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Do Turtles Drink Water?

Every animal alive needs water and while some animals drink it, there are certainly other ways to get it. So, what about aquatic animals like turtles? Do turtles drink water?

Yes, they certainly do!

These aquatic reptiles, including pet turtles, sea turtles, and water turtles, spend a majority of their time submerged, naturally ingesting water from their marine or aquatic environments. If you have terrestrial turtles (land turtles), such as box turtles or tortoises then you’ll need to provide a shallow dish so that they can hydrate whenever they feel the need for a little refreshment.

The water should be in a large container that is easily accessible and don’t be surprised if your turtle gets into it from time to time. Box turtles sometimes need to be in the water and a large, accessible container will allow them to climb in when they feel with need with little or no difficulty.

Water is the turtle’s main source of hydration and today we’ll talk a little more about that. We’ll cover how proper hydration helps them to regulate their temperatures, as well as helping them to swallow, and we’ll cover the importance of clean water in an aquatic turtle enclosure.

Finally, we’ll touch a little on terrestrial turtles and their water bowl requirements and cover some popular questions on our way out. If you’re ready, then let’s talk about hydration, your turtle, and what you need to know about both!

A sea turtle heads back into the water after laying her eggs
A sea turtle heads back into the water after laying her eggs

The Importance Of Hydration

Just like humans, turtles require water to live. Water is important for energy production, temperature control, and hydration. Aquatic turtles live in the water and cannot be away from it for very long periods of time. Most cannot even eat out of water, as it helps them to properly swallow their food!

It also plays an important role in nourishing the cells and helps to regulate temperature, so be sure to keep the water in your turtle’s enclosure clean or if you have a tortoise, keep their water bowl full and fresh.

In the sections to follow we’ll take a more in-depth look at why hydration is so important for your turtle, just to drive the lesson home!

Turtles Need Water to Regulate Their Body Temperature

Turtles are cold-blooded and rely on the temperature of the environment to help regulate their body heat. This is unlike warm-blooded humans. The human body tries to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the temperature of the environment.

With turtles, their body temperature is usually in the low 70s, but it’s more accurate to say that it will fall well within the same range as the environment.

Drinking water can help the turtle to cool its internal temperature, and basking can help them to raise it. On hot days, your turtle may drink more than it usually does, although if they’ve had enough then they might just submerge themselves to cool down instead.

This is also true for terrestrial turtles, such as box turtles, who love settling down into their water bowls to cool down and soak for a bit in the pleasant, shallow depths.

Turtles Need Water to Swallow

Most turtles cannot eat without swallowing water, although there are some exceptions to the rule.

Terrestrial turtles, for instance, can eat out of water with no difficulty at all, but for aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles eating in the water helps them to properly swallow their food.

So why do turtles need to swallow water when they’re eating? Well, that’s all down to saliva. Most aquatic turtles are unable to produce it, so they need a little water to ‘wet their whistle’ and properly wash down what eat. It’s not complicated — the water just helps the turtle to push the food down their throats.

The water is also used to hydrate the turtle’s papillae, which are tiny, fleshy projections in the mouth and throat. These papillae point backward and help to keep what the turtle just swallowed from coming out.

In addition, water helps with digestion, so even if a turtle plucks some food from a rocky outcrop just above the water, they’ll still pull it into the pond to eat it.

Turtles drink more water when eating a meat-based diet and less when eating vegetables and fruits, as the latter generally contain more water than meat-based foods.

A turtle pond with two turtles basking
Turtles drink the water that they swim in, so be sure to keep it clean!

Aquatic Turtles Drink The Same Water They Live in

It may not come as a surprise to you, but aquatic animals drink the same water they live in and this includes both sea and freshwater animals.

You may be wondering, ‘Isn’t it dangerous that they drink the same water they swim and even excrete in?’, and surprisingly, it isn’t! An abundance of healthy bacteria exists in the world and helps to break down animal waste and toxins in the water.

Keep in mind, of course, that we’re not talking about turtle enclosures, but rather turtle ponds. The water bodies the turtles live in are generally large enough that the concentration of harmful bacteria is only going to be very small.

While natural aquatic habitats are huge, aquariums and tanks are generally much smaller in comparison – especially if we’re talking about a 100-gallon tank.

Most aquatic turtles live in swamps, lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Due to the limited amount of water in an aquarium or tank, you’ll need to put in a little extra effort to ensure that the water the aquatic turtle drinks is clean.

