Yes, turtles make good pets, but they’re not right for everyone. They can be very rewarding pets if you are well prepared to own one. By doing the proper research and preparing far in advance of getting your turtle, you can take steps to ensure the health and longevity of your turtle.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Do turtles make good pets?
- Why do they NOT make good pets?
- Which species make good pets?
What's In This Guide?
Why Do Turtles Make Good Pets?
- They’re Fun!
Turtles in general can be extremely fun, interesting, and all-around cute pets to have around. If you plan to breed turtles, getting eggs and hatchlings is one of the most rewarding things that can happen to you!
- They’re Interesting To Observe
They make good pets because they can be extremely fun during feeding time! Most species of turtles will learn to associate humans with food, and will even beg for food as dogs do. They will often come to the tank or run to the front of their enclosure when you approach.
Feeding pet turtles is very fun and providing a variety of foods can be interesting to watch your turtle enjoy. They will chase feeder fish, hunt worms and snails, or forage for hidden snacks in the enclosure if you choose to do so. Turtles will often swim to you and chase your fingers around the tank. They can be partially trained, and in general, are very cool to have!
- They Come In Many Varieties
Turtles can be extremely beautiful and a rare animal! Not many people keep pet turtles, therefore anybody that does will likely be an individual compared to most pet owners.
Turtles come in all different kinds of colors, and it is very enjoyable finding what species works best for you and looks the most visually appealing. The bright display of colors coupled with interacting with them makes turtles a fantastic choice of pet. They can be great conversation topics and appealing to anyone visiting or living in your home.
- They’re Great Transitional Pets If You’ve Kept Fish Before
They are a fantastic transitional species from fishkeeping to other reptiles and vice versa. I personally kept fish well before I began with turtles, making the transition to reptiles easier.
Although they require good water quality and much of the equipment for turtles is the same as fish, there are aspects to turtles not present in fish that are necessary to keeping other reptiles (especially UVB lighting!). If you are interested in keeping fish as a reptile keeper or reptiles as a fishkeeper, turtles can be an interesting intermediate animal to transition and get familiar with uncommon terms and equipment.
- Keeping Them Can Help Preserve Their Species
Turtles are one of the most quickly diminishing vertebrates in the wild, and many different species go extinct or come closer to it every year. By choosing a turtle species to keep that is declining in the wild, you can contribute to the conservation of the species.
Some turtle species are rarer than others, often making them more expensive, however, keeping them keeps the population alive in case they go extinct in the wild. Keeping native species of turtle can ensure their populations in captivity exist and will continue for generations to come. Conservation is the goal for nearly all turtle keepers.
Reasons Why Turtles DO NOT Make Good Pets
Though there are a variety of reasons why turtles make excellent pets, there are an equal amount, if not more, reasons why they are not great pets.
Turtles Are Messy
Turtles, primarily, can be messy creatures. Aquatic species of turtle in particular often make a mess of the foods that they eat. Although they accept plenty of different types of food items, they won’t hesitate to rip and tear, even at pellets, in the water. This can lead to diminishing water quality and a potentially smelly mess of the water.
Without proper filtration, water changes, and cleaning of the filter media, a turtle enclosure will quickly turn into cloudy or green water with an unhappy and unhealthy turtle. Besides making a mess of their food, turtles create a lot of waste after eating their food. Heavy filtration is required to properly break the waste down and keep your water clean and clear.
Many people who are not prepared with the proper filtration or neglect to do enough water changes need to overhaul their entire setups and clean everything thoroughly. This can be time consuming, messy, and all around an unpleasant experience.
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They Are A Big Time Commitment
Many people are not prepared for the time commitment that turtles can be. Part of keeping the water quality high and water clear is spending time cleaning the setup. This can be done in a variety of ways, including doing water changes or cleaning filter media.
You will need to be ready to devote at least 1 hour weekly to dedicated turtle maintenance. This can be spread out across the week, or all done at the same time at the end of the week. For example, you can spend 15 minutes a day feeding your turtle in a separate tub and replacing a small amount of water. This will spread the amount of time needed to keep your enclosure clean out over the week. Contrarily, you may feed the turtle in their enclosure, however by the end of the week the uneaten food and waste will likely have clogged your filter (or made it messy at the least) and you will need to do a lot of maintenance.
