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0. Are You Ready for a Turtle?

Becoming the owner of a turtle carries all sorts of responsibilities, ranging from setup choices to veterinary bills to personal time invested. The following lists should help you understand what may be involved in keeping a turtle. Cost is estimated for initial purchase and/or first year. 

Chances are good that you've already acquired a turtle. Now, that the reality of your purchase is sinking in, you are trying to be the best turtle owner you can be. Use, this questionnaire to become familiar with what it is you've gotten yourself into, to budget for your new family member, to get a basic understanding of what you need, and to decide whether you can keep the animal or whether you should find a more suitable home for it (no shame in that!).

Do You Have Money?

Pricing for many items depends on how fancy you would like your setup to be; some items can be free, like newspaper bedding; others may have a steeper price, for example full-spectrum reptile lighting.
IMPORTANT: Equipment is often available for cheap or free from yard sales or swap meets (only one of the reasons why joining a club is a good idea!).


Turtle:

    Cheap:

    Adopt a turtle that needs a home.

    Adopt from a friend, a rescue, through a club, from an animal hospital, through the newspaper.

    Note that sometimes there is an adoption fee, and rescues often need medical care.

    $0-20

    Standard:

    Animals from stores and private breeders (clubs).

    Depending on the source, these animals may be in perfect health or need some medical care after you obtain them. All new animals should be tested for parasites. This saves you a lot of trouble in the future.

    $15-100

    DeLuxe:

    Designer animal for a reputable breeder.

    Turtles with beautiful or unusual patterns, rare albinos (usually have delicate health), rarer species may be your thing. If the animals are shipped, soak them on arrival and take special care to make sure they are healthy.

    No limit

Cage:

    Cheap:

    Pick up cage at swap meet or yard sale. For water turtles, make sure the tank is big enough and does not leak. For box turtles, a cement mixing tub works well indoors or outdoors. For outdoors, you probably want a cover. Even a kiddie pool in a save place makes a great turtle setup (yes, indoors, too).

    $0-20

    Standard:

    For sale listings, ebay, pet stores. Make a custom cage for outdoors or indoors for box turtles. This can be fit to your available space.

    $20-200

    DeLuxe:

    Custom tank or cage. Having a custom tank made is not much more expensive than a standard tank and you can make it more rectangular and fit into your availabel space. You can build a pond, an outdoor habitat--there are no limits to your imagination.

    No limit



Heating and Basking:

    Cheap:

    Desk lamp with incandescent bulb. In the long run, this may not be cheapest, but it's a quick, cheap, start. Even cheaper is natural sunlight: Keep your turtle outdoors at least part of every day. Balconies are safe and work great all year.

    $0-20

    Standard:

    Hardware store fixture with incandescent or ceramic heater. Ceramic heaters are great. The initial cost is greater, but they can be left on, all energy is converted to heat, and they last for many years.

    $50-100

    DeLuxe:

    Ceramic heating elements, fixture, and thermostat or rheostat. If you are using a high-powered heating element, a regulator is necessary to prevent overheating. I use a thermostat on overhead heaters (they turn off when it gets hot in the house) and a rheostat on all heating pads (to prevent the pad from getting too hot for the animal).

    No limit

Temperature Control:

    Cheap:

    Aquarium and/or simple thermometer. Often free at yardsales with setups. Ask at the store whether they'll throw one in for free.

    $3-5

    Standard:

    One or more thermometers in cage with range geared towards reptiles. Ask at the store whether they'll throw one in for free if you buy other equipment.

    $5-20

    DeLuxe:

    Thermometer, humidity gauge, thermostat. It's great to have these, but not mandatory.

    $20 and u

Water Heater for Water Turtles:

    Cheap:

    Aquarium heater from yard sale or heating pad from drug store (under tank). If the turtle is not a baby, you have to protect the heater. Or you can get a more expensive 'unbreakable' heater

    $10-25

    Standard:

    Aquarium water heater. Wattage will vary depending on tank size. If you can, get the unbreakable kind. Otherwise, make a cover for the heater. Heaters with plastic covers are also available.

