Map turtle companion pet walking through grass in the sunshine.

How to Care for Turtles

How to Care for Turtles

Turtles make a great addition to anyone's animal loving home. They aren't a companion like a dog. But a magical addition to care for and observe. Pet turtles require more hands-on care than fish. Let's look at what it takes to care for and enjoy a turtle in your life.

Red slider turtle aquarium set up.

Turtle Tank Environment

Get the biggest tank you can fit and afford. You may have a very small hatchling at this point. But they will outgrow a ten-gallon tank in weeks. You will need to create not only a swimming area, but a dry land area for basking under a heat lamp. Red Sliders, Yellow Sliders, and Cooters need both accommodations. Having a tank forty gallons or larger will give you the room to create a true turtle habitat.

You'll need the following items to build a turtle preferred world.

  • Largest tank you can afford and fit.
  • Basking light.
  • A Turtle Island or;
  • Tank divider to create one deep water side, and the other terrain filled land side. Place the basking light over the land side.
  • Ramp or tank divider top that offers a way out of the water and onto the land area.
  • Thermometers to keep track of temperatures. One for water, and one for the ambient air. Turtles do best at ambient 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll need to keep the air in that preferred range. Water should be in that same range. No lower than 65, no higher than 90. Your basking light should allow a lit area offering 90 - 95.
  • Turtle Food (Flake or Pellet) Turtle food is meant to float so your turtle can naturally eat in the water.
  • Fresh lettuce, bugs, worms, fish, plants and chopped herbs. These can be offered in a food bowl in the land area. Your turtle will enjoy foraging.
  • A turtle specific filtering system is priceless, both for the health of your turtle, and for your time. Turtles foul their water at an astounding rate. Turtle Filtering Systems are designed for their heavy mess. It is thicker than fish produce. Buy a filtering system meant for twice the capacity as your aquarium's size. (40-gallon filter for a 20-gallon tank) If you don't have a filtering system, you will need to change their water every day.
Aquarium water submerged thermometer.

    Tips to help you and your turtle.

    • Always remove the uneaten food after a meal. Use a small fish net for the floating food.
    • Don't play with your turtle. This stresses them and affects body temperatures. Turtles are a pet to watch, not handle for enjoyment.
    • Wash your hands before you tend to your turtle, and after. There is a risk of getting salmonella from turtles. And there is a risk of you introducing an illness to them.
    • Keep a ten-gallon fish tank for them to stay in while you clean their habitat. Pull water from their habitat tank and pour it into the holding tank. Enough so that they can float and touch the bottom of the tank with their feet at the same time. This keeps them comfortable and their body temperature stable while you clean.
    Hatchling red slider crawling onto land area in his aquarium.

      For an aquarium setup to enjoy, turtles are an intriguing change from fish. They are more work, but they are also very enjoyable to keep and observe.

      Hatchling yellow slider crawling through his land area growth area.

      Kathy LaFollett is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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