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Raising a Healthy Turtle

Updated on December 24, 2011


If you are considering getting a turtle as a pet, it is important to realize that these creatures are a high maintenance pet to have. They can dirty a tank faster than you can sneeze and they need a habitat that supplies them with natural components of a pond or lake.

When I had turtles years ago, I purchased a very large aquarium of 75 gallons for three small turtles; a painted and 2 red sliders. They were about 2x3 in size but quickly grew to 5 x 6 in two years. The painted took longer to grow and topped out at 3x4 when I decided to find them a new home.

I wanted to provide them with land, heat and a large swimming area; complete with feeder fish so they could learn how to catch their own food as well as receive it from me. I bought rocks that could house living plants in them and tiered them in the water. The turtles loved to eat these plants so I had to replace them quite often. I put pebbles and sand at the bottom of the tank and made sure that the filtration system of the tank would not be compromised by any of the paraphernalia in the tank. A good filtration system is needed in a turtle tank. Otherwise, you are cleaning the tank daily instead of every week or bi-monthly. My filtration system had two filters that ran, sucking the water up through the component that stayed in the water and taking the water through the filtration system, over the filters and back out into the water.

When cleaning the tank, you can afford to do a 1/2 tank change or more. Turtles are quite adaptive as are the feeder fish (comets) that inhabit the tank. The feeder fish will eat the food you put in the tank for the turtles and will also eat the plants.

I fed the turtles a diet rich in protein; dried shrimp, turtle pellets and also fresh meat cut into small tiny pieces. They also liked to have vegetables but I would feed them these out of the tank as it only added to more clean up.  Another tasty treat for them are the little, tiny swimming frogs you can buy at the store.  They would seek these little creatures out right away and snack on them!

A painted turtle; the bottom of the shell is beautiful!
A painted turtle; the bottom of the shell is beautiful!
A red slider; it's face has beautiful colors but it has a pretty dull looking shell.
A red slider; it's face has beautiful colors but it has a pretty dull looking shell.

Basking Areas

 While the turtles will choose to stay in the water 85% of the time, they also need an opportunity to bask in the heat.  A heat lamp is perfect for this.  I bought a couple floating logs for the turtles to climb upon so they could lay under the lamp.  The lamp was left on for 1/2 of the day, to allow them ample time to bask.  I also had a heater in the tank and kept the temperature around 85 degrees to make sure they didn't get cold.  Remember, reptiles cannot produce their own heat and look to heat sources to get warmth.  Cold water and no heat lamp will be a quick death to your turtle.  You can leave the basking lamp on all the time, however, the warmth will cause algae to generate more quickly in the tank.  Plecos help with this but the turtles also love to eat them! 

Choosing the Type of Turtle

 Turtles can be purchased at some pet shops, however you can also find them swimming wild in local ponds or creeks.

If wanting to get a turtle, it is imperative to provide a habitat that allows freedom for the turtle.  Most shops sell painted or red sliders as they are the easiest to maintain.  These turtles are also not huge biters and allow themselves to be handled.  They can bite if they choose, but my three were so well fed and were so used to being handled they never attacked.

I would buy shell conditioner at the pet shop as well and coat their shells well once a week.  This would keep it from drying out and from peeling.  The large scales that make up a turtle shell can peel off like a sheet of old nail polish if not taken care of.  I bought the cream form and after rubbing it on the turtles, would let them walk around in the tub until it soaked in for about 15 minutes.  Then, I'd take a soft cloth and buff the shell before putting them back in their tank.

In Conclusion...

 Turtles can make wonderful pets if you know what you are doing.

As I stated, they need a natural setting in their tank and will need to have their tank cleaned weekly.  Using a filtration system is necessary to keep the tank from putting off a rank odor.  Use an aquarium floor vac to clean fecal matter away from the rocks and sand.

Include live creatures in the tank so that the turtles can learn how to catch their own food.  Allow them to have ample swimming area and also area to bask under a heat lamp.

If you treat your turtle right, you will find how gentle and fascinating they can be. 


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