Changing most of the water and cleaning the filter material will be needed heavily if the tank is not thoroughly kept up with. Turtles require devotion to their needs and you must be willing to spend time for their long-term health.
Turtles Do NOT Like To Be Handled
Turtles are not interactive pets. Handling a turtle will do nothing but stress the animal out, and can lead to many health problems in the future if done too often. Turtles do not enjoy humans, they at best tolerate them.
Turtles may associate you with food and beg for food at the walls of their enclosure, but once fed, often want nothing to do with you. They are still wild animals and not domesticated like cats or dogs, therefore they will prefer a dark hiding spot or area away from commotion rather than a human hand 9 times out of 10. Even if the turtle is still at the walls of the enclosure, it is likely they are still begging for food, even if they just ate.
Diamondback Terrapins in particular are known for doing this. It is important to keep in mind this fact for the benefit and well-being of your turtle. This is often a difficult concept for children in particular to grasp. Turtles are not a pet you can “cuddle” or pet, they are one you may observe and enjoy without being physical with.
Turtles Can Make You Sick
Not only is there a health risk to the turtle if you interact too often with them, but there is a risk to you as well. Part of keeping the turtle tank clean is for your sake also, otherwise the turtle can carry pathogens that may get you sick. Salmonella was rampant during the same era in which hatchling red-eared sliders were extremely popular, and the two are thought to have been interrelated. Young children would put the turtles in their mouths and be exposed to salmonella. Though turtles are no more likely to carry this pathogen than other exotic pets, the large quantity of people interacting with them caused an increase in cases and correlation.
Turtles Can Get Too Large For Captivity
Turtles are a pet that many can not sufficiently care for, because most species get extremely large. Red-eared sliders are the most common species of pet turtle but can reach massive sizes. Females can reach upwards of 10 inches, and with this comes many factors.
The turtle will need plenty of space to swim, about 1-2 gallons of water per inch of shell. Therefore, for an adult red-eared slider, a minimum aquarium or enclosure size of 100 gallons would be needed, but 200-300 gallons is preferred. Turtles will appreciate every gallon of space that you provide for them. There is no such thing as too big of an enclosure for most adult species of turtle that are good swimmers.
Red-ear sliders, Map turtles, Diamondback Terrapins, and Painted turtles are all examples of turtles that get fairly large and will thrive in a massive enclosure, preferably a pond. Many people are unable to keep 100-gallon aquariums and larger, therefore if you cannot provide a tank of this size or an indoor mini pond, or outdoor pond, find a less common species that stays smaller!
They Can Become Expensive To Care For
Along with turtles getting large and needing larger amounts of space, this leads to the cost of keeping the turtle to go up exponentially. Besides the cost of the turtle, there will be a lot more food you must provide your turtle, as they will eat more as they get larger (compared to when they were a sub adult or hatchling). Consuming more will contribute to more waste, and more water space means more water to filter.
High-powered filters that turn over the volume of the enclosure 2-3 times are highly recommended to keep water quality high. The cost of filters, the larger enclosure, and long-term maintenance can be upwards of $700, though you can be thrifty with your turtle keeping to lower this.
Turtles Can Be Dangerous
To keep up with larger turtles can be difficult, as they can more easily escape or injure you or others that try to interact with the turtle. Turtle bites hurt, but their claws can be as dangerous if you are not careful when handling them. The larger the turtle, the more difficult it is to handle. Although it is recommended not to handle your turtle unless necessary, at some point it will be inevitable. Larger turtles have extremely powerful legs and strong limbs, and if you do not hold on tightly, they will break your grip.
Many Turtles Are Considered Invasive
On the note of escaping, red-eared sliders are the most invasive species of turtle in the world, and often people release them into the wild. It is devastating to natural turtle populations when invasive species are released, and it is never recommended to let your pet turtle go into the wild. It can have devastating impacts, by introducing a breeding group of new species or introducing pathogens into healthy populations, wiping them out.
