How To Take Care Of Box Turtles? [The Ultimate Guide]

how to take care of box turtles

Over the past few years, the box turtle has built a fixed platform as an ideal pet. People are showing more interest in box turtle, which is good news indeed. But we have to remember that adopting a box turtle is not enough, we have to take great care of it.

Well, taking care of a box turtle is not an easy task. It is not difficult either, but you have to be careful in each step. Taking care of box turtle includes its habitat, health, and environment.

Many new turtle keepers or sometimes experienced owners face difficulties in raising their box turtles. In this article, I am going to discuss everything about taking care of a box turtle.

4 Points To Be Taken Care Of

Box turtle care includes four main factors.

  1. Enclosure
  2. Environment
  3. Diet
  4. Health

If anyone can ensure these four fundamentals to a box turtle, it will live at its best. Maybe it sounds simple and insignificant, but trust me, it is not. To make sure that a box turtle is getting proper care, you have to provide it the best care you can afford.

Let’s talk about the enclosure first.

Enclosure

box turtle enclosure size

The enclosure is a significant point in taking care of a box turtle. Unlike other turtles or reptiles, box turtles prefer a certain kind of environment. Box turtles like to live in the damp areas or the low plant grass near a water source.

When you are taking a box turtle as a pet, you have to make sure that it is getting the exact same environment it likes. It may not be the same but you can make it close enough.

For the captive box turtles, we can build two types of enclosures or habitat.

  1. Indoor Habitat/ Enclosure
  2. Outdoor Habitat/ Enclosure

Indoor Enclosure

Are Box Turtles Good As Pets

The indoor enclosure is better for most of the box turtles. For making an indoor enclosure perfect for your box turtle, you have to follow some steps.

Size Of The Enclosure

While choosing an enclosure, you have to be careful about its size. A narrow or small enclosure can make the box turtle uncomfortable. 75 gallon or 40 gallon tanks are suitable for box turtles. In other terms, 36*12 inches enclosures are the best for a single box turtle.

Proper Housing

box turtle indoor enclosure

For an indoor habitat, it is really important to know what you are using as an enclosure. You can use a turtle table, plastic container, and a glass aquarium as an enclosure.

The turtle table is a rectangular wooden box. You can buy it from local shops or can make it by yourself. While buying or building a turtle table, you have to make sure that,

  • It is waterproof.
  • The wood is not cheap quality.

You can use a plastic container as an enclosure too. Plastic containers are cheap and can be replaced easily. You have to choose a strong and long plastic container for the box turtle.

Glass tanks or aquariums are considered as the best choice for the box turtle. You have to set up everything perfectly inside the glass tank. Box turtles do not understand the concept of the visible glass. So you have to cover the walls with paper or cardboard. 

You have to keep in mind that wire type cages are not suitable for the box turtles. It is better if you avoid them in case of a box turtle. Another thing is, you have to make any enclosure escape-proof for your box turtle. 

Turtles are generally playful and can try to escape taking it as an adventure. So you have to have made the enclosure escape-proof. For making the enclosure escape-proof, you can

  • Cover the enclosure. Mesh screening or hardware can work as a cover.
  • Avoid putting accessories at the side of the enclosure. It helps the box turtle to climb out.

Habitat Set Up

Only a large enclosure is not enough for a box turtle. To make the box turtle comfortable, you have to set up the enclosure.

  1. Substrate
  2. Heat Lamp
  3. Heat Rock
  4. Under cage Heater
  5. UV Source
  6. Accessories

Substrate

box turtle substrate

The substrate is the most significant thing for the habitat. It makes the enclosure suitable for the box turtle. Box turtles prefer living in damp areas with low light and high humidity levels. So while choosing or making the substrate, we have to keep some points in mind.

  • The substrate must be light obscured.
  • The substrate can carry a high humid level
  • It is loose or moist

You can add some extra things to the substrate.

  • Sphagnum moss
  • Cypress mulch
  • Regular soil
  • Wood chips
  • Leaf litter 

If the substrate contains,

  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Chemicals

You should not buy that substrate. It can be harmful to the box turtle’s health.

