him under a heat lamp or UVB lamp even though I've read turtles need one he has a bad reaction to it and I always make sure the lamp is not too close but no matter what I do he ends up with red eyes and then they water a lot. apart from that he does great he's 9 inches long now and I'm making I new enclosure for him this month cant wait does anyone know how long they live for and since he's been with me for a long time he's starting to shred his shell less now is that normal?

Stephen & Aileen on July 14, 2018:

We have to RES turtles . A female and male . Female is twice the size of the male . Recently we noticed that the female was nipping at the male . Knocking him off the basking area . Basically looked like she was bullying him . So we separated them before something serious happens. I have read that it could be a mating thing or a territorial issue. But how do we know we made the right move ?

Seth on June 11, 2018:

One last thing turtles need 10 gallons for every inch of shell diameter, so a red ear slider will need upwards of 120 gallon tank than 20 more gallons per turtle, male turtles are generally much smaller than females however less colorful

Seth on June 11, 2018:

Another thing the basking area has to be 100% dry, water heaters are a must however you want a guard to cover it, if a turtle can’t 100% get dry mold, fungus and even shell rot can take place, if a turtle gets sick you need to keep the basking area around 95F

Seth on June 11, 2018:

You left out UVB light which is needed for the turtle to process calcium, a bulb that produces both UVB and UVA is ideal such as a murcery vapor bulb. Water Hyacinth and duckweed are non toxic to many aquatic turtles, I believe water hyacinth is only toxic to dogs. Water lettuce is a fantastic plant to use, grows fast multiply quickly o and floating plants help remove turtle waste like ammonia and nitrates. Duckweed on the other hand same drill expect its high in protein.

Jolyn Hayward on May 01, 2018:

I have a mother turtle and her baby. The mother has just started trying to bite her baby. Is this normal behavior ?? Should I separate them??

B on March 14, 2018:

Also there are turtles that don't grow to be very big at all for example the common musk turtle which can sometimes and usually only grow to be 2 to 3 inches with the bigger ones reaching 4 and a behemoth being 5 inches. They wouldn't need a 40 gallon tank being only 2 inches long. Maybe you shouldn't generalize all turtles seeing as how there are hundreds of different types

B on March 14, 2018:

12 hours of sun? That means they'd literally be basking half the day. no swimming, no eating. Just basking. They need 4 to 8 hours at most depending on species. As a matter of fact, Some species don't even bask at all. Some of your info is inaccurate and 12 hours of bright light might even stress your turtle out. The sun isn't even up for 12 hours a day. I'm just saying. Study a bit more and update your article

Bianca on January 25, 2018:

Hello, my turtle's scules seem like they are peeling, but only the edges of them and it has been like that since I got him two weeks ago (Is that normal??) . I also have never seen him on the basking rock. I am not sure if he is sick or if he is still getting used to his tank.

This is a class pet so I am trying to make sure we have a healthy turtle!

Anna5000 on August 21, 2017:

I had 3 Yellow bellied sliders. Even though I have a big tank with 27 C water temperature, a nice basking area and UV lamp for turtles, even if I kept the water clean and I fed the turtles properly and I have a strong filter in their tank, they all died. Today died my last turtle, after a few weeks of agony. I do not understand what I did wrong. She started to stay day and night on the basking area, refused to eat and did not opened her eyes anymore. That happened with the other turtles I had too. I hoped that this little one will survive... I took care of them properly, exactly how is specified. I raised the temperature in the tank a little to help their immune system, but they died anyway. I feel guilty now for having them, I'm thinking that if I never bought them then they will be alive. I do not understand, what I was wrong with?

Betty Gates on July 24, 2017:

Thank you loved your post. I've had my Yellow bellied sliders for 3 years now and my they have grown! From an inch around to almost 8 inches now, but even a 55 gallon tank is to small for them. Unless you can dedicate your whole house to them. It's a very good idea to think about long term. Get turtles that don't get too big or get ones that are from your area. Luckily my son is making a pond in the back yard for my two turtles and fish. Use your head...unless you wanna eat turtle soup(yuck). With red and yellow bellied sliders please get fish for the tank. Get some goldfish and also get some bait fish(small minnows). They won't eat the goldfish unless they are the only ones left. But will eat the small bait fish(never heard that one! try it they don't want the fatty fish). At .5 to .10 cents a piece replace the bait fish. It becomes a very good indicator on water quality(like the birds that died in the mines years ago). If your fish die, so will your turtles eventually. Now my babies will thrive and bask in a natural sun. I was totally ignoring they need vegetation too. Please spend 5 minutes and look it all up. Keep turtles safe and people too.

