Those big, gentle eyes. The adorable little waddle. The fact that they’re significantly cheaper and lower maintenance than dogs. What’s not to love about a pet turtle? But even the easiest-to-love pets come with their own challenges. To help you meet those challenges without becoming “shell-shocked,” we’ve compiled our best tips for raising a pet turtle.
Choosing Your Turtle
Some sadly misinformed people will tell you there isn’t much difference between one turtle and another. But there are 356 species of turtles in this world, and not all of them will make perfect pets. If you’re looking for a good first turtle, consider these species:
- Red-eared slider
- Yellow-bellied slider
- Spotted turtle
- Eastern box turtle
- Mississippi map turtle
- Painted turtle
You may be able to find some of these turtles in your neighborhood forest preserve. However, you shouldn’t attempt to adopt a turtle you find out in the wild. These turtles are more likely to carry disease, and they won’t be adapted to pet food like captive-bred turtles are.
Housing Your Turtle
The quality of your turtle’s tank will determine its health and quality of life. To raise your pet turtle well, follow these tips for crafting the perfect environment for your turtle:
- Have both an above-water and below-water area in your tank.
- Invest in a filter for the water.
- Install warm lights over the above-water area that stay at 85–95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tanks should hold 30 gallons for small turtles and 125 gallons for larger species. The bigger, the better for turtle tanks.
- Put a heatproof metal screen on top of the tank.
Decorations make excellent additions to a turtle tank, but you should avoid placing them in the tank in such a way that will hinder your turtle from swimming. Painting the background of the enclosure is a great way to balance décor and open spaces for your turtle.
Feeding Your Turtle
The type, amount, and frequency of food you should feed your turtle will depend on its species. Younger turtles will eat every day, while older turtles will eat only once every two or three days. It’s a good idea to balance turtle pellets with real food. Most turtles are omnivores, so you should favor foods such as:
- Drained sardines
Most people don’t realize that some turtles can beg just like dogs can, especially species such as red-ear sliders. And just as with dogs, it’s important to resist those puppy eyes (hatchling eyes?). Overfeeding can raise a turtle’s risk of obesity and liver and kidney damage. Make sure you read the directions on your turtle’s pellets before feeding.