How to Take Care of a Turtle

Skylar Dial
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How to Set Up for Your Turtle

Turtles are known for their strong survival instincts and long lifespan. Taking proper care of your turtle is relatively easy with today's resources. Setting up will be an exercise in turtle safety, a little maintenance, and some basic aquarium knowledge. The first thing to think about, however, is the type of habitat you want.

With a little research, you’ll find that there are two competing philosophies on how to design your turtle’s living space. One camp says that freshwater turtles should always live in tanks that allow for regular water changes, and another camp says turtles can live safely in tanks that that are set up for the long haul.

I say a tank set up for the long haul may not always be the best choice for some species of turtles. It all depends on the species you want to keep and the size you want to keep it in.

Water turtles like red-eared sliders, ducks, map turtles, mud turtles, and musk turtles tend to thrive very well in turtle ponds that are designed to be low-maintenance and normalized levels of waste. These tanks are typically kept at the lower end of the biofilter range and the exchange rate is set up for a more relaxed cycle.

How to Feed Your Turtle

Turtles are entirely dependent on you for food. They’ve been living in the wild for millenia, but now they live in aquariums or a special pond in your back yard. They have a voracious appetite, and they love to snack on a variety of foods, from vegetables to meat. You’ll meet your turtle’s dietary needs with algae pellets, lettuce, pellets, and tubifex worms, along with vitamin supplements that provide him with the necessary calcium.

However, turtles are not very picky and you can experiment by offering them other things like insects, fish, and aquatic plants. Check the turtle food label for recommended treats. In the wild. turtles primarily eat aquatic plants, fish, and insects, so you can let them nibble on plants like Java Moss, water lilies, and duckweed.

How to Pick Up Your Turtle

Nearly all turtles are harmless. They aren’t aggressive like lizards and snakes and can’t deliver a fatal bite the way a dog or a cat can. However, if you’re afraid of mice or rats, don’t get a pet turtle. Turtles eat insects, crustaceans, plants, and other plant and animal matter.

Some turtles have sharp beaks that can deliver a nasty bite, but you can easily avoid a bite by observing your turtle and then handling it properly. Turtles are typically shy, and most avoid humans, so they’re not likely to bite. But if you need to catch a shy turtle, do so with the help of a net. It’s safe to handle a turtle if you know how to catch it.

Before you pick up your turtle, you’ll want to put a lid on the tank. It’s best to hold your turtle over a clear-top tank so you can see everything you’re doing. Do not hold a turtle over water. Be careful not to drop your turtle into the water.

How to Clean Your Turtle

Regardless if you have a tank with a small top opening, your turtle habitat will require a frequent cleaning.

A turtle tank should be cleaned on a regular basis to keep water quality in optimum condition. If you have turtles living in separate tanks, you should do partial water changes weekly, or a water change every other week, and you should clean the basins, tanks, and basking area once a month.

Cleaning your turtle tank is important, even if there’s no problem with the water quality. If you notice that your turtle tank or habitat is not stable or if you notice any kind of silt or residue that you’re not accustomed to, you should clean out the spaces that the water flows through and inspect the filters for clogs.

If you notice any type of bacteria growing in your tank, you should do a partial water change along with a thorough cleaning.

Also, keep in mind that lights and filters can affect the tank temperature and those tanks with deep basins and stable temperatures are more likely to be free from any algae problems.

The water should be cleaned and maintained for the turtles’ sake or for the gazillion species of turtles living by your side.

How to Clean Your Turtle’s Habitat

A clean habitat increases the chances for your turtle to stay healthy. You should ideally clean the tank at least once a week, but twice a week is better. You can use a brush to clean the substrate and the tank walls. To clean the tank completely, put a hand in the tank and let the turtle swim out. You can then use a bucket to scoop water out of the tank and after this step, you can use the hose from the outside.

How to Tell If Your Turtle Is Happy and Healthy

One of the most common mistakes turtle owners make is being unfamiliar with the way their turtle should behave. “Turtle People” often take their turtles’ behavior to be normal when, in fact, abnormalities can signify a sick or unhappy turtle.

Here are some of the top signs your turtle is unhappy and unhealthy.

  • Laying too many eggs: This is probably the quickest way to see if your turtle might be sick. As mentioned above, laying too many eggs can weaken your turtle.
  • Staying still for too long: A healthy turtle should swim around its habitat within the day. It should also be responsive to touch, and should crawl onto objects or basking spots.
  • Swollen eyes: If your turtle’s eyes are swollen, you need to get a veterinarian to look at it at your earliest convenience. It is probably suffering from a bacterial infection.
  • Damaged shell: You can check your turtle’s shell for signs of damage or dirt. If there’s any dirt there, it means your turtle hasn’t been able to take a proper swim, while shell damage can foreshadow a health issue.