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The Dos and Don'ts of Turtle Care

Updated on February 17, 2016


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


So I think every kid goes through a phase where they want a turtle. I myself did. 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 and help determining whether or not a turtle is an appropriate pet for your child/children.

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 it. 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

  • 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 a hold 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 a 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 a natural spring water for their drinking and a 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 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.

The 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.

Seems like a lot of work? Its n'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.


There really aren't that many risks of having a turtle for a pet. There will always be a chance of salmonella, but that is only if you don't use proper hygiene.

Turtles do bite. They may not have teeth, but they bite, and bite hard. I have been bitten a few times, but this generally only happens if you go poking around in their faces.

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. If you notice blotchy patches on your turtles 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.

Is It a Good Choice?

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!


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    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

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


    • profile image

      EmilyNSams 5 years ago


    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 5 years ago from Ohio

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

    • EmilyNSams profile image

      EmilyNSams 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks! :D

    • wowedding profile image

      wowedding 5 years ago from USA

      Welcome to Hubpage~

    • profile image

      shardae 5 years ago

      Thanks so much this article has been very helpful :)

    • profile image

      hurleygirl 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      edcasa 3 years ago

      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?

    • EmilyNSams profile image

      EmilyNSams 3 years ago from North Carolina

      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.

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      supercalafragilisticexpedaladocias 2 years ago

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

    • profile image

      R Johnson 17 months ago

      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.

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      riya agrawal 16 months ago

      yes it did thnxx

    • profile image

      james 15 months ago

      this really helped thanks a lot you look really pretty

    • profile image

      Lois 14 months ago

      Thank you so much for this helpful, straightforward comment.

    • profile image

      Anthony 11 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Ja 11 months ago

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

    • profile image

      leon 10 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      nijhum piyal 8 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Anand 8 months ago

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

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      Jennifer kendrick 6 months ago

      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

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      rhaquel 6 months ago

      never give the turtle the wrong food

    • profile image

      Patricia 5 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Jay 3 months ago

      Can you take it out sometimes?

    • profile image

      Trinity Stehley 2 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Me 8 weeks ago

      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

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      Sinrick 6 weeks ago

      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. :'(

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      Gabi 2 weeks ago

      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.

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