How To Take Care Of Painted Turtles In Winter?

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

Sharing is caring!

Do you know painted turtles are less cold tolerant than most other species? A small drop in the overall temperature can affect these turtle’s body metabolism significantly. In the wild, the turtles are left at the mercy of nature.

However, in a captive situation, the owner can make the pet painted turtles’ life easier in the cold season. That is why each turtle owner should learn about the proper winter care for his own species.

You can ensure a painted turtle’s winter care in 2 different ways. Such as:

  1. Let the painted turtle hibernate to cope with the severe cold.
  2. Ensure a suitable temperature and environment inside the habitat so that the pet does not need to change its lifestyle during winter.

If you are looking for a painted turtle’s winter care, this article is what you need. Here, I will illustrate how you can take care of your pet in the winter, and what changes you need to make.

So, stay with me until the end.

Painted Turtle Care Sheet

aquatic turtle care sheet

For a printable version of this amazing care sheet, click here.

Painted Turtle Winter Care

During the winter, you can either make your painted turtle hibernate or ensure suitable habitat for it. For hibernation, you have to prepare your pet for months. On the other hand, for a perfect winter enclosure, you need to set up a quality tank heater and bulb. Let’s talk about both the ways one by one.

How To Take Care Of Eastern Painted Turtle

Setting Up Painted Turtle Indoor Habitat For Winter

If you are raising your painted turtle in an indoor habitat, do some moderations in the enclosure before winter arrives. You need to bring changes in 3 important setups. Such as:

  1. Water heater
  2. Heating bulb
  3. UV bulb

Water Heater

Painted turtles are cold-blooded or ectothermic specific. In simple words, their body temperature totally depends on the environment they are in. For example, if the water is 10 degrees celsius, so will the body temperature of the painted turtle.

If you do not want your pet turtle to hibernate in the cold, make sure the water temperature is suitable. The best way to maintain the water temperature during winter is to use a tank heater. I know most of you use one in the pet’s habitat. But trust me, many turtle owners prefer other techniques to heat the water instead of using a tank heater.

Most alternatives are dangerous, and I personally do not recommend those. I suggest you buy a quality tank heater even if it costs a little extra money. The heater keeps the water warm and suitable for the painted turtles. Hence, the pets can not feel the difference in the temperature. And so, their lifestyles remain the same in the winter.

There are many variations of tank heaters available in the market. The cheap ones can not heat the water efficiently, and you may face some major problems. For example, sometimes, the heater can stop working, and the overall water temperature may drop. As a result, the pet painted turtle will start slowing down its body metabolism.

Again, some water heaters raise the temperature so high that it becomes unbearable for the pets. So they come out of the water land and stay on the dock. These situations can harm pets’ health. So, what is the solution?

Well, you can use an automatic tank heater. The machine can track the water temperature and provide a suitable amount of heat. Even though the heaters can be a bit expensive, they are totally worth the health of your painted turtles in the winter.

Many people prefer setting up multiple tank heaters in a single enclosure. This setup works as a backup. If, by chance, one of the heaters stops working or breaks down, there is always another one to warm up the water.

You have to be really careful while choosing the tank heater. Generally, for a 75 gallon tank, you will need a 300 watts heater. But if the cold is severe in your region, you can increase the power. Again, if the temperature does not drop much in your area, set up a less powerful heater.

Keep the tank heater on for 24/7 during the cold days. In case you do not know much about turtle tank heaters, check out this article. You will get to know the types and how to choose the best one for your painted turtle’s enclosure.

Another thing you must install with your tank water heater is a thermometer. With a bare eye, you can not measure the tank temperature. So, installing a digital or analog thermometer will indicate if the tank temperature is okay for the painted turtles or not.

Diet Of A Painted Turtle In Captivity

Heating Bulb

The heating lamp provides heat to the basking dock, and this is also known as basking light. This type of heating source is very important for the painted turtles, especially during the cold season.

Painted turtles are semi-aquatic species, which means both the land area and water area are important for them. If you only set up a tank heater and leave the dock cold, this will make the pet sick. How?

Well, painted turtles love spending time underwater. But from time to time, they come to the surface to soak their bodies in the heat. If the baking light fails to provide the warmth, they will stay in the water for a long time. Hence, your pet turtles will suffer from shell and cold problems.

