An Essential Guide to Taking Care of Turtles as Pets

Turtles as Pets
The slow-moving turtles that come in various sizes and colors have always fascinated man. In case you are planning to have one as a pet, the following turtle care tips can prove useful.
Turtles are reptiles that belong to the order Testudines. They form one of the oldest reptile groups, the earliest members of which lived on the Earth before 250 million years. Today, there are around 300 species of turtles in the world. Among them, almost 50 are found in North America.

While kids adore these slow-moving creatures, even grownups are fascinated by these cold-blooded reptiles. Nowadays, turtles are highly sought after as pets. If you are planning to adopt a turtle as a pet, you must have a sound knowledge about its habits, habitat and requirements, so that you can raise the animal in the proper manner.

Pet Turtle Care

Small terrestrial and freshwater turtles are commonly preferred as pets. The two most popular species are the red-eared sliders and box turtles, and both of them have a mild temperament. Only experienced handlers should keep snapping turtles as pets, as they are aggressive in nature.

Home Sweet Home: The most important aspect of raising pet turtles is to provide a proper habitat. The golden rule is to create the same conditions as in their natural environment. For this purpose, you have to identify the turtle species. Box turtles spend most of their time on land, and return to water only to drink. Nevertheless, a land turtle may also enjoy an occasional swim in the water. If the turtle is a large, terrestrial species, you must consider having a turtle enclosure made. This enclosure should have enough dry area for the turtle to bask and a water source large enough for the animal to swim occasionally. You may also grow some bushes, so that the turtle can hide when it feels agitated or threatened.

Water turtles, however, would require a large water body. An aquarium for raising a turtle should have a minimum capacity of 40 gallons. However, you may require a much larger tank, as the turtle grows big. The tank must have a water filtration system as the turtle will eat and defecate in the water. A submersible heater must also be installed. Proper lighting is very important as the turtle need UV light for maintaining their shell and bone structure. They also require heat to maintain their body temperature. So, both UVA/UVB fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs have to be used, as they need to be exposed to these lights for at least 12 hours a day. The temperature must be maintained within the range of 70 to 75º F at night, and 70 to 85º F during daytime. The basking area must have a temperature of around 90 to 95º F. You must also provide lots of aquatic plants. A few rocks in the aquarium would provide the turtle a place to rest and hide.

Give Me My Space! Don't be fooled by their slow-moving nature. Turtles may move around with greater agility than what you expect. They are active animals and require a lot of space to move around. Chasing live food and having a good swim are good exercise for them. So, their habitat must have enough space for them to move around.

What's on the Menu? Wondering what do they eat? Depending upon the species, these creatures can be carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous. They should be fed with food that is rich in calcium and Vitamin D3. Carnivorous turtles can be fed with fish, shrimp, crickets, mealworms, waxworms, earthworms, and bugs. Herbivores can be provided with carrots, kale, collard greens, blackberries, and dandelions. A turtle's stomach is about the size of its head. Hence the amount of food given to it should be enough to fill its tummy. The frequency of feeding depends upon the species. Even store-bought pellet food can be used for feeding the pet turtle.

Points to Ponder Before Choosing a Pet Turtle
  • Keep in mind that your little pet turtle can grow big. So, you must have a basic understanding about the average size of an adult turtle (of the same breed) and the amount of care they need once they attain that size. With larger size comes the requirement of more food, water, and space.
  • Turtles live long. In case you are thinking of raising a turtle as a pet, be prepared to have it as a permanent member of the family. Probably, your pet may outlive you. So, a pet turtle is a matter of commitment and responsibility for your lifetime and beyond.
  • Check the local laws. Some states prohibit their residents from raising certain types of turtles as pets.
  • Turtles carry salmonella bacteria that can cause salmonellosis in humans. Kids are more prone to condition, and this is the reason why the FDA has banned sale of turtles with a shell less than 4 inches long. It is easy for young children to handle small turtles. So, do not keep turtles as pets if you have children below the age of five.
  • Turtles are prone to bacterial infections. To ensure your pet's health, take it to a vet for regular checkups. For this purpose, you must find one who treats turtles. Otherwise, you may take it to the local zoo where you can surely get medical help for these animals.
It is always better to avoid adopting wild turtles as pets. Quite a large number of these turtles are enlisted as endangered species and raising them can be illegal. You are not supposed to release your pet turtle outdoors. If your pet turtle grows big, and you cannot take care of it anymore, call the local zoo or a turtle rescue group. Ensure that your turtle has a good home even when it is not with you.
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