Caring for your Pet Turtle

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Caring for your Pet Turtle

Housing Considerations:  The best home for a Red-Ear Slider or Map turtle is a screen-covered glass aquarium.  For hatchling-size turtles, a tank of 15-20 gallons with 3 to 6 inches of water is suitable. As the turtle grows, a larger home should be provided.  Adult turtles require a tank of at least 50 gallons with a water depth of 6 to 12 inches.  Red-Ear Sliders grow to a length of 8-12 inches and Map turtles grow up to 6-10 inches.  The males of both species tend to be a little smaller than the females. All turtles need some areas of rocks or other decoration that allows the turtle to climb out of the water and dry-off completely. 


Water Quality Considerations:  Almost all turtle health problems can be avoided by providing the turtle with well-filtered water that is changed regularly.  Hatchling turtles benefit from the use of a good submersible power filter while adult turtles will probably require the use of a good canister filter.  For turtles of any age, water changes as often as twice weekly is recommended.


Temperature and Lighting Considerations:  Turtles are cold-blooded and need to be kept at a temperature between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 26 degrees Celsius).  They should also be provided with a heat lamp in one corner of the aquarium (over a dry basking area), heating that area to around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) to assist in body-temperature regulation.  The turtle home should also include a full-spectrum fluorescent light to provide UVB wavelengths required for vitamin D synthesis and bone development.


Nutrition Considerations:  In order to minimize the need for cleaning the aquarium, do not over-feed your turtle.  Feed hatchling turtles every day; as much as they will eat in 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove uneaten food after half an hour.  Turtle food sticks or pellets (many brands are available) are the best staple diet.  Try supplementing this diet with freeze-dried shrimp, krill or insects or even a few small live feeder fish.  Adult turtles have a slower metabolism than hatchlings and can be fed less often.  Twice weekly feedings are sufficient for adult turtles.   


Important Information for all Turtle Owners


Safe Handling of Turtles:  Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling turtles, their food or any part of their aquarium.  Turtles are known to carry the Salmonella bacteria responsible for food-poisoning in people.  Turtles should be handled as little as possible and not at all by young children, the elderly or anyone with health problems that weaken the immune system.  Do not keep the turtle tank in the kitchen or use the kitchen sink to clean the tank, filter or any other equipment that comes in contact with the turtle.  Keep your hands away from your face or open wounds after handling turtles or cleaning the tank.  Turtles over 2 inches in shell length can deliver a painful bite, and bites from very large turtles may need medical attention.

Other considerations:    Do not let the turtle roam freely in your house or yard, as it may get lost, injured or attacked by other pets.  Please note that keeping a turtle is a long-term commitment.  It is illegal to release turtles into the wild, and pet stores have little demand for adult turtles that have outgrown their homes.