Top 10 Mistakes To Avoid When Raising a Pet Turtle: Expert Advice

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

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As a fellow turtle keeper, I share your love & admiration for turtles. But if you are new to turtle-keeping, there are many ways to go wrong. 

The most common mistake is getting a small enclosure for the turtle. Next is not changing the water frequently. Turtles have to pay for these mistakes with their health.

Nevertheless, the fear of mistakes shouldn’t stop you from raising a turtle. They are indeed highly charming creatures. So, take a look at the possible errors you might be making and fix them. 

Key Takeaways

  • You must not bring a tank below 20 gallons, even for a baby turtle.
  • Be careful while touching a turtle’s shell.
  • Keeping the tank water dirty is the primary reason behind a turtle’s deteriorating health.
  • Adding too much protein to a turtle’s diet can cause shell pyramiding. 

10 Mistakes Most Turtle Keepers Do While Raising Turtles

1. Not Upsizing The Turtle’s Enclosure

Turtles require a large enclosure with an attached basking area. It’s the most crucial need you have to fulfill. That’s why you must upsize the tank as your turtles grow inch by inch.

Suppose you brought a 4-inch turtle home. At this stage, the minimum tank size for the turtle’s healthy growth is 40 gallons. So, the pet shop owner instructed you to get a 40-gallon tank. 

But the mistake many people make is thinking this 40-gallon tank will be enough for this turtle till it dies. Once the turtle’s length increases 1 inch, it will feel uncomfortable in the 40-gallon tank. Adding 10 gallons for every inch of your turtle’s shell is recommended.

If you are not very keen to change the tank every year, I suggest getting a 75-gallon tank that will keep the turtle satisfied for a very long time.

2. Not Having A 24/7 Filtration System

If you have kept fish before, you must be an expert in changing water. But you can’t expect a turtle to keep their habitat clean.

If you don’t use a separate feeding box, the tank will be filled with leftover food and poop within 2 days.

Delaying the cleaning session for the next week will only affect your turtle’s health. I highly recommend investing in a high-quality above-the-tank filter. Usually, filters come with power ratings. Make sure you get a powerful one that can maintain the water condition for a long time.

3. Installing Glass Cover On Top Of The Tank

Does the turtle tank have a glass ceiling? I know some enclosures come with a cover. But it has a big disadvantage.

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You see, turtles need to access sufficient lighting during the daytime. Their bodies need those full-spectrum UV rays as well as the warmth of a heat lamp.

UV-B rays are directly responsible for the turtle’s ability to synthesize vitamin D3, which later absorbs calcium. But what do UV-B rays have to do with a glass cover?

UV-B rays can’t penetrate the glass shield and reach your turtle. So, even when your pet is basking, it is being deprived of this crucial nutrient. 

Since UV-B rays are outside humans’ visibility range, there’s no way for you to identify such a mishap. And, when you notice your turtle getting sick & weak frequently, it will be too late.

The most sensible thing you can do is remove the glass cover from your turtle’s enclosure. Let your turtle soak in sunlight or artificial UV light. It doesn’t matter.

Moreover, turtles don’t usually run away like other rescued animals. You can skip the glass cover as long as you give them a comfortable habitat with nutritious food.

4. Using Soap To Bathe The Turtle

Unlike a dog, you don’t need any soap to bathe a turtle. But this important piece of knowledge is not as widespread as I would like. New turtle keepers often confess that they gave soapy baths to their pet turtles.

Needless to say, the chemicals in soap, be it dish soap, detergent, or shower gel, are harmful to turtles. Frequent use of soap can lead to skin inflammation & rash. But that’s not the end.

If soapy water finds its way into the turtle’s intestines through the mouth canal, it can severely disrupt the digestion system. Diarrhea can be an early sign of health issues.

The ideal way to bathe a turtle is by rubbing a soft brush across its scutes. Make sure not to leave any scratches on its shell. Once you are done scrubbing the algae off its back, rinse it with clean water. That’s all you have to do. No chemical, soap, or shampoo is needed at all.

5. Not Wearing Gloves While cleaning turtle tank

Turtles have a shiny shell. But they still carry a dangerous germ called Salmonella. Any turtle of any size will carry salmonella.