    $15-50

    DeLuxe:

    Top quality unbreakable aquarium heater with thermostat and temperature indicator.

    $25 and u

Filtration: 

    Cheap:

    Any aquarium filter that's big enough for the tank from yard sale.

    $0-10

    Standard:

    Submersible or side-mounted filter. These are cheaper but not nearly as effective as the Fluvals. You will have to change the water regularly, even with a filter.

    $20-50

    DeLuxe:

    Fluval 3 or 4 submersible filter or equivalent. These are my favorites for indoor tanks. They are powerful but easy to clean

    $40 and up

        Full Spectrum Light: 

          Cheap:

          Keep your turtles outdoors or take them outtdoors every day or two for at least half an hour. You can have a day setup outdoors or on a balcony using a kiddie pool or a cement tub. Cover it for small turtles or if there are cats and dogs in the neighborhood

          $0-10

          Standard:

          Full spectrum lighting rated for reptiles. There are several brands now and they do an adequate job. Expect to replace bulbs every 6-12 months. You can save money by using cheaper fixtures from hardware store. Hoods are often available at yard sales for cheap. In addition to the standard, long fluorescent bulbs, there are now other bulbs that also work. You will have to do your own research as to which are the best as bulbs keep improving.

          $20-50

          DeLuxe:

          Get enough full spectrum bulbs that it's more than a stop-gap measure with a nice fixture.
          $200 and u

        Bedding for Box Turtles: 

          Cheap:

          Newspaper, folded and/or shredded or soft paper towels. Change daily. This works, especially for sick turtles, but is unsightly. It does it make it easy to clean if you need efficient cleaning. (Sanitation always beats beauty in setups.)

          $0-10

          Standard:

          I like coconut fiber. Scoop out poop every day and change all of it as needed, about once every week to ten days depending on enclosure size and number of turtles. Keep moist. Allows digging. Buy as bricks from pet store or bulk from garden supply. The turtles love it.

          $20/month

          DeLuxe:

          There are many so-called reptile-beddings. Some of them are nice, and they are all very clean and said to be free of contaminants. They are also pricey. But if you want something fancier than coconut, go for it.
          $100+

        Water Bowl for Box Turtles: 

          Cheap:

          Flower pot saucer, plastic.

          $0-5

          Standard:

          Ceramic flower pot saucer. Doesn't tip over as easily. Looks nicer. Can go through dishwasher. 

          $15-30

          DeLuxe:    

          Many nice designs available, both in terms of aestethics as well as functionality. I like a hard-plastic bowl with built in ramp for my boxies. 

          $20 and up

        Hiding Places for Box Turtles:

          Cheap:

          Cardboard box. Replace when soiled.  Ice cream tub with cut out door, etc. Disposable options are not bad, because it's easy to keep things clean.

          $0

          Standard:

          Homemade wooden box, flower pot, simple purchased shelter. Make sure they can be scrubbed or run through the dishwasher every so often if you keep the turtles indoors. 

          $5-15

          DeLuxe:

          Many designer hide-boxes, some of them just look better, some offer extra features and are nice to have. Plastic is easy to clean. 

          $20 and up

        Decorations: 

          Cheap:

          Decorations are optional. To save money, don't use any, or use rocks, pieces of wood from the yard, etc..

          $0

          Standard:

          There are many accessories and decorations available for purchase. Turtles do not require them, however, they do seem to enjoy a more interesting setup. If you want to go beyond naturally available items, you can purchase beautiful decorative wood, rocks, plastic structures, and artificial plants. If you use live plants, make sure they are safe for turtles to nibble on. 

          $5-100

          DeLuxe:

          Improve on "standard" as your budget allows.

          No limit

        Timer for Lights:

          Cheap:

          Turn lights on and off as needed. 

          $0

          Standard:

          Hardware store timer. Basic model works fine.  

          $5-15

          DeLuxe:

          Automatic timer with varied settings, perhaps including a thermostat, that can run all your heaters and lights. Very nice if you have multiple setups. 