Keeping your turtle’s water clean

Start with a large tank and fill that with enough water for the size of your turtle. As a rule of thumb, for every inch of the turtle’s upper shell, add 10 gallons of water. For instance, a turtle with an upper shell length of 10 inches in a 100-gallon tank.

If you have several turtles you wish to house in the same tank, then start your baseline water amount with the largest turtle’s shell length, and for every additional turtle add 5 gallons for each inch of the turtle’s upper shell.

Next, the water needs to be continuously filtered, and we recommended using an aquarium filter pump which is rated for twice the volume of water in the tank. The reason why you want to double the power is that aquarium filters are designed with fish in mind, rather than turtles.

This is an important distinction, as turtles are A LOT messier than fish. So, for 100 gallons of water in your turtle’s tank, install a filter that is rated for 200 gallons of water. If you have 200 gallons of water, get a filter for 400 gallons, and so on!

An excellent filter that you might try is the Penn Plax Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter.

You’ll also need to keep the water chemistry within a safe range. The chlorine level, in particular, needs to be just right. Chlorine is bad for your turtle, so you want to make sure that the chlorine level of the water is at zero.

Don’t worry! This isn’t hard to do, as leaving the water uncovered overnight is generally enough time for the chlorine to dissipate from the water on its own.

Still, to cover your bases, we recommend treating the water with an aquarium water conditioner such as API Turtle Water Conditioner. You can also find water testers in most pet shops that sell aquatic animals so that you can doublecheck your work.

If you don’t have a pet store nearby, then you can simply order some testers online and that way you can regularly check and maintain the condition of the water inside your turtle’s enclosure.

Idelaly, chlorine and Ammonia levels should be 0. Nitrite levels should be 0 to 0.5 ppm, and Nitrate levels should be 0 to 40 ppm. Finally, pH levels need to be between 6 and 8.

If your turtle is a species that can live in brackish water, then you can add a teaspoon of non-iodized salt to every one to five gallons of water to simulate their natural environment.

The salt must be non-iodized or you can simplify things by purchasing aquarium salt such as the API Freshwater Aquarium Salt.

The diamondback terrapin is an example of one of the turtles that prefer to live in brackish water exclusively, but you can research your own turtle to find out what kind of water they’ll prefer.

Your final consideration is going to be changing the water frequently to help keep it as clean as possible. Even with a large tank and a capable filter, this is something that you’ll need to do.

If you don’t yet have a filter installed, then it gets a bit more labor intensive, as you’re going to need to change all the water in the tank EVERY DAY.

If you have a filter installed, then tank maintenance is much easier, as you only need to change about a third of the water in the tank every week – although at the 2 to 3 mark you should consider changing the water completely for best results.

A paint tray can easily be made into a turtle bowl
Some paint trays can make excellent turtle bowls. They have a ramp to get out, so you just need to clean it well and make a ramp in front to get in!

If you’d like to check out more filters, we’ve got you covered with the 8 best filters for turtle tanks in 2024. Link opens in a new window, so that it’ll be ready when you are!

Terrestrial Turtle Drinking Bowl

For aquatic turtles, you don’t need to provide a drinking bowl on the dry parts of the tank, as they’ll already be drinking the water in their tanks. For terrestrial turtles like the Western box turtle, however, you’re going to need a water dish.

Pick a BIG one that’s easy for your turtle to climb into, as love to get inside their water bowls for a nice, long soak. As you might guess, you’ll need to change out this water frequently, as the turtle will dirty it up quickly and might even poo in the bowl!

The bowl should be large and deep enough for the turtle to walk around in with relative ease. For box turtles, a container that is about 2.5 gallons would be large enough, which should help you visualize what size might be ideal for your turtle.

Box turtles, believe it or not, can swim! They aren’t particularly graceful or swift swimmers, but whenever they feel the need a box turtle has no trouble at all climbing into the water and swimming where they want to go.

Regardless of this, the water in the bowl should be at a level no higher than what the turtle can comfortably stand in while still keeping their head above water.

The main reason to keep the water level low is to allow them to move around with no difficulty, but this also makes the water bowl more comfortable for your turtle to have a nice soak in. It should also be easy for the turtle to climb into and out of.

While the water dish lets the turtle get a drink whenever they like, it also serves the purpose of giving them a way to stay hydrated and cool, and sometimes items around the house are perfect for repurposing into a water bowl.

