How to care for turtles


Turtles are special animals. There are species of turtles that live on land, in ponds, in lakes, and in the ocean. Their slow, calculated manner seems to lend a certain amount of integrity to them. It's no wonder turtles are often portrayed in children's stories as intellectual animals.

Keeping a turtle as a pet offers some advantages in comparison to other pets; they are less likely to concern your landlord, don't get fleas, and aren't noisy. However, it is a fairly complex task to care for a turtle properly. A proper diet, an adequate living area, and an attentive owner are required. If properly attended to, turtles make interesting pets and live for a very long time. Additionally, turtles have great personalities and are known to respond well to their owners.

Types of Pet Turtles

Pet turtles can be either land or water animals. It is important to understand a few differences in care.

Common Land Turtles

  • Red-Eared Slider
  • Box Turtles
  • Russian Tortoises

Common Water Turtles

  • Spotted Turtles
  • Diamondback Terrapins
  • Pink Belly Sidenecks

What You’ll Need

Here’s a basic supply list for both water and land turtles. More explanation on what to buy can be found below.

  • Turtle Aquarium or Cage
  • Turtle Food
  • Ultraviolet Light
  • Heat Source
  • Food
  • Calcium Supplement
  • Hide Box

Water turtles will require a couple more supplies:

  • Water Heater
  • Aquarium Filtration
  • Rock, Log, or Ramp


Land turtles should be placed in a terrarium with newspaper laid as floor covering. Corncob bedding and wood shavings are dangerous to turtles and should not be used on the floor. A dish of water must also be put in the terrarium, and should be deep enough for the turtle to submerge its head and soak itself  -- in other words, make sure the turtle has an area to swim and an area of land. The turtle needs a “hide box,” or a  small shelter that completely covers it. Also make sure to mist a land turtle’s habitat daily.

For water turtles, an aquarium with both deep and shallow water should be provided. A rock or ramp is needed so the turtle can get out of the water and dry off. Also, an aquarium filtration system must be used in water turtle habitat.

Air temperature for both land and water turtles should be 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water temperature should not be any colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit; an incandescent light bulb can be used to adjust water temperature. Obviously, a thermometer is needed in the cage.

An ultraviolet light is important for land turtles, and for more than just heat to bask in; turtles receive much-needed vitamin D from UV rays, which they will not naturally receive in a cage. Just be sure to place the UV light far enough from the turtle so it is not burned and leave the light on for only 8-10 hours per day.

Some turtles in some climates can be kept outside, and still others enjoy daily outdoor exercise. Talk with a local veterinarian or pet store expert to determine how your turtle will do outdoors.


Turtles should be fed in the early morning. In addition to commercial turtle food, most species should be fed the following:

  • Animal matter: Night crawlers, snails, slugs, worms, or crickets should be given twice a week.
  • Fruits: Tomatoes, apples, cantaloupes, or strawberries can be given daily.
  • Vegetables: Each day, turtles should be fed green, leafy vegetables.

A calcium supplement should be sprinkled on the food at least once a week. Also, remember to remove any food the turtle chooses not to eat.


The most common ailments for pet turtles – both land-based and aquatic – result from poor diet or a lack of vitamin D from ultraviolet light. A soft shell and swollen eyes are often seen in these turtles. Increasing the calcium in your turtle’s diet should get rid of the soft shell problem.

Abscesses are sometimes seen in land turtles. These lumps are found on the side of the ear, and must be removed and the wound cleaned. Cuts and scratches should be cleaned and treated with antibiotic.


If your turtle lays eggs, you will have to provide special care to the hatchlings. The babies must be separated from other adult turtles, but also need a place to hide and a tub of water to soak in. Hatchlings are very shy and it is normal for them not to eat for several weeks. Try giving them wet cat food or small pieces of fruit.