Things to Consider Before Getting a Pet Turtle or Tortoise

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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.

Should You Get a Pet Turtle? What to Know Before Getting a Turtle or Tortoise

You see those teeny tiny turtles at all of the gift shops at the beach, so you buy one with a small Kritter keeper and a pinch of food, take the turtle home, and follow all of the directions from the sales associate. But, do you know what kind of turtle you bought? How big it will be? What the proper care instructions are?

Turtles and tortoises seem like they'll be a cheap pet to care for. Most pet stores will sell you a smaller species of tortoise with a 20-gallon aquarium, sand, and other supplies, but no tortoise should live in an aquarium that small, much less with sand as the only substrate. You're bound for health problems and a much shorter lifespan, not to mention an unhappy tortoise.

Turtles and tortoises can live well over 25 years, most living 50 and older. You want to make sure that a pet turtle is the right pet for you and that you can provide optimum housing and care throughout a long turtle life. These animals are a true commitment and will outlive many pet dogs and a few cats with proper care.

Before you get a pet turtle or tortoise, you need to make sure that you do all the proper research. Find the best one for you.

Housing and Space Requirements

Even if you buy the turtle or tortoise at a smaller size, you need to prepare for when the animal grows larger. That 20-gallon tank just isn't going to be enough for your two new red ear sliders when they're full-grown; you will need to upgrade. Do you have room for the proper sized enclosure? Do you have the money to purchase the enclosure and any accessories that you may need?

A good rule of thumb is to stick with 10 times the length of the turtle or tortoise by five times the width, which means a baby turtle enclosure will not work for a full-grown turtle.

It's always better to go as big as you can. These animals need exercise, which means they need space.

You should also consider that most turtle and tortoise species do best with an outdoor enclosure. Do you have space in your yard to set up a safe enclosure for your pet? It can be quite expensive to dig up a pond in the back yard for your sliders or to create the optimum area for a red-footed tortoise.

When it comes to making an outdoor enclosure, you have to keep in mind whether or not the animal can escape; whether predators can get to your pet; whether you have non-toxic plants that the animal can graze; and whether or not your pets will run into any fertilizers or pesticides.

You'll find that it's not always just space requirements that can be an issue, but time. You'll need to spend time daily keeping the environment to keep it clean.

Possible Health Problems

Turtles and tortoises are relatively hardy animals in captivity, which make them popular pets, but if you don't have proper housing and diet, and you're not about to provide optimum conditions, your pet can get sick.

If you can't keep your temperatures high enough, the tortoise can get sick. If the humidity is not kept high or low enough, the tortoise can get sick. When it comes to aquatic species, you'll need to clean the enclosure regularly, or the tortoise can get sick.

Whether your pet stays healthy really depends on how well you take care of it and how well you're able to ensure the enclosure and housing is kept according to that species' requirements and needs.

You'll find that the common health problems with turtles can include, but aren't limited to:

  • Shell rot
  • Fungus
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Respiratory infection
  • Ear abscess


Depending on the species, the diet can be pretty simple or need to be kept varied.

Aquatic turtles can generally be fed on:

  • pellets,
  • fish,
  • earthworms,
  • re-hydrated dog or cat food,
  • and even plant material.

Most tortoises need a wide and varied diet of leafy greens, vegetables, plants, weeds, grasses, and some even need fruits in their diet as well as a protein source.

If you can't provide the required diet that the animal needs, then it's a good idea that you find a different pet to care for because, without a proper diet, the animal can and will become sick.

It's always best to try to create an optimum diet without having to use commercial diets.

Miscellaneous Considerations


Turtles and tortoises are not going to be as friendly as a dog or a cat will be, so if you're looking for a pet that is going to interact with you a ton, then you may not want to bring home a pet turtle. Yes, they can be quite interactive at times, but you will find that some species are more interactive and personable than others.

For example, the red-footed tortoise will come up to you and beg for food or rub their head against you to have their neck or head rubbed. Some aquatic turtles will follow you as you walk through the room. But you'll never get the same personality in a turtle or tortoise as you would a dog or cat, or even a rat or ferret.

