First Turtle? Here’s what you need to know!

Turtles are harder to care for than you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I am not discouraging anyone from getting a pet turtle, but I would guess many turtles die every year from the lack of proper care. Unless you are planning on properly caring for your turtle, please do not get one. Turtles are one of the more difficult small animals to care for. Along with many other reptiles, turtles have very specific needs that also change depending on the species. They can be needy, expensive, and dirty animals. It doesn’t seem like I am doing a very good job talking you into buying a turtle, does it? We will get into the pros of turtle ownership here in a minute.

Let’s break down some of the basics of owning a turtle, turtles typically fall into two categories; land and aquatic. In the category of land turtles, the requirements are going to vary more depending on the specific species because of the wide range of climates and habitats they come from. In this article, I am going to focus more on aquatic turtles as they seem to be the most popular group of turtles brought home as pets. Despite the amount of care they need, captive-bred aquatic turtles make very good pets. They are adorable, smart, and they live longer than dogs. What more could you ask for? Well before you go out and buy a new turtle friend, make sure you know what you are getting into. Make sure you have all the right supplies to keep your turtle healthy and happy. Too many people buy their pets on a whim and give them sub-par care and then are surprised when the animal passes away before it hits life expectancy. Turtles are one pet that this happens to very often. 

I used to work for a major pet store chain and one of the biggest shockers people had when purchasing supplies for a turtle ( any pet for that matter ) is how expensive they are. Be prepared to dish out about five hundred dollars for just a basic proper setup. The turtles themselves aren’t usually very expensive but buying the right supplies will empty your wallet pretty quickly. People simply aren’t ready for the responsibility that comes with buying a turtle. 

Aquatic turtles need a setup that is half land and half water, or at least mostly water with a place for them to bask in UV lighting. They need a lot of space because most aquatic turtles can get about the size of a dinner plate. Also, aquatic turtle habitats have a tendency to smell pretty bad if you don’t keep them clean. A filter system for the water is definitely recommended if you don’t want to be changing the water every day. All turtles need a basking spot, which has to Include both a UVA heat bulb and UVB basking bulb. They bulbs are usually not cheap and are essential for the proper health of the turtle. Turtles in the wild need the sun for warmth, good digestion, and calcium development for their shell. Not having a turtle in UV light will result in it getting shell rot, which is simply the turtle’s body not being able to turn vitamin D into calcium for their shell. Turtles are hardy creatures, I mean they are practically dinosaurs, but one of the biggest causes of death in turtles kept in captivity is shell rot. There are a few good starter kits that can help you hit the ground running.

Turtles are picky eaters. Aquatic turtles eat a variety of things depending on the size and species. Most small aquatic turtles will eat turtle pellets that can be purchased at most pet stores and amazon. They can also eat small worms and other insects and as your turtles get bigger you can typically introduce small fish and other bigger insects to their diet. Like I said turtles are very picky eaters and each turtle seems to have their own personality and not all of them like the same foods. Getting them to eat well can be a lot of trial and error, I had a turtle that loved crickets but hated worms, which isn’t typical for most turtles. So you really just have to find what your turtle likes, you could use something like a blend and see which food your turtle likes most. Whatever you decide to feed them just make sure it is high in calcium and vitamin D for their shell development. If their food isn’t naturally high in these things you can buy sprays and powders to put on the food as a supplement. 

Honestly, turtles are great for teaching kids responsibility. They are an animal that seems to genuinely love attention, being held, and played with. Overall they make wonderful pets and should be cared for very attentively. If done correctly you will have an excellent companion for a few decades and maybe even longer. Just make sure you do the right research and fact check the pet store employees for misinformation, and all will be very well.