Turtles as pets: Care and concerns – Part 7

Proper Water Turtle Keeping

Many people think turtles are easy and inexpensive to keep as pets, and because many people do not take care of them properly, many turtles die unnecessarily. I’ve been keeping turtles since 2003, when I bought my first red-eared slider. At one point, I had 65 water and land turtles living on my property. I installed two turtle ponds outside and maintained three aquariums inside. Other turtles were also kept in setups in the back yard, each species type separated for health safety.

To properly keep water turtles, there are some general guidelines, however not all turtle species are the same and have different requirements to live a happy and healthy life. It is not acceptable to simply place the turtle in a plastic tub or aquarium, have no filter, and throw food at it every once in awhile. The turtle will never survive long this way and is very likely to develop serious disease, such as metabolic bone disease, vitamin deficiency, shell rot, or septicemia.

The most common species of turtle is the red-eared slider, which is also one of the hardiest. Females average 8-10″ shell size when fully grown and males average 5″. You can tell the sex of a turtle once they are about 4″ in length. Males will have a very long tail and long front nails, while females will have short nails and a short tail, though it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish until they are older. Turtles require 10 gallons per inch of turtle to thrive. That means for a five-inch male, you should have a 50 gallon aquarium or pond to keep him in. You will also need a UV basking lamp, basking area, and a filter that can filter three times the aquarium capacity in an hour, so for a 50 gallon aquarium, you would need a filter that filters a minimum of 150 gallons per hour. Substrate is optional.

The water level should be high but not so high he can easily crawl out. Turtles are excellent climbers, believe it or not. They also run pretty fast as well. I’ve always filled mine about two-thirds deep to help prevent them from climbing out of the aquarium.

Once you have your set up in place, and have added your water, add some beneficial bacteria (you can buy this at the store in the fish section) and 2 tsp. of aquarium salt to help fend off fungus in the water. It’s normal to have bacterial bloom which makes the water cloudy at first, but once you get the bacteria in balance, the water should be very clear. If it’s not, you will have to check the pH levels.

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