Heat Lamp

Unlike humans and other reptiles, the box turtle can not regulate its body temperature. That is why it needs an external source to provide heat. While buying a heat lamp, make sure it can regulate the temperature.

One more thing, the whole enclosure does not need an external heat source. Only the basking area or half of the enclosure needs heat. So set up the heat lamp according to the design.

Heat Rock

Heat rock is another source of heat for the box turtle. It is generally buried under the substrate. It provides heat to the bellies of the box turtle.

Under Cage Heater

Under cage heater is not a necessary element, but you can use it in severe cold. It gives heat from the bottom of the tank and keeps the whole environment warm.

UV Source

Box turtles need UV lights to survive. Direct UV rays are more beneficial than artificial ones. UV lights help the box turtle to decompose the minerals of food. So you should buy a high-class UV source for the box turtle.

Accessories

box turtle enclosure accessories

Accessories make the enclosure more attractive for the box turtles. A hiding place, rocks, or plants work as beautiful accessories.

Box turtles often get stressed out or anxiety. At that time, they need some space and alone time. So a hiding spot can a great help for them.

Rocks and plants make the enclosure more playful for the box turtle. A report says that a playful box turtle tends to be happier and live a healthy life.

While building an indoor enclosure, you should not forget about the pool. Box turtles do not spend much time in the water, but sometimes they soak their bodies in the pool.

Tips For Indoor Habitat

There are some do’s and do not’s for building an indoor habitat.

  • Always choose a spacious enclosure for your box turtle. Narrow space makes it difficult for the box turtles to move and make them anxious.
  • Try to avoid a clear glass tank. Box turtles think it is a visible wall, and try to go through it. They can harm themselves from doing so. 
  • A wire cage is a big no. It may be suitable for other reptiles, but not for box turtles. Box turtles are small and they can get hurt by the sharp edge of the wire.
  • For substrate or bedding, use high-quality soil. Aquarium soil or sand is not suitable for this enclosure because it can hold much water.
  • Make sure the soil does not contain pearlite, fertilizer, or any other chemicals.
  • Many heating lamps get really hot and make the environment intense. Avoid those lamps.
  • If you use heating rocks, make sure it is not open to the surface. Direct heat from the heating rocks can harm the turtles’ health.
  • Under cage heaters should not be used on plastic containers.
  • Hollow logs or pots can be used as a hiding space.
  • While choosing rocks for the enclosure, use flat and thick rocks. 

Always remember that a good enclosure is the precondition of your box turtle’s good health. If the enclosure is not proper, your box turtle may not feel comfortable there. It will affect its health. 

Outdoor Enclosure

box turtle outdoor enclosure

I have mentioned earlier that box turtles can be raised in an outdoor habitat too. If you are looking forward to making an outdoor habitat, you can follow the instructions given below.

Environment

Your geographical position will affect the outdoor enclosure of your box turtle. Look at the weather and places around you before building an outdoor habitat. Native box turtles are the perfect dwellers for an outdoor habitat.

Size Of The Enclosure

When it comes to the size of an outdoor habitat, the bigger the better. The bigger enclosure will require more care and maintenance. Your yard’s size and capacity is also a matter in this case.

Choosing Area

Box turtles need both sunlight and shed. Direct sunlight is better than any heat lamp. By considering this condition, you should choose a semi-shaded area for your box turtle. For choosing an area,

  • If you are planning to build the enclosure with your home, choose south or north-facing walls.
  • After picking up a spot, observe a whole day to see how much shade and sunlight the area cover.

Materials

For building an outdoor enclosure, you would need some materials. 

