What You Should Know About Raising Turtles

A tiny, newly hatched turtle is sweet and charming, but it isn't necessarily the best pet for you or your family. Understanding turtles' needs and what it takes to be a successful turtle owner is essential before adopting one of these popular reptiles.

10 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Turtle

  1. Turtles Don't Stay Small
    A baby turtle might be as small as a quarter, but they don't stay tiny. Even the smallest pet turtle breeds will grow to be 6-12 inches long as adults, and some can grow much, much larger. If you plan to own a turtle, you should have adequate space for the animal's needs.

  2. Turtles Have Long Lifespans
    Properly cared for, a turtle can easily live 20-30 years or longer. Not only should you be prepared to care for the turtle throughout its life, but you will need to make arrangements if it outlives you, as well as if you are away for school, work, or travel at any time.

  3. Turtles Can Be Very Messy
    A turtle tank can quickly get messy with feces and bits of leftover food, and it will need regular cleaning to keep your turtle healthy. Water and bedding will need to be changed, rocks will need scrubbing and the entire tank will need to be regularly sterilized.

  4. Turtles Can Carry Salmonella
    Turtles do not generally like to be handled and cuddled, but even petting a turtle can transmit dangerous salmonella bacteria to humans. These are not pets that should be handled frequently, and after handling your turtle, you need to wash your hands thoroughly.

  5. Turtles Are Omnivores
    While many pet stores offer turtle pellets or similar general food for turtles, these pets require a varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, leafy greens and even insects, eggs or bits of meat for suitable protein. Some vitamin supplements may be necessary on occasion.

  6. Turtles Have Personalities
    These animals are more than living decorations – they have unique and distinctive personalities, and some turtles may be curious, shy or mean-spirited. They will need proper environments, stimulation and activities that fit their personalities to live a happy life.

  7. Turtles Dig
    Whether they are kept outside or in a tank, turtles love to dig, and will need suitable digging surfaces to create comfortable, safe burrows. A tank should have at least six inches of bedding for turtles to dig into, and outdoor pens should have safe fences so turtles cannot dig out.

  8. Turtles Climb
    Even small turtles can be exceptional climbers, making them great escape artists from tanks, cages or pens. Basking logs and rocks should be arranged so turtles can enjoy them without risking an escapee, and likewise turtles should be supervised outside so they don't get away.

  9. Turtles Cannot Be Released in the Wild
    Many irresponsible turtle owners release their pets to ponds, lakes or rivers if the turtles get too big or if they no longer want them, but pet turtles are not adapted to outdoor conditions and are unlikely to survive. Releasing them can be a crime and could result in fines or other penalties, as well as damage to the native ecosystem.

  10. Not All Vets Treat Turtles
    Turtles require specialized veterinary care and they can be difficult to treat because they do not always show bold signs of illness or discomfort. Before bringing a turtle home, it is important to find a local veterinarian who is experienced with turtles and can help keep them healthy.

Turtles can be delightful pets for anyone who knows what to expect from these popular reptiles, and the more you learn about turtles before you bring one home, the better you will be able to welcome it into your family in a safe and easy way.