You already know that painted turtles are ectothermic. The air temperature of the tank will affect its overall metabolism in the winter. So, you should set up a heating bulb for the betterment of your pet turtle.

During the spring or summertime, owners keep the light on for 8 to 12 hours. But when it is winter, keep the heating bulb on 24/7. But keeping the lights on at night can mess up the turtle’s sleep cycle, right? So, what to do?

Many types of lights only emit heat. You can use them. For example, the red lights are visually undetectable but can provide a considerable amount of heat. Mercury or halogen bulbs are quite popular as a heating source in the turtle tank.

One more thing, some people use regular LED bulbs to provide heat. I highly discourage doing that. Those bulbs can harm your pet painted turtles.

Check this article to learn which one is the best heating lamp available in the market right now.

UV Bulb

The UV bulb is one of the most essential supplies for a painted turtle’s enclosure. The rays emitted from the bulb keep the turtle happy and healthy. Many turtle owners depend on the sunlight for UV exposure. But in the winter, you must have to switch to a high-quality UV light.

Are you wondering why I am emphasizing using UV lights, especially in winter? Well, I have the explanations for this.

Painted Turtle Lifespan

UV lights emit both UVA and UVB rays. UVA exposures are important for the turtle’s mental health. You know that the pets become sluggish and inactive during the cold. Without the rays, they can become really unhappy, and in worst cases, pets can suffer from mental illness.

Again, the UVB rays are not less important than any other elements in the painted turtle’s life, especially in an indoor habitat. You may know that turtles can not absorb the minerals and vitamins directly from the foods. They need external sources to produce vitamin D3 and calcium in their bodies. UVB exposures help the turtles in this sector.

In the wild, the painted turtles depend on the UV rays emitted from the sun. But during the cold, in an indoor habitat, you really do not have any options except setting up a UV lamp. Without UVB rays, the turtles can suffer from bone diseases and die.

Painted turtles are not a fan of the cold season. However, the change in temperature can sometimes make them sick. You do not want them to suffer more for the lack of UV rays in their habitat, right?

People often get confused while buying a UV bulb. They can not find the right one for their painted turtles. Well, worry no more. Check this article to get a full guide on UV lamps.

Painted Turtle Outdoor Winter Habitat

It is difficult to maintain the temperature in an outdoor habitat. You can try by installing pond heaters, but they will not be much effective in severe cold. If you want to keep your painted turtles in an outdoor enclosure in winter, the turtles will surely hibernate. And if you do not wish them to hibernate, then move the pets to an indoor pen.

How Fast Do Painted Turtles Grow

Preferable Temperature For A Painted Turtle In Winter

In my previous sections, I have indicated that you need to maintain a specific temperature in the painted turtle’s enclosure during the winter. Do you know what the suitable temperature for a painted turtle is?

For your convenience, I am adding a chart here:

Air TemperatureBasking TemperatureWater Temperature
80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit

If you can maintain these temperatures, then there is a high chance that your painted turtle will not hibernate. The temperature can vary by one or two degrees, depending on your region.

Never provide excessive heat in the winter. The turtles can endure neither severe cold nor extreme heat.

Painted Turtle Not Eating In The Cold

Turtles not eating during winter is a common phenomenon, especially with the painted turtles. There can be 3 possible reasons for this event:

  1. The painted turtle can stop eating if it responds to the drop in temperature. Turtles are ectothermic, they slow down their body metabolism to cope with the severe cold. As a part of the process, the pets stop eating and doing any activity. Painted turtles have a unique quality to switch their metabolism. They can survive almost 100 days without eating and taking oxygen.
  2. A painted turtle can stop eating if it is sick. Illness messes up their appetite and metabolism. You will find your pet lying on the dock inactive.
  3. Sometimes, the pet loses appetite if you provide the same type of food every day.

If your turtle is not eating at all, I suggest you look into the matter as soon as possible. In case you observe any sign of illness like fluid discharging from mouth, nose, eyes, shell rot, take the pet to the vet.

If your painted turtle is preparing for hibernation, do not force it to eat food. Experts suggest putting the pets on fasting for 2 or 3 weeks before the process. This clears the turtle’s gastrointestinal tract, and the pet stays safe throughout the hibernation.

