How To Take Care Of Eastern Box Turtle? [Fool-proof Guide]

How To Take Care Of Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern box turtles are so attractive that you can hardly resist the urge to keep one as a pet. But let me warn you first hand, the species is not suitable for beginners. Care for the Eastern box turtles can be challenging yet interesting for the expert turtle keepers.

How to take care of an Eastern box turtle? Well, here is what to ensure,

  • A minimum of 20-gallon tank for the Eastern box turtle hatchling
  • Suitable tank temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Enough depth of land for burrowing and hiding spots
  • A meal of 60% protein and 40% plant matter, sprinkled with supplements, etc.

The care sheet for an Eastern box turtle does not end here. There are many more details you should know and take care of. In the following article, I will discuss the complete care guide of an Eastern box turtle.

How To Take Care Of Eastern Box Turtle?

Congratulations if you have got a beautiful Eastern box turtle. However, buying the turtle does not end your responsibilities, but the opposite. I have already mentioned that taking care of an Eastern box turtle is challenging and not for the newbies.

So, how can you ensure the quality care of your Eastern box turtle? Simple! The care sheet of an Eastern box turtle revolves around 4 basic things. Such as,

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

Of course, you have to consider many other details, like the temperament and behavior of the turtle, community habitat, and so on. I will get to the additional information after covering up the primary concerns for raising an Eastern box turtle.

Enclosure

An adult Eastern box turtle gets around 4 to 6 inches big. Experts recommend putting the turtle in an outdoor shelter while keeping the species size, behavior, and requirements in consideration.

If you have space in your yard and can afford to maintain it, you should definitely go for the outdoor habitat. Living in an area with a similar climate to the turtle’s native home will give you an advantage while mimicking the outdoor pen. However, a properly occupied indoor enclosure will also work for the Eastern box turtles.

Outdoor Enclosure:

I have already mentioned that an Eastern box turtle gains a carapace length of about 4 to 6 inches. So, providing the pet with a small habitat will bring no good.

For building an outdoor pen, you will need a space of a minimum of 4 square feet. The fencing around the place should be around 18 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches deep.

The fence or wall around the turtle’s enclosure can be of many types. People generally use bricks, cylinder blocks, chicken mesh wires to enclose the area.

Give priorities to provide deep fencing for additional strength. Why? Because the Eastern box turtles may try to escape the habitat by jumping out.

Like the fellow subspecies, Eastern box turtles love burrowing. If the habitat walls are not well-built and deep, the pets will burrow out of the pen. To prevent this type of act, bury some bricks underneath the fence.

To get the perfect type of fencing, first, dig a trench around the selected perimeter. Fill the narrow space with a single layer of brick. Now cover the lining with dirt and build the fence above it.

In an outdoor habitat, the risk of predatory attack and escape is high. To eliminate any danger, you have to cover the upper portion of the pen with a chicken mesh wire.

However, building a fence or marking the space is the secondary concern in an outdoor habitat. Your primary focus should be on selecting the enclosure area. Experts suggest providing a land where the Eastern box turtle will get both the sunny and shady vibe.

The ideal area is the one that receives both the morning and afternoon sun. The Eastern box turtles stay most active during those two times. In simple terms, the outdoor habitat of the species should replicate a mini wild nature.

Indoor Enclosure:

If you can not manage an outdoor space, do not worry. You can still raise an Eastern box turtle inside your home.

First, select a quiet, well-ventilated room where you will keep the tank. Usually, an adult Eastern box turtle requires a minimum of a 75-gallon glass aquarium. A single hatchling or juvenile can adjust in a 20-gallon tank.

You can also choose a robust plastic container as an indoor pen for the Eastern box turtle. In that case, the habitat should be 36 by 12 inches in length and width. The walls of the container must be 18 inches high. Otherwise, your pet will escape the home.

In any home for the Eastern box turtle, do not forget to provide a cover. And, of course, the bigger the habitat, the better it is for the pet.

