Like many other reptiles and amphibians, turtles are fascinating to children. However, many people buy turtles based on their “novelty factor”, never taking into account the animal’s special needs. When you purchase a cat or a dog, there are always several costly procedures that must be taken to ensure their good health and longevity; shots, operations etc., not to mention crates, toys, dog houses, and grooming products. Turtles aren’t as complicated to care for, but many die in captivity because they aren’t treated with the same degree of care and attention their fur-bearing counterparts. If they are properly cared for, turtles can live for many decades, but this requires you pay close attention to their diets, living arrangements, and treatment.
Making sure a turtle has enough room to live in, making sure it has enough light, shade, and moisture, clean water, and a basking lamp are just a few of the steps you need to undertake to keep your pet turtles healthy.
In some cases, people choose to try and recreate a turtle’s natural habitat as authentically as possible, and this sometimes mean setting up a turtle pen outside. Doing so means your turtle will hibernate in the fall, which is great if you plan to breed turtles, since their natural cycles aren’t being tampered with. Also, turtles which do not hibernate have been known to develop liver diseases. If you have small children, it would be best to make sure they do not disturb turtles attempting to hibernate by digging them out. This also means you won’t be seeing your turtle until late spring, when it comes out of hibernation.
Some people use refrigerators to try and recreate ideal conditions for the turtles to hibernate. This practice is not recommended for the simple reason that in the event of a power failure, or a sudden rise in temperature, the turtle’s slumber will be interrupted, and in some cases, that could be fatal. It is best not to let your turtle hibernate at all if you are planning on keeping it indoors.
When you keep a turtles indoors, it is important to consider the following: Your turtle’s tank capacity must be at least 40 gallons. There must be enough room to put a land area, and a water area. Your turtle should also have a place where it can bask in the heat of a sun lamp. The ideal temperature for your turtle’s habitat depends greatly on the breed, as terrestrial turtles can maintain body heat longer than aquatic turtles. In general, keep the tank around 80º during the daytime, and 70º at night. It is a good idea not to take the turtle out of its tank to show it off or play with it. These sudden changes in temperature can affect the immune system of reptiles, since they are cold-blooded animals and take longer to adjust to the changes.
Also, remember to wash your hands after handling your turtles, in order to avoid contamination. Not all turtles are carry salmonella, but it is safer to maintain good hygiene when dealing with pets and their habitats. This goes for the turtle too, as you should keep its tank or pen clean and keep its water fresh and free of waste.
As far as water is concerned, avoid using tap water for your turtle tank, as chlorine and fluoride are present in tap water, and can disturb the ph balance. Use natural spring water for your turtle’s drinking water, and de-chlorinated water for the swimming area. You can remove the chlorine from water by letting it sit for 24 hours before putting it in the tank. Some people ague that using chlorinated water helps prevent deadly bacteria from forming, but we’ll let you decide.
Also steer clear of using tree bark or wood chips in the turtle’s dwelling. These are fine for rodents, but can cause problems with turtles who may ingest them. Furthermore, these will get contaminated very fast, and favor the growth of mold and fungus. It would also be a good idea to try and reproduce natural lighting conditions in the turtle’s tank. Try and place the tank in a room where the lighting does not change too often. Turtles generally require 12 hours of sunlight, and using a proper UV lamp will help the turtle get the amount of vitamin D3 it requires to stay healthy. This is why turtles bask in the sun out in the wild.
Your turtle should also have a simple shelter to retreat too when it gets tired of being out in the open. This can easily be made out of wood, or carefully selected stones. If you want to add vegetation to your turtle’s tank, make sure these plants are non-poisonous to the turtles, since there is a strong chance they will try to eat them.
Keep your turtle out of the way so that small children, or other house pets cannot get to it. Remember to stay attentive to your turtle’s behavior, and take care of it as you would take care of any other pet. A turtle is not a novelty item, it is a living being, and it is also intelligent enough to know who its friends and enemies are. A happy turtle can provide years of enjoyment for your whole family, and is a great way to help teach younger children about responsibilities.