Costs Over the Years

Because they live a long time, the initial cost of buying the animal is going to be the least amount of money you spend on it. You still have to set up a fairly large environment, and throughout the animal's life (25 years or more), you'll have to keep up the environment with freshwater, new substrate, heating, lighting, and humidity. You'll also have to spend money on food and vitamins on a regular basis. That takes a lot of money on a long term basis.

Going on Vacations

When you go on vacation, you can easily board your dog at the vet or a boarding kennel, but it can be a lot harder to find someone to sit for your turtle. Yes, your turtle will be fine for a day or two, as long as you can set the lighting and heat on a timer, but what happens if you have to be gone for a week or more? Your pet still needs to be fed and cared for.

They May Bite

Turtles and tortoises can be very friendly, but they can carry a hard bite, and within that bite, they can potentially carry the salmonella bacteria. Keep this in mind. There's no reason why you can't keep a pet tortoise and never get salmonellosis, but you need to make sure that you follow care precautions, which you'll find are pretty much common sense hygiene.

Where to Buy a Turtle

If you've made your decision and done your research, you're ready to buy your turtle or tortoise. Now you need to figure out where's the best place to buy it from.

Problem With Pet-Store Turtles

Pet stores are the most common source for a new tortoise or turtle, but you'll want to be leery because these places are prone to carrying animals that are sick and have parasites.

You don't know where the animal came from originally, and in most cases, neither do they. You have a high risk of purchasing a wild-caught animal, which you'll actually find that most older tortoises are going to be wild-caught.

Even though most large retail pet stores, like Petsmart and Petco, say it's against their rules to sell wild-caught specimens, they don't realize the majority of adult Russian and Greek tortoises (over 4 years old and about 4" or longer) that they frequently get in are wild-caught.

Wild-caught tortoises and turtles can carry parasites and diseases, which is why it is important that they are properly treated for parasites before they're ever sold to the pet store or to you. Pet stores just can't guarantee this to their customers.


Another safer option is to purchase directly from a breeder. You can get the history of the animal, whether it's a hatchling or an adult. Even if the breeder purchased the adult from another seller, he'll be able to provide you any and all information that you need. The breeder will be able to tell you whether the wild-caught turtle has been treated for diseases, how well the animal is eating, what he's eating, and how he's being kept.

Breeders and private sellers can provide you with all the help and assistance that you'll need in order to know that you're able to provide the best housing and diet. More reputable sellers will be there for you whenever you have a question, and you can be guaranteed that they're providing you with good information.

Some people say that you should never purchase a wild-caught turtle, but you'll find that long term captives that have been properly treated for any potential diseases or parasites make just as good of a pet as a captive bred one. Just make sure that the breeder that you purchase from is a reputable one so that you don't get ripped off.

Take your time when deciding where to purchase your tortoise and from who. When you make rash decisions, you generally make bad decisions.

These Breeds Make the Best Pets

  • Best Beginner Pet Turtle and Tortoise
    Turtles and tortoises can be such a joy for children and adults. Some are very friendly and personable, which make them that much more fun to have as pets.

CDHC on September 27, 2019:

So if a baby turtle is 2 inches in diameter you are saying an enclosure 20 inches x 10 inches is big enough? NO WAY you pulled that formula out of your A**

Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 02, 2010:

Mist turtles require an aquatic area as well as a land area, if that is what you are referring to.

Chris on September 01, 2010:

Wich lives in water?? My friend had one, not sure wich but it smelt abit pongy fishy... It was a clean tank etc it had a little pond in it.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 16, 2009:

Can you imagine a baby tortoise that big getting over 100 pounds. That one won't but some species start off teeny tiny and end up ginormous. Research is definitely the key here.

Elena from London, UK on November 15, 2009:

That's the tiniest Turtle I've ever seen - quite cute. (in photo) Interesting info in your Hub. I wouldn't mind having them as pets. They seem harmless.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 12, 2009:

Lot of good advice and information but I don't think I could warm up to have a turtle as a pet.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 12, 2009:

I know a few people that help them along the road. It's definitely a nice act.