  • Different size timber
  • Nails 
  • Hammer
  • Measuring Tape
  • Shovel
  • Tape
  • Wire Mesh

Now follow the steps given below,

  • Clear the area first. Now measure and mark the area where you will make the enclosure.
  • You have to dig a trench. Make sure the trench is a minimum one foot deep.
  • First, build the layout and then build the main infrastructure.
  • Use wire mesh to cover the enclosure.
  • Plant some small grass and plants inside the enclosure.
  • Add rocks and hollow logs.
  • Dig a small pool inside the habitat. Make the pool linear with the surface and put some logs in the pool.

Your outdoor enclosure is ready. Outdoor habitat is better than indoor habitats in many cases. It is more natural and the box turtle feels closer to the environment. 

Tips For Outdoor Habitat

  • For raising multiple box turtles, outdoor habitat is best.
  • Make sure that no predators can attack your box turtle. 
  • Fill the pool with fresh water.
  • Logs around the pool are important as the box turtles use it as a basking area.

I have said earlier that a good environment and habitat are notable for the box turtle. The outdoor enclosure has both its drawbacks and benefits. Before choosing between the two enclosures, you must go over the benefits and drawbacks.

Environment

The environment plays a vital role in a box turtle’s health. By environment, I am indicating light, humidity, and the temperature of its surroundings. Obviously, there are some other factors too.

Temperature and humidity for box turtle:

Species Day Time Temperature Basking Spot Night Time Temperature Humidity
Eastern Box Turtle 70-75°F (21-24°C) 85-88°F (29-31°C) 65-70°F (18-21°C) Around 60%
Ornate Box Turtle 70-90°F (21-32°C) 85-88°F (29-32°C) 65-75°F (18-24°C) Around 40%
Three Toed Box Turtle 70-75°F (21-24°C) 85-88°F (29-31°C) 65-70°F (18-21°C) Around 60%
Florida Box Turtle 70-90°F (21-32°C) 85-88°F (29-32°C) 65-75°F (18-24°C) Around 40%

Humidity could be higher for hatchlings.

While you are setting up the lamp for your box turtle, make sure it covers half the area of the enclosure. A box turtle needs heating for a maximum of 12 to 14 hours a day.

Why do box turtles need proper temperature?

  • Indoor box turtles do not get much heat or sunlight. If you are keeping your box turtle in low temperatures, it will slow down its work and normal activities.
  • The box turtle will get more disease than usual.
  • The box turtle will get weaker and lose appetite.

Why do box turtles need humidity?

Box turtles tend to live in damp areas. Dry surroundings can harm to the box turtle. So you have to maintain a constant humidity level in the enclosure. Spraying water from time to time will keep the bedding moist and suitable for the box turtle.

UVA Or UVB Lamp

Sunlight is a great source for UVB and UVA rays for the box turtle. Indoor box turtles do not get much of the sunlight. UVA and UVB lamps can fulfill the need.

You must position the UVB lamp and the heat source on the same side. UVB rays help the box turtle to stay healthy.

You can not check the temperature and humidity level without any kit. So a multitasking checker can help you in this purpose.

Diet

box turtle diet

Taking care of a box turtle includes a proper diet. Many people think a box turtle can eat anything. It is true but not in all cases.

Box turtles are carnivorous but not baby box turtles. Baby box turtles prefer meat than fruits or vegetables.

You have to make a diet chart for your box turtle according to its age and species. Many box turtles have a certain choice when it comes to food. In that case, you have to observe, which food your box turtle prefers.

Your box turtle can everything that does not mean you will give it a certain kind of food. Excessive minerals can cause disease to the box turtle. In the same way, a lack of one vitamin or mineral can harm its health.

List Of Fruits And Vegetables For Box Turtle

  • Dark green leaf
  • Collard greens, mustard greens
  • Green Cabbage
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Green beans
  • Papaya
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Butternut squash
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelons

A wide variety of vegetables and fruits can be offered to your box turtles. But make sure it is pesticide and chemical-free. Box turtles are sensitive. Consuming many pesticides can have an adverse effect on their health.

List of insects a box turtle can eat

Fresh and natural prey items are best for the box turtles.

