How To Take Care of Red Eared Sliders in Winter?

How To Take Care of Red Eared Sliders in Winter

Like most other turtle species, the red eared sliders also go through some changes in the winter. A study shows that many turtles fall sick or die in the cold because they do not receive proper care. Hence, all the red eared slider owners need to learn more about winter care.

Generally, the red eared sliders brumate in case the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees celsius. If you do not want the turtle to brumate, do the following things:

  1. Keep the heating bulb on 24/7
  2. Set up an automatic tank heater

It is up to you if you want your turtle to brumate or not. In this article, I will discuss how you can take care of your red eared slider during the winter season in both cases. Also, I will share my opinion if brumation is right for your turtle or not.

Care for Red Eared Sliders in Winter

If you do not want your red eared sliders to brumate, make some changes in its enclosure and food habit. Here is one important thing you need to know. The red eared sliders will not realize the change of weather as long as you maintain their preferable temperature inside the tank.

Red Eared Slider’s Enclosure

To prepare the red eared slider’s enclosure for winter, you have to make some significant changes in its lighting and heating arrangements. Let’s discuss one by one.

UV Light

Though there should be one UV source in every red eared slider’s enclosure, some turtle owners depend on direct sunlight. However, you can not rely on the sun on anymore if it is winter. 

UV light is very important for the mental and physical health of the red eared sliders. UVA exposure helps to promote the natural behavior of the pet. We know red eared sliders have a tendency to become inactive and slow during the winter season. Without the UVA rays, the turtles can become more sluggish, and in the worst cases, they can suffer from mental illness.

The UVB rays are the ultimate necessity for the red eared slider’s health. Even though the radiation is harmful to humans, the scene is quite the opposite of the turtles. The UVB exposure stimulates the vitamin D3 production in a red eared slider’s body, which helps the pet to absorb calcium. Without the rays, the turtle will suffer from bone and shell diseases.

Red eared siders limit their food consumption during the cold season. It sometimes leads to various diseases. If the turtles can not absorb the necessary minerals from the limited food items, they will become unhealthy and sick. I am sure you do not want to take that risk for your adorable pet.

During the cold season, you have to keep the UV light on during the whole day. It will help the red eared sliders to maintain a regular life.

Many people ask me if they should buy separate lights for UVA and UVB rays or not. The answer is absolutely not. Go for a full-spectrum fluorescent light. This bulb supplies visible light, along with both the UVA and UVB rays.

However, your selection for UV bulbs should not be limited. There are many types of products available on the market. To know the types of UV lamps, or which one is the best, check this article.

Heating Lamp

To ensure the good health of a semi aquatic turtle, setting up a heating or basking lamp is a must. But some turtle owners use LED or regular bulbs instead of basking one. Maybe your red eared slider is doing just fine with an ordinary lamp, but you have to switch to a proper basking bulb during the winter.

A basking lamp serves two major purposes. Such as:

  1. The heat allows the red eared sliders to dry off their wet bodies. It prevents fungus or bacteria from growing up on their shells.
  2. As the basking bulb provides the turtles a higher temperature, the red eared sliders can regulate their body temperature at the dock. Also, the pets can soak some heat if they are feeling too cold.

Now people can ask me why I am emphasizing setting up a proper basking light in the winter? Well, like you and me, red eared sliders are not endothermic. The species is ectothermic and can not regulate its body temperature.

If the pets do not get proper heat during the winter, they drop their body metabolism to cope with the environment. At that time, you have to ensure a suitable temperature in both the water and land areas. The best way to heat the land area is to provide a basking lamp.

In the summer or spring, you generally have to keep the bulb on for 8 to 12 hours a day. But during the cold season, I suggest you keep the light turned on 24/7. The red eared sliders do not like the light at night. It can mess up their sleep cycle. So, you have to set up a red bulb for the night.

The red lights are visually undetectable but emit a considerable amount of heat. You also have the option to choose mercury vapor bulbs or halogen bulbs. To learn more about the types of basking light, their pros and cons, check this article.

Water Heater

For an indoor red eared slider’s enclosure, the water heater is one of the most crucial setups. Obviously, people use alternatives to this, but those techniques are not recommended. During the cold season, the red eared sliders will require warm temperatures in both land and water areas.

The turtles will slow down their heart and cardiac rate even if they feel a slight cold. Hence, it is very important to set up a good quality water heater in the pet’s tank. The first thing you have to do is to invest in a good digital tank thermometer. If you are on a tight budget, go for the cheap ones.

