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Pet Turtle Basics

Generally something that comes to mind when adding a new family member is cost. Below we have created a small guide to give you an idea of what you are going to spend on your new pet turtle. Creating a comfortable habitat is important for your turtle.

It is possible you already have a turtle and came to us looking for some advice. We know you want to provide the best turtle care possible so below we have provided a list of things to give you a basic idea of what the basic items are. If you haven’t cared for turtles before this will be a great place to start.

Time Considerations

Food Preparation

The time spent preparing food for your turtle is going to vary. Feeding pellets versus salad is going to make a big difference in time. The best option to compromise would be to do half and half.

An estimate for time would be around 10 minutes per day. Preparing some vegetables or worms etc is going to take a bit of time.

  • Do I have time to feed my turtle every day?

Expect to attend to food needs daily but it is good to know that turtles are able to skip a day. Try not to use skip days regularly, but you could use them when you are out of town.

Do not leave food in the enclosure to rot!

  • Daily Chores Changing the water in the box turtle water bowl, checking the temperature under the basking lamp, checking lights and heater for proper function, removing obvious feces, looking at the animal and talking to it. If you don’t have time for those, should you really have a pet? It takes 5-10 minutes a day to do these chores.
  • Weekly Cleanings The time it takes to clean an enclosure depends a lot on the setup. For water turtles, using good filtration is a key element in reducing water changes and cleaning chores. Enclosures should never smell bad or look dirty. It takes anything from 10-30 minutes to clean a well-set up enclosure.
  • Socialize with your pet turtle Spending time with your pet is important, they require attention too. If you don’t have time, then it probably isn’t a wise choice to have a pet.
  • Regular Care taking As with everything in life, things change. Business trips, vacations, children, these things take time. You need to be sure you can provide the basic care to your turtles even as responsibilities change. Pets should not be given away even when things change. Shelters are usually full, and adoptive homes are hard to find. Pets should never be released into the wild either.
  • Pet Sitter When travelling your pet will still need feeding and attention, friends and neighbors are fine for occasional pet sitting. If you are travelling for extended periods a professional pet sitter may be something to look into.

Space Considerations

  • Space for a full grown turtle As there are several different types of species, sizes can very. Once you have established your species the needed information can be found on care sheets. Females usually get bigger than males. You can change the setup as the turtles grow or build a large setup to begin with, this is entirely your call.
  • Safety Keep them in a safe environment away from other pets and young children.
  • Environment Be aware that turtles can overheat as much as they can be too cold. A top-floor apartment without air conditioning will be too hot for a box turtle in summer. Warming them up is a bit easier than cooling them off.

General Considerations

  • Do I know how to handle the animal? Yes, this matters. A turtle that’s turned on its back all the time, or dropped, or held by the tail is not going to be very happy. Turtles can be handled, but they are not lap pets, and they should not be left to roam on the floor without supervision. If you upset them they may bite.
  • Are you afraid of turtles? If your turtle bites you, will you still handle it? You will still have to move it for cleanings or vet visits (min. once a year).
  • Do you have young children? Education will be important here. When don’t handling or feeding the turtles, hands should always be washed with warm water and soap. Sometimes it is recommended not to have turtles indoors at all in households with young children.
  • Do you have other pets? Animals get jealous too! You will need to make sure to have an adequate enclosure protecting them from Dogs, cats, etc. We wouldn’t want them to get hurt playing with the bigger animals.
  • Why do I want a turtle? This is the first question to ask before buying a pet. It’s a good question to ask after doing this questionnaire. If you still want a turtle now, and you are confident that you can provide for it, go forth and enjoy turtling!

Financial Considerations

Cost can be up to you, it is possible to put something together at a low cost, but it also depends on how in depth your set up will be. Turtles are living beings and do deserve to be treated in a humane way, which means they should have acceptable living quarters.

Many items can generally be found new or used at swap meets, online auctions and classifieds.


Adopt from a friend, a rescue, through a club, from an animal hospital, through the newspaper.Be aware that sometimes there are adoption fees, and rescues may require medical care.$0-20
Animals from stores and private breeders.Depending on the seller, these turtles may be in healthy or require some medical care. You should have all your pets tested for parasites. This is an important preventative measure. If your turtle has parasites they can be treated and this will prevent the spread or further illness.$15-100
Designer Turtles from a reputable dealer/breeder.Turtles with unique patterns or colors generally have delicate health. Extra care should be taken to ensure they are healthy and live a good life. If the turtle or turtles are shipped, be sure to soak them on arrival and take special care to make sure they are healthy.Don’t forget to have them tested for parasites!No limit

Check out the below for more

Enclosure/Cage/Living Space:

Garage sales, swap meet, classifieds, these are all great for picking things up at to build your turtle enclosure.For water turtles be sure the tank is large enough.If keeping your pet turtle outside be sure to cover the enclosure to protect them from predators.Be creative and think outside the box. Kiddy pools, buckets, cement mixers, etc. these can all be used to build a unique environment for your new turtle friends.$0-20
Online Auctions, Forums, Classifieds and pet stores as all great places to look for cages as well. Remember to think outside the box and don’t be afraid to create a custom cage for outdoors or indoors for box turtles. This can be fit to your available space.$20-200
Customize! Build or have a custom environment made and make it fit your space!$80+