          $30 and up

        Transportation Carrier:

          Cheap:

          Cardboard boxes are fine for short trips when the weather is warm and the trip is short. Line with paper towels or newspaper and use a lid. 

          $0

          Standard:

          Plastic storage container with lid. Line with paper towels, towels, or newspaper. Add holes for sufficient ventilation. Use heat pack (wrapped in towel!) in winter. If you use towels, you can moisten them in summer for cooling and moisture.  

          $5-30

          DeLuxe:

          Animal carrier (required for airplanes). Use towels, paper towels, or newspaper for bedding. 
          If you are doing shows, a custom carrier that allows for transporting and viewing of animals is great--modify existing container to suit your needs. 

          $30 and up

        Food:

          Cheap:

          There is not "cheap" cheap. However, it is cheaper to feed food from the grocery store and prepare it yourself than to buy prepared foods. Collect snails and worms in your yard if you don't use pesticides. 
          Set up your own worm bin. There is initial cost to stock the bin with redworms, but then you'll have a supply for years to come. 

          $20/month

          Standard:

          Use some commercial food for convenience, like floating sticks for water turtles or the occasional canned box turtle food for the weekend when you are away. Buy worms from bait store.

          $20-40

          DeLuxe:

          You can purchase more food, however, you want to stay away from a diet that is completely made up of commercially prepared foods. All turtles do well on a diet that includes nightcrawlers, redworms, and snails. Buy a pinky mouse, freeze dried crickets, fresh mango, etc. for a special treat. Go organic for all fresh foods. 

          $40 and up

        Initial and Annual Checkup:

          Cheap:

          Take your turtle in for a visual examination and a fecal. All newly acquired turtles should be checked for parasites. If you have another pet, your current vet may be willing to take an initial look at your new turtle. 

          All turtles should have an annual checkup with a fecal exam.  

          $20-60

          Standard:

          All newly acquired turtles should have a thorough visual checkup and a fecal examination. Doing blood tests for infection is a great idea. 
          All turtles should have an annual checkup with a fecal exam.

          $40-120

          DeLuxe:

          In addition to the visual exam and the fecal, testing for infection, and running a panel is great if you can afford it. This gives you an initial baseline and you can treat any issues before they become major problems. 
          All turtles should have an annual checkup with a fecal exam. In addition, there are many other parameters that are health indicators. Discuss them with your veterinarian.  

          varies

        Supplements:

          Cheap:

          Don't use any and provide the perfect diet and environment. Since this is difficult, I recommend that you do provide some supplements. For calcium, cuttelfish bone is inexpensive. 

          $10

          Standard:

          Use a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement for indoor turtles. For outdoor turtles, supplement calcium only.

          $15

          DeLuxe:

          Use calcium and vitamin D3 and vitamin supplements formulated for reptiles. Do not oversupplement! If you are feeding commercial foods, be especially careful with supplements. Too much is possible.$25

        The Unexpected

          Cheap:

          Don't be cheap on this. The unexpected always happens. Maybe your turtle lays eggs and you'll need an incubator! Put aside a little bit of money for that emergency vet visit!  

          $100

          Standard:

          Start a "turtle kitty" and put an amount away every month.

          $25/month

          DeLuxe:

          Start a "turtle kitty" and put an amount away every month. By the end of the year, donate what's left to a turtle rescue organization. $50/month

        Do You Have Time?

        Taking care of a turtle takes time. Not much, minimally, but still time that must be committed regularly.
         
        How much time do I have to prepare food for my turtle?
        Time for preparing and serving food varies depending on what you are feeding on a given day. Obviously, making a turtle salad is a lot more work than dumping some pellets in the bowl. By feeding a mix of commercial and homemade foods you should be able to accommodate the turtle even with a busy schedule. However, if you are not able to spend at least 10 minutes a day on feeding, then you probably shouldn't have any pets. 

        Do I have time to feed my turtle every day?
        While turtles can easily skip a day, leaving food to rot in their enclosure is not a good idea. Expect to attend to food needs daily, even if you don't feed every day. Save the "skip days" for when you are out of town. 

