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!).
- 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).
- No limit
- 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.
- 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.
Heating and Basking:
- 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.
- No limit
- 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.
- 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).
- Aquarium and/or simple thermometer. Often free at yardsales with setups. Ask at the store whether they'll throw one in for free.
- $20 and u
- 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.
- Thermometer, humidity gauge, thermostat. It's great to have these, but not mandatory.
Water Heater for Water Turtles:
- 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
- $25 and u
- 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.
- Top quality unbreakable aquarium heater with thermostat and temperature indicator.
- Any aquarium filter that's big enough for the tank from yard sale.
- $40 and up
- 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.
- Fluval 3 or 4 submersible filter or equivalent. These are my favorites for indoor tanks. They are powerful but easy to clean
Full Spectrum Light:
Bedding for Box Turtles:
Water Bowl for Box Turtles:
Hiding Places for Box Turtles:
Timer for Lights:
Initial and Annual Checkup:
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.
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!