Aqua Care

Turtle Care

It’s no secret that turtles are known to live longer lives than many other pets. Some species of tortoises can live 100 years or more. Several common species of pet water turtles can live into their 40s, though there are many factors that will influence how long your pet turtle lives. Your turtle’s lifespan depends on its species, its diet, and other aspects of its environment that you can control.

If you’re hoping to know your turtle’s potential lifespan, first identify the species of your turtle. Red-eared sliders if cared for properly are likely to survive into their 30s. Tortoises can easily live past their 50s and even into their 80s, which means it’s quite possible that your turtle or tortoise will outlive you. Time to draw up that will! (No, seriously).

The bottom line is that most turtles will easily live at least a few decades if they survive past the first few years of life.

Red-Eared Slider25 to 35 years
Map Turtle15 to 25 years
Wood Turtle40 to 55 years
Eastern Box Turtle50+ years
Painted Turtle25 to 30 years
Russian Tortoise40+ years
Greek Tortoise100 years or more
Leopard Tortoise100 years or more

Larger turtles and tortoises can live extremely long lives. The smaller species that are more common as pets are shorter-lived but still may survive several decades. There are many records of tortoises that have lived nearly 200 years (or even more). It’s hard to verify these claims because the tortoises obviously outlived their owners. Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise, is probably the longest-living tortoise on record. Adwaita lived in a zoo in India and died at the age of 255 if claims are to be believed. These dates haven’t been verified.

Other famously long-lived tortoises include Timothy, who died at the age of 160; Harriet, a Galapagos giant tortoise who died at the age of 175; Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise who died at age 187; and Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise who died at age 188. Almost all of these dates are estimates that can’t really be confirmed.

The Keys to Your Turtle’s Health

Of course, feeding your turtle a healthy diet is an important component of helping it live a long and healthy life. Turtle diets can vary widely depending on the species. Some species, like the softshell turtle, eat mostly fish and meat. Other species, like the red-eared slider, eat a mix of insects, fish, and veggies.

Be sure to properly research the ideal diet of your new pet turtle. Many turtles do well with a mix of commercial turtle pellets and fresh foods, but the exact proportions and types of pellets and fresh foods will vary widely. A proper diet can help avoid Vitamin A deficiency, one of the most common health problems for pet turtles. Calcium deficiency, often secondary to Vitamin D deficiency, is a major problem in turtles and tortoises that are kept indoors without UV light and can cause soft shells and poor growth.

A diet isn’t the only component of a healthy turtle. Be sure that your turtle is well-cared-for with regular vet visits. A clean enclosure with enough space will also go a long way to keeping your turtle disease-free. Dirty living conditions and the stress that comes with them can dramatically shorten your turtle’s life. The proper temperature is also important for keeping your turtle happy and healthy.

Common Threats

Be aware of the typical diseases that threaten your specific species of turtle. This will help you know how to prevent them or catch the symptoms early. Abscesses, shell infections, respiratory infections, and parasites are all relatively common in pet turtles.

 Abscesses and respiratory infections are often secondary to a Vitamin A deficiency, whereas shell infections usually come from poor water quality or an injury. You probably won’t notice parasites unless you have your vet do regular fecal screenings for your pet.

Turtles that live in outdoor ponds or tortoises that live in the backyard are more vulnerable to predation and the elements than their indoor-dwelling counterparts. The daily risks for an outdoor turtle are much higher than the risks for an indoor turtle, so be sure your pond or habitat is secured from predators and has adequate protection from the elements. An outdoor pet turtle may get eaten or harassed by other pets and wildlife. Be sure your pet can’t escape from the habitat by burrowing under the fencing. Keep wild animals away that could expose your pet to diseases.

Keeping the Water in Your Turtle Tank Clean

Red-eared sliders and other aquatic turtles spend a lot of time in the water, so clean water is essential. Of course, turtles also defecate in their water, so maintaining good water quality can be a challenge. Cloudy and smelly water in a turtle tank is a common problem, but even water that looks clean can harbor waste products such as ammonia and nitrites that can build up to harmful levels. Maintaining good water quality is an important aspect of keeping turtles healthy.

Water Quality

Though turtles generally aren’t as sensitive to water quality issues as fish, treat turtle tanks much like fish tanks.

WARNING: As waste products in the tank break down, ammonia is formed, which is potentially toxic and can be irritating to your turtles even at low levels.