Heat

Eastern box turtles are exothermic or cold-blooded species. They require heat to continue their daily activities. Without a warm temperature, these turtles slow down their metabolism.

What is the suitable temperature for an Eastern box turtle? Take a look at the chart given below:

Basking TemperatureAir Temperature
85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit

Use a digital thermometer to monitor the enclosure temperature 24/7. A 40 to 60-watt incandescent bulb radiates enough heat for the Eastern box turtle. You need to place the lamp maintaining a considerable height from the tank.

To maintain a suitable temperature, you need to install a heating lamp at one end of the turtle’s enclosure. Make sure the light covers only the half area, not the whole. Eastern box turtles love soaking heat under the lamp.

The night temperature of the pen should not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Why should you maintain the temperature fall? It is because a chilly environment helps the Eastern box turtles sleep peacefully at night.

During the cold season, many owners install a cage heater in the Eastern box turtle’s habitat. The heater is set up under the substrate and radiates heat. Devices like this are not suitable for plastic pens or low-quality glass aquariums.

In an outdoor enclosure, the sun works as a natural heating lamp. So, you do not have to buy an additional light for the pet. However, if the weather does not meet the desired temperature requirements, move your Eastern box turtle to an indoor habitat.

Light

Besides the heating lamp, Eastern box turtles also require UV light for healthy growth. UV lamps are also known as basking light.

I have met owners who think UV lights are insignificant for the Eastern box turtles. They can not be more wrong about it. Here is what a UV lamp does for your pet turtle,

  1. You know, for healthy shells and bones, Eastern box turtles need vitamin D3. Even with a balanced diet, the turtle does not get enough of this vitamin. The UVB rays produced from the UV lamp help the pet produce vitamin D3 in its body. Also, this is the best way for the Eastern box turtle to absorb the required calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D3 and calcium, the turtle will suffer from MBD or metabolic bone diseases,
  2. UVB exposure boosts the Eastern box turtle’s metabolism and helps it digest food.
  3. UVB rays also play a significant role in the Eastern box turtle’s mental health. The pet stays active and in a cheerful mood.

Researchers have proven that without enough UV rays, a baby turtle will die within a year. Hence, it goes without saying that UV lamps are a must for an Eastern box turtle enclosure.

Various brands and power UV bulbs are available in the market. People often set up full-spectrum or sun-spectrum lamps in the turtle enclosure. But those lights contain a fractional amount of UVA and UVB rays.

While selecting, go for a 2.5% or 5% UV bulb. Installing these lights respectively 12 inches and 18 inches away from the basking spot will work the best. 10% UV lamps are also in the market, but those are not suitable for the Eastern box turtle.

A UV bulb will not serve you forever. The best quality lights run for 6 months, and after that, you need to replace them with a new one.

You know the sun is the natural source of UV rays. So, if your turtle is growing up in an outdoor habitat, there is no need for artificial UV light.

Get all the hacks and tips for buying a basking light from this article.

Humidity

In the wild, the Eastern box turtle lives around a moist and humid grassy area. If you want to mimic the perfect natural environment, you have to manipulate the humidity inside the turtle’s pen.

The ideal humidity level for an Eastern box turtle is around 70% to 80%. A shallow pool inside the habitat or a moist potting soil-packed long paludarium can help you with the humidity. For tracking the moist level, install a hygrometer gauge.

Substrate

Haven’t I mentioned above that Eastern box turtles love burrowing? They do this activity to regulate their body temperature, hide, or release their mental stress.

Placing the burrowing substrate is similarly important in an indoor and outdoor habitat. You can provide a burrowing place for the pets by layering up the bottom of the tank with a suitable substrate.

Things to use as a substrate:

  • Mulch
  • Pelleted substrate
  • Moss type substrate
  • Wood chips
  • Dry leaves

Things not to use as a substrate:

  • Any gritty substrate
  • Potting soil
  • Newspaper
  • Sand
  • Gravel

In short, you need to select a substrate, which is safe for pets, retains moisture, and increases the humidity of the pen. Also, the substrate layer should be at least 2 inches deep and in a shady area. Avoid putting anything toxic because your Eastern box turtle may end up eating the substrate.

