Is a Turtle Right for You?
Taking care of a pet turtle isn’t as easy as you might think. Choosing a turtle as a pet, needs to be given careful consideration. Turtles require special care and frequent cleaning, and they don’t play well with kids—turtles can bite and do not like to be handled, but they still make really fun pets to watch. Before you adopt a turtle, think about what resources and space you have available, what kind of turtle food you might want, as well as the fit for your home and family.
What Kinds of Turtles Make Good Pets?
The most common turtles owned as pets are the Box, Red-eared slider, Painted, Reeve’s, Wood, and Caspian pond turtles. These are considered aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles. You can tell by looking at their shells; box turtles have a shell that looks more like a tortoise versus the flat streamlined shell of fully aquatic turtles for aqua-dynamics.
Each of these turtles usually has a lifespan of more than 25 years, some of which even reach into the 80 year range, like the Box turtle.
Temperaments vary among turtle breeds.
Adult shell size can be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches in diameter. When you buy turtles from a pet store they are usually juvenile and still have lots of growing to do.
Families with kids should also know that turtles carry salmonella, which can cause sickness in young children, immune-compromised individuals, and the elderly. It is advised that families with children under age 5 not own a turtle. Always wash your hands after handling a turtle or any part of their habitat to avoid getting sick.
A Turtle or a Tortoise?
Turtles enjoy water habitats or ponds to dip in, depending on the type. Whereas tortoises prefer dry, arid environments. They require different habitats, and some prefer outdoor enclosures to indoor enclosures.
The red-eared slider, for example, enjoys a habitat like an aquarium with room for swimming and spots above water to rest and relax. The box turtle likes a land environment with only a small wading pool for cooling off. With one kind on land and one in water, not all turtles are the perfect fit for every household.
If you are considering keeping your turtle outdoors, you need to know your outdoor temperatures. Arizona might be an ideal location for a Russian tortoise that loves hot, dry temperatures, but a painted turtle would need a large pond that might dry up in such an environment. Similarly, an outdoor enclosure in Maine would probably kill a Russian tortoise from too much cold and humidity.
Keeping turtles or tortoises indoors is easier to regulate, but might eventually require a giant 75-gallon tank, depending on your turtle. Smaller juvenile turtles can be kept in smaller tanks, like a 40 Gallon, until they outgrow the space. That said, bigger tanks are easier to clean and turtles like to have more space to move, so it’s not a bad idea to start with a big tank.
Fun Facts About Turtles
Even though turtles can be a bit of a handful as pets, they are amazing creatures. Here are a few cool facts about turtles:
- Most turtles hibernate for 10-20 weeks during the year, some even up to 9 months of the year.
- Turtles have been around for over 200 million years.
- The oldest known tortoise was an Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise that lived 152 years in captivity (after it was likely already 50 years old).
- Turtles are found on 6 out of 7 continents—all except Antarctica.
- A turtle shell is made of 60 different bones.
How to Care for a Pet Turtle
Turtles require more attention and care than fish, but less than a more active animal like a dog or cat. Still, before you buy a turtle, you should know how to care for it. This may help you prepare for the required tasks ahead. Follow these steps to have a happy turtle.
1. Set Up a Tank
A turtle’s indoor habitat should be at least 40 gallons to allow for growth to adult size. It should also include a heat lamp for basking. The tank must include land area or dry area and swimming area or wet area. Make sure you read about the turtle you plan to buy so you can provide the right living environment.
2. Set Up Temperature Control
Turtles are cold-blooded critters who need a fairly constant temperature in order to do well. Turtles prefer to live in a temperature between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Some turtles do all right if the temperature drops down to 50 degrees at night, but anything lower than that can cause a turtle to go into hibernation or get sick. It is best to heat water for aquatic turtles, and include a basking light to heat the air in the tank.
3. Find Out How Much Your Turtle Should Hibernate
Since turtles have varying lengths of hibernation time, you should know how long to expect your turtle to be inactive and how to provide the best environment for it in the meantime. More experienced turtle owners allow their turtles to hibernate in the refrigerator or bury them in their yards.
4. Provide Food
Turtle foods are varied for a healthy diet, often including fresh and flaked food, live bugs, and vitamin A to help them thrive. Food for turtles can be found at fish food stores and pet stores, or at Pisces Pros. Fresh foods like lettuce, bugs, worms, fish, and other plants and veggies can be good to offer your turtle, too.
5. Clean Tank and Change Water Frequently
Turtles need fresh food and water every day (when they aren’t hibernating). The cage, aquarium, or enclosure should be cleaned regularly, even if you have filtration systems or other regular maintenance devices. Filtration in a water aquarium is a must, and if the tank starts smelling it is because the water is dirty and needs to be changed.
6. Do Not Play with Your Turtle Often
Turtles get stressed easily when handled. They aren’t very good playmates and are better treated as something to look at rather than touch. Never drop or throw your turtle as they can get hurt easily, even with their hard shells.
7. Wash Your Hands
If you do touch your turtle or anything in its cage, you need to wash your hands thoroughly, otherwise you risk getting salmonella.
What Do Turtles Eat?
Do you know what and where to buy turtle food? It really depends on the breed of turtle. Saltwater turtle food is different from pet turtle food because they eat different things in the wild. A turtle food list might include fruits and vegetables, protein sources, and turtle food bites.
The best turtle food is the kind that mimics or includes ingredients your turtle would find naturally. HBH turtle food bites provide your turtle with great nutrition. HBH products offer the best for your aquatic pets.
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