Pet Care Resources Aquatic Turtle Care Recommendations

Avian & Exotics

Aquatic Turtle Care Recommendations

Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles are beautiful, intelligent, and captivating pets that require dedicated care. With appropriate care and habitats, turtles will delight owners with their behavior and interactions.


Aquatic turtles need a large enclosure. As a general rule, the water depth should be at least one and a half to two times the turtle’s carapace (shell) length. For example, a five-inch turtle will need a 40-55 gallon tank. Space should be doubled for turtles greater than eight inches long.

Several inches of air space is needed between the top of the tank and the water surface to prevent escape. If the tank has a top, it is recommended to use a screen style top to allow proper ventilation and optimal UVB light and heat lamp exposure. UVB light will not penetrate glass.


Aquatic turtles are very messy animals, due to their voracious appetite. This causes the water to dirty quickly with food particles. Water filtration systems, along with regular water changes, are necessary. Partial water changes once a week, and full water changes once a month, is recommended. To prevent water from getting dirty too quickly, you can feed your turtle in a separate water container outside of the tank to maintain optimal water quality.

Heating and Lighting

Proper lighting and heating are necessary for the turtle’s health and growth. Basking areas where the turtle can fully emerge out of the water, such as a floating platform, allow the turtle to bring their body temperature up and absorb UVB rays. Maintaining proper water temperature is important. Water thermometers and digital/infrared temperature guns are good tools to monitor and maintain the proper heat for your turtle.

  • A heat bulb or ceramic heat emitter maintains the ambient temperature of the basking area to 85-90oF.
  • A submersible water heater maintains a proper water temperature of 82-85oF for hatchlings and 75-80oF for adults.
  • 12-14 hours each day of UVB emitting light by Reptisun® or Exo Terra is necessary for your turtle to absorb and metabolize calcium. Replace your UVB bulb every six months because UVB bulbs lose their UVB properties over time, even if they are still emitting light.


Feed young aquatic turtles every day and adult turtles every other day. Aquatic turtles need to be fed in water, but may be fed in a separate container to avoid dirtying the environment.

Commercial pelleted diets such as Zoo Med pellets, ReptoMin® sticks, and Fluker’s Crafted Cuisine should make up the majority of the turtle’s diet. Offer your turtle a variety of greens such as romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, and mustard greens. Vegetables including shredded carrots, squash, and peppers may also be offered to ensure a well-rounded diet.

Only offer protein (such as goldfish, earthworms, or frozen fish) to juvenile turtles, or as a rare treat for the adult turtle. Berries and melons make good treats for the adult aquatic turtle.

Download the Aquatic Turtle Care Guide

By MedVet |
May 22, 2020