  • Crickets
  • Earthworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Mealworms
  • Waxworms
  • Super worms
  • Red worms
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Minnows,
  • Small chunks of cooked meats such as chicken and beef heart
  • Low-fat dog food

Do not provide raw meat to the box turtle. Raw meats contain bacteria, which can cause disease.

You can also feed commercial foods to the box turtle. But I always suggest natural foods to the box turtle.

Moreover, a box turtle does not always get proper minerals and vitamins from the food. In that case, you can give vitamin and mineral supplements to it.

Health

Box turtles are sensitive and can get sick easily. It can get attacked by bacteria and other diseases. But I will talk about the common diseases by which a box turtle suffer.

  • Scratches
  • Fly on skin
  • Irregular shell growth
  • Shell rot
  • Overgrown nails
  • Respiratory illness
  • Swollen eyes
  • Mouth rot
  • Lumps
  • Organ disease
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Box Turtle Disease And Cure

Disease Cause Cure
Scratch Accident or attack Clean the cut with diluted chlorhexidine or a weak, diluted betadine solution. Other antibiotics can work too.
Fly on skin Open skin or severe wounds Clean the area with disinfectant and apply antibiotic ointment
Irregular shell growth Metabolic bone disease Proper diet and sunlight
Shell rot Fungus or bacteria Keep the box turtle clean and put an antibiotic on the rot.
Overgrown nails Lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies Provide a proper diet, and make the enclosure more playful.
Respiratory illness Lack of vitamin and minerals Antibiotics can help.
Swollen Eyes Vitamin A Provide the box turtle proper diet, and soak its eyes with antibiotics.
Shut Eyes Dry environment Keep the substrate moist and maintain the humidity level suitable for the box turtle.
Mouth rot Fungus or bacteria Antibiotics will work.
Lump Bacterial infection The box turtle will need antibiotic shots.
Organ disease High protein You can do nothing to cure this disease.
Vitamin A deficiency Lack of Vitamin A You have to provide a proper diet to the box turtle.
Sunken eyes Dehydration Provide fresh water.
Overgrown beaks Metabolic bone disease Provide calcium to the box turtle.

Prevention of disease

It is obvious that you can not prevent all the diseases, but you can reduce the harm by staying alert. 

  • The environment or surround of the box turtle should be clean.
  • You have to provide fresh water to the box turtle.
  • The diet should be properly balanced. Calcium and Vitamin A are two important factors for the box turtle. Make sure each diet contains sufficient minerals.
  • Isolate the sick box turtle and take special care of it.
  • Ensure that the temperature and humidity are suitable for the box turtle.

When you need to apply medicine or antibiotics to the box turtle, make sure that it is dried on the skin. Prevent the box turtle from going to the water right after applying the medicine. 

Regular checkups can help you a lot to keep your pet healthy. Moreover, we know that many diseases can be cured by homemade remedies. But I will suggest you consult with a vet or an expert.

Care During Hibernation

Hibernation is a seasonal process for the box turtle. We know that box turtles can not regulate their body temperature. So during the cold, it becomes difficult for them to survive. They maintain their temperature through hibernation.

Hibernation is a special condition and needs special care. Captive box turtles can also go through the process. Carelessness during hibernation can cause grave damage to the box turtle.

  • Prepare a place for hibernation and put your box turtle in the area. Do not force the box turtle to hibernate.
  • You should not hibernate sick or unfit box turtles.
  • Box turtles do not eat while hibernating. So if you are planning to put your box turtle in hibernation, you have to feed it well before hibernation.
  • While hibernating, you have to maintain a constant temperature of the hibernating area.
  • Box turtles need water to drink once a while during this process. You have to provide fresh water for it.
  • When the box turtle will come back from hibernation, take it to the vet for checkups.

Conclusion

Box turtles are great as a pet. If you are thinking raising it would be difficult, well, it is not. If you provide a proper environment and diet, it will be healthy and cheerful.

Taking care of it is not hard. I have been raising a box turtle for years and to be honest, I haven’t faced any major problem. In this article, I tried to include everything you need to know. I hope you find it helpful.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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