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How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water?

painted turtle hatchling crawling along shoreline of pond

Turtles make great pets for families with cat or dog allergies or those who don’t have time to take their pet out for a walk multiple times a day. However, if you assume turtles are low-maintenance animals that will be able to thrive in a small tank in your home, think again. They need plenty of room to roam around and require an environment with relatively strict temperature control. Their enclosures also need to be cleaned fairly often.

In addition to providing your turtle with an enclosure that has ample space, you will also need to give him a swimming area. Although turtles are not entirely aquatic, they spend a lot of their time in the water. In fact, turtles need water to hydrate and regulate their body temperature. The question of how long a turtle can go without water ultimately depends on several factors including its age, specific species, and the temperature of its enclosure. Generally speaking, a turtle can go about 8 hours without water in a warm and dry environment.  

In this article, we will discuss which aquatic turtle species make the best pets, why turtles need water, and how to provide fresh and clean water to your turtles.


Which Turtle Species Make Good Pets?

turtle in nature
Image Credit: Pixabay

Before purchasing a pet turtle, you should know that many turtles may start out small, but they can and do easily outgrow a standard tank; some varieties can grow to be the size of the lid on a garbage can. There are hundreds of turtle species in existence, but the best turtle species for beginners are red-eared sliders, mud turtles, musk turtles, and painted turtles. All of these species are aquatic or semi-aquatic, which means you should provide them with an adequate swimming area.

Box turtles are another popular pet turtle species that do not actually require a water area for swimming. Instead, they need a shallow water dish for drinking and wading. Box turtles can swim, but they are not particularly strong swimmers, so if you put them in a deeper swimming area, they are more likely to drown.

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Why Do Turtles Need Water?

the shell of a red eared slider turtle
Image Credit: zoosnow, Pixabay

In addition to drinking and swimming, aquatic turtles actually need water to eat. This is because they do not produce saliva; the water actually helps them swallow their food. As a result, you will find that turtles spend a lot of time in the water: swimming, eating, drinking, and even defecating. As we will discuss, it is important to keep your turtle’s water clean.

As cold-blooded animals, turtles also rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, they will go into the water to cool off when they get too hot basking. It is important for your turtle’s water and tank temperature to be well-regulated; if the water is too cold, turtles can become ill. The water temperature should be between 72–82°F at all times.

How To Provide Your Turtle With Fresh Water

turtle aquarium_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

One of the biggest considerations you should make when setting up your turtle’s enclosure is the type of water you are providing. There are conflicting opinions about whether tap water is healthy for turtles. Chlorine is often added to tap water as a disinfectant, and though the amount of chlorine is safe for humans to drink, it can irritate your turtles. It can also destroy useful bacteria in your turtle’s tank, interrupting the nitrogen cycle. Due to the potential issues that regular tap water can present, it’s a good idea to dechlorinate your tap water before you add it to your turtle’s tank. You can purchase water conditioners that make the process simple.

You also need to make sure to clean your turtle’s tank regularly. Turtles spend a lot of time in the water, and as a result, it will become dirty very quickly. If you don’t take care to clean the water frequently, not only will your turtle’s tank look murky and probably smell bad, but your turtles could also become ill. One way to achieve a clean tank is to regularly replace a portion of your turtle’s water with fresh water. This way, you can dilute waste in the water. You should also invest in a filter. A good rule of thumb for purchasing a filter is to select a filter that is rated for a larger tank than you have.



The specific amount of time that your turtle can go without water depends on its species, age, and overall climate. However, if possible, you should provide your turtle with clean water at all times; doing so is very important to your turtle’s wellbeing.

Looking for more turtle articles? Try What Do Turtles Like to Play With!

Featured Image Credit: JJ Gouin, Shutterstock

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