When it comes to choosing a water heater, I always suggest buying an automatic one. Why? Regular tank heaters can sometimes make the water temperature so high that the red eared sliders can not stay underwater. On the other hand, you will face no heating issue with an automatic heater.

During the cold days, keep the tank heater on 24/7. Maintain a suitable temperature for the turtles. The power of the heater will entirely depend on the enclosure’s size. Generally, for red eared sliders, we use a 75 gallon or 125 gallon tank.

The ideal power of a 75 gallon tank heater should be around 300 watts. Depending on the surrounding temperature, you can use a more powerful heater. Some turtle owners prefer setting up multiple water heaters in a single enclosure. In that case, distribute the total power evenly and adequately.

Submersible tank heaters are very popular for the red eared slider’s enclosures. No matter which type of heater you choose, ensure all the safety arrangements first. In case you are wondering which heater is the best or how to choose one, click here.

The Perfect Temperature During Winter

A turtle lifestyle will not change much if you can maintain its suitable temperature in the cold season. So, what is the perfect temperature for a red eared slider during winter? Take a look at the chart below:

Water temperatureBasking temperatureAir temperature
78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit Or 26 to 30 degrees celsius90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit Or 32 to 35 degrees celsius75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit Or 24 to 27 degrees celsius

If you can maintain these temperatures, the red eared slider will barely notice the difference in weather. And so, it’s lifestyle will not be affected.

Red Eared Slider’s Food Habit

In some cases, you may observe your red eared slider is not eating during the winter. This basically happens when the temperature is cold for the turtles. What can you do in this situation?

The main two reasons why your red eared slider stops eating are:

  1. The pet is sick.
  2. Its body metabolism is dropping due to the severe cold.

As you know, winter can make the red eared sliders vulnerable and exposed to various diseases. So, visit a vet and determine the actual reason.

If the temperature is the main reason, then the pets will start eating once you fix it. No matter what the season is, you have to provide the red eared slider with a balanced diet. Do not forget to sprinkle vitamin and calcium supplements over each meal.

You can learn the proper diet of a red eared slider by clicking here.

Red Eared Slider Brumation Care

You must have noticed I am using the term brumation instead of hibernation. I am sure questions are popping up in your head. Do red eared sliders not hibernate? What is the difference between brumation and hibernation?

The answer can be quite big and complex to understand. But I will try to keep it short and filled with simple words. So, brumation and hibernation are the same with some small differences. You know that turtles are ectothermic species. To cope with the severe cold, they either brumate or hibernate.

When a turtle enters into the hibernation state, it means the pet is deep asleep. The turtle will not move, eat or drink for weeks or months or even the whole winter season. On the other hand, pets stay awake during the brumation process. Though they do not eat, the turtles can move and drink water.

Unlike some turtle species, red eared sliders do not hibernate. Instead, they brumate for 3 to 4 months or even longer if the cold weather does not change. The turtles need special care during that time. In this section, I will share how you can care for your brumating red eared slider.

Before getting in, you have to learn some basic things about the red eared slider brumation process. For example, at which temperature the turtles decide to brumate or what changes they undergo during the process.

Generally, if the tank temperature falls below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the red eared slider starts slowing down its daily activity. If the temperature goes below 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees celsius, the pet will brumate at the bottom of the tank. During the process, the turtle’s heart rate will decrease to minimize energy consumption.

To learn more about brumation, click here. If you want to know whether red eared sliders can survive cold weather or not, check this article.

How to Care for A Brumating Red Eared Slider

Here is a step by step guide that you can follow for a brumating red eared slider:

1. Make Sure The Turtle Is Healthy

Experts always recommend healthy turtles to brumate. During the cold or brumation process, the immune system of the red eared sliders gets weak. So, there is a high risk that the pet will fall sick during the process. It can eventually lead the turtle towards death.

So, always check if the turtle has any sign of sickness or not. Here are some signs of illness:

  • Weight loss
  • Shell rot
  • White spots on the shell
  • Fluid discharge from nose or mouth
  • Open mouth breathing

Even if there is no sign at all, consult with a vet and get the red eared slider examined.

2. Preparing The Turtle For Brumation

Once you know your pet turtle is healthy, prepare it for brumation. Start with weighing its weight each week, even throughout the brumation. Keep an eye on the data to examine if the red eared slider is losing weight healthily or not.

3. Feeding Vitamin A

You have to put the red eared slider on fast for 1 week before the brumation. This withholdment of food is important to clear the gastrointestinal tract of the pet.