Reasons Not To Own A Pet Turtle
- Size Requirements
Most turtle species can get very large, so plan accordingly! Most aquatic species of turtle will need at LEAST 75-100 gallons of swimming room in order to thrive. Otherwise, your turtle may not be healthy and its growth may be stunted. Turtles will not act naturally or be content in too small of an enclosure.
Most people do not have the space for massive aquariums or indoor mini ponds. A well-fenced-in outdoor pond is an excellent alternative to indoor aquariums for many cold-tolerant turtle species. Large turtles equate to more expensive filters, larger enclosures, more food, and generally increased costs.
Turtles are very messy creatures. Their water can quickly become dirty and either smell or lead to health problems in your turtle. Not only that, but a dirty aquarium is very unsightly to see in one’s home.
You need to keep up with changing the water regularly, cleaning the filter, or taking steps (like feeding outside of the enclosure) in order to keep the water clean. Otherwise, your tank may quickly become overrun with algae or generally be dirty. Clean water is the key for a happy and healthy turtle!
Turtles, unlike domesticated animals like dogs, are cats, do not enjoy the presence of humans. They associate people with food and at best will tolerate them. Turtles will beg for food, but once fed, they will flee from people, and only in rare cases will they tolerate or enjoy being held or pet.
In general, turtles like to keep to themselves and will not appreciate too much interaction, as it can impact their health if they are handled too much. It will stress them out and can lead to a variety of problems. Once a week or handling for small amounts of time intermittently will not be detrimental for your turtle. Many children and adults alike enjoy being able to hold or interact with an animal daily, however that is not ideal for turtles. Turtles prefer to be left alone and will appreciate you for food, but not for company.
Turtles can be fairly costly to take care of. The price is not necessarily in the actual cost of the turtle but in long-term care and maintenance. The cost of upgrading filters, upgrading aquariums, and the food for your turtle can quickly add up. Keeping a turtle is a constant and long-term investment, so make sure you have money set aside if you decide to keep turtles!
They can be very costly if taken care of poorly and need a trip to the vet. Even with the best care, things happen and vet bills can be very expensive, even for basic antibiotics.
These are the main highlighted reasons why turtles make bad pets, but next, we will look at species that make good pets and why!
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Which Turtles Are Good For First-Time Owners?
The Spotted turtle is a small species of turtle native to the eastern part of the United States. They inhabit vernal pools in forests and high-quality, freshwater ponds. They can handle cold temperatures and are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of plant and protein materials.
Spotted turtles are mainly aquatic but will appreciate a land area to burrow or explore on. Spotted turtles are elusive and hide a lot in the wild, making them difficult to find but are brightly patterned with bright yellow dots against a black shell.
Why Do Spotted Turtles Make A Good First-Time Pet?
Spotted turtles make excellent pets, particularly for first-time turtle owners but need to be cared for properly to thrive. If their habitat is well established and water slightly acidic (a necessity or they can develop a fungus), they are personable, stay very small (4-5 inches), and are fairly easy to find captive-bred amongst breeders.
They are also declining in populations in the wild, therefore owning and caring (and potentially breeding) them will directly contribute to conservation. Keeping the species alive and well represented in captivity will ensure their survival.
Mud And Musk Turtles
Mud and Musk turtles are native across the United States and inhabit freshwater streams, creeks, and rivers. They consume protein and vegetable material and make up for their somewhat dull colorations in huge personalities.
They can be fairly bold for such a small species, begging at the front of their enclosure and threatening to bite any predators that dare to pick it up. They are not huge basking turtles like Sliders or Painted turtles, but still, need their daily dose of UVB radiation.
Why Do Mud And Musk Turtles Make A Good First-Time Pet?
Mud and Musk turtles stay small and are present in captivity and readily available. They are more tolerable of poor water quality than spotted turtles, but still need clean water to thrive.
They eat a variety of foods including snails, fish, pellets, crustaceans, and shrimp in captivity but accept just about any food given to them.
They are more aquatic than other species of turtle, therefore they only need a basking platform and not a land area to dig or hide like the Spotted turtle or other species of more terrestrial aquatic turtles.
