A Guide to Owning a Turtle

Turtles (or tortoises, as the two terms are often used interchangeably) are a different kind of pet and may not be for everyone. People with pet turtles know that the satisfaction comes from watching your turtle swim and play rather than holding or petting it; in fact, with a snapping turtle, you'd be wise to keep your hands back altogether!

Pet turtle care is challenging, and with the average lifespan of a turtle falling between 20 and 40 years, owning one is a big commitment. But if you're passionate about the beauty and unique personality of these creatures, caring for a pet turtle can be very rewarding.

Popular Pet Turtles

Some breeds of turtles are friendlier than others. Snapping turtles are the least friendly and are inclined to attack rather than cower in their shell when threatened. Box turtles, too, become agitated easily, particularly when they are being handled by humans.

On the other hand, painted turtles and red eared sliders are a little more docile, particularly in the water. When agitated, they will simply dart into the water where they feel more relaxed.

Another factor that makes one breed of turtle more popular than another is its size. Snappers are some of the largest turtles at up to 20 inches, which can make them difficult to house. Smaller breeds, like the 4- to 8-inch box turtle, are more manageable.

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Buying Pet Turtles

Many adult and baby turtles across all species are being depleted due to over-hunting for the supply of pet stores and sellers. When you're looking for turtles for sale, be sure the seller can authenticate that their turtles have been bred in captivity and were not captured in the wild.

What You'll Need Before You Buy

It's important to be properly prepared before you bring your pet turtle home. Ask yourself the following questions, and make sure you can answer them and have all the supplies in place before you buy a turtle.

  • Where do turtles live? Many turtles require not only an indoor tank, but an outdoor one as well. Some supplies you'll need to house your turtle include a large tank, an outdoor child's pool, a turtle ramp or rocks for basking, a full-spectrum lamp and a heat source.
  • What do turtles eat? Turtle food can include a variety of combinations of plants and meat, depending on the breed. Poor diet is one of the leading causes of turtle illness, so be sure you do your research on the types and quantities of food your turtle will require.

Finally, the most important thing you'll need to ask yourself is, "Am I fully committed to owning a pet turtle?" Turtles can live anywhere from 20 to 50 years, which is a huge commitment in pet ownership. Do not buy a pet turtle unless you're prepared to care for it for its entire life.