As a tank becomes established, beneficial bacteria grow in the tank and filter. Some bacteria break down ammonia into toxic nitrites, which are then converted by other bacteria into less harmful nitrates. These are then controlled by water changes. Before this “nitrogen cycle” becomes established (or if it is upset in an older tank), levels of harmful by-products or the bacteria that use them can spike, causing problems such as cloudy water.

Water Testing Kits

Pet stores carry test kits for ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. Monitoring these levels can help you catch conditions in the tank that can be irritating or harmful for your turtles. Check with the pet store and follow the directions included with the kits; the instructions will also have information on the safe and dangerous levels of each chemical. If the levels of ammonia, nitrates, or nitrites are too high, do a complete water change. If you find your levels are moderate or creeping up, do more frequent partial water changes or a complete change.

The pH (a measure of acidity) is not as critical to turtle health as the waste product levels, but measuring pH is also a good idea. Generally, red-eared sliders are pretty tolerant of small pH changes, but keeping an eye on pH levels can alert you to chemical changes in your turtle’s water. The pH should be in the range of 6-8 for red-eared sliders. Pet store products enable you to safely lower or raise the pH if necessary.

Concerns About Chlorine

There are conflicting opinions on whether tap water should be dechlorinated for turtles. Turtles may not be as sensitive to chlorine as fish or amphibians, but chlorine can still be an irritant to them, especially their eyes. Chlorinated water may also destroy the beneficial bacteria in the tank, affecting the nitrogen cycle and the breakdown of waste products. Thus it’s ideal to dechlorinate the water—the easiest way is to use water conditioners, available at pet stores.

Some cities use chloramine in addition to chlorine to treat tap water. If this is the case where you live, find a water conditioner labeled to remove chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia (a by-product of the deactivation of chloramine). Chlorine will dissipate from the water after about 24 hours, but chloramine does not.

Tank Size: The Bigger, the Better

Water quality and cleanliness are easier to maintain in a larger tank. In a smaller amount of water, the waste products are more concentrated. With a larger tank, waste matter and its by-products are diluted. In a larger tank, partial water changes are more practical for maintaining consistent water quality, rather than having to change a large proportion (or all) of the water in a smaller tank. A general guideline often quoted is 10 gallons per inch of turtle.

Filtration

There are several options for filters. When it comes to turtles, choose a filter rated for two to three times the size of your turtle tank. For instance, if you have a 20-gallon tank, choose a filter rated for 60 gallons, even if the tank is not full. Filters with several different levels for removing waste matter as well as by-products are recommended (i.e., mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration). The topic of filters can seem complicated and daunting—filter types and filtration sites cover the pros and cons of different filtration methods as well as tips on maximizing the benefits of filters.

Partial Water Changes

Regularly take out part of the water and replace it with fresh water. This removes and dilutes waste products. The frequency of partial changes and how much water you need to change out will vary depending on factors including the size of your turtle(s), the size of the tank, the filter, and whether you feed in the tank. Frequent partial water changes (weekly or perhaps two to three times a week if necessary) will do a lot to help keep the water quality high. Using a gravel vacuum or a siphon to remove water makes this job a lot easier, but never prime a siphon by mouth due to the risk of salmonella contamination.

WARNING: Be aware of the risks of salmonella and take appropriate precautions when you are changing water, cleaning filters, or other turtle tank accessories, and handling your turtles.

Skip the Substrate

Keeping the bottom of the tank bare makes cleaning easier since wastes and uneaten food can’t get trapped in the rocks. Rocks or large gravel (too big to be ingested) at the bottom of a tank can be attractive but aren’t necessary.

Feed Outside of the Tank

One way to reduce the amount of waste you need to manage in the tank is to feed your turtle in a separate container, though this is a matter of choice. Try a smaller plastic tub or storage container. Using water from the tank is an easy way to make sure the temperature of the water is warm enough; just replace the water taken out for feeding with fresh water (and you’ve done a partial water change at each feeding). This eliminates the problem of excess food decaying in the tank, and turtles often go to the bathroom shortly after eating, so the amount of turtle waste accumulating in the tank is reduced as well. Then you can just clean and sanitize the lightweight feeding container after each feeding.

However, this is a lot of additional work and the extra handling may be stressful. You may choose the separate feeding tub for messier or higher protein meals, and feed other less messy foods like greens and vegetables in the tank. Many owners decide to feed in the tank too, which is fine, especially with a good system of filtration, water changes, and monitoring. Scooping out excess food particles and doing water changes shortly after feeding can also help if you feed in the tank.

President

The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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