Before you withhold food, feed the red eared slider higher level of vitamin A. It is because the brumation depletes the vitamin A storage. Start adding vitamin A enriched food items to the red eared slider’s daily diet from the beginning of summer or 12 to 14 weeks before the brumation.

Read this article to get a clear idea on a red eared slider’s balanced diet and its preferable source of vitamin A. Before 6 to 8 weeks of the brumation, add high fiber food items to its diet.

4. Fasting The Turtle

Fast your red eared slider 1 to 2 weeks before the brumation. If the turtle brumates with undigested food in its gastrointestinal tract, it may die. Depending on your pet’s size, you may need to fast it for 2 to 4 weeks. You have to provide the red eared slider with a good water source for drinking and soaking its body.

One more thing, if there is any undigested food, delay the brumation process instead of taking risks.

5. Decreasing The Temperature

When the fasting period is over, start decreasing the enclosure’s temperature. The heat determines if the red eared slider will brumate or not. 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees celsius is the safest temperature for red eared sliders to brumate. Start decreasing the overall tank temperature gradually.

For example, for the first 2 or 3 days, maintain a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Then reduce it to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and finally make it constant at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or a little below that.

6. Modification In The Habitat

For brumation, you can use the same enclosure with some modification. Lower the water level and keep the heating lamps turned off. Set the water heater at the constant temperature. If the surrounding temperature is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you do not need to turn on the heater.

Make sure the substrate is perfect for the red eared sliders to burrow. With a perfect humidity level, your turtle can brumate the pet in an indoor enclosure. For an outdoor brumation, you can not do anything about the temperature.

7. Observation

The brumation period can last for 2 to 4 months. During that time, the red eared slider will stay at the bottom of the tank. From time to time, it will come out to drink water. Throughout the brumation process, keep the turtle under your observation.

8. Increasing The Temperature Gradually

When finally the winter season will be over, you have to bring the enclosure’s temperature back to the average (78 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Do not increase the temperature at once, instead, do it gradually.

For example, keep the temperature at 60 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 days, then make it 65 degrees. And eventually, increase the temperature to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

You have to turn on the UV light and heating bulb. Also, increase the water height to match its standard level.

9. Feed The Turtle

Once the red eared slider comes back to the normal environment, offer it some food. Provide the pet with a balanced diet and make sure it is eating properly.

Check this article to get the balanced diet chart for a red eared slider.

10. Examining The Turtle’s Health

After the brumation, make a quick tour to the vet. Let him examine the red eared slider’s health properly.

Is It Safe For Red Eared Sliders To Brumate?

This is a tricky question. The brumation of the red eared slider can be dangerous for 5 reasons. Such as:

  1. Your turtle is underweight or unhealthy.
  2. The indoor enclosure set up is not suitable for the red eared sliders to brumate.
  3. You neither have knowledge nor experience about the brumation process.
  4. The pet turtle is not fully prepared for the process.
  5. Your geographical location is not perfect for brumation.

Also, if your red eared slider is going to brumate in an outdoor place, sometimes that can be harmful. Why? If the temperature touches the freezing point, your pet can freeze to death. Also, the improper temperature can leave a negative effect on the slider’s metabolism.

So, does it mean you should not put your pet red eared slider for brumation? Absolutely not. The brumation is safe if you are experienced and know enough about the process. Also, make sure the turtle is healthy and prepared for the procedure.

However, outdoor brumation is not appreciated at all. Even if you raise your red eared slider in an outdoor habitat, try to provide it with an indoor brumation system.

Red Eared Slider Health Issues During Winter

I have mentioned earlier that severe cold makes the pet’s immune system weak. So, they easily fall sick. No matter if your red eared slider will brumate or not, ensure its good health. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  • Depending on the cold outside, maintain the proper water temperature. Setting up an automatic tank heater is always recommended during the cold.
  • Do not let the water get filthy. Set up a good quality water filter.
  • Provide the pet with a healthy balanced diet.
  • If the turtle gets any cut or wound, disinfect the area immediately.
  • Red eared sliders can lose their appetite in the winter. Do not force the pet to eat anything.
  • If you notice anything unusual with the pet, take it to the vet as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Though red eared sliders are survivors, the winter season can make them vulnerable. But with proper care, the pet can stay healthy and happy. In this article, I tried to share all the important points you need to know regarding a red eared slider’s winter care. I hope the information will help you in the future.

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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