How To Know If Your Turtle Is Happy? [7 Easy Signs]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

When you adopt a turtle, it becomes a part of your family for a long time. You certainly want your pet turtle to be healthy and happy. It is easy to say when a dog or cat is happy or stressed. But it is not the same for a turtle. So, how do you know if your turtle is happy?

As a new turtle owner, it is alright to be concerned about your turtle’s health and comfort. Luckily, there are a few ways to tell about the mental state of your pet turtle. After reading this article, you will know how to understand whether or not your turtle is happy. 

7 Signs That Tells Your Turtle Is Happy

If you take good care of your pet turtle, eventually, it will show some signs of happiness. However, these signs may not be the same for all pet turtles. 

Turtles are shy reptiles. They rarely show too much enthusiasm. So, do not worry if your turtle does not show all the signs of happiness listed in this article. 

Here are some signs that can tell your pet turtle is happy:

1. Interest in Eating Food Regularly 

One sign of a healthy and happy turtle is the eagerness for food. A happy turtle keeps track of its feeding time. It will munch on different types of food that you offer.  

As time passes, your pet turtle will relate your presence with feeding time. So, whenever a happy turtle sees you in the room, it will come to the edge of the tank or enclosure. This behaviour is common among young turtles. They need food every day for their growth. 

There is no need to be concerned if your adult turtle is not interested in eating food every day. A mature turtle does not have to eat every day. You can feed them 3 to 4 times a week. 

2. Enjoys Hunting

Happy turtles feel energetic. Hence, you will find them enthusiastically hunting live baits in the tank. You can put live fish, insects, or any amphibian preferred by turtles in the enclosure. When you find your turtle playfully chasing the bait, you can be sure it is happy. 

On the other hand, unhappy or sick turtles do not put much effort into chasing food. They barely move from their comfort area to find the food. 

3. Splash in the Water

When your turtle feels comfortable in the tank, it stays content. You may find your turtle sliding in the water or splashing in a good spirit. It might even splash in the water whenever it sees you. 

If your turtle is not scared of you, it will come swimming to the edge of the enclosure. A stressed aquatic or semi-aquatic turtle will dive into the water and find a hiding spot. 

4. Spend Time Basking Under the Light

A happy turtle visits the basking area quite often. It is common for a healthy turtle to bask under the heat/basking lamp for 2 to 8 hours a day. You should see your turtle in the basking area taking naps. It may even spread its legs when it is comfortable. 

If you see your pet turtle not basking enough or avoiding the basking area, then you should check on its health. It either feels uncomfortable with the basking heat or is sick. 

5. Comfortable with Handling 

Turtles are not like cats and dogs. They do not like to be petted or rubbed like other animals you get as pets. However, your turtle should eventually become familiar with you. If your turtle does not mind your handling them or stroking them, it is a clear sign of a healthy turtle.

But not all species of turtles are comfortable with the human touch. Your pet turtle may shy away from your touch, and retreat to the shell even if you have taken care of it for a long time. 

Now, if your friendly turtle used to interact with you and suddenly becomes reluctant, then you should be concerned. It means your turtle might not be happy or healthy. 

6. Curious to Explore the Tank

When you put your turtle in a new enclosure, it is natural for it to stay hidden for a while. It might take some time to feel safe in the new environment. After a while, your turtle should come out of hiding and start exploring. 

A happy turtle is curious and adventurous. It will visit every corner of the enclosure. Turtles enjoy getting familiar with the accessories, plants, and hiding spots in the enclosure. They even dive deep into the water and explore the area. 

7. Digging 

Another behaviour of a happy turtle is digging. Turtles like to burrow themselves in substrates to take a nap. This behaviour is common in both aquatic and land turtles. So, if you find your turtle digging on the substrates, you can say it is happy and healthy. 

How Do You Tell If A Turtle Is Stressed?

Although the signs of happy turtles are not universal for every turtle, the signs of a stressed or unhappy turtle are common among turtles. Here are some signs that show your turtle is unhappy: 

Limited Movement

Unhappy turtles do not move around much. They choose a comfortable hiding spot in the enclosure and spend most of their time there. Also, they might spend little time in the basking area and more time in the water. Or they might do the opposite. 

The reason behind such behaviour might be the temperature of the basking lights and water. Turtles often avoid basking areas when the temperature is too high for them. Similarly, they will not swim much if the water temperature is too low or high. 

Retracting in the Shell

Stressed or unhappy turtles often retreat to the shell whenever they feel threatened. A sick turtle may also do the same. Retracting in the shell is common for new turtles. They are shy reptiles and do not like too much human touch. So, new turtles may retreat when you touch them. 

But eventually, they should get comfortable and stop retreating to their shell too often. If your turtle still does that, clearly it is stressed or unhappy about something. 

Attempts to Escape

A turtle may not be able to adjust to the environment of the enclosure. You cannot expect a turtle to be happy if it does not like its habitat. It may try to escape. You may find your turtle on the edge of the tank trying to climb on the wall or fence. Outdoor turtles may even attempt digging under the fence to escape. 