Mud and Musk turtles are fairly friendly when raised in captivity, and will thrive in a tank set up, and can exist, fully grown, in a 40-75 gallon tank. They reach only 5 inches or so at maximum size.
Painted turtles, Mississippi Map turtles, and Diamondback Terrapins all live in the United States, but inhabit different ecosystems.
Diamondback Terrapins live in brackish water wetlands along the eastern coast of the United States and are heavily carnivorous. They eat primarily protein including crustaceans and mollusks, and are one of the most personable species of turtle out there.
Map turtles are closely related to terrapins but live in freshwater, fast-flowing rivers and creeks. They also eat primarily protein but will ingest plant material if offered or scavenged in the wild.
Painted turtles live in ponds and still, freshwater bodies of water. They are heavily omnivorous but eat more plant material as they age. They can be found across North America and are divided into subspecies just like Map turtles and terrapins.
Why Do Painted Turtles Make A Good First-Time Pet?
The males of any subspecies of Painted turtle, Map turtle, or Diamondback Terrapin will not get too large, reaching 5-6 inches at maximum size.
Females of these species can grow to larger sizes, up to 10 inches or so, therefore it is recommended to get the male of the species.
Terrapins are extremely personable and excellent swimmers, but more sensitive to water quality than Map turtles or Painted turtles. Map turtles are shyer, but a fun and forgiving species of beginner turtle if raised properly. Painted turtles are beautiful and are outcompeted in their natural range by invasive red-eared sliders.
Keeping painted turtles can help boost captive populations and ensure their survival, and are fun and easy to care for! Because they inhabit ponds and lakes, they can handle a skipped water change or two before they are negatively impacted, although this is not recommended. They can handle beginner mistakes other species cannot.
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How do I give my turtle away for adoption?
Most local rescues or adoption agencies will take in unwanted turtles. Craigslist is a great option to rehome your pet, or online social media groups work just as well to finding your turtle a new home. Many shelters and rescues are filled with red-eared sliders, so it sometimes is best to find an individual with a fenced-in pond or enclosed outdoor area to take in your unwanted turtle rather than looking at a rescue.
Can I release my pet turtle into the wild?
NO! It is detrimental to natural ecosystems if you release your pet turtle. Invasive turtles have outcompeted native turtles and begun to take over the environment, eating the food and taking the space of important native turtles. Releasing your turtle can not only contribute to invasive species, but the turtle may introduce pathogens into healthy populations of adult turtles. This can wipe out entire populations of native turtles. Finally, pet turtles acclimated to captivity may not survive in the wild. They do not understand how to live, and may succumb to a variety of different ways they may die, including starvation, dehydration, predation, or freezing to death.
Do turtles make good pets for kids?
Not particularly, as younger children usually want to handle their pets and turtles are not an animal that enjoys or will tolerate being held too often. However, if your child has done enough research on the turtle species and is ready for the responsibility, they can be very, very rewarding pets in the long run. They can be a lifelong commitment but can form a special bond with kids and inspire a lifelong passion for wildlife and conservation.
How much does it cost to own a turtle?
Turtle keeping can be inexpensive if you purchase stock tanks rather than aquariums, keep things outdoors to avoid heating costs, utilize brumation to cut costs in the winter months, or build your own filters to avoid high filtration costs. At the least expensive, I personally can create a proper red-ear slider habitat outdoors with a 110 gallon stock tank and filter for $100-$200. If using aquariums and purchased filters, turtles can become a costly hobby and cost anywhere from $250-$500. These prices will vary based on the size of the tank you will need when they are fully grown and the cost of the equipment for that setup.
Are turtles hard to take care of?
Turtles are not terribly difficult to take care of. They simply require an understanding of their needs and knowing what to look for when caring for them. Understanding the need for proper filtration and high water quality, and varying the diet are some points that will take you very far in keeping turtles. Making sure you devote time to cleaning the filters and changing your water regularly will eliminate the need for overhauling enclosures and massive cleanouts that become time-consuming. Overall, if done right and with investments of time and money, turtles can be rewarding and amazing animals to keep.