Everything You Need to Know to Care for Your New Pet Turtle

Turtles are popular pet choices for individuals and families, but what kind of care do they need? Use this guide to keep your pet turtle healthy, happy, and safe in its new home.

If furry pets lead to sneezing fits around your home, a pet turtle may be the perfect addition to your family. They're interesting, intelligent, and relatively easy to care for. Pet turtles may not be the cuddliest of creatures, but they can be plenty of fun and good companions, plus they can teach kids responsibility. If you're ready to adopt or purchase a new pet, keep reading for the basics about how to care for a pet turtle.

Photo courtesy of Getty

How to Feed a Pet Turtle

Feeding turtles can be a bit tricky. Some turtles eat worms, snails, fish, and bugs. Others are herbivores, consuming plants and veggies only.

Feed your pet turtle once or twice per day. Pet turtles are not like humans or other pets; they don't need snacks and treats, but they should be fed a diet of fresh foods on a regular schedule. You may supplement up to 25 percent of its diet with turtle pellets (Buy it: Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks for Aquatic Turtles, $5.49). If you aren't sure how to determine the best diet plan for your turtle's needs, ask your vet or a pet store employee for assistance.

The Best Living Spaces for Pet Turtles

Indoor pet turtles are most comfortable living in a turtle aquarium (Buy it: Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit, $162.71) or tank. Depending upon what type of turtle you have (land or aquatic), the amount of water needed in its living space will vary. No matter what, you should always use nonchlorinated water. Before you bring your turtle home, research what your turtle will need to be comfortable. Be sure you know its water needs, what size aquarium will accommodate it best, and heat requirements. Consider installing a UV light (Buy It: Aquatic Turtle Uvb & Heat Lighting Kit, $45) in its home to help it produce vitamin D3 to stay healthy. Your tank will likely need an air and water thermometer (Buy it: LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer, $6.99) so you can verify optimal temperatures. Make sure you keep the aquarium clean, freshen the water, and clean the filter regularly. You should also remove dirt, debris, uneaten food, and droppings frequently. Pebbles and rocks provide climbing and resting spots. Decorate with turtle-safe plants and fixtures.

How to Handle a Pet Turtle

Turtles do not crave contact in the same way a pet dog or cat might, but it is OK to handle and pet them. When petting a turtle, slowly approach it from the front (so your hand is visible). Pick up your turtle by its midsection or on the sides of its shell rather than grabbing it by a leg or its head. Your turtle might take some getting used to being handled, so don't be surprised if its slinks into its protective shell or attempts to wriggle away from you. Turtles are actually quite good at wiggling and kicking.

If you place your turtle on the floor, keep an eye on it to ensure it stays safe and doesn't escape. (Although it won't get anywhere too quickly!) Don't place a turtle on its back or turn it too quickly as it can cause injury or stress. When you are done playing with your turtle, gently return it to its home and wash your hands.

Tip: Just like dogs and cats, turtles can bite when they feel anxious or afraid. If a turtle bite breaks your skin, clean the wound immediately with warm, soapy water to avoid infection.

How to Clean a Pet Turtle

Most turtles stay clean on their own since they are in water the majority of the time, but some may need a "bath" every so often as part of a complete pet turtle care routine. A quick rinse can help remove dead skin or algae. 

Turtles can harbor salmonella bacteria and since it can make humans very sick, it's best if you don't use your sink or tub for your turtle's bath. You can clean your pet turtle in a dedicated small basin. Here's how to bathe a turtle at home:

  • Use lukewarm water and a human toothbrush (for use on the turtle only!) and scrub its shell and limbs gently.
  • Don't forget to clean the turtle's creases where algae and other debris can collect.
  • If your turtle is shedding, you'll notice flaky patches of skin. No need to worry if shedding occurs in limited amounts; in most cases this is normal. (Consult your vet if you notice a lot of shedding.)
  • There is no need for soap or shampoo; these could irritate your pet turtle's body.
  • Rinse the turtle off when you are done scrubbing and place it back in its tank.

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