While many might believe that a turtle is a great starter pet for kids, this is far from the case. Turtles do need a lot of care, a clean environment, food and attention. While turtles are not difficult pets, there is constant maintenance (not more than a dog or cat) and can live up to twenty years if they stay healthy. Therefore, there is a real commitment when deciding to bring a turtle home.
The difference between a turtle and a tortoise
Turtles spend most of the time in the water, while tortoises live on the land. Terrapins are also turtles, but generally split their time evenly between land and fresh water.
Your turtle’s home and environment
Turtles spend most of their life in the water and need an environment that has water to swim in and a place to climb out if they choose to do so.
Aquatic turtles can live in a tank or pond, in groups, and with larger fish (they’ll eat small fish). Turtles are good swimmers and need an aquarium that’s at least 55 gallons in volume. It should have a screened lid and a filter. Line the aquarium with gravel, which you can vacuum clean. It should be fairly substantial in size.
Heating and lighting
Your turtle’s habitat should have two thermometers (one for water temperature and another for the dry side of the tank). Hang a heat bulb over the dry side of the habitat if the temperature of the tank is below 70 F overnight, you’ll want to get a night-specific heat lamp for your pet turtle.
Use an underwater heater to maintain water temperature.
These are the best temperature ranges for turtles:
Water temperature should be kept between 72 and 77 F (22 to 25 C) day and night
Make sure to do your research to determine exactly what temperature your turtle will need. If your turtle is constantly in an aquarium with the wrong temperature, they may stop eating or get a respiratory infection. Sunlight is also good for your pet turtle to help their shells develop properly.
Your turtles diet should consists of leafy vegetables in addition to turtle food
It depends on the type of turtle you have, of course, but turtles will generally eat insects, fish (like comet goldfish, which are smaller than the common goldfish) and dark, leafy greens. You can also buy your pet canned or pelleted turtle food and freeze-dried mealworms.
Unlike other pets you might have, turtles don’t need to be fed every day. As a general rule of thumb, feeding your turtle four to five times a week will be fine, unless you have a young water turtle, in which case they should be fed every day.
You’ll also want to add calcium to your turtle’s diet. You can get a calcium supplement and add it to their food according to the instructions
How to handle your turtle
Your turtle likes to be lifted at the midsection, not by the legs. Keep an eye on very young kids around your turtle, and always wash your hands before (and after) handling your turtle.
Keeping your turtle happy and healthy
The most common disease turtles carry is salmonella. Keeping a clean terrarium, enforcing good hygiene with pet owners and buying an inexpensive conditioner to add to the water helps keep organisms like salmonella at bay and hopefully prevent turtle diseases from ever happening.
Make sure to look for any physical signs of illness, including swollen eyes, discoloring on the shell and avoiding food. If you notice any of these, call a veterinarian that specializes in reptile care.
Many pet turtles can easily live about 20 years, which can be another reason not to rush into the buying process. They are a life-long commitment and require maintenance and attention as much as any other pet.
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