Health Topics

Aquatic Turtle Care - The Red-Eared Slider

(By Julie Stone RVT)

First off let me say this, turtles are a lot of work, they are very expensive to keep properly, and require a lot of special housing features that other pets may not. Mostly, reptiles such as turtles do not reciprocate love. Unlike a dog or a cat, a turtle will never want to be held or hugged, nor should you attempt to do such. That being said, many people will still proceed with acquiring a turtle as a pet. Remember this, turtles, if housed correctly, fed properly and maintained with utmost care, can live upwards of 75-100 years. Your turtle may very well outlive you!

A Brief History

Red-eared sliders are the most abundantly found turtles in pet stores for sale. They are originally from the Rockies and from throughout the United States. They spend most of their day hauled out on logs, rocks and when small enough even reeds sunning themselves. Although they are omnivores, younger turtles do require at least 40% of their daily intake to be protein related. In the wild this would mean bugs and small fish.

Males of this species will reach sexual maturity at about 2-4 years of age where as females are slower and reach it around 5-7 years of age. In captivity however, females have been known to reach maturity by 3.5 years of age. Males can be told apart from females by body size and tail length. Males in general are smaller than females in body size, but have a longer tail. They also have longer front claws.

Creating a Turtle Happy Habitat

Sliders need both a warm and dry area to bask and a large deep pool of warm water to swim, eat and defecate in. You will require not only a large container or aquarium for your habitat, but also water heaters, basking lights and UVA/UVB lighting. The turtle must be able to haul themselves out of the water and onto a suitable basking area. The water must be kept clean, due to the messy nature of turtles some owners opt to feed them in a container other than their habitat. This can help reduce how often water changes are required, but only minimally so.

Even smaller turtles will need to start with a 113-189 L glass aquarium. However they can also be kept in a large opaque plastic container or storage container if you don't want to see them swimming underwater. Be careful not to use small stones or aquarium gravel as turtles have been known to consume said substrates and end up with an intestinal blockage. Larger rocks are always a better idea. Ensure all rocks are smooth and cannot harm your turtle's shell or skin. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the turtle needs water deep enough and long enough to swim in. The tank should be at least 4-5x as long as the length of your turtles shell and depth should be 1.5-2x their length. They also need several inches of breathing space at the top. Remember if you feel your turtle needs another turtle for company then your enclosure must be that much larger. These turtles CAN grow to the size of a dinner plate over their lifetime.

This tank has both a submersed filtration system and an exterior canister one.

Proper water filtration is extremely important when it comes to keeping aquatic turtles as pets. You may need to change all or half of your water on a weekly to bi-weekly schedule depending on the number of turtles in your habitat, the filtration system you employ, and how large the enclosure is. If you feed the turtle in another tank, you may be able to get away with even longer between cleanings. Cleaning the entire tank will most likely need to be done at least once every 3-4 weeks if you change 25-50% of the water on a weekly to bi weekly basis and have a good filtration system. Turtle habitat maintenance is one of the most important aspects of turtle care. The water temperature must be maintained between 23-30°C at all times. If you buy a good quality heater, you should be able to set the temperature and have it maintain it within the safe zone. Always have a thermometer on your tank visible and check the temperature routinely. You also need to have a basking area prepared for your turtle that has an air temperature of at least 29-31°C, this can be attained by using a basking bulb available at pet stores.

Turtles also require special lighting. You must have a UVB supplemented basking and swimming area. They need this to produce pre-vitamin D so they can properly metabolize calcium. UVB can be supplemented by using special fluorescent lights such as Repti-GloŽ These lights not only produce UVB but also UVA which may have subtle psychological benefits such as increased appetite.

Feeding Your Turtle For Optimal Health

Proper nutrition can mean the difference between a healthy long lived turtle and a short lived sickly turtle. Young turtles must be fed every day and they must be fed more animal protein than adults. Adults can be fed every 2-3 days. Most pet stores now carry a range of turtle diets suited to each life stage. Buy accordingly, and remember if the food is cheap, the quality most likely is as well. Zoo-MedŽ carries a wide range of diets formulated for each stage of life. You can also offer your turtle dark leafy greens such as collard, mustard and dandelion greens. Shredded carrots, squash and green beans may also be enjoyed especially by adult turtles. You can also let them gnaw on pieces of cantaloupe with the rind well washed and left on to help trim their beak. Aquatic plants from pet stores can also be placed in their habitat so they may freely munch on them.

A vitamin supplement should be added twice a week. Use a good reptile or turtle multivitamin. Supplying them with a calcium block or a cuttle-bone is also recommended.

Signs Of A Sick Turtle

Always keep an eye on your turtle for signs of sickness. These may include but are not limited to the following: cloudy closed or swollen eyes, swollen cheeks, open mouthed breathing, bubbly mucous around the nose or mouth, runny stools, loss of appetite, listlessness, spots appearing on the bottom shell or body, soft shell or excessive shedding. Always take a turtle displaying any of these symptoms to a veterinarian specializing in reptiles. Never leave a sick turtle without adequate care.

In Closing

The most important thing to remember when handling a turtle is to wash your hands thoroughly! They can carry salmonella on themselves and can infect adults and children, so always remember to wash afterward.

For more information see Melissa Kaplan's website: www.anapsid.org

Much of my information was obtained from her website.