You can design a particular place for burrowing if you have a large habitat. Just make sure to cover the shady area with the substrate.

Water

Owners often get confused over whether an Eastern box turtle can swim or not. Well, the box turtles can manage to swim, but they do not excel at it. There is a reason why they are land dwellers.

Do you need a water source in the Eastern box turtle pen if it can not swim? The answer is yes, you do. Eastern box turtles are not a big fan of swimming. Still, they need water for drinking and soaking.

You need to ensure that the water you are using is clean, filtered, and hygienic. A water pH of 6.0 to 7.0 should be maintained. Never use tap water because it may contain chlorine or ammonia, which irritates the Eastern box turtle’s eyes. Reduction of the contamination level is possible with a water conditioner and neutralizer.

A shallow large saucer, dish, or bowl with 2 to 3 inches depth will be a good water source for the indoor Eastern box turtles. In an outdoor turtle, you can use the same resources or build a low-depth liner pool.

I have seen people using the backyard or small pond for this purpose. The idea will work if the water area is not too deep for the pets.

One more thing. The water area or dish should not be in direct contact with the sun or heat.

Shade

Eastern box turtles can not stay in the heat for so long. They need a place to cool off the heat. And that is why the ideal enclosure of an Eastern box turtle must include a shady area.

For an outdoor pen, you can create shade by planting small trees over one-half of the land. The plants will ensure protection against the sun’s heat. In an indoor habitat, position the heat lamp at such a height that it covers only half of the tank.

The temperature in the shaded area should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The gradient of temperature in the enclosure will help the pet find a comfortable place to rest.

Decoration

Added decoration in the Eastern box turtle’s pen has two bright sides,

  1. The pet can pass its time in doing activities. Even in the captive situation, the turtle feels less stressed and happy.
  2. The plants and decorations give an aesthetic look to the pen.

Add small, sturdy plants to mimic the native wild environment for the turtle. Hiding places are a must for the Eastern box turtles. The species is very secretive by nature. Hollow logs are great options to shield themselves from the world.

Place flat rocks under the heating light. The turtle will sit there and bask. Avoid the high rocks as there is a risk for the turtle to fall from the height.

Do not doubt whether an Eastern box turtle can climb the rock or not. Most turtles are excellent climbers, and you should not take any risk with it.

Diet

Eastern box turtles are omnivores, which means these turtles eat both animal and plant matter. The ideal diet ratio is 60% animal protein and 40% plant matter. An occasional fruit treat enhances their taste for food.

Here is a chart that includes all the safe food options for an Eastern box turtle:

VegetablesGreen Leafy VegetablesFruitsAnimal ProteinSupplements
Squash

Potato

Acron

Butternut

Carrot

Zucchini

Broccoli

Okra

Green beans

Cauliflower

Cucumber

Chinese and green cabbage

Cactus pad

Tomato

Corn Beets
Endive

Kale

Spinach

Escarole

Dandelion leaves

Mustard green

Collard greens

Romaine lettuce

Plantain weed

Clover

Turnip

Water hyacinth

Parsley

Beet top 
Apricot

Banana

Apple

Strawberry

Blueberry

Raspberry

Blackberry

Cranberry

Grape

Fig

Peach

Melon

Cherries

Papaya

Pulm

Pear
Slug Snail

Cricket

Grasshopper
Beetle

Earthworm
Mealworm

Hornworm Waxworm

Red worm
Super worm

Night crawlers

Caterpillar
Roches

Phoenix worm

Minnows
Moist, high quality, low-fat dog food

A small chunk of cooked meat
There is always a risk that your captive turtle may lack vitamin D3, calcium, and other minerals. That is why many owners choose to add supplements to the meal.  

Vitamin D3  add-on and calcium supplements that do not contain vitamin D or phosphorus are recommended.

