Turtles have been roaming the earth for 215 million years. They are cute, have hard colorful shells and are popular pets, with Russian Tortoises, Spur-thighed Tortoises, and Red-eared sliders being the most sought-after. Most likely you are thoroughly besotted by that turtle at the pet shop window, but some preparation before bringing it home will lay the groundwork for a lasting relationship, as pleasant to the turtle as it is to you.
1) Do your research
The needs of a turtle are quite different from that of your gold fish. A little reading and net surfing will help you understand your new friend better. Invest in a book on turtle care: you will be spoiled for choices.
2) Know the species
The requirements are different for different species. So know the particular needs of each species before picking the one that is right for your home and the climate of the region where you live.
3) Think Tank
Glass tanks with a minimum capacity of 25-50 gallons are preferred. You have to keep in mind the fact that the tiny turtle you bring home can grow up to several times its juvenile size. So when you build a tank, plan accordingly. It should also be equipped with the necessary gear – filters, aerators, basking lamps and heaters. The substrate used to line the bottom of the tank shouldn’t be sharp-edged and neither should it be large enough to trap the turtles and drown them. Inside the tank, there should be an area submerged in water and also an elevated dry area for basking in light.
Even though the best temperature to grow turtles is different for different species, in general, the temperature inside the tank can be maintained at around 80°F during daytime and 70°F at night. This can be done with the help of heaters and is particularly important in cold climate. Keep the decorations minimal. Probably your turtle will eat up the water plants you meticulously put in the tank anyway! A week prior to bringing the turtle home, set up the tank and keep the gear running. This will help you identify any hitches and fix them in advance.
4) Basking in the UV
When turtles bask in light they get their share of UVA and UVB (two types of ultra-violet radiation) necessary for proper metabolism and for synthesize of vitamin D important in shell growth. It also reduces the growth of algae on their body and keeps away external parasites. Incandescent lamps, ceramic emitters or mercury vapor bulbs can be hung above the basking area to provide the UV rays. The area itself should be accessible and safe for turtles and should be only 10°F warmer than the water. Check the temperature often with a thermometer to detect overheating as it discourages turtles from basking or even worse, cause hyperthermia.
5) Ensure water quality
If you are using tap water in your tank let the water sit for 24 hours before filling. This will remove the Chlorine present in water. Turtles are messy eaters and they defecate directly into the tank. So, good quality water filters and aerators are a must to ensure cleanliness.
6) Maintain good hygiene
Your turtle may be free of Salmonella, but washing your hands before and after handling the turtle or anything that comes into contact with it, will ensure that both the turtle and you are protected from the risk of contamination. Having infants at home calls for some extra care.
7) A wholesome diet
A turtle’s diet should not be limited to commercially available feeds. Enrich its diet with vegetables, fruits, live food (snails, earthworms, insects etc), flesh (whole fish, little dead mice), and supplements of Vitamin D and Calcium (for the shell) coated on food. Among vegetables, it is better not to feed the turtle too much spinach as it can cause Calcium oxalate stones. On an average, the quantity of feed required by a turtle is about the size that would fit into its head and neck. Young turtles eat more: they are to be fed daily; and adults on alternate days. As in humans, overfeeding will only impair the turtle’s health. Feeding the turtle in a separate tub will help to keep the water in the tank free of food debris and feces discharged 30-45 minutes after feeding.
8) Detect diseases
Stay alert to symptoms of illness, such as swollen eyes (Vitamin A deficiency), soft shell (metabolic bone disease), egg retention, abnormal urine or feces, loss of appetite, slowness or lethargy, regurgitating very often, nasal discharges etc. Take the turtle to a veterinarian well-informed about turtles. Even before bringing the turtle home you can get it examined by a vet to make sure it is healthy and free of Salmonella.
Perhaps, the formidable amount of information available will make turtle-rearing seem like a daunting task. Well, it is not so, as many turtle owners will certify. With a little care and attention your pet turtle will surely live several healthy years.