Re-hydrated dog food is dry dog food that has been soaked in water and reptile vitamins.

Glen from Australia on November 12, 2009:

Excellent hub! Though all yours are. But this one stood out for me because I've been thinking of turtles a lot lately. We get terrapins around here. Unfortunately a few of them are dead (smashed) on the road. When I see a live one crossing the road I pull over and help him across. Occasionally I bring them home and put them in the dam at the front of our property.

What is "re-hydrated dog food"?

5 Important Things to Consider in Tortoise Pet Care

Are you thinking of buying a tortoise to keep? If so there are some important things to consider. Tortoise pet care takes some planning if you want to be successful as they may appear at first to be an easy pet to care for.


A fresh, clean supply of water must always be available and the best time to feed your tortoise is at the hottest time of the day. They are a Mediterranean species that thrive in hot conditions so always bear this in mind. An assorted offering of wild flowers is perfect for the tortoise such as dandelion, white clover, chicory, heartsease and sow thistle will be appreciated. You can buy wild flower seed mixtures to grow in your garden so that you have the homegrown feed for your tortoise when it matures. You have to care for your tortoise to ensure that no poisonous species are in your tortoise’s enclosure and remove anything you are not positive about. They are browsing animals, and this is the most natural way to feed them although they will like a bit of salad food as a treat. All food must be very fresh and anything not eaten should be removed before it can become sour.

Decide whether it is right pet

Firstly, you will need to decide if a tortoise the right pet for you to get. If you have researched your pet of choice deeply enough, you will find that even though tortoises do appear to be quiet and requiring little attention, they do in fact require a considerable amount of care. Tortoises also need a lot of space to be healthy.

The size of an enclosure

The size of the pet enclosure depends on the size the tortoise will grow to once it is fully grown. As a general rule, the enclosure should be at least 3 square yards for each 12-inch tortoise. This means you will require a 9 feet x 9 feet pet enclosure if it is 12 inches long! This is the size of a small room, and you will need to think carefully about how you can accommodate this size in your family home.

Tortoise pet care requires an understanding of how they like to live. They do not like to be on show all the time, so you will have to make enough hiding places in their home for them to hide away!. If you decide you want to build a glass tortoise vivarium to care for it, you may want to consider covering three sides of the tank to allow it to hide. You will also want to give enough material in the pet enclosure for burrowing. A wooden box tortoise enclosure will need to be strong enough to contain your pet as it will be able to climb over or bite its way through a small and flimsy structure. It is advisable not to build internal features close to the perimeter of the enclosure as your pet will climb over and on top of this to escape. This may be more of a problem when your pet is trying to find a mate!

How many animals to care

You will also have to consider how many animals you want to care for. Caring for tortoises when there is only one to care for is obviously easier than deciding to care for many different ones. Some species do not live happily together and will fight each other. You have to understand the individual characteristics of different species to mix and match.

The health of your tortoise

There is also the health of your tortoise to consider. If you have a traditional house with one healthy pet, you may want to introduce another one. Firstly you will need to establish the new pet is healthy before you put it into the tortoise enclosure. If you introduce an unhealthy tortoise, you may infect your other one. This means you will have to quarantine your new pet for some weeks before you put it with your established one. Of course, this will require you providing a suitable enclosure for this tortoise too!

Caring for a tortoise is perhaps more involved than at first seems apparent. However, if I have not dissuaded you so far tortoise make excellent pets and caring for a one can give you hours of satisfaction as they are fascinating creatures!

Buying the Right Pet Tortoise

It is necessary, just like all reptiles, to buy a tortoise that has been captive bred. This is hard for some species. Shipping and capture conditions can be appalling and stress the animals. They can then become susceptible to sicknesses. In some locations, you can find pet tortoises from rescues.

A new pet tortoise should be checked for parasites. It should also be quarantined and kept from other pet tortoises to make sure it is healthy. Some species are very aggressive. Hence if two males are kept in a small pen, the might injure each other in the legs and eyes.

