Note: the words "turtle" and "tortoise" are interchanged throughout the page, but there is no difference between the two. "Turtle" covers all shelled reptiles. There are over 220 species of turtles by land and sea. Roughly half of these species are good candidates for becoming happy pets. Pet turtles fall into 3 categories: Aquatics, Semi Aquatics and Land Tortoises.
Commercially available food pellets are available for Turtles at most pet stores. Be sure that you buy the right type (Land Turtle) as the dietary needs of Land Turtles are very different from that of Aquatics and Semi-Aquatics. Although no turtles are strictly herbivorous, the staple diet of the land tortoise is green foliage. Even if you choose to use food pellets, treat your land turtles to one of these treats once a week to make him a happy pet. Veggie Salad, Fruit Salad, Meat, Shredded Lettuce,Sliced Apple, Small Shrimp, Shredded Cabbage, Pear and Banana, shredded cooked chicken, Grated Carrots, some lean hamburger meat, Finely chopped Tomato, And a few unflavoured croutons in small bits.
A glass aquarium with gravel flooring positioned near a window with southern exposure. (If you live in the southern hemisphere, make that a northern exposure). Turtles need several hours of sunlight daily to keep them healthy. A basking lamp is a good idea, whether or not you provide them with natural sunlight. Suspend the lamp approximately 2 feet above the basking site. The center of the site will become quite hot, but turtles will be able to regulate their body temperatures by moving in and out of the heat and finding a spot where they are most comfortable. Keep fresh water for drinking and bathing available at all times. Use a shallow, weighted dish approximately the size of your largest turtle.
Most land turtles will get along fine with each other. Wood Turtles and Frogs relatively the same size will work nicely. Snakes and Lizards will work out with any land turtle but be sure that their habitats are similar. (A desert lizard will not fare well in a woodland habitat, etc.)
All aquatics and semi-aquatics must eat under water. Commercially available floating food pellets may be used, so long as they are specifically for aquatic turtles. Most brands are equal with respect to nutritional value, but, my Red Ears favour Tetra-Reptomin Floating Food Sticks over other brands, and I have noticed, that this product clouds the water less than any of the others. That could be due to the fact that they eat it all, or it could be something in the formula. I’m not sure. Supplement food sticks with freeze dried krill for added protein. Once in a while, treat your pets to some shredded chicken or lean hamburger meat and they will be happy pets Aquatics and Semi’s can be fed any type of lean meat, raw or cooked, so long that is relatively low in fat. Many folks feed their turtles live goldfish. I don’t have the heart, but if you can stomach it, this type of diet is fine. Just be sure to supplement with some kind of vegetable supplement if you are using live fish as opposed to pellets
An all glass aquarium filled half-height with water and a dry space to bask in. If you are only housing one turtle, a floating buoy is an inexpensive, easy way to provide for your turtles sunbathing. If you have more than one, they cannot possibly all fit on the thing at once and you will find that the dominant turtle will hog the thing and the others will be missing out.
All turtles need several hours of basking time so this will not do. I found a wonderful solution to the situation with this thing made by Tetra called the "Viquarium". It’s a plastic land area that fits 30 to 100 gallon tanks that you fill up with gravel. The water flows through the gravel, and gets filtered through a whisper filter attached to the unit, and comes out of a cute little decorative waterfall. This filter is not good enough to be the only source of water filtration, but it does help keep the water flowing which is very important. Place a hanging reflector lamp (basking lamp) approximately 2 feet above the basking area.
The space will get hot, but turtles will regulate their body temperatures by moving around the land area or jumping into the water.
The most important key to keeping your turtles healthy and happy is to keep them clean. Filter water with a submersible canister type filter. They come is various brands and sizes designed for different sized tanks. Change filters once every three to four days and use a product called "Turtle Clean" in the water and you’ll see that you can go longer between full water changes.
We do complete water changes about once a week, but you will be able to determine by the smell and appearance of your tank how often it needs to be done. Keep in mind that water should be clear and odour free. A fresh swampy smell due to terrarium moss in the tank is okay, but any musty or foul smelling odour is not. There is also a product out there called the "Python" which is designed to make water changes easier. I’ve never tried it. If you have, let me know how it worked out.
Most turtles will get along with each other. (Semi-Aquatics with Semi-Aquatics, Aquatics with Aquatics) the exception to the rule is the Snapping Turtle. This feisty fellow is better kept alone is he is seriously territorial and likely to take out anyone infringing on his territory. Even amongst their own kind, some turtles may be fighters. I housed three Red Ears Turtles together for several years with no problems. Suddenly, the largest turtle became violent towards the middle one, and this kept up for several weeks. We eventually got him his own tank.
Some people keep goldfish and/or guppies in their turtle tanks. Supposedly, a well-fed turtle will leave these fish alone. Personally, I don’t trust it, but you can try it if you like.
A Quick note about Salmonella
Salmonella infection, contrary to popular belief, is not a "Turtle Disease". It’s transmitted by any polluted water, regardless of the animal involved. If you keep your tank clean, Salmonella is not something you should worry about (unless you have a weakened immune system due to HIV, Lyme disease or any other disorders that may affect the immune system). Turtles do, however, have a tendency to void their bladders upon being picked up, so you might want to wash your hands after handling anyway. The most effective way to avoid the possible transmission of Salmonella from a turtle is to clean their tank away from areas where food is prepared.