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Pet Turtles: Setting Up Cage, Caring for Turtles, Price of Materials, & Species Info

What is more awesome than having a pet turtle?… Nothing. Turtles are awesome animals and have been around since the dinosaurs. Having them as pets is in our homes is very cool.

Team up with us in the turtle community to ask any questions you have or help with others. We are a subdivision of ‘Fish Aquarium Geeks’ network and this hobby is our passion. We take pride in the ability to have these pets.

Top 10 Most Common Questions & Answers

pet turtle

1. Are Turtles Safe Pets? Any Diseases?

Years ago there was a scare with salmonella and turtles do have the potential to host it but so do all other reptiles. The key is to keep everything as clean as possible and keep really small children from handling the turtles. Wash your hands very well after handling turtles at all times and keep their habitat clean. What was causing most of the issues was small children putting these baby turtles in their mouths and that easily transfers salmonella when present. To be quite honest, it was more a scare than what is actually necessary but.. it worked. You have to know that all reptiles contract salmonella or the chance of it.. and the reptile community is still THRIVING.

2. Whats a Suitable Cage for a Turtle?

The most common cage used for turtles are fish aquariums. I would advise trying to find a pond liner and using that because of how large they are and easy to use but aquariums do work well too. The main problem with aquariums is how large of one you need and the cost. The most common aquarium size for turtles is the 40 gallon ‘breeder’ series. You NEED TO BUY the ‘breeder’ series so the tank is longer and has more bottom surface area (if you choose an aquarium). We have tons of forums devoted to cool ideas on what you can make yourself as well. Read More…

3. Super Dirty? Smells? Lots of Upkeep?

Without proper upkeep, your turtle cage will create a smell that brings tears to your eyes. But then again.. won’t every pet. Turtles take upkeep in cleaning their cage and filtering their water in the tank. There are some factors to help lower maintenance on upkeep though. Keeping the water as clean as possible by using filters really helps too. Adding charcoal to your water can really help take away the smells away too. Once you get into the community a little bit, you learn lots of ways to make things easier on keeping your turtle tank clean.

4. Lifespan of a Turtle in Captivity?

Turtles are one of the oldest creatures on the planet. It is said they are the most related to dinosaurs still around today. Marine turtles easily live 100 years. Most of your smaller species will live up to 10 years pretty easily. This might be something to think about if your in this for the long haul or just the ‘cool phase’ of owning a pet turtle. The first year really seems to weed out those that are serious about keeping pet turtles and those that CANT HACK IT. If you can’t see yourself caring for your turtle cage in 4-5 years… than maybe re-think your decision here.

5. Habitat Setup? Bedding? Water?

A precise cage setup is needed for turtles because they are reptiles and need certain aspects of habitat to live healthy. Sunlight is mandatory for their basking time and depending on the species of turtle will depend in the amount of water versus land mass. Your basically setting up a small ecosystem for the turtle and maybe some fish. The better you can setup your tank, the better the turtle and wildlife will thrive in your tank. Bottom substrate is important and you should have rocks no smaller than what your turtle could possibly eat or swallow. Researching the tank setup is a huge key to your tank thriving in the future to come.

6. Cost of Everything Involved?

If you decide to go with a fish aquarium as your habitat setup, it will cost more money. There are ways to save money in different ways for turtle tank setups. A person can make a homemade cage and save money but it might not be as nice. Pond liners are cheaper than aquariums as well and make for great cages for turtles. A lot of people prefer aquariums though because you can watch your turtles from the sides with the human eye and also keep them in a bedroom if you desire. If you catch Petco at certain times, they have a $1 per 1 gallon of water for aquariums SALE. So you could get a 40 gallon breeder tank for $40 which is super cheap. You can also buy aquariums used for a lot less money and this is a very popular route to go too.

7. Feeding Pet Turtle and Food?

Research what your species of turtle feeds on in natural habitat and then resemble that for your cage. I buy live minnows that my turtle catches and preys on himself. Try to also research nutrition to help make sure your reptile has proper health. General pet stores and even walmart sell turtle food that is getting better everyday. They have dried up worms that work descent but I suggest looking into some more natural foods. Live fish can’t be beat and it’s really not that hard to do. Most turtle owners keep live fish in their tank because they survive just fine. You will find that most turtles love live fish and having that natural protein available really benefits your turtle.