In other cases, try bringing variety to the painted turtle’s diet. But make sure the meals are well balanced and nutritious. Many people get confused while choosing the perfect diet for the painted turtle. Here is a list of foods that you may consider:

  • Snakes
  • Snail 
  • Fishes
  • Fruits
  • Bugs
  • Lizard
  • Pellet
  • Frog meat
  • Vegetables
  • Water plants

Click here to get the complete guide on a painted turtle’s balanced diet.

painted turtle care

Painted Turtle Hibernation Care

Painted turtles have a high tendency to hibernate even if you provide the pets with the best temperature and all. This species has an urge to keep pace with the natural process. And so, it is better to be prepared for hibernation.

Hibernation Temperature For Painted Turtles

You already know a painted turtle feels comfortable in a temperature around 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. So, when does the temperature become cold for them?

Researches prove that the painted turtles become sluggish if the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the heat keeps falling, the pets will prepare to hibernate. The standard temperature for the painted turtles to hibernate is 39 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 to 6 degrees celsius.

Hibernation Period & Painted Turtle’s Physical Changes

During the hibernation period, the painted turtle responds to the weather change and tries to adapt. The pet becomes inactive and sluggish. It avoids eating and basking. From time to time, the turtle can drink water.

The hibernation process is like deep sleep. As the turtle does not eat at that time, it uses the energy stored from the previous digestion. The pet slows down its metabolism, heart, and cardiac rate by 80% to minimize the energy requirements.

A hibernating turtle stays at the bottom of a lake, swamp, or tank underwater. It takes oxygen from the water through its skin. In the wild, some ponds become low in oxygen content. At that time, the painted turtle switches its metabolism. In that state, the pet can live for 100 days without consuming any food or oxygen.

How To Take Care Your Hibernating Painted Turtle

To put your painted turtle in hibernation, follow the step by step process given below:

1. Ensure your pet’s health

Hibernation can be a stressful process for the painted turtles, both physically and mentally. That is why you can not let any unhealthy turtle hibernate.

If you want your pet painted turtle to put in hibernation, get a vet to examine its health. However, if you observe any of the symptoms below, do not let the turtle hibernate.

  • Cut, fracture, wound
  • Shell rot, white spots on the shell
  • Swollen, puffy eyes
  • Fluid discharging from eyes, mouth, and nose
  • Inflammation
  • Blood spots on the skin or inside the mouth
  • Abscess
  • Parasitic wounds
  • Weight loss

When you put an unhealthy turtle in hibernation, it will die during or after the process. So, make sure your pet painted turtle is fit for the procedure.

2. Collect information regarding hibernation

If you are not experienced, then try to avoid this process. You need to learn about each step carefully and elaborately. You can get information both online and offline. Try to gather as much information as you can.

3. Make a health chart for the painted turtle

When you plan to put your turtle in hibernation, you have to observe its health very carefully. Weight can play an essential role in a painted turtle’s health. If you notice your pet losing weight, you have to cancel the preparation for hibernation.

The best way to track your turtle’s health is to keep a day to day record of its weight and other factors. You can observe the change by just taking a glimpse of the record sheet.

4. Prepare your turtle by feeding it

Just before the hibernation, you have to fast your painted turtles for weeks. So that your pet does not get weak, you need to prepare it for these processes.

A hibernating turtle lives on the stored vitamin A. So, at the beginning of the summer or 14 weeks before the hibernation, start feeding the turtle high amounts of vitamin A enriched food items. The best choices for a painted turtle will be:

  • Meat
  • Collard greens
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Mustard

You can add these items with the main balanced diet or replace them with other foods. But make sure the whole diet contains necessary nutrition a painted turtle need. Sprinkle vitamin D and calcium supplements over each diet.

Before the 6 to 8 weeks of the hibernation, replace some of the food items with a high fiber diet. Two of the options are grass and weed. If your painted turtle already intakes a high fiber meal, then you do not need to bring any changes.

In case you do not have a clear concept on a painted turtle’s diet, you can follow this article.

5. Fast your painted turtle

One of the crucial conditions of hibernation is, there should be no unprocessed food items in the turtle’s tract. Otherwise, the pet can die during the process. If your painted turtle’s tract still gets the food from the previous meal, do not let it hibernate.

