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Do Turtles Make Good Pets? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Turtles are certainly adorable and may seem like the perfect pet, especially for those who want a quiet, docile animal. Turtles can indeed make great pets but are definitely not for everyone. These animals have long lifespans and require many years of specialized care, so it’s vital to do your research before bringing one home.

In this article, we look at the pros and cons of owning one of these unique and adorable pets. Let’s get started!

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What’s the Difference Between a Turtle and a Tortoise?

Both turtles and tortoises have become popular pets in recent years, but there are distinct differences to be aware of, as these animals have unique care requirements.

Turtles live their lives almost entirely in water, as evidenced by their flattened shells and webbed feet. There is also a difference between sea turtles and freshwater turtles, known as terrapins in some parts of the world. Sea turtles are much larger with much longer lifespans, known to live up to 100 years in some cases, whereas freshwater turtles are smaller and have adapted to living on land and water.

Tortoises are poor swimmers and live entirely on land, with short legs and sharp claws. Tortoises have longer lifespans than freshwater turtles or terrapins, often living up to 150 years or more.

pancake tortoise_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

Why Don’t Turtles Make Good Pets?

Many people believe that turtles should not be kept as pets at all because they have specific care needs that are exceedingly difficult for most people to provide. Here are important factors to consider before bringing home a pet turtle.

Housing

Since turtles are largely aquatic animals, they’ll need a large aquatic environment to live in. One of the most common turtles in the pet trade, the Red-Eared Slider, needs at least 10 gallons of tank space for every inch of shell! These turtles often reach lengths of 10 inches, so you would need 100 gallons of tank space to house them at a minimum, and double that would be preferable. This means you would need an outdoor pond to properly house them, something that most people cannot provide.

Temperature is also difficult to maintain in such a large body of water, especially if you live in areas with cold winters. Most turtles are also expert escape artists, and if you keep them in an outdoor pond, it can be difficult to keep them from escaping.

red eared slider in water
Image Credit: Piqsels

They’re Extremely Messy

Turtles are notoriously messy eaters, and after just one meal, they can leave the water in their tank filthy and in need of a change. You’ll need proper filtration and regular water changes to prevent their tank from becoming a filthy mess, which is time-consuming and expensive. Turtles can create a ton of waste after eating too, furthering the need for a heavy-duty filtration system.

They Don’t Like to Be Handled

Turtles are not cuddly, affectionate pets, and in fact, they do not enjoy handling at all. Turtles may tolerate some handling, but this will stress them out and cause health problems if it’s done too much. While they are certainly fascinating to observe, your pet turtle will not become a cuddly friend.

western painted turtle
Image Credit: Edgar Lee Espe, Shutterstock

They Can Carry Diseases

Turtles are known to carry pathogens like salmonella that can make you sick, so even if they enjoyed handling, they would still pose a risk to your health. In fact, the sale of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long was banned in 1975 due to the risk of salmonella in tiny turtles.

They Can Be Dangerous

The larger the turtle that you keep, the more dangerous they potentially become and not only because of diseases. Turtles can give a nasty bite if they want to, and they have powerful legs with sharp claws that can cause damage too. While handling a turtle regularly is not recommended, handling of some kind is inevitable, either to clean their enclosure or check on their health.

Snapping Turtle
Image credit: Sista Vonjintanaruks, Shutterstock

They Are Invasive

The most popular turtle in the pet trade, the Red-Eared Slider, is an expert escape artist. For this reason and since owners who cannot keep up with the responsibility of owning one often let them free, they are one of the most invasive turtle species in the world. This can be devastating to native turtle species because they can compete for resources and potentially carry diseases, which may lead to a steep decline in native species.

They Have Long Lifespans

With the right care, turtles can live for at least 30 years in captivity and have been known to live for up to 70 in some cases and even longer, depending on the species. This is a massive commitment, and their complicated, expensive, and time-consuming care requirements will need to be maintained for many decades.

painted turtle on a log
Image Credit: Jonathan Novack, Shutterstock

Do Turtles Make Good Pets?

Besides all these listed factors, there are positive aspects to keeping turtles as pets. If you have the time and resources to care for them, they are certainly fascinating creatures to observe.

Turtles are known to associate their owners with food and will even come to the edge of their enclosure to beg, just like a dog! They are also beautiful creatures that come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, with many different species to choose from. In fact, keeping a pet turtle can help preserve their species, as some species not commonly found in pet stores are endangered in the wild. This is the goal for most serious turtle-keepers, rather than just keeping them as a pleasing pet.

Make sure the turtle you buy is bred in captivity, though, and not wild caught. Not only are wild-caught turtles illegal, but they can have trouble adjusting to captive life and may carry diseases. Buy a turtle from a reputable breeder or rescue organization only.

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Final Thoughts

While turtles are certainly adorable and fascinating to observe, they require a tremendous amount of special care that is difficult to provide. They can make good pets, but with their exceedingly long lifespans, expensive care requirements, and potential for injury or disease, turtles are certainly not the ideal pet for everyone.


Featured Image Credit: DEZALB, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.