Pet turtles: How hard can they be?

Pet turtles: How hard can they be?

Keeping a pet turtle must be so easy. You put water into a glass tank, add a turtle, then presto —you have everything taken care of!

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Turtles are, in my opinion, one of the most difficult animals to keep, but what makes them so difficult?

Aquatic turtles (there are other types of turtles, including terrapins, tortoises and sea turtles) require lots of water —10 gallons of space per 1 inch of shell. The size of the tank is very important because they need space to grow. It is true that if you keep them in a smaller tank, they won’t grow, but this doesn’t mean that this is healthy for them. The turtle’s shell will not grow as much as it should, but the spine will continue to grow, causing them to have a very oddly shaped back. Sometimes the tops of their shells will continue to grow, causing what is called pyramiding. Pyramiding is bad because it can cause problems with the turtle’s lungs, problems for females if they are going to lay eggs at some point in their life, and it can cause them to develop arthritis, which will give the turtle pain when it moves around.

On top of that they need heat, UVB lighting and filters. Turtles also require a varied diet that consists of fish, insects and pellet food. They occasionally eat plant matter, fruit and vegetables (not necessary). The lighting is very important to help with their growth. UVB gives off vitamin D3 that helps reptiles absorb calcium, which is important to help with their growth and to help prevent the terrible MBD (metabolic bone disease). MBD is a disease that will cause the bones and shell of the turtle to weaken, which is obviously not something you want.

Another thing that is important in the life of a turtle is a clean tank. This sounds easy but unfortunately turtles are extremely messy animals. This is not because they try to be messy but a result of them living where they do their business. Knowing they are messy means that their tanks require frequent cleaning as well as a strong filter. I recommend doubling up on the amount of filtration for their tanks: for example, if they are in a 75-gallon tank, use two filters that are rated for a 75-gallon tank.

Turtles might be more work than what people think but they are very rewarding pets. Watching them swim, chase food or follow you as you walk by the tank makes it all worth it!

Laurie Hahn

The Associated Press

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