Those undigested food items produce gas and cause fatal infections. The gas makes the turtle suffocate internally and eventually kills the pet. If you are in doubt about the position, get a vet to check the pet.

You can start the fasting period 2 to 6 weeks before the hibernation. However, make sure your painted turtle drinks water from the fasting period until the hibernation ends. It keeps the pet healthy, hydrated, and helps it to expel waste from its tract.

6. Make a suitable environment for hibernating

If you want your painted turtle to hibernate, gradually drop the temperature. Generally, 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit is a suitable temperature for the pet. Try to decrease it to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at first. Here is a day-wise temperature list you can follow:

  • The temperature should be around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees celsius. Keep it that way for 2 to 3 days.
  • Drop the temperature at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees celsius. Maintain it for 2 to 3 days.
  • Gradually decrease the temperature to 43 degrees celsius and keep it that way throughout the winter.

Well, now the question arises, where to put the pet in hibernation. You can place it inside your refrigerator, at the bottom of the tank or the bottom of your lake.

Make a thick layer of suitable substrate for the turtle so that it can burrow. You can make a little cave if you want. The best substrates are peat moss, mud, etc.

7. Alternatives

Some people choose to put their painted turtles in the refrigerator during the hibernation process. This is not harmful as long as,

  1. You can regulate the refrigerator’s temperature
  2. The refrigerator has enough ventilation
  3. You can provide each necessary element the painted turtle will need.

8. Keep an eye on the pet

You have to check the turtle throughout the hibernation period. Make sure the temperature is perfect for it. You can measure its weight and soak its body with water.

9. Wake up your painted turtle

At the end of the winter, you can start waking the turtle up. You need to increase the temperature gradually. For example, at first, increase the temperature to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain it for 2 or 3 days and move to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

After that, make the temperature 60, 65, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. When you increase the temperature once, maintain it for 2 to 3 days. The turtle will start waking up slowly.

10. Go to a vet

Hibernation can make a painted turtle weak and vulnerable to diseases. Take your turtle to a vet to make sure it is in good health. Provide the pet with plenty of foods so that it can regain its strength.

Can You Hibernate Your Painted Turtle In An Outdoor Pond?

Yes, you can. For that, follow these instructions:

  • Make sure the pond is 18 inches deep. The surface water can freeze if the temperature drops below 0 degrees celsius. In that case, the lower portion of the pond will be stable and unaffected from the freezing temperature. Hence, the painted turtle will be safe.
  • Install a bubbler or fountain at the corner of the pond. Even though the turtle is in hibernation, it still needs oxygen. When the surface freezes, the pond can become low in oxygen content. The bubbler will keep one corner warm and prevent it from freezing.
  • Put the substrate at the bottom of the lake. You can make small caves.
  • Protect the pond with chicken wire so that predators can not attack the hibernating painted turtles.

You can check this article if you want to learn more about painted turtle’s hibernation.

Is Hibernation A Good Option For The Painted Turtles?

This depends on your personal preferences. The hibernation can be harmful for five reasons. For example:

  1. Your painted turtle is sick.
  2. You do not have enough knowledge about hibernation.
  3. The painted turtle is underweight and unfit for the process.
  4. You fail to provide the perfect hibernating temperature.
  5. Your geographical location is not suitable for hibernation.

If you can ensure these are not the problems, then hibernation is safe. Experts always suggest doing an indoor hibernation if possible. It is safer, and you are in charge. 

Painted Turtle’s Health In Winter

Painted turtles can be vulnerable during the cold season. If you do not provide any care, the turtle can suffer from severe cold and respiratory diseases. To keep your painted turtle healthy during the winter, follow the instructions given below:

  • Set up a quality tank water heater. The temperature of the water must not drop during severe cold.
  • Filthy water can cause shell and eye problems to the painted turtle. Use a water filter to keep the tank clean and hygienic.
  • Without a heating and UV bulb, the winter will be terrible for the painted turtles. Buy a full spectrum bulb. Make sure the heating bulb works fine and keep it on 24/7.
  • A balanced diet is very important for the health of your turtle. During the winter, the turtle can lose its appetite. Try providing varieties of food to tempt pets.
  • If the pet gets any cut or wounds, disinfect it as soon as possible. Try isolating the pet from other turtles.
  • If you observe anything unusual, take the pet to a vet for proper examination.

what do painted turtles do in the winter?