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Now, the problem with salmonella is that it infects people. Once it is in contact with your skin, it will slowly find its way towards your intestine. And, soon, you start feeling abdominal cramps with diarrhea. It is painful, for sure. 

This germ can even be present in the items your turtle touches. So, the tank itself is not safe to touch with bare hands. You can get infected while giving your turtle a bath.

I highly recommend wearing gloves when you perform any sort of cleaning task. Otherwise, your health will be at risk.

6. Keeping The Tank Within Children’s Or Pets Reach

Another mistake is keeping the turtle tank within your child’s reach. No matter how much you warn them, there’s a slight chance they will touch the turtle when you are not around. Not knowing where to touch and where not to, germs can easily find their way into your child’s nose or mouth.

Salmonella affects children with more severity. Your child might need to be hospitalized for days.

In fact, that’s the exact reason why turtles below 4 inches are not legal to adopt because they carry a high amount of salmonella, which can risk your children’s and pets’ lives.

Apart from the risk of infection, unsupervised children can easily injure the turtle. There are hundreds of cases where children accidentally crushed the turtle’s shell, causing permanent damage. Even your other pets, like dogs or cats, can hurt the turtle while it is basking.

To avoid any fatal damage to your reptile, make sure to place the tank away from your children’s reach.

7. Overfeeding The Turtle

 An adult turtle only needs one meal per day. And some of them are even happy to eat every alternative day. No, it’s not cruel. Professional vets often suggest fasting to cure a turtle’s health issues. 

But amateur turtle keepers barely pay any heed to these pieces of advice. They find it difficult to believe that their big turtle can only eat lettuce and be healthy. 

Let me tell you in brief what overfeeding does to a turtle. The first issue would be weight gain (obviously). You will notice bulges around the neck. The turtle will have difficulty hiding swiftly inside the shell.

Secondly, the digestive system will have to work harder to digest so much extra food. Considering their metabolism is one of the slowest, the intestine will be filled with lots of half-digested food.

It can cause gas, constipation, and other gastrointestinal issues due to the toxins released. 

I suggest consulting with a vet before planning your turtle’s meal. 

8. Grabbing The Turtle Wrong

I can go on and on regarding how frequently people make this mistake. One common misconception about turtles is that they can’t feel what’s happening in their shell.

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Even though the shell is actually a bone plate, it contains neural ends. So, even when someone pets them gently, they feel it.

Now imagine the stress we cause them by grabbing the shells like we are holding rocks in our hands. It’s not only painful but also a major stress trigger. 

9. Adding Too Much Protein To Their Diet

After an age, turtles need a light diet. Most of them like a vegetarian diet for the rest of their lives. Even if your turtle likes meat, you should only give it once in a while.

Feeding animal-based protein on a daily basis can trigger issues like shell pyramiding. When the body can’t process extra protein in food, it builds up on the shell. It leads to an uneven or bumpy shell.

For some turtles, shell pyramiding is genetic. But many of them get this disease due to eating the wrong type of diet for years.

Make sure you switch to a vegetarian diet once your turtle crosses the juvenile stage. And, if you are concerned about protein during the turtle’s infant stage, just buy a high-quality commercial-grade turtle food can. Specialized turtle pellets usually contain sufficient protein for the turtle’s stable growth.

10. Feeding Turtles Outside Water

Even though turtles eat way less than any other pet you’ve had, they enjoy eating a lot. That’s why it’s astonishing when someone complains that the turtle doesn’t eat anything.

I usually doubt the feeder’s technique first. 

And, as suspected, some turtle keepers wait for their turtles to come outside water to offer food. That’s a massive mistake. Turtles need water to eat. Their head must be submerged in water when they chew the food.

Otherwise, they won’t be able to swallow the food at all. Unlike us, turtles never salivate. So, it’s really difficult for them to push the food down without any moisture in their mouths.

If you are about to adopt a turtle, that’s the first thing you must remember. Not being able to eat is a great torture for these reptiles. 

Before You Go!

I really appreciate your effort to learn about your pet before going terribly wrong anywhere. To strengthen your knowledge, why don’t you take a look at the common health issues turtle keepers are most afraid of? It will help you identify the signs early on.

Article link: Common health issues in pet turtles

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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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