Desk lamp with incandescent bulb. Even cheaper is natural sunlight: Keep your turtle outdoors at least part of everyday (natural light is better). Balconies are safe and work great all year, but be sure your turtle is accustomed to the climate you are in.Don’t forget to check classified, online Auctions, and garage sales!$0-20
Hardware store fixture with incandescent or ceramic heater. Ceramic heaters are great. The initial cost is greater, but they can be left on, all energy is converted to heat, and they last for many years.$30-50
Ceramic heating elements, fixture, and thermostat or rheostat. If you are using a high-powered heating element, a regulator is necessary to prevent overheating. Being conscious of the turtle or turtles important. Sometimes the pads can get to hot if they are not regulated.$40-150

Temperature Control/Thermometer:

Thermometer, humidity gauge, thermostat.$5-100

Water Heater for Water Turtles:

Aquarium heater from yard sale or heating pad (under tank). Be sure to protect the heater. If using a heating pad, ensure it is not turned up too high and controlled by a thermostat.$0-15
Aquarium water heater. Wattage will vary depending on tank size. If you are unable to get the unbreakable type make a cover for the heater. Heaters with plastic covers are also available.$15-50
“Unbreakable” aquarium heater with thermostat and temperature indicator.$20-40

Filtration/Water cleansing:

Aquarium filter that’s big enough for the tank from garage sale, classifieds.$0-10
Sponge type submersible or side-mounted filter. These are cheaper than but not nearly as effective as the Fluvals. Even though there is a filter, the water still needs to be changed.$15-30
Fluval 3 or 4 submersible filter or equivalent. Best for indoor tanks.$40-60

Full Spectrum Lighting:

Keep your turtles outdoors or take them outside every day or two for at least half an hour. You can have a day setup outdoors or on a balcony. Be sure to keep it covered to protect the turtles from other animals.$0-10
Full spectrum lighting rated for reptiles. Expect to replace bulbs every 6-12 months. Cheaper fixtures are available from hardware stores. Hoods can often be bought at garage sales, online, or in the classifieds.$15-100
Purchase a nice fixture with the appropriate full spectrum bulbs.$200+
  • Bedding for Box Turtles:
Newspaper, folded and/or shredded or soft paper towels. Change daily for sanitation purposes.$0
Coconut fiber seems to be popular. Be sure to clean it every day removing excrement and all contaminated fibers. Change the bedding once every week to ten days depending on enclosure size and number of turtles. Keep the fibers moist as this allows the turtles to dig.$20/month
  • Water Bowl for Box Turtles:
There are many nice designs available, both in terms of aesthetics as well as functionality.Don’t forget to keep the turtles ability to easily access the water.0-$20+
  • Hiding Place for land Turtles:
Cardboard box. Be sure to replace it as it will get dirty. Reusable options would be things like old milk containers, ice cream tubs, flower pots, wooden boxes, etc. Do not use cleaner containers as this may be toxic for the turtles.$0 – 10
Build something!$5+
Many designer hide-boxes, some of them just look better, some offer extra features and are nice to have. Plastic is easy to clean.$20-40
  • Decorations:
There are many accessories and decorations available. Turtles do not require them; however, they do enjoy a more lively environment. If you want to go beyond naturally available items, you can purchase decorative wood, rocks, plastic structures, and artificial plants. If you use live plants, make sure they are safe for turtles to eat.$5-100
  • Timer for Lights :
Turn lights on and off as needed.$0
Hardware store timer. Basic model works fine.$5-15
Automatic timer with varied settings, including a thermostat, that can run all your heaters and lights.$30-200
  • Transportation Carrier:
Cardboard boxes work well for short trips when the weather is warm and the trip is short. Line with paper towels or newspaper and use a lid. Don’t forget air holes! Turtles need to breathe!$0
Plastic storage container with lid. Line with paper towels, towels, or newspaper. Don’t forget the holes so your pet turtle can breathe. Use heat pack (wrapped in towel!) in winter. If you use towels, you can moisten them in summer for cooling and moisture.$5-15
Animal carrier (required for airplanes). Use towels, paper towels, or newspaper for bedding.Custom carriers that allow for transporting and viewing of your pet are great. Don’t forget you can modify existing containers to suit your needs.$40-100
  • Food:
Prepare food from the grocery store yourself. Collect snails and worms in your yard if you don’t use pesticides.Set up your own worm bin. There is a one off cost to stock the bin with red worms.$0
Commercial food- Floating sticks for water turtles or the occasional canned box turtle food for the weekend when you are away. Worms can be purchased from a bait store.$5-15/month
You can purchase more food; however, you want to stay away from a diet that is completely made up of commercially prepared foods. Turtles do well on a diet that includes red worms, night crawlers, and snails. These options are nice for turtles as a treat; pinky mouse, freeze dried crickets, fresh mango, etc.$20-40
  • Initial and Annual Medical Checkup:
All newly acquired turtles should be checked for parasites. There are different levels of examination. It would be good to ask the veterinarian what the cost is before having them all done.Take your turtle in for a visual examination and a fecal.Test for infections (blood test)Don’t forget to have annual checkups!$20+
  • Supplements:
It is best to provide a rich diet and environment. This can be difficult to say the least. For calcium, cuttlefish bone is a low cost option.$0+
For indoor turtles Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements can be helpful. Outdoor turtles would only need Calcium.$10
  • The Unexpected:
Things happen. Your turtle may get sick, lay eggs, or something breaks Put aside a little bit of money for that emergency vet visit or needed heater etc.!$20+/month
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