During the winter, painted turtles go through a process called brumation, which is a form of hibernation that cold-blooded animals undergo. As the temperature drops, their metabolism slows down significantly, and they become less active. Here is a more detailed look at what happens with painted turtles during the winter:

  1. Seeking Refuge: As winter approaches, painted turtles will seek out suitable places to brumate. This is often in the muddy bottoms of ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams where they can bury themselves in the mud or under submerged logs or rocks.
  2. Brumation: Once settled in their winter refuge, they enter a state of brumation, where their metabolic rate decreases dramatically. This allows them to survive for extended periods without food.
  3. Breathing Through Skin: During brumation, painted turtles rely on absorbing oxygen through their skin and the linings of their throat and cloaca, a process known as cutaneous respiration. This allows them to remain submerged for the entire winter without needing to surface for air. The oxygen concentration in the water needs to be sufficient to support this form of respiration.
  4. Low Activity Levels: Throughout the winter, their activity levels are very low. They do not eat and barely move, conserving energy to sustain them through the cold months.
  5. Emergence in Spring: As the weather warms up in the spring, painted turtles will emerge from their brumation sites, becoming more active, seeking food, and eventually engaging in mating activities.

where do painted turtles go in the winter?

During the winter, painted turtles seek refuge in bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams. They typically burrow into the soft mud or sediment at the bottom of these water bodies, where they can remain relatively undisturbed throughout the winter months. They may also find shelter under submerged logs, rocks, or in dense underwater vegetation.

As the weather warms up in the spring, they emerge from their winter hideouts, becoming more active and resuming their normal behaviors, including foraging for food and mating. It’s a seasonal cycle that allows them to survive in environments with cold winters.

do painted turtles hibernate in captivity?

Whether painted turtles will hibernate in captivity depends on the conditions in their enclosure. In the wild, the onset of hibernation, or brumation, is triggered by a decrease in temperature and a reduction in daylight hours as winter approaches.

In captivity, if the turtles are kept in an environment where the temperature and lighting remain constant year-round, they may not go into brumation.

However, if you are keeping painted turtles in an outdoor enclosure where they are exposed to natural seasonal changes, they might exhibit brumation behaviors during the winter months, similar to their wild counterparts.

do painted turtles need a heat lamp?

Painted turtles, like many other reptiles, benefit from having a heat lamp in their enclosure, especially if they are kept indoors or in environments where the temperature can drop below the optimal range for their health and well-being.

Here are a few reasons why a heat lamp is beneficial for painted turtles:

  1. Temperature Regulation: Reptiles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. A heat lamp helps in maintaining a suitable temperature gradient in their enclosure, which is vital for their digestion and overall metabolic functions.
  2. Basking Area: Painted turtles need a basking area where they can come out of the water to dry off and warm up. A heat lamp helps to create a warm basking spot where they can thermoregulate. This is essential for their health as it helps to prevent fungal and bacterial infections, which can occur if they are unable to dry off completely.
  3. UVB Light: In addition to a heat lamp, painted turtles also require access to UVB lighting. UVB lights help them synthesize vitamin D3, which is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium and, consequently, healthy shell and bone development. Often, you can find bulbs that provide both heat and UVB light, fulfilling both requirements.
  4. Simulating Natural Environment: Providing a heat lamp helps to simulate the natural environment that painted turtles would experience in the wild, promoting natural behaviors and overall well-being.

When setting up a heat lamp, it’s important to monitor the temperatures in different areas of the enclosure to ensure that there is a suitable temperature gradient, allowing the turtle to choose the most comfortable spot.

The basking area should be warmer, usually between 85-90°F (29-32°C), while the water temperature should be maintained at around 75-80°F (24-27°C).

Turtle Care In Winter Infographic

For a printable version of this infographic, click here!


I have mentioned at the beginning of the article that painted turtles are less cold tolerant. Without proper care, your pet can fall sick or die. I have discussed each point and made sure you can get the full concept. I hope this information was helpful to you.

Sharing is caring!

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.


This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.