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Home > Turtles > Do Box Turtles Make Great Pets? Facts & Care Tips

Do Box Turtles Make Great Pets? Facts & Care Tips

Box Turtles

While many people prefer dogs and cats as pets, there are a few out there who prefer something a little less common. The box turtle is one of those pets. In fact, some species of box turtles make great pets. However, it’s important to note that many species of box turtles are decreasing, so it’s best to choose a pet born in captivity.

If you’re looking to adopt a box turtle as a pet, then there are a few things you’ll need to know. In this article, we’ll tell you why box turtles make excellent pets and anything else you need to know.


What You Need to Know About Your Box Turtle

Box turtles live primarily on land, and they can be challenging pets to keep. Though they don’t run around like cats and dogs or need their litter box changed, they do require the correct type of care. It’s important to note that keeping a box turtle as a pet is a long-term commitment, as these pets can live for decades. On top of that, getting their environment right so they can stay healthy and happy can be a bit difficult as well.

It’s also important to note that there are different species of box turtles, including the common, spotted, Mexican, ornate, and Coahuilan box turtle. Each of these turtles has different dietary requirements and different environments that they thrive best in. In this guide, we’ll talk about the common box turtle, however.

Eastern Box Turtle
Image Credit: JamesDeMers, Pixabay

Behavior and Temperament

While common box turtles can make good pets, it’s not recommended that they be given as pets to children or first-time pet owners. This is because of the complexity of their care requirements and the fact that these turtles become stressed easily and don’t need to be carried everywhere or fiddled with all the time.

The box turtle needs to be fed every day or two, and you need to clean their cage at least once weekly. While these pets don’t usually bite, if they feel overly stressed and are handled too much, it is possible. The common box turtle likes consistency in their environment, meaning they don’t want to be pulled here and there.

It’s also important to note that box turtles carry salmonella, so make sure to wash your hands very well after handling them or cleaning their enclosure. Once they’ve been in their home for a few weeks, the turtle will calm down and get used to you. You might even find that they follow you when you are in front of the enclosure to beg for food.


Your box turtle will do best in an outdoor pen that is safe for turtles. If you can’t keep your box turtle outside, it’s best to mimic his natural environment as much as possible. Make sure that you have a high enough enclosure that they can’t climb out and get lost, whether you’re keeping them inside or outside.

Box turtles don’t do well inside for long periods of time, so try to get them outside at least for part of the year if possible. You can keep a box turtle in an outdoor enclosure, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop under 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

You want to keep your pet’s enclosure at between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Make sure that your turtle’s cage doesn’t drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit because it will force them into hibernation. While hibernating isn’t bad, you need to ensure your turtle is in good health first because a turtle that is sick when it goes into hibernation might not wake up again.

Box turtle on a tree stump
Image Credit: Luiza Kleina, Shutterstock


Your turtle’s enclosure needs a humidity level of around 60%, which you can maintain by misting the enclosure daily and having the proper substrate in the bottom of his cage. Chemical-free topsoil, moss, and leaves work well to create a natural substrate environment that has the proper humidity levels. You’ll want to layer the substrate at least 4 inches thick so that your turtle can easily burrow down into it when they want to.

Food and Water Requirements

Your box turtle is an omnivore, so they have a varied diet and eats many different things. Fruits, veggies, insects, pinky mice, and low-fat meats are okay to feed to your reptile pet and things that they enjoy eating also. You can also find commercial foods specifically for box turtles, but it’s still important to have a healthy mix of those and fresh foods for the best results.

Clean water given in a shallow dish should be present in the enclosure at all times. It’s best to consult your vet for the proper amounts of food that need to be given to your box turtle.

Eastern box turtle in Michigan
Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock

Health Problems to Watch For

  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Shell rot
  • Respiratory and parasitic infection

The biggest health issue to watch out for with your common box turtle is metabolic bone disease. If you keep your turtle’s UVB lighting consistent with a UVB lamp, it should be fine, however. If you feel that your turtle is showing symptoms of this disease, it’s best to contact your vet for further treatment.

Another health problem to watch for with your common box turtle is a condition called shell rot. This is a painful condition caused by a bacterial or fungal infection that has gone untreated. If your turtle has this condition, his shell will be cracked and dry and may have an unpleasant odor coming from it.

Other health problems to watch for include respiratory and parasitic infections that can be treated by your local vet.


Tips for Choosing Your Common Box Turtle

The population of box turtles is steadily declining, so many states have laws against keeping one as a pet. Check the laws in your state before deciding you want one as a pet. If you can get one in your state, it’s essential to choose a reputable breeder, not just pick one up in the wild. When buying from a reputable breeder, you’ll be able to determine the box turtles’ history and look for any health problems also.

So, in answer to the question of whether box turtles make excellent pets, the answer is yes, but not for beginners and children. If you have the time, patience, and experience to take care of a common box turtle, one will make you a great pet for decades to come. Just remember, any type of pet is a huge responsibility, even if they just sit in an enclosure all day long.

Featured Image Credit by: allyartist, Pixabay

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