Disinterest in Food

Unhappy turtles show little interest in food. When turtles are highly stressed, they barely touch the food. Again, this is normal for turtles in a new environment. They should start eating food after a few days. 

But a sick turtle may not eat food even if you offer its favourite food or snack. In that case, take your turtle to a vet for a health check-up. 

Showing Signs of Illness

Unhappy turtles are often sick. So, if you see a limited movement of your turtles, check for physical signs of illness. Check their eyes, mouth, nose, shell, or other parts of the body. Some signs of illness are:

  • Mucus from the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Swollen or shut eyes
  • Shell rot
  • Breathing problem
  • Open mouth breathing

Sick or stressed turtles often make noise. Turtles do not have vocal cords. They use their lungs and throats to produce sounds which are not normal for turtles. Hence, it is a sign of distress.

How Do You Know If Your Turtle Trusts You?

If you care about your turtle’s mental wellbeing, you surely want it to feel safe when you touch it. So, how do you know your turtle trusts you? Some turtles become interactive with their owners once they become familiar with them. They will come closer to the tank, pull their neck toward the owner, and may even splash in the water in excitement. 

If you want your turtle to trust you, you must handle it properly. When you hold it, touch it gently on the shell. Also, hold them while they are facing you. Do not hold them from the back because it can scare them. Stroke gently on their head or chin. You can stroke their shell. 

Also, you can sit down and put your turtle on your lap. Let it move around so that it can get familiar with you. Always feed your turtle at a specific time and sometimes give its favourite snacks. 

How Do You Make A Turtle Happy?

Many people choose turtles as pets because they require low maintenance. You do not have to go a long way to keep your turtles happy. You just have to make sure some conditions of the tanks are favourable for your turtle, and it will be perfectly fine. 

Here is what you need to do to keep your turtle healthy and happy:

Provide an Appropriate Habitat

The first condition of keeping your turtle happy is providing them with habitat with all the right conditions. In the wild, turtles enjoy swimming in the water, basking in the sunlight, and hunting for food. Turtles might be slow, but they do not spend their time sitting around in one spot. 

If you want your pet turtle to be happy and comfortable, design its enclosure carefully. There should be a water tank and a basking area for your pet turtle. The size of the tank, water temperature, basking light temperature and other factors can vary depending on the species of turtles. 

Therefore, you should conduct thorough research on your pet turtle’s natural habitat to build the enclosure. There should be ample space for the turtles to move around. The water level can be shallow or deep considering the turtle species. Then set the water and basking temperature according to your turtle’s preference. 

Keep the Turtle Tank Clean

Turtles are messy eaters, and they can poop a lot. As a result, the tank can get dirty quite fast. Then again, turtles do not like swimming in dirty water. Besides, dirty water can infect your turtle. It can lead to different diseases. 

So, to keep your turtle happy, clean the water regularly. For that, use a powerful filter. In case, the tank is large, and you have multiple turtles, use two filters.

Handle Turtle with Care

You probably cannot resist holding your cute little friend once in a while. Also, sometimes, you need to hold your turtle to inspect them for diseases or transfer them to another tank. Remember, turtles get stressed easily. So, you have to be gentle with them. 

Some turtles do not mind some affection from their owners. But never leave your turtle flipped on its back, and pull it by its head, tail, or other limbs. You do not want to irritate or stress your turtle. If you mishandle them, they can bite you. 

Feed Your Turtle Nutritious Food and Snacks

If you want a happy turtle, keep it healthy. Research the eating habit and diet of your turtle. Then plan a balanced diet plan for it. Pet turtles are mostly omnivores. So, the diet should have foods containing protein, calcium, vitamin D, and minerals. 

You can put live foods in the tank to keep your turtle active. Turtles enjoy chasing and hunting their food. Put some live fish in the water for your turtles to hunt. Most turtles like to chase insects. You can get some crickets, beetles, or worms for your turtle. 

Decorate The Enclosure with Plants, Rocks, Logs, and Toys

Decorate the environment of the enclosure similar to the natural habitat of your turtle. You can put some live plants and water plants in the tank. Also, keep various sizes of logs and rocks in both water and land area. Your turtle will feel more at home because of these accessories. 

Juvenile turtles like to interact with toys. A small ball or an empty shell can be an excellent toy for your turtle. You may find your pet pushing and bumping on the toy happily. 

How Do You Know If A Turtle Is Healthy?

A turtle needs to be healthy to stay active. Therefore, you have to take care of it and check on its health regularly. But how can you be sure that your turtle is healthy?

  • The eyes of your turtle are clear.
  • The mouth and nose of your turtle do not have any discharge.
  • Your turtle is quite active.
  • It visits the water and basking area for a healthy amount of time.
  • It shows interest in eating food.
  • The turtle has the ideal size and weight according to its age. 
  • The shell of your turtle looks nice and clean.  


As you can see, it is not much difficult to understand the mood of your pet turtle. A happy turtle will get eager for food when it sees you. It will splash in the water, swim around, and relax in the basking area. 

Turtles are not so demanding as other pets. So, you can easily keep them happy. Even though turtles are not too expressive, a happy turtle can still warm your heart with its cute gestures. 

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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