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How to Keep Your Turtle Healthy

Posted by ABDragons on 2nd Nov 2017

When it comes to taking care of a turtle, there are a lot of details that you have to remember on a regular basis. Like a dog or a cat, a turtle requires care and attention so that it can remain happy and healthy. Just because it lives in a terrarium doesn’t mean you can neglect it.

So, if you’re still new to turtle ownership, or you’ve thought about getting a turtle, we’re going to provide you with an in-depth look at what it takes to keep it healthy.

Step One: Know Your Turtle

If you are already assuming that all turtles are the same, you need to do some research first. There are three primary variations you can have: turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. These are all different and require customized attention. Here is a breakdown of each variety.

  • Turtles: They live in the water, although they sometimes come out on land
  • Tortoise: They can’t swim, and must live on land
  • Terrapin: These animals prefer a mixture of water and land

For the most part, no one uses the term terrapin, so don’t worry about it too much. The essential thing is to determine how much your turtle likes water and whether it’s a freshwater or saltwater species.

The other thing to pay attention to is what it will eat. Turtles (including terrapins) are a mixture of carnivores and herbivores. Tortoises, on the other hand, are strictly herbivores, so don’t try to feed them any insects or meat.

Overall, it’s imperative that you understand the species of turtle you have, as well as the native environment from which it originates. This will answer a lot of your questions when raising it, and it will ensure that it stays healthy the whole time.

Step Two: Pick Out a Sufficient Living Space

As a general rule, you want to have about 10 gallons of space per one inch of your turtle. So, when picking out a terrarium, you will have to do some measuring to ensure adequate room. If you have more than one turtle, then you need to expand it. Not necessarily double the space, but at least one and a half if possible.

If you’re getting a baby turtle, it’s crucial that you know how big it will get when full grown, so that you don’t have to buy another habitat when that happens.

If the tank is too small, then the biggest problem is cleaning. Your turtle will be living in its own filth remarkably fast if you keep it in a little enclosure. Also, it will get stressed out if it doesn’t have sufficient room to move and explore.

Step Three: Build the Right Environment

When choosing a turtle, you’ll have to figure out if it will spend most of its time on land or in the water, or a mixture of both. The ratio of the two will vary depending on the species, which is why research is so important.

Common varieties like box turtles like to spend most of their time on land, so you won’t need much water for it to swim. Nonetheless, you should look into the ideal habitat for your pet.

When building the inside of the terrarium, try to imitate its natural environment as much as possible. So, if you get a species that lives in swampy areas, you will want to put some swamp plants in your terrarium. If it prefers desert or arid climates, then you can keep the ground dry and rocky.

Keeping Warm

Like all reptiles, turtles regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun for part of the day. This means that you need to have a spot where it can do that with minimal obstruction. Depending on the species, you may have to put a heat lamp over the basking site so that it can regulate itself effectively.

Humidity is another concern for various species, so you might have to get a humidifier to maintain the proper levels. When you need a more moist environment, you want substrate that will trap water well, like mulch or bark. Conversely, turtles that prefer dry areas will be better off with straight dirt or sand.


Finally, when creating the right habitat for your turtle, it’s essential that they have access to a full spectrum of rays. If your terrarium is outside, then that’s not something you have to worry about (neither is a heat lamp). Similarly, enclosures that have direct access to the sun will maintain the full spectrum.

If, however, your turtle is kept indoors, you need to provide a light with UV rays. Ultraviolet light is necessary for proper calcium absorption. This makes the light even more essential for younger turtles that are growing.

Step Four: Keep the Environment Clean

Usually, health problems develop with turtles (or any species, for that matter), when they live in a dirty and toxic environment. If the water is murky or the soil is covered in poop, it will inevitably lead to issues with your turtle.

As such, you have to maintain a rigid cleaning schedule. Make sure that both the water and the land are kept free of waste and excrement. Depending on the size and species you have, you may need to clean the tank every other day or so.

If possible, get a water filter to keep it clean for longer. Since waste products can soil the water so fast, having a filter will make your life a lot easier. This, however, does not mean that you can skip cleaning altogether.

Every so often, you will have to empty the terrarium and replace everything inside. Once it’s empty, be sure to wipe down the surfaces and get them as spotless as possible. Then, rebuild the environment using new substrate and water.

If your turtle has a favorite item or basking spot, you can keep that as long as it’s still clean. This kind of overhaul should be done twice a month for humid environments, and once a month for arid ones.

Step Five: Ensure a Proper Diet

Like all animals, turtles can eat a wide variety of foods. Even tortoises love to munch on all kinds of fruits and vegetables, so don’t feed your pet the same thing every day. It’s better to mix things up every once in a while, as this will also help provide extra stimulation for it.

Depending on your species, you will need a mixture of vegetation and protein. In some cases, you may be able to get pellets that are formulated for turtles. These will provide adequate nutrition, but it’s still good to give your pet some real food on occasion.

For vegetables, you want plants that provide plenty of nutrients. Water lettuce, kale, collard greens, and swiss chard are all excellent examples. Fruit such as papaya and apples are also great in moderation.

As for protein, you can offer pieces of meat to your pet, but there should be a mix of live options as well. Dubia roaches are an affordable option of live food for your turtle. They are easy to maintain and are also a great source of protein, which is essential to the health of your turtle. Again, this will all depend on your species. Chicken or turkey is ideal for chopped meat, and mealworms or beetle larvae are excellent as live protein. In some cases, you may even be able to populate your water with some small goldfish for your turtle to hunt.

The feeding schedule for your turtle will vary on the species and its age. Young turtles should eat daily, while adults can feed about three times a week.

Also, it’s important to note that aquatic turtles like to eat in the water, so that will add more mess for you to clean.

Step Six: Inspect Your Turtle Regularly

If your pet does get sick, then it’s vital that you catch it early. As such, it’s essential that you can spot warning signs as soon as possible so that it can be treated and cured immediately. Here are some examples of sickness that you may see on your turtle.

  • Vitamin Deficiency: if your pet is not eating as much, or if it has swollen eyes or ears, these could be signs that it’s not getting enough nutrition. Also, if it’s breathing through its mouth, this can be another indication.
  • Respiratory Problems: if you can hear your turtle wheezing or coughing, or if there is a lot of mucus around its mouth and nose, that’s not normal.
  • Shell Rot: some species are more susceptible than others to this condition, but you can easily tell if your turtle has it. White, slimy secretions on the shell, as well as foul odor, are strong indicators of this fungal infection.
  • Parasites: more often than not, your turtle will get these at some point. Usually, it’s a type of worm that lives inside their digestive system. If your pet stops eating, vomits food, or has undigested food in its stool, it could be parasites.

When you notice something happening to your turtle, you must take it to a vet that specializes in herpetology. Not all veterinarians are the same, and many will not be able to treat your particular species or diagnose the problem correctly.

Although you need to bring your turtle to a vet when it’s sick, you should also take it in for regular checkups. At least once a year is good, although you can set up a different schedule with the vet. Doing these inspections will ensure that your turtle is always in optimal condition, and it could spot potential dangers before they show any symptoms.

Bottom Line

The best way to keep your turtle happy and healthy is to pay attention to it and understand its needs. Too often, turtle owners don’t know what they are signing up for, which can lead to a lot of stress and sickness for their pets.

Above all, do as much research as you can about your particular species and make sure that you get into the right mindset before buying anything. A turtle is an active responsibility, so treat it as such.

ABDragons has a great selection of Dubia roaches that are perfect for feeding your pet turtle. Check out their options here.