A paint tray, for instance, is an excellent choice.! You could also use a shallow ceramic bowl. The turtle won’t be picky about it, provided that it’s easy to get into and can hold enough water for them to comfortably soak inside.

You can also get a commercially made water bowl and some are specially designed for turtles, so that they’ll include ramps so turtles of all sizes can easily get into the bowl.

This 3 PCS Tortoise Food Dish with Ramp and Tortoise Water Bowl is a great example that you can use for your turtle if you like. You can always visit your local pet store as well. If they sell turtles, you are likely to find water dishes available.

As far as keeping that water clean, we recommend changing the water in the dish at least once a day. Some sources advise that you should do this every 2 to 3 days, but as the turtle dirties up the water quickly, daily changing is usually best.

As with aquatic turtles, the type of water used is important. Tap water contains chlorine, so you’ll want to use a water conditioner such as API Turtle Water Conditioner to treat it first or you could even go with bottled water.

We recommend using the tap water treated with water conditioner, as that is usually the more affordable option, but if you run out then it’s fine to simply go with the bottled water.

Just be sure to test the bottled water first to ensure that it doesn’t contain chlorine or other harmful chemicals if you haven’t already tested that particular brand.

While you could use tap, it is not recommended, as the chlorine levels in potable tap water are perfectly safe for human consumption but a bit too chlorinated for turtles!

Diet and Water Consumption

Different types of turtles have varying water needs based on their diet. Turtles that consume a lot of plant-based foods, such as dark leafy greens including collard greens, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, intake a lot of water through these high water content food items.

On the other hand, turtles fed with more animal protein might show increased water requirements to aid in digestion. It’s fascinating to note that wild turtles, which consume a diverse range of food sources, often spend a lot of time near water sources in their natural habitat for this reason.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you provide drinking water for a turtle?

That depends on the species of turtle. For aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles that spend most of their time in water already, you won’t need an extra source – they’ll simply drink the water that they swim in.

With terrestrial turtles, such as map turtles, a water bowl that is big enough for them to also soak in is going to be the best way to provide them with water.

Do turtles really drink their own tank water?

Yes, Aquatic turtles such as snappers, cooters, and sliders will drink the water that they’re swimming in, so there is no need to provide an extra water bowl on the dry portions of their enclosure.

While this doesn’t sound very sanitary, keep in mind that beneficial bacteria in ponds and other water bodies help to naturally deal with waste and toxins, so that harmful bacterial volume is actually quite low.

In an enclosure, however, you’ll need to change the water regularly to ensure that it’s safe for your turtle to live in and to drink!

Can I put salt in a freshwater turtle’s tank?

Yes, you can, provided that your turtle is a species that can live in brackish water. Most freshwater turtles can — and adding salt into their water helps to decrease bad bacteria and protects the shell.

When using salt, be sure to go with a non-iodized variety. You can also buy aquarium salt such as the API Freshwater Aquarium Salt.

With the commercial salt, just follow the directions on the package, or with your own non-iodized saly simply add a teaspoon for every one to five gallons of water.

Understanding Your Turtle’s Water Needs

Every turtle species has different water needs. While aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders thrive in water environments, requiring big swimming areas and frequent water changes, land turtles such as the popular pet tortoises live in more arid environments and may suffer from lack of water if not properly cared for.

It’s important for turtle owners, especially those new to caring for these fascinating creatures, to understand their specific species’ water requirements, whether they’re managing a marine environment for sea turtles or ensuring their land-dwelling friends have access to a separate water bowl.

Regularly consulting with pet stores for the best practices in turtle care can greatly benefit the health and lifespan of your pet turtle.

Wrapping up

Turtles, like all other living things, need to drink water to survive. Aquatic turtles will simply drink the water in the aquarium and for this reason, it is important to ensure that the water in the turtle tank is always clean and potable.

If your turtle is terrestrial, then you’ll need to offer it water in a large dish that they can easily climb into and out of.

The water dish needs to be cleaned and the water should be changed regularly to ensure that it’s healthy enough for the turtles to drink and soak themselves in when they like!

Just don’t forget to invest in water testers so that you can check the tank water from time to time and you can rest assured that your turtle is enjoying the best quality water that you can provide!

Curious about upgrading your turtle’s home? Find out how to build and outdoor or an indoor turtle pond – they look amazing and it’s easier to do than you think!

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