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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    • profile image

      Seth 9 days ago

      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

    • profile image

      Seth 9 days ago

      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

    • profile image

      Seth 9 days ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Jolyn Hayward 7 weeks ago

      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??

    • profile image

      3 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      3 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Bianca 4 months ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Anna5000 10 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Betty Gates 11 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Gabi 11 months 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.

    • profile image

      Sinrick 12 months 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. :'(

    • profile image

      Me 13 months 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

    • profile image

      Trinity Stehley 13 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Jay 14 months ago

      Can you take it out sometimes?

    • profile image

      Patricia 16 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

      rhaquel 17 months ago

      never give the turtle the wrong food

    • profile image

      Jennifer kendrick 17 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

    • profile image

      Anand 19 months ago

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

    • profile image

      nijhum piyal 20 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

      leon 21 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

      Ja 22 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

      Anthony 22 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

      Lois 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for this helpful, straightforward comment.

    • profile image

      james 2 years ago

      this really helped thanks a lot you look really pretty

    • profile image

      riya agrawal 2 years ago

      yes it did thnxx

    • profile image

      R Johnson 2 years 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.

    • profile image

      supercalafragilisticexpedaladocias 3 years ago

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

    • EmilyNSams profile image

      EmilyNSams 4 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.

    • profile image

      edcasa 4 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?

    • 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

      shardae 6 years ago

      Thanks so much this article has been very helpful :)

    • wowedding profile image

      wowedding 6 years ago from USA

      Welcome to Hubpage~

    • EmilyNSams profile image

      EmilyNSams 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks! :D

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 6 years ago from Ohio

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

    • profile image

      EmilyNSams 6 years ago


    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

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



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