8. Mix Pet Turtle with Pet Fish?

With the right tank setup, this can easily be done. Just remember that your beautiful pet fish could easily become dinner or breakfast for a turtle. All scenarios are different but this setup can work out awesome and I’ve seen it many times. There is no reason why fish can’t survive in your tank setup. It is a good idea to have a couple of fish filters going and that will benefit your water clarity for the turtles and fish at the same time. Maybe look into getting a feeder fish that is still cool to look at but very nutritional for your turtles. Some people will argue this is immoral but .. it’s a way of life. It would happen in natural habitat so.. I don’t see a problem.

9. What Size Tank or Cage is Needed?

This is the downfall of having a pet turtle. Just because you can’t put a turtle in a small box as a cage and walk away. They need room to move around and especially if they are past their youth age. Aquarium size requirements start at 40 gallon breeder tank. The 40 gallon breeder is said to be the bare minimum size that a person  needs to house ONE turtle. If you want more than one turtle than you should probably get a 55 gallon and even then that will still be crowded. They make lots of unique styles of “breeder” series of tanks that are more short and spread out which is best for turtles. It makes no sense to have a high or tall aquarium when the turtle can’t even utilize that space.

10. Different Species of Turtles for Pets?

It’s important to know what species of pet turtle might work out best for you. Some species require much more complicated cage setups than others. And if you have a smaller tank setup, you will want to start with a juvenile turtle until you upgrade your tank. Read more..

turtle tanks

Turtles are very unique and beautiful creatures. What most find fascinating, is the fact that they live their entire life inside of a shell while living under water and on land. Their shell housing makes for a very unique physical appearance. Did you know that turtle can live for an average of 50 years?

The idea of having a turtle as a pet is a very popular idea. Not only kids but adults as well share this idea. It seems like a fairly easy idea to have a cool pet inside of my home.

10 Steps to Setup a Turtle Tank

tank for turtle

1. Aquarium Size & Cleaning It

Figure on your turtle needing a set amount of dry surface versus wet surface. All turtles bask in the sunlight, so there will also be a light over the dry surface. Research what amount your species of turtle needs of dry surface.

Turtles need enough room to grow so make sure your tank is large enough. A lot of freshwater species of turtles can grow to 12″ long. The 20 and 30 gallon aquarium sizes are going to be a bare minimum of what you can use for housing turtles. We get a lot of emails asking if 5 gallon aquariums work for turtles. The answer is a NO because they are too small.

Empty the aquarium you plan on using for your turtle tank. Do not use any chemicals when it comes to washing the tank. Pure water is the only think you want to use. Buy aquarium safe sponges from pet stores to wash out your aquarium. Scotch brite pads and similar abrasive like pads scratch glass and then algae grows in those cracks like crazy. Just rinse and rub with pure water. Keeping it as simple as possible eliminates unwanted additives to your tank.

2. Lay Down Aquarium Rocks

When choosing what rocks to use, make sure your turtle cannot consume the rocks. The larger the rocks the better. Not that your turtle is for surely going to eat them… it’s just a safe precaution to take when setting up your tank. When turtles are younger, they may snap at prey between rocks and accidentally catch a rock in their mouth. Rinse your rocks before putting them in your aquarium very well. Just to make sure all debris and bacteria is removed.

3. Setup Plants: Live or Fake

I would advise getting some live plants for your tank just because it really adds to the ecosystem setup of the tank. Waste from food and turtle waste create ammonia in the water which decreases the oxygen levels in the water. Live plants consume carbon monoxide and turn it into pure oxygen. Your pets in the water aquarium will be much happier then they would with fake plants.

4. A “Turtle Dock” is Mandatory

There are different designs and Setups as far as turtle docks go. No matter what though… you need one! Turtles need to be able to crawl out of the water and get some air and dry off. Along with a dock setup for your turtle, comes a heat lamp that gives off UV rays.

5. UV Heat Lamp Setup

That heat and sunshine are a lot to a turtles life routine. Imagine your life with never seeing the real sun again. It may seem like such a small stupid thing to get for your turtle aquarium.. but it’s a mandatory necessity for your turtle. It helps bring needed Ultra violet rays to the turtles skin and shell. Visit the “Turtle Lighting” section for more details on lighting Setups.

6. Aquarium Filter Setup

The question comes up all the time if turtles need filters for their water. I highly advise using a filter just because the cleaner water gives your turtle a more healthy habitat to thrive in. Dirty waters can kill any aquarium species very fast. When buying a filter, always buy around 3-4 times the amount of water volume your aquarium actually is. Example, if your tank is 20 gallons .. You should buy a filter designed for 40 gallons. This will make your water more clean and save you hours of time cleaning the water by hand in your fish aquarium.