If you want to add a multi-vitamin, ask your vet for permission. Sprinkle the supplement on the meal twice or thrice a week.

These supplements contribute to developing healthy and strong bones and shells for the Eastern box turtles.

People often offer pellets to the Eastern box turtles. It will be wise if you mix it with vegetables. Also, box turtles might ignore eating dry pellets. A little water will make the items moist for the pets.

After knowing what you have to feed your Eastern box turtle, the next thing you should do is to prepare the meal schedule.

As a hatchling requires more food and nutrition to grow up, you have to feed it every day. When the pet starts growing, it loses its appetite for food. So, feed your young Eastern box turtle every other day and the adult one once every three days.

To measure the quantity of food, follow the head method or the 15-minute rule. The second one is quite popular and widely accepted. As per the rule, you need to provide enough food in the enclosure and let the Eastern box turtle eat for 15 minutes. Remove the items after that period, and your turtle will be fully content.

The head method involves the power of your imagination. Take a bowl about the size of your pet Eastern box turtle if it were empty. Fill it with food and feed your turtle.

Catch the ultimate food guide for box turtles by clicking here.

Common Health Problems Of Eastern Box Turtles

An Eastern box turtle has a life expectancy of 100 years in captivity. The pet will only live to its fullest if it gets proper housing, food, and medical care.

You know Eastern box turtles are survivors, but they are vulnerable to diseases. Your pet may suffer from various health problems under your observation.

The environment, diet chart, or your ignorance can be the reason behind your turtle’s illness. Hence, it is better to have minimum knowledge about the common health problems of your Eastern box turtle.

Here are the most common diseases of Eastern box turtles,

1. Hypovitaminosis:

The condition occurs due to the lack of vitamin A. Swollen eyelids, loss of appetite, weight loss, infection, runny nose, etc., are the symptoms of this disease. Vitamin A shot, antibiotics, and food enriched in vitamin A can cure Hypovitaminosis in Eastern box turtles.

2. Respiratory Illness:

If the lungs of your Eastern box turtle get attacked by bacteria, the pet develops a respiratory infection. Vitamin A deficiency, lack of nutrition, or a cold environment can also cause the disease. Lethargy, inactivity, breathing difficulty, fear of water, puffy eyes, runny nose, weight loss, sneezing, etc., are the symptoms of respiratory illness.

The disease does health damage to the Eastern box turtle for a lifetime. However, keeping the pet in a warm place, maintaining a balanced diet, and medicine can better the condition.

3. Shell Rot:

When the shell of an Eastern box turtle gets infected with bacteria or fungus, the scutes start to rot. Bacteria or fungus enter the shell through a scratch, crack, or any other injury. Exposing tissues, scute plate falling off, smelly discharge from the wound are the signs of shell problems.

Keeping the turtle in a separate warm enclosure and soaking its shell with prescribed solutions can heal the rot. In severe conditions, you should take the pet to an expert.

4. Metabolic Bone Disease:

The turtle’s shell and bone deforms due to this condition. Lack of UV rays, vitamin D3 and calcium, are responsible for MBD (Metabolic bone disease). A balanced diet and high-quality UV light can reverse the condition of an Eastern box turtle.

5. Parasitic Attack:

Internal parasites like Protozoa, tapeworms can enter into the Eastern box turtle’s body and make it sick. Abnormal poop, loss of appetite, and vomiting are the indication that your turtle is culturing parasites in the gastrointestinal tract.

A dirty environment is the main reason why this condition occurs to the Eastern box turtles. Medicine or shots can cure the pet.

Get 38 Eastern box turtle diseases and treatments from this article.

Generally, an Eastern box turtle drops several signs when it is sick. Refusing to eat food, staying inactive, and an upset stomach are the most common symptoms. I recommend you keep your pet under regular medical check-ups to ensure a healthy life.

