Pet Turtles make excellent land or aquatic pets. Aquatic turtles should have both water and some land upon which to rest. Land turtles may require a spacious secured area; especially larger turtles should be kept outdoors. Smaller species like box turtles are okay in terrariums. Some turtles and tortoises are herbivores while other may diet on worms and insects. Proper diet, clean water, and clean surroundings are vital. A veterinarian may assist with diet, health, and regulatory information.
Turtles (referred to as either tortoises or terrapins in Britain if they are terrestrial or freshwater aquatic respectively) have been quite widely kept as pets in many countries.
Thorough research should be done before purchasing any turtle or tortoise as a pet. Many sellers acquire their stock from the wild. This practice is contributing to the reduced populations in their natural habitats. Many turtles and tortoises are shipped in inadequate conditions and get sick or die before reaching the sellers. Many pet stores do not have personnel with the knowledge to recognize disease symptoms. An unsuspecting customer can go home with an ill animal and later, when symptoms are advanced, notice something is wrong. Many wild caught chelonians do not adapt to life in captivity and fail to thrive.
Contrary to popular belief, turtle and tortoises are not easy to care for pets. Even though many are purchased as pets for children, children should be supervised in their care and never left to be the primary care giver. Aquatic turtles can live 30-40 years and box turtles and tortoises can live to 60-100 years or more with proper care, so turtle ownership is not a commitment to be taken lightly.
Most freshwater turtles are omnivores eating both plant and animal matter. The young start off being more carnivorous and then eat more plant matter as they age. Some freshwater turtles such as the snapping turtle are mostly carnivorous, eating fish, crustaceans, carrion and occasionally unsuspecting water birds when in the wild. Freshwater turtles such as cooters and red-eared sliders are primarily herbivores eating various aquatic plants. Most tortoises are 100 percent herbivores.
Below are some of the most common problems people have with keeping turtles and tortoises as pets. As with any pet, thorough research about its care and needs should be done before acquisition. There is much poor care information on turtles and tortoises promoted through the Internet and at pet stores. It is wise to seek out several sources for care information to assure that information is the best. Stay updated on new information as it becomes available from herpetologists and veterinarians well trained and updated on chelonian care.
Metabolic Done Density Disease (MBD) and related problems - pyramiding, soft shell, over-grown breaks and toenails, insufficient UVB and sunlight
Dystocia (or egg binding)
Poor Husbandry - bacterial infections and shell rot, fungal infections, respiratory infections, prolapses, low quality of life, neglect
Obesity - major organ failure, shortened life span
Lack of vet care provided by owner
Poor care information received by owner
There are health concerns that should be known when considering a turtle as a pet. Any reptile can carry the salmonella bacteria. Turtles can carry this bacteria in their digestive system without becoming sick and can shed it periodically. People can become sick if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after handling turtles or any equipment used with them. Children and those with impaired immune systems are the ones that usually suffer the most when exposed. Death has been known to occur. Due to unsupervised children putting small turtles into their mouth, the FDA made a regulation in 1975 to discontinue the sale of turtles under 4 inches. Thorough hand washing easily prevents exposure to the salmonella bacteria. It is illegal in every state in the U.S. for anyone to sell any turtle under 4 inches long. Although, many stores and flea markets still sell small turtles due to a loophole in the FDA regulation. This loophole allows turtles under 4 inches to be sold for "educational" purposes. Many sellers will sell small turtles posting a sign that they are for educational purposes but then sell to anyone who wants one. These sellers can be reported and either comply with the regulation or the turtles can be confiscated and quite often killed.