        How much time do I have for daily small cleanup chores, turtle health inspection, socialization?
        Changing the water in the box turtle water bowl, checking the temperature under the basking lamp, checking lights and heater for proper function, removing obvious feces, looking at the animal and talking to it. If you don't have time for those, should you really have a pet? It takes 5-10 minutes a day to do these chores. 

        How much time do I have for weekly cleanings?
        The time it takes to clean an enclosure depends a lot on the setup. For water turtles, using good filtration is a key element in reducing water changes and cleaning chores. Enclosures should never smell bad or look dirty. It takes anything from 10-30 minutes to clean a well-set up enclosure. You can alternate minor and major cleanups, too. 

        Do I have any time to spend with the animal apart from care taking?
        This is why we get pets do begin with, isn't it? Every person's life has times when time for pets is limited to basic care. However, if you don't have time to spend with your animal,why do you want a pet? Deciding how much time is right, is a personal choice. 

        Does my schedule permit continuous and regular care taking?
        This is a long-term consideration. Extended vacations, frequent business trips, babies in the family, other hobbies and obligations all can interfere with your pet's basic needs. 

        Are you willing to stick with your turtle, even when circumstances change?
        Am I committed to my turtles as someone I have full responsibility for?
        This means that the turtle is not given away or forgotten if family, professional, or healthy circumstances change. Shelters are full, adoptive homes can be hard to fine. You are responsible for your turtle, through all circumstances. Period. If you have any doubts on this point, don't get a turtle. 

        Do I know whom to ask for pet sitting if I need to go out of town?
        Friends and neighbors are fine for occasional pet sitting. If you are out of town a lot, a professional pet sitter may be right for you.
        So, do I have enough time to provide food, clean shelter, and some company to my turtle?

        Do You Have Room?

        Do I know how much space my turtle needs today?
        If you don't know, find out before you get the turrtle! 

        Do I know how much space my turtle will require fully grown?
        You can find out from care sheets and this website. Females usually get bigger than males. There is a large size differences in different species. It is your choice whether to purchase a setup that will last your turtle for it's whole life, or whether to start out with a smaller setup and then upgrade as time goes on. 

        Can I provide enough space for the adult animal in my current house/apartment?
        Serious. A Sulcata tortoise doesn't fit into a studio apartment. Neither does a fully grown red-eared slider female. Don't say you are planning on moving in a couple of years. You may, or you may not. Work with your current situation. If you don't have much space now but think you will in the future, put off your purchse until the future. 

        Do I have a place set aside that is safe for the turtle?
        If you have other pets, they may like a tasty bit of turtle. If you have children, they may be too young to keep their hands out of the enclosure. 

        Am I able to provide the proper environmental conditions for the turtle in my house/apartment?
        Turtles can overheat as much as they can be too cold. A top-floor apartment without air conditioning will be too hot for a box turtle in summer. In general, dealing with too cold an environment is much easier than dealing with one that's too hot.

        Final considerations

        Do I know how to handle the animal?
        Yes, this matters. A turtle that's turned on it's back all the time, or dropped, or held by the tail is not going to be very happy. Turtles can be handled, but they are not lap pets, and they should not be left to roam on the floor without supervision. Some species will bite if handled inappropriately. 

        Am I comfortable handling the animal?
        Turtle phobia is rare. But if your animal bites you, are you still comfortable holding it? Even if your turtle is a display animal, you will need to handle it on occasion, for example, to take it to the veterinarian, or when you do a big cleaning. 

        Are there young children in the family?
        Consider this when choosing the location for the enclosure. You will also need to teach your children how to handle the pet and to always wash their hands after touching the animal and/or the enclosure. Sometimes it is recommended not to have turtles indoors at all in households with young children. 

        Are there other pets in the family?
        As mentioned earlier, some animals like to play with turtles to the turtle's detriment. They might also be jealous! Make sure that no other pets have access to the turtle enclosure. Also, cats or puppies might chew on wires! 

        Why do I want a turtle?
        This is the first question to ask before buying a pet. It's a good question to ask after doing this questionnaire. If you still want a turtle now, and you are confident that you can provide for it, go forth and enjoy turtling!

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