Eastern Box Turtle Hibernation Care

During the winter, an Eastern box turtle hibernates for 3 to 4 months a year. The period depends on the region. Hibernation in captivity is challenging because you may fail to provide the turtle with a perfect spot and environment. Experts suggest using a hibernation box if you lack outdoor space.

The important part of hibernation is to prepare your Eastern box turtle for the process. The whole thing can be stressful for a captive pet. As a part of the preparation, you need to control the turtle’s diet and do a regular medical checkup of the pet. And, of course, follow the guidelines of your vet.

Here are the complete guidelines of what to do and what not to do with your Eastern box turtle during winter.

Eastern Box Turtle Nesting Care

A gravid Eastern box turtle will look for a perfect spot to lay her eggs. A commercial or home-built nest box comes in handy in this situation. It is easy to attach the nesting box with the existing Eastern box turtle enclosure.

The turtle will dig the moist soil, lay her eggs, cover the hole with dirt, and leave the place. You need to dig out the eggs, clean them, and put them in the incubator. After 70 to 120 days, the hatchlings will come out of the shell.

Remember, the hatchlings are exposed to more diseases. Hence, you have to assure the babies of a safe and healthy environment. Follow this article to get the care sheet of Eastern box turtle eggs and hatchlings.

If you are confused about the nesting of the Eastern box turtles, feel free to take a quick look here.

Eastern Box Turtle Community Habitat

If you want to house two Eastern box turtles in a single enclosure, you need more space. Adding 40 to 60 gallons for each addition will work.

Generally, the Eastern box turtles get along with their fellow mates. Though the babies and the females do not complain in a community habitat, two males can get involved in fights. A turtle battle is the last thing you want in your house.

Two female and one male Eastern box turtles can live peacefully. However, sometimes the male turtle forces the female ones to mate. It can stress the female pet.

When you are raising multiple Eastern box turtles in the same pen, pay extra attention to food and territory.

Tips For Keeping Your Eastern Box Turtle Healthy

If you have read this far, you already know how to keep your Eastern box turtle healthy and happy. I am adding a few more tips that might help you maintain the hygiene in the turtle pen,

  • Eastern box turtles prefer living in a humid environment. To maintain 70% humidity, you can spray water in the enclosure 2 to 3 times a day.
  • The turtles feel comfortable when the enclosure is clean and tidy. Remove wastes from the habitat and refill the water bowl every day. A clean pen decrases the risk of falling sick.
  • Even though you maintain partial daily cleaning, a thorough cleaning is necessary at least once a month. Remove all the supplies and elements from the tank. Clean it with water and disinfectant. Then redecorate your Eastern box turtle’s den.

Behavior And Temperament Of An Eastern Box Turtle

Many owners do not understand that knowing the behavior of the turtle is actually a part of the care. The Eastern box turtles prefer living a solitary life. But some pets develop social personalities over time.

You should leave your turtle alone and do not disturb it much. Frequent touching can stress the turtle. Also, a chaotic environment can make the pet panicked and anxious.

However, you should maintain regular interaction with your pet turtle. Touch it gently and handle it with care. Usually, the box turtles get comfortable with the presence of their owner and recognize his appearance.

How To Choose An Eastern Box Turtle

If you already have an Eastern box turtle, then this part is not for you. But if you are yet to make a purchase, then here are a few tips,

  • Buy captive-bred Eastern box turtles. Many states have enforced laws against petting wild-caught Eastern box turtles.
  • Avoid black markets or illegal pet stores. Always shop from the authorized pet stores.
  • Generally, an Eastern box turtle costs somewhere between $50 to $300. Do not overpay the shop. Check the rates of different box turtle species from here.
  • Check the health and gender of the turtle while buying it. Discharge from eyes, noses, swollen eyes, underweight are the signs that the pet is sick. Active turtles will make wonderful pets.

Conclusion

The Eastern box turtles are interesting species and make excellent pets. But as I have mentioned, the species is difficult to handle for beginners. The above care sheet has all the details you need to raise your pet without hassle. In any emergency, consult a vet as soon as possible.

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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