7. Heater for Water Temperature

A heater is needed for the water inside your aquarium. The water should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Some think that turtles don’t need the water that warm but I would advise a heater just to make sure the levels don’t get too cold. Also, be aware of a heater that is not fully submersed under water. Sometimes they crack when not fully submersed under water.

8. Water Conditioner

Water that is used from a faucet should always be treated with a conditioner. What is harmful to fish and turtles is the chlorine in the water. You can either let the water sit by itself for 24 hours to dechlorinate itself or you can use conditioner to use the water right away.

9. Vitamins & Nutrients

They make different vitamins for turtles that are vital for them to have. The reason for needing vitamins is due to lacking certain variables that the turtle would get in natural habitat. Depending on what turtle species you have will depend on what nutrients and vitamins your turtle needs.

10. Live Fish

I always urge people to put live fish in their turtle tanks just to give a real habitat feel to the turtles. If they want they can even take a bite at the fish and get some well needed nutrients of live food. Some persist not to use live fish in turtle tanks because it drives aggression to your pet turtles. I’m a believer in not running away from the idea of where your turtle came from… the wild. Totally your call on this one.

Dangers of Pet Reptiles

When doing some “pet turtle” research, you will find lots of warnings regarding salmonella. Younger turtles are actually more prone to this and its now illegal to sell turtles under 4 inches in diameter. There are precautions that need to be looked at but a person can safely have a pet turtle any day of the week.

Turtles are holders for salmonella at times and it is specifically dangerous to younger kids and weak immune systems. It is very important to keep everything as clean as possible for your turtle living habitat. After handling turtles, hands need to be washed immediately with soap and water. Salmonella can live on any surface for a given amount of time. Children can then touch that surface and become effected. This is the case with any real reptile kept in an aquarium.

In For the Long Haul

Turtles live long lives and having them as a pet entails a lot of commitment. It’s very common for a turtle owner to let their pet become “old news.” Lacking to add fresh water, not changing aquarium filters, forgetting to feed the turtle and so forth. Owning a turtle is not a 3 month hobby that you can just set aside. It’s important to take this idea into account. Lets get started on setting up your tank along with proper turtle care facts.

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Note: Image source is found at pawesome.com which is an awesome site for general pet information. You can click here to visit the site and go read some of their very valuable information. We are supporters of their content and want to thank them for letting us use this cool image. In return, we linked to their awesome network.

Have Something to Add?

Posted by Shawn:
Need help on where to purchase China Cuora, C trifasiata , C aerocapitata ,C zhoui etc
Thank you
Waiting for reply. Sincere buyer
Shawn

Posted by Zachary U:
You probably can’t find that turtle to buy because it’s more common name is “Golden Coin Turtle” and they can be bought in a lot of places. I did a quick search for here in Minnesota and I could find them in no time. You may have to go for a drive depending on where you live but you can find them. Where are you located? I’ve never seen this turtle and it’s cool you brought it to our attention. Good luck finding your turtle!

24 thoughts on “Pet Turtles: Setting Up Cage, Caring for Turtles, Price of Materials, & Species Info

    1. Ravi Patel

      Yes 10 gallon is fine as musks only grow up to 12cm I’m not sure with American sizes as I live in Singapore

      Reply
    2. Staci

      First determine if it is a male or female. Female turtles will grow larger than males. Then look at the adult size of the particular sex of your turtle based on that species. I would recommend getting an aquarium to fit your turtle as an adult. You’re going to want an aquarium that is at least 10 gallons for every inch of the length of your turtle’s shell. If the aquarium is too small the turtle will become stressed and too much stress can kill reptiles. So, if the length of your turtle’s shell is 1″ then 10 gallons is fine for now, but keep in mind that it will get bigger.

      Reply
  1. kirk

    i live in jamaica the island and i am thinking of getting myself a set of turtles do i need to provide a uv light and how often do i hve to use it

    Reply
    1. Staci

      You need UVA and UVB. UVA is for heat which is necessary for energy and healthy digestion of food (or you could get a ceramic heat emitter, they last longer and are a better investment). UVB is necessary for vitamin D intake to keep the turtle’s shell and bones healthy. You can also get 2 in one bulbs, but in my experience they burnt out within a month.

      Reply
    1. Staci

      It depends on the size of the turtles. Rule of thumb is 10 gallons for every inch of the length of each turtle’s shell. So, if you have three 4″ inch turtles, 4 X 10=40, 40 X 3= 120. In this scenario of three 4″ turtles, you’re going to need a 120 gallon aquarium. It should be long rather than tall to allow for more floor area and some space for basking.

