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The Right Pet For You

Aquatic Turtles
By TD Yandt

I will admit to having been among those who believe turtles are smelly, dirty, messy and, overall, completely undesirable pets. They were one of the only species I had no desire to work with, on any level. Thankfully, my thoughts on turtles as pets were completely turned around when two four-year-old female Red Eared Sliders needed rescuing. Never one to turn away an animal in need, I set out to research proper care, housing and diet requirements for these two turtles.

Often called the “dime-store turtle,” these tiny quarter-sized turtles rarely make it to adulthood. Poor care and a lack of knowledge result in tragedy for these babies. It is far too easy to purchase a tiny turtle without giving any thought to their adult size and proper care requirements. Red Eared Sliders are not the pet for everyone, but for those with the inclination, time and money to care for them properly, they are a very rewarding pet.

There are many rumors regarding turtle care, and turtles in general, that have circulated during the last 20 years. One of the main myths is that turtles are dirty and smelly animals. I have seen many cases where this has been true, but every one of these turtles was receiving inadequate care. Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles require a very high level of water filtration. They eat, swim and defecate in the same pool of water. Without strong filtration, a turtle's environment will very quickly become foul. Expect to purchase a filter that is at least four to five times stronger than what you would need to filter the same amount of water for fish.

There is also great debate among Red Eared Slider owners as to how much space these turtles really require. Some believe 50 gallons of water per turtle to be sufficient, while others are adamant that each adult needs at least 100 gallons of swimming space. I tend to fall somewhere in between. It is important to remember that each turtle needs room to swim, not just to stand, in a proper sized pool.

Despite what the pet store may lead you to believe, that little plastic bucket the store sells isn’t appropriate for even the smallest hatchling. Plan on starting your baby(s) in something with at least 20 gallons of water. A 20-gallon long aquarium with an acrylic ledge siliconed to the corner should be adequate. As your little ones grow (and they do grow quickly) be prepared to have a large section of your home or yard dedicated to your turtles. They need a fair amount of space to remain healthy and active.

As important as well-filtered swimming space is, room to bask, dig and sun is equally important to your Red Eared Slider. Sliders need to be able to dry themselves out completely or they risk getting “shell rot,” which can be deadly. A UVB (ultraviolet B) lamp must be provided to ensure your turtle is getting the quality of light it needs. Be sure to also purchase a good quality heat lamp for daytime basking.

One of the best environments you can provide for your future family member is a preformed pond. These come in a large variety of sizes and provide room to bask as well as room to swim. They are less costly than aquariums, and also provide a much more natural living environment.Turtles may be inexpensive in and of themselves, but when providing all they need, the expenses can add up. You can expect to pay between $40 and $100 to purchase a UVB, heat lamps and their appropriate fixtures.

A good submersible filter will cost between $70 and $120. Depending on the climate where you live, you may also need to buy a titanium submersible heater for another $60 to $80. And, providing them with an appropriate habitat can run anywhere from $150 to $600. Your turtle is decidedly the least costly part of your investment. However, once your initial outlay is complete, turtles are inexpensive to maintain.

You will need to provide him with plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. Carrots, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, apples and lettuce will all be much appreciated by your Slider. Be sure to choose a staple diet that contains more produce than commercial pellets typically provide. Contrary to what pet-food producers would have you believe, a turtle usually only eats fish and other meats while still a hatchling. Once grown, Sliders prefer an almost completely vegetarian diet.

Given the proper care, Red Eared Sliders can live between 40 and 50 years, and will provide your family with years of entertainment and discovery. After the past two years with our rescued females, I can honestly say that they have been among my all-time favorite pet species. Red Eared Sliders are fun, interesting and engaging animals. I look forward to many more years with our girls, and entertain the prospect of adding even more turtle species to our family in the future. I’m sure you will feel the same.

A former pet groomer, TD Yandt is currently working as an artist and animal trainer. Her goal is to positively impact the lives of pets and their people by providing an education on individual species, their proper care and the use of operant conditioning to enhance the human-animal bond. You can learn more about TD and her animal family at


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