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calcium metabolism
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Turtle Talk – Caring For Your Red-eared Slider Turtle
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Turtle Talk – Caring for Your Red-eared Slider Turtle

Red-eared slider turtles need more care than most pets, so think twice before letting one capture your heart. Caring for your red-eared slider takes work and time but is well worth the effort. They are fun to watch, feed, and believe it or not, interact with.

There are many considerations to address before you bring one of these tiny creatures home.

Things to Consider

How long do they live? Getting a red-eared slider for a pet is a big commitment as they can live to the ripe old age of 40 with proper care. This is the first thing anyone thinking about having a pet red-eared slider should take seriously. They live much longer than the average pet.

How big should their tank be? The size of the habitat necessary to keep your turtle healthy is one of the biggest considerations. Aquatic turtles need room to move, swim, and sun. Think 10 gallons of tank for every inch of turtle; or 5 inches of tank length and 2 inches of tank depth for every inch of turtle. If your turtle is only two inches in length, then a 20-gallon tank will suffice. If it is fully grown, 10-12 inches long, a 100-gallon tank is needed. This is why many people turn to outdoor ponds. Once turtles reach maturity, ponds are great if you live in a warm climate. But if you live in one where it is very cold in a given season or all year round, heating the pond will be necessary and keeping the temperature steadily at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit can present a challenge.

Do they need special lighting? Light domes and special bulbs for heating, sunning, and possibly spying will keep your special pet healthy and happy. Since these turtles need sunlight to survive, a UVB bulb is what you want for daytime hours. This aids calcium metabolism. If the turtle is kept in a cool environment, a heat lamp is the ticket. And there are other bulbs just for viewing. These are nice at night as they are usually red or blue and don’t interfere with the turtle’s sleep. Domes for the bulbs are generally set directly on the top of the tank, which should be metal mesh, not plastic as the plastic could melt. Be careful when you buy the dome. They come with various maximum wattage allowances. You could well end up with a bulb that will overheat the dome and could cause electrical problems.

What do they eat? A variety of food is nutritionally necessary, especially as turtles grow larger. Turtle pellets are a good source of most nutritional needs but should be supplemented with fruit and vegetation, worms, and insects cut into bite-sized portions. They also eat krill and shrimp that you can get at your local pet store. Smaller turtles may not be ready for fruit and vegetables but will want it as they grow larger. It is a good idea to introduce fruits and green leafy vegetables to your young turtle so it won't shy away from them later.

What about water quality? Water quality is very important. You will see a quick decline in the red-eared slider behavior and health if the water is not cleaned regularly. Their waste and leftover food contribute to contamination and ammonia by-products can cause the turtle discomfort. Water must be clean of chlorine and chloramines. There are products that de-chlorinate the water. Letting tap water sit out for a day or two will also help by evaporating the chlorine, but not the chloramines, by the time you fill the tank with it.

A filter is the best way to keep your turtle’s tank clean, debris and chemical free. The filter should be stronger than specified for the tank size as turtles leave large amounts of waste in the water and uneaten food remains further muck up the environment.

Do they need heater? Red-eared sliders require warm temperatures. If you run the air-conditioner to a chilly degree or live in a cold environment even part of the year where you have an outdoor turtle pond, your slider’s tank will need a heater. Heaters are available in all shapes and sizes. There are flat ones for use under the tank and others for use in the tank. If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to avoid needing a heater. A thermometer will come in handy to ensure that the turtle’s water temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other special needs? To provide calcium and prevent overgrown beaks, there are products you can get that will float (after a while they sink) around in the tank enticing the turtle to gnaw and relieve chewing urges while gaining the calcium it needs at the same time.

Live aquatic plants are also something to consider because turtles like to snack on them and can use them to supplement their nutritional needs.

Is gravel okay? Resist the urge to add gravel to the turtle tank. There should be nothing in the tank that is small enough for your turtle to eat except food. To dress up the tank, stones add a nice touch but aren’t necessary.

How does the turtle bask? Your turtle will need a dock for sunning under that UVA/UVB light and will outgrow docks by degrees. There are different sizes available and this will be something that needs to be upgraded periodically.

What about Salmonella? Many amphibians can carry Salmonella and the red-eared slider is no exception. There are turtles raised to be Salmonella-free but it has been determined that while they may be free from this bacteria for a time, the chance that they will eventually contract it is high. It is part of their biology. It is not a good idea to even consider a pet like the red-eared slider if there is a household member with immunodeficiancy disorder or is othewise immuno-compromised. Children should be closely monitored and taught how to clean their hands well after handling the pet turtle and to avoid touching their face or other people or objects until they clean up. Salmonella is in the same gene pool as E-coli and should be taken seriously. This is not necessarily a reason not to get a turtle. Many people, like me, own red-eared sliders and have no problem. However, it is something to be aware of and consider before taking a red-eared slider home.

Is all this expensive? As you can see, expense might be an issue as much of what the turtle needs is consumable. And as the turtle grows, it will outgrow it’s environment and larger tanks, docks, and filters become necessary as well. In caring for a red-eared slider, count on frequent trips to the pet store for food, filter replacements, light bulbs, calcium chews, water conditioners, and treats after you have all you need to set up your turtle’s initial environment.

Caring for red-eared sliders is a bit of an undertaking. Commitment for the long haul is the biggest consideration. Once you make the commitment, caring for your pet red-eared slider becomes something you just do—like taking care of anyone in your family. Caring for these turtles and watching them move about their tanks can also be a therapeutic and calming experience that relieves life’s stresses.


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