Turtle Care 101

“Henry loves getting in the shower with me. He will grab the end of the shower curtain slowly like a creeper because he really wants to be in the water.”

Guess who Henry is? No, he isn’t a kid or a full-grown adult. Henry is the 18-year-old Sulcata pet turtle bought by Amanda Green almost five years back. Amanda is not the only one; there are nearly 1320 households in the United States that own turtles as their pets.

woman holding turtle ‘Is it hard to pet a turtle?’ I get this question from inquisitive turtle nerds every day. In my opinion, it is not that difficult to pet a turtle if you are familiar with their habitats. It depends on the turtle that you choose to pet. For example, an aquatic turtle may require a little more maintenance than a land turtle.

Since World Turtle Day is just around the corner, I have decided to share an introductory course on how to take care of your pet turtles and giving them the life they deserve. Read on and let me know if you have any questions.

Take It Slow & Steady For Your Pet Turtles

Turtles are difficult to handle since they are not exactly cuddly like dogs. But, they are equally cute and can be an awesome companion if you are well-prepared. You must understand that turtles and tortoises are not the same things. Turtles spend most of their time in the water, whereas tortoises live on the land. Terrapins are also turtles who spend their time both on water and land. No matter which type of turtle you wish to pet, check out the following tips to keep them healthy.

1. Maintain Your Turtle’s Environment

‘Henry is a Sulcata, and he can live on land, but he needs constant access to water’ Amanda commented in a post recently. Similarly, you need to maintain the natural habitat of your turtle to keep it healthy and happy. Study the articles on your turtle’s environment and make sure you maintain the same.

If anything goes wrong with your turtle, it might be due to the wrong environment. After all, a turtle’s appetite is often controlled by the environment he is in. Here are a few tips to ensure your turtle stays in a suitable environment.

  • Also, keep the water always. Use a strong filtration system and change the water regularly. Pet turtles are prone to infections due to contaminated water. They may seem to be like tough guys, but in reality, they are pretty delicate.
  • ‘I don’t have time to change the water frequently.’ This is a common query for most students dealing with tons of unfinished assignments. In such a situation, it is better to consider a land-dwelling tortoise.
  • Check the temperature of air and water before letting your turtle roam around. You need to maintain the temperature that your turtle would find in the wild. Inappropriate temperature can lead to respiratory problems or lungs infection. Apart from the right temperature and clean water, expose your turtle to enough sunlight. Take it out for a walk at least for an hour every day. Sunlight helps their shell develop and prevents metabolic bone diseases.

2. Pay Heed to the Essential Equipment

The above tips are applicable if you decide to let your turtle roam around freely in the house as Henry does. But what if the turtle is tiny and you need to keep it in an enclosure? What if the turtle is too old to walk around freely?

Turtles need a safe place to walk around or swim. They should be easily able to climb or walk out of the water if required. Some pet owners prefer keeping their turtles in ponds rather than artificial tanks. However, this is not possible for everyone. Most of you may think about keeping your pet turtle in a tank. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind while setting up the tank or aquarium for your turtle.

  • Baby turtles measure up to 6”/15 cm. To make them feel comfortable in the enclosure, the smallest tank for the tiniest turtle should be at least 18”/45 cm wide, 4’/120 cm long and 18”/45 cm tall.
  • Older turtles need larger tanks for the maximum comfort level. Tanks for them should be approximately 5’*2’*2’/150 cm * 60 cm * 60 * cm minimum. Outdoor turtles usually hibernate in the winter. During that period, it is best to keep them inside the house until the warm weather returns.
  • Set up artificial lights in the tank in case it doesn’t have access to natural sunlight. Artificial lighting with some UVB radiation is usually considered appropriate for a turtle to stay healthy.

Maintain a substrate of the grave, basking islands or logs, a water filter and an optional submersible water heater in the tank or pond.

It is better to buy a siphon or a gravel vacuum cleaner to clean the tank. You can even add a small amount of aquarium salt to the tank water depending on your turtle’s requirements. Fitzroy River Turtles, for instance, do not require salt in their aquarium water. Study the requirements of your turtle before adding salt to the water in its aquarium or tank.

3. Feed Them Right

turtle mouth open tongue out

You must understand the difference between freshwater turtles and land-loving tortoises when it comes to feeding. The freshwater turtle tends to submerge itself in water completely to eat.

Staying out of water for too long may result in poor health and even death. Therefore, you must make sure that water is 24*7 accessible to these turtles. Keep these points in mind to feed the best to your turtles.

  • Turtles generally eat fish, insects and dark, leafy greens. If you intend to feed fishes, it is better to provide comet goldfish.
  • Pet canned or pellet turtle food is also available in many pet shops. These foods consist of free-dried mealworms. Tortoises are herbivores, so they would require a mixture of fresh vegetables and fruits in the ratio of 80:20.
  • Turtles are not like dogs or cats who have to be fed every day. Feed your turtle four to five times a week, and he will be happy for a long time. Young water turtles are exceptions in this case. You will have to feed them every day.

You can add a minimum amount of calcium to your turtle’s diet. Consult with your professional veterinary before you add calcium to the diet. You can also add low-salt cat kibble, leafy vegetables, strawberries, crickets, several pondweeds, Vallisneria, mosquito larvae and shrimp to the turtle pellet since it forms the base of their diet.

4. Make Your Pet Turtles Exercise Daily

turtle walking on ground

Did you know that turtles rank 5th in the list of the common obese exotic pets? When turtles sense fear, they tend to pull their limbs and heads into their shells. But, overweight turtles are unable to do so because they have an abnormal amount of fat on their legs and neck. Hence, they are stuck outside. Sad. Very sad.

Controlling their diet is one thing you can do to prevent such a situation. But that’s not enough. You need to make them exercise to keep them healthy and fit throughout their life. Here are a few tips that you can follow to give your pet turtles a healthy life.

  • Help your pet turtle stretch its legs. It makes a cold-blooded body feel good and fit.
  • It’s true that you may not be able to go for jogging with your pet turtle. But, you can always take it out for a walk. See here in the video how Henry basks in the sun and greets everyone on his way to the park.
  • Swimming may not be a great idea because tortoises, box turtles, and some land turtles aren’t really good swimmers. Instead, you can try a good soaking from time to time.

Master Oogway was the epitome of wisdom in Kung Fu Panda. In real life, turtles can be pretty mischievous. Hence, I would suggest you make a pen-safe and escape proof enclosure for your pets. Dig a wire deep into the ground about 19 inches and rake the pen well. Make sure the space does not have any toxic plants or pesticides. Let them walk around and exercise as long as they want.

Wrapping it Ip

Most of you might assume that a turtle is an easy choice if your kid has been clamoring for a pet for quite a long time. Turtles are exotic little creatures and less upkeep than dogs or cats. They require a great deal of maintenance. Implement these tips to keep your pet turtle healthy and happy.


Author Bio:
Shirley Brown is a part-time pet groomer and a full-time blogger. She has two water turtles at her home, a Red Eared Slider and a Yellow Bellied Slider. She also provides CPM Homework help via MyAssignmenthelp.

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