Gabi on July 04, 2017:

I found a turtle in the fountains. Its a yellow bellied slider. I live in Korea so, I knew she was a pet. Thank you so much. I hope I take good care of her.

Sinrick on June 05, 2017:

My boyfriend and I have a 7-year old female red-eared slider turtle, she died last night. If I have read this article before we bought our red red-eared slider, her tragic death could have been avoided. We prayed and beg for her forgiveness for being such a lousy owner. In this few months my boyfriend only change the water once a week(with a underwater filter). The temperature here at the Philippines is so high 86.0 °F. Her male red-eared slider companion is still alive and about 6 years old by now. Is it still worth if we keep the male one or do we need to set him free? I am very depressed and scared that the male slider might die too. :'(

Me on May 24, 2017:

I have had me red ear slider for 14 years... he has never had land and when he has he flattens it or pushes it out of the water... he has always had tap water in his tank... he is 100% healthy

Trinity Stehley on April 29, 2017:

I got a box turtle from the wild on my driveway.How do I take care of it?

Jay on April 18, 2017:

Can you take it out sometimes?

Patricia on February 10, 2017:

You actually have to have a UVB lamp that acts as the sun along with a heat lamp. Zoo med makes a good combo that isn't terribly expensive. Both lamps are crucial to the health of your turtle.

rhaquel on January 16, 2017:

never give the turtle the wrong food

Jennifer kendrick on January 02, 2017:

I have four turtles I have a 20 gallon tank for the 2 big turtles and I have to small turtles in another tank the big ones are new to family so what should I do I feed them like I should is it normal for them to want to escape tank

Anand on November 20, 2016:

Excellent article, i had a turtle and he died today i am do sad.

nijhum piyal on October 28, 2016:

this will be very helpful for me to maintain my new baby turtle, I usually give him/her 10 to 12 pellets and 2 to 3 boiled rice. is it enough for him? it is 3/3 and 1/2 inches i size

leon on September 17, 2016:

Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I don't have one. Just trying to get info. I had one but it died. But I also want a turtle for Christmas.

Ja on August 11, 2016:

My turtle has recently pulled into its shell. What to do. Put food in tank water in tank no actions. Dead?

Anthony on August 01, 2016:

You say that we shouldn't take them out of the tank, but what if that's the only way to clean the tank? If you clean it by hand, then you have to take the turtle out

Lois on May 08, 2016:

Thank you so much for this helpful, straightforward comment.

james on April 22, 2016:

this really helped thanks a lot you look really pretty

riya agrawal on March 13, 2016:

yes it did thnxx

R Johnson on February 23, 2016:

We have had our two painted turtles for five plus years, there was a learning curve but now I have it down, they like me and I like them :)

They have a 40 gallon tank with a turtle topper basking platform, a good strong basking lamp, lots of good food and fish to chase. I know where they came from and maybe someday they will go back home, once large enough not to be a mouthful for a fish or bird.

supercalafragilisticexpedaladocias on September 13, 2014:

i caught a yellowbelly by the pond and now i know how to take care of it:)

EmilyNSams (author) from North Carolina on June 08, 2014:

Definitely! If you allow them, they will eat feeders. It's actually pretty common to give him one on occasion since it stimulates his natural prey drive.

edcasa on June 04, 2014:

I have a baby yellow belly turtle. I feed him his food (sticks) everyday as planed, but I do have small gold feeders (fish) but it seems like he has lil interest. Is that normal?

hurleygirl on July 05, 2013:

Thanks so much!! I caught a painted turtle at a near by creek and had no idea how to take care of him! : )

shardae on September 11, 2011:

Thanks so much this article has been very helpful :)

wowedding from USA on August 05, 2011:

Welcome to Hubpage~

EmilyNSams (author) from North Carolina on August 04, 2011:

Thanks! :D

Tom Cornett from Ohio on August 04, 2011:

Great first Hub! Caring for any pet can be a chore....but well worth it. Welcome to HubPages. :)

EmilyNSams on August 04, 2011:


Pollyannalana from US on August 04, 2011:

Voted up, I had a turtle at about that age; good luck and welcome to hubs.


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