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Care of Turtles for Beginners

Updated on September 26, 2011

An Overview of Turtles as Pets

This is a general guide for anyone looking to get a turtle as a pet. When you decide on a species please find species specific information for it. Turtles are not throw away pets. They are long-lived, intelligent reptiles that take a lot of care. The decision to get one should not be taken lightly.

Good Species for Beginners   

  1. red eared slider
  2. painted turtle
  3. common map turtle
  4. common musk turtle
  5. Eastern mud turtle
  6. common box turtle

Bad Species For Beginner

  1. snapping turtle
  2. soft shell turtle
  3. mata mata


All of the species I listed as being good for beginners are semi-aquatic, except for the box turtle. Semi-aquatic means they will spend time on land and in the water. With turtles they don't need much land, just a log or big rock to bask on. You will find they spend most of their time in the water. Box turtles should be provided a terrestrial tank with just a bowl for water. For semi-aquatic turtles use gravel as a substrate or leave the tank bare. For box turtles use reptile wood chips, turf, or clean soil. For no turtle should you use a tank less than 20 gallons for one (except mud turtles; they are small enough that two can fit in a 20 gal). A big red-eared slider will need significantly more space. Provide the turtles with UV light and a heat source.


A turtles main diet will consist of protein sources. Most will readily accept worms, fish, crickets (nothing funnier than a turtle chasing a cricket), and pellet food. Box turtles love dog food as well as everything previously mentioned. Don't neglect vegetation, though. Red-eared sliders and box turtles will accept chopped fruits and vegetables as adults. Do not overfeed! It will dirty the water. Also Make sure the diet is balanced as a calcium or vit.D3 deficiency can lead to soft shell or a vit. A deficiency can lead to swollen eyes.


Turtles may carry salmonella. Watch children closely when they handle turtles, and wash your hands immediately after handling the turtle or cage decorations. also avoid feeding your turtle raw poultry parts.  


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    • Brandon21 profile image

      Brandon21 3 years ago

      Hello Nicole. Traveling can be stressful for any animal. Often when reptiles are stressed they won't eat. I your turtle was healthy and eating before the trip in his normal enclosure he should survive until you return home. You are doing good to keep his water clean as stressed animals are more susceptible to disease. Be careful with keeping him in the sun. since he is in a small cage he won't be able to move to a cool area to regulate his body temperature. I would cut back on the sun since he's not eating anyway. Continue to offer him a varied assortment of food. In the future consider leaving him with someone who can act as a pet sitter to avoid the stresses of travel.

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      Nicole 3 years ago

      I've been traveling a lot with my red eared slider and he really hasn't been eating and is in a little plastic tank. But I have been changing his water. A lot . and keeping him in the sun. I'm kinda worried and we still have about 2 days of traveling left.

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      zori 5 years ago

      i have a turtle an i love it

    • Brandon21 profile image

      Brandon21 5 years ago

      Hello Noah. Red eared sliders have a wide range of things they can eat(crickets, pieces of chicken, worms, vegetables, fish etc). He may need to get used to his new enclosure so give him a week of not being disturbed. Make sure his cage has an area for him to bask (this is important as it keeps their metabolism up). Avoid the turtle food and try feeding him something alive like fish or worms.

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      noah 5 years ago

      i have a red eared slider and he just won't eat i've had him for 2 days now and i tried to feed him turtle food and lettuce what food should i get

    • Brandon21 profile image

      Brandon21 6 years ago

      Well Daniel, the mata mata get pretty big (around 16 in), Is aggressive, and highly aquatic. also they are picky eaters.

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      Daniel 6 years ago

      Wow. Mata Mata! That's a funny name. What makes them bad for beginners?