      Reply
    1. Staci

      It depends on the size of the turtles. Rule of thumb is 10 gallons for every inch of the length of each turtle’s shell. So, if you have two 2″ inch turtles, 2 X 10=20, 20 X 2= 40. In this scenario of two 2″ turtles, you’re going to need a 40 gallon aquarium, but you could get away with a 30 gallon until your turtles get bigger. It should be long rather than tall to allow for more floor area and some space for basking. Make sure the water level is not too high. Baby turtles might not swim as well and need to easily get on land to bask and rest.

      Reply
      1. Staci

        You really just need enough land area for both turtles to comfortably bask and move around a bit. At least twice the size of each turtle. Water should be deep enough for them to comfortably swim, but doesn’t need to be deeper than 1.5-2 times the length of the shell. Water too deep can drown your turtles. Do more research.

        Reply
    1. Staci

      If you’re wanting something easier and less time consuming, I would recommend a box turtle or land tortoise. I have aquatic turtles myself and put forth a lot of time, money, and effort to keep them happy and healthy. Good aquatic turtles are sliders or mud turtles, but many species are aggressive. My male red-eared slider is aggressive and so is my female African helmeted turtle. Research the species you are thinking about whether terrestrial or aquatic to find out how large they will get , how much space they need, what their diet consists of, temperature regulation, pH level, how the species gets along with other turtles, etc. Research everything.

      Reply
  2. olivia

    I want to get a turle soon bet I don’t know what the best turtle is to start with if it is my first one. Any ideas?

    Reply
  3. Jess

    The guys at my work found a baby turtle (we thinking snapper) in the parking lot back in September and I just recently took over the care for it. I have had just about ever pet you could have except turtles and fish….I know nothing about them and there is just too much information out there. I have an aquarium for him, and a little rock he can bask in but outside of that I know nothing. Does he need a certain brand of UV light, or type of water, or how much water, is it okay to find him a little turtle friend?? His shell is 1 inch in length and I was wondering what I needed to do to help him grow, he really loves people and being played with and we tend to washing our hands but his habitat has me confused. Any help (in simple, laymen terms) would be spectacular. Thanks :-)

    Reply
      1. thomas

        I have a baby snapper iv never seen peeling on his shell but I know algae and other plant matter can grow on the shell for protection I also just caught a baby map today and I have a musk about 3 inch but I would get a 40 gallon breeder its the best for them lots of room to move around and get plants fake or real and make sure he has a place to bask even if he doesn’t use it my map is the only one that basks in my tank and also feed him meal worms and red worms and you can put live minnows in there too and make sure to feed him reptomin you can get it at any pet shop even Walmart and also a uvb light is mandatory for him also make sure you use clean water not tap water I use purified water for mine but you can buy stuff to fix tap water but hop your snapper does great enjoy but know he will get really big so the bigger the better when it comes to your tank and don’t get tall tanks get long

        Reply
  4. Heggie

    I’m thinking of getting a turtle and was wondering if it would still be healthy if it just got fed food from pet shops like the turtle pellets or dry formula instead of insects?

    Reply
  5. Alisha

    I have 4 res(one 8″ two 4.5″ one 3″) yellow painted turtle (5″) eastern painted turtle (6″) and a common musk turtle(2″) also 3 large plecos (8″)….what size tank should they be in and what can I do to keep the tank water from getting dirty so fast, 3days…. I have 2 canister filters, one rated for 400 gallons and one rated for 175 gallons…. my tank is 75 gallons now filled to top, the basking area is on top of the tank but I know I need a much larger tank to house all of my turtles…what size do I need?

    Reply
    1. thomas

      It would have to be at least 660 gallons but I’d just separate them into diff tanks that’s a lot of turtles

      Reply
  6. Briana

    A turtle appeared on my front porch and I would like to keep it as a pet but don’t know what kind or how to figure out what is needed

    Reply
    1. Sherrie

      Briana, I too have a similar situation and a Turtle came into my yard. I just started researching various types of turtles until I found photos that closely match the one I have. I’d say if it has webbed feet and a flat as opposed to rounded shell, you have an aquatic or pond turtle which needs water most of the time but also needs an area for crawling out of the water and “basking” under a light for a healthy shell. If your turtle has toes that are more like claws and the shell is rounded, you have a box turtle which requires the opposite envirionment of a pond turtle….dry most of the time but needs water to get in and out of for hydrating it’s shell. I have one of both varieties.

      Reply

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