Pet Turtle Care Guide

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Posted: (2 days ago) Box turtles aren't considered suitable pets for young children or for new pet owners. This is due to their complex care requirements, as well as their susceptibility to stress, which can greatly affect a turtle's health. Expect to spend your time cleaning and maintaining their enclosure at least weekly, as well as feeding them every day or two.

Things to Consider

It’s important to become familiar with the needs of your turtle species. Knowing this information can ensure that your pet stays happy and healthy. If you fail to do so, it can make your turtle miserable and give it a shorter lifespan than it has potential for.

Some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration before bringing one of these pet homes include but are not limited to the following:

  • What air or water temperatures does your species need to stay healthy?
  • What percentage of humidity does your turtle or tortoise prefer?
  • Does it require any additional sources of land or water to live in?
  • What types of food do you need to include in their diet?
  • How vast of a living space is required to ensure you keep a happy pet?

Build a Proper Habitat

You have several options for housing your turtles. Depending on where you live in the country and what type of turtle you have, you can create an outdoor pen or even a turtle pond if you have space in the yard. If outside isn’t an option or you would like to house your pets inside during a cold winter, you can build an inside table or even house them permanently in a large aquarium if they are small growing species.

Turtle vs Tortoise

The word “turtle” is often used to describe all turtles, including tortoises. In actuality though, there are 14 turtle families within the order of Testudines (Chelonii). The families share similar characteristics but also have their differences. In simple terms, a tortoise is considered a land-based animal that doesn’t swim. A turtle on the other hand is an aquatic or semi-aquatic animal. Now it gets confusing – a box turtle is in fact a turtle but a land-based one.

Further Reading

What to Feed Your Turtle

Every turtle and tortoise has a specialized diet that you need to adhere to. Some turtles are strictly vegetarians that only eat greens and veggies while others are mainly carnivores and require proteins or live meals. Simply throwing in a head of iceberg lettuce is no meal for most turtle they won’t get the adequate vitamins or minerals they need to stay healthy. Find out what you should be feeding your turtles.

Treat & Prevent Illness

Turtles like all animals are susceptible to a number of diseases, illnesses, or injuries. For starters, the best way to avoid getting a sick turtle is to avoid purchasing one that isn’t healthy in the first place. Furthermore, you can help prevent illness by keeping your turtle’s living space at the most optimal parameters for its breed as well as feeding it an appropriate diet. Sometimes disease and infection are inevitable and unavoidable.

Additional Info

  1. What size of tank or pen does my turtle need?
  2. What is the best type of bedding substrate to use?
  3. What types of foods can I feed my turtles and tortoises?
  4. Can I safely keep a turtle outside in my backyard?
  5. What types of turtles are there?
  6. Can I take my injured turtle to a veterinarian?
  7. My turtle isn’t feeling well, what is wrong with it?
  8. Are certain plants toxic to turtles
  9. Do turtles and tortoises hibernate?
  10. How do you breed and care for baby turtles?
  11. How long do turtles live for?

Turtle and Tortoise Hibernation

Wild box turtles, aquatic turtles, and tortoises that live in colder climates all hibernate during the cold winter months. As an owner of a pet turtle, you too can choose to hibernate them during these cold periods. Alternatively, you can bring them inside to ride out the winter indoors where it is nice and warm. There are factors you need to be aware of before deciding that hibernation is right for your turtle sick, young, and under weight, turtles should not be put into hibernation. You can choose to build a box or convert a refrigerator into a place for them to sleep out the winter or you might decide to dig a pit filled with mulch and leaves.

How to Care for Baby Turtles

When you keep turtles of both sexes in the same habitat and they are of breeding age, they will likely begin to breed. Pregnant females will need a suitable area to deposit their eggs into a nest. Both land species and aquatic species need a loose moist substrate for this. You can then decide to leave the eggs where they are or take them inside and hatch them in an incubator. Once they have hatched, you will need to learn how to feed these tiny size turtles or tortoises.

Watch the video: Top 12 Best Turtles and Tortoises for Pets


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