Are Turtles a Good First Pet?

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Are turtles good pets to have? Turtles are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but it’s always a good idea to conduct research before caring for one. There are a variety of turtles, as well as tortoises, and each has different attributes and personalities. Some of these animals have very specific needs and almost all of them have distinct dietary requirements. 

With a pet turtle, be prepared to offer a long-term commitment; many can live as long as fifty years, or likely even longer! Then, there’s also the matter of “rehoming” – or releasing a domesticated animal from your care. Rehoming a turtle can be potentially hazardous, which is why you should never release a pet turtle into the wild. As you can tell, caring for one of these creatures isn’t as simple as one might think. but if cared for and fed well, turtles and tortoises can offer years of interesting companionship.

Common Pet Turtles

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Although turtles can require a long-term commitment and a lot of work, they are increasingly becoming popular pets. Several particularly common breeds include the red-eared slider, the painted turtle, and the musk turtles. Tortoises (land reptiles that are related to turtles, and are extremely hardy) are recommended for first-time owners because they are low maintenance and relatively self-sufficient.

This may explain why tortoises are also becoming more popular pets. In fact, over 350,000 homes in the U.S. contain a tortoise of some kind.  You may need a permit to care for one of these creatures, depending on the state you live in. Common US tortoises include the Gopher Tortoise and the Desert Tortoise. 

Aquatic Turtles and Land Turtles

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When deciding on which kind of turtle you would like to care for, one important factor to keep in mind is the environment. Most turtles can live on land as well as in water, but some turtles prefer to be submerged most of the time. An adult aquatic turtle will require a large tank (about 100 gallons) with a good amount of water to swim in. 

On the other hand, certain species, such as the Box Turtle, usually go into a little bit of water some of the time but prefer to stay on dry land. For this reason, their tanks are usually smaller, with a small area of water. Their food messes are also easier to clean up.

Living Environment

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When choosing a turtle for a pet, decide whether you want a turtle or a tortoise. Both a turtle and a tortoise can be good first pets. Some turtles can be small, fitting into the palm of your hand, while other turtles can be very large. There are over 350 species of turtle, all of various sizes, so it’s crucial to choose a species that you can properly accommodate.

When choosing your pet turtle, consider what kind of living environment they will need. It’s better to think long-term from the beginning. Most small and baby turtles will be fine in a tank, but as an adult, they might need a bigger home, such as a 150-gallon tub. Plan ahead for a larger living space for your pet turtle. 

Make sure your turtle’s home has what they need. A tortoise, for example, can thrive in a small yard with a pond. A red-eared slider may require a tank or tub with lots of water. You will also need a water filter specifically for turtles. Basking is important for turtles, so make sure they have a large rock for basking.

Other Living Environment Needs

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When providing living space for your turtle or tortoise, make sure they have as much of a natural environment as possible. Some turtles like to dig, so you can place some substrate in their tank or tub. The substrate can either be dirt or rocks. Coconut fiber, sand and aquarium gravel can be good substrates for turtles.   

Be sure to monitor the temperature of their basking area, as well as their water temperature. Their water should be 77-80 degrees. The basking area should be kept warm, with an ultraviolet (UV) lamp holding both a UVA and a UVB bulb. These are critical to your turtle’s health. Proper temperatures help prevent turtles from catching contagious diseases and infections.

Dietary Needs of the Turtle and Tortoise

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Some turtles are herbivores, while others are omnivores. The herbivorous turtle will be interested in eating vegetation such as lettuce and aquatic plants, while the omnivorous turtle will eat both vegetables and meat, such as fish and crickets. You can also provide your turtle with commercial pet food, such as pellets, as well as frozen mealworms.

When buying a pet turtle, ask about their diet. You can feed your omnivorous turtle worms, crickets and fish. You can feed your herbivorous turtle fruits, but a big part of their diet should be vegetables. Most tortoises are herbivores. They eat vegetation such as collard greens, kale, lettuce, turnips, and hay. Squash and carrots are also good tortoise foods.  

Outside Time 

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Just as humans require a good dose of daily sunshine for good health, turtles also require a bit of UV exposure. This is especially true for a growing tortoise, who can thrive outside, even on cloudy days. Set up an area in your yard for your turtle to enjoy some outside time in all kinds of weather.

An additional benefit of having your turtle outside is that they can get more exercise. Small turtles in a tank can have plenty of space to move around, but they do require lots of exercise. Try to place your turtle outside for a little while at least once a day. Make sure their outside space protects them from predators.

Interaction with Turtles

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Are turtles fun pets? You may need to redefine your definition of “fun.” Turtles are normally loners. They prefer to be admired and spoken to, but not physically handled. Turtles are usually not very social, recognizing humans as mostly providers of food. When a hungry turtle sees an adult approach, it may be begging for food.

It’s usually not recommended to hold or pick up a turtle. Handling turtles can cause these creatures stress and anxiety. It also might harm them. Some turtles will bite if they feel threatened. Overall, turtles are quiet, easygoing, require little interaction, and can provide years of companionship. Turtles can indeed be a good first pet.