While there is some debate as to what the term “turtle” refers to, for the purpose of this care sheet, “turtle” will refer to any aquatic species that requires water in order to swallow food. Aquatic turtles are primarily omnivorous although some adult turtles may eat some aquatic plants like anacharis or some dark green leafy vegetables. This care sheet can be used for Red-eared sliders, Painted Turtles, Cooters and Mud Turtles. Depending on the species, when fully grown, many common companion turtles can be in excess of 10 inches from nose to tail. As they get larger the space requirements for happy, healthy turtles increases. For additional aquatic or semi-aquatic turtle species, please call our office for any changes or additional notes.
Low Fat Dog Food
Raw Fish from Fillet (no batter/spices)
Adult turtles may eat aquatic plants like anacharis or dark green leafy vegetables. Never feed your turtle any fruit.
Turtles that live in captive settings need to have their water changed frequently (daily if possible). This helps to keep the bacteria levels down which can cause infections to your turtle. It is not advisable to add any type of commercial water treatment supplement to the water as these can often cause more harm than good.
The water should be deep enough for the turtle to completely submerge and swim around. If the water is too shallow the turtle cannot swallow its food (their swallowing mechanism only works underwater).
Turtles that are kept in an outdoor enclosure should have the water deep enough to withstand the hot Arizona summer temperatures and freezing winter temperatures. If the water is too shallow and gets too hot, the turtle can die. In the hot months of the summer, it is best to hang a piece of shade cloth over your turtle’s enclosure or place it in an area that will have some shade. Turtles can get heat stroke too. Try not to allow the water temperature to rise above the mid-80s during the summer. It is a good idea to purchase an inexpensive thermometer in the water.
In the winter the turtles should be allowed to cool down, as they would in nature. It is not advisable to keep them warm during these months. However, if you feel your turtle may be sick as fall approaches, get the advice of a veterinarian before cooling it down. It is not unusual for turtles to reduce their food intake or stop eating altogether in the winter.
A rock or basking area should be placed in the enclosure so the turtle can crawl out of the water if it wants to and soak up the sun. Turtles do best in a large tank-like enclosure that can be kept outside year round. Stock tanks can be purchased at hardware or feed stores inexpensively and work well for turtles.
Importance of real sunlight
Turtles whenever possible need to have exposure to real sunlight. The UVB rays from the sun keep their shell and bones hard and healthy. Without exposure to real sun, their shells may become soft or bendable, eventually resulting in death. If your turtle is kept indoors, a mercury vapor lamp is a good source of heat and UVB. Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com or Power Sun by ZooMed is recommended.
Turtles need to be kept safe from predators like dogs, cats, raccoons and birds. To best keep them safe, cover the pond or enclosure with chicken wire to keep other animals out. These animals will often chew or peck on turtles mistaking them for a toy or food. Common injuries from dogs and other predators are chewed off limbs, badly chewed or cracked shell or even death. If this occurs, call a veterinarian immediately.
What should I do if I think my turtle is sick and what are the signs?
Call us right away at 520-877-2626. Our knowledgeable staff can help you determine if your pet should be seen and how soon. With our extended office hours, we can generally accommodate most schedules.
Signs that your turtle may be sick include: loss of appetite, weakness, lethargy, not wanting to lift the head, lumps or swelling on the side of the head, a soft or bendable shell, any discoloration, ulceration or pitting of the shell or limbs. Many of these are attributed to dirty water, a poor diet, lack of sunlight, or a combination thereof and all require veterinary care. If you notice any of these, or have any other concerns, call our office for advice and care instructions.
Aquatic Turtles and the Law
It is illegal to release aquatic turtles into public waterways. Red-eared sliders, snapping turtles, etc, are non-native species and can cause serious harm to the environment as well as our native turtle and tortoise species. Our native species are not able to compete effectively with released captives and are then exposed to a variety of diseases found in captive species. If you are no longer able to care for your aquatic turtle, please contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Tucson Herpetological Society (https://tucsonherpsociety.org/) or the Phoenix Herpetological Society.