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Home > Turtles > How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water? Vet Reviewed Facts

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water? Vet Reviewed Facts

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

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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 your turtle 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 their age, specific species, and the temperature of their enclosure. Generally speaking, a turtle can go about 6-8 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.


How Do Turtles Drink Water?

Image By: Rozhkov Denis, Shutterstock

Depending on the type of turtle you have as a pet, they drink water in one of two ways.

Terrapins are small pet turtles that live in fresh or brackish water. They are excellent swimmers and spend time both on land and in water. Terrapins usually eat their food in water, and often drink while they eat. The amount of water your terrapin drinks will depend on their diet. They are omnivores and may get some hydration from their diet when they are offered fresh foods that are appropriate for them.

Tortoises are land animals and don’t swim well. They drink water from a shallow dish, usually a few times each day. Tortoises are herbivores and may also obtain a great deal of hydration from the vegetation they eat. However, some grass foods are dry, and a tortoise fed high amounts of dry food would therefore drink more frequently.

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Other Reasons Turtles Drink 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 ideal water temperature for aquatic turtles is 78-80°F (25.5-26.7°C). They also require a basking area that is 20°F (10-11°C) warmer than their water.

Aquatic turtles will also retreat to water if they’re ever threatened by anything they perceive as a potential danger.

How to Provide Your Turtle With Fresh Water

turtle aquarium_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

For Terrapins

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 (25%) of your turtle’s water with fresh water with a weekly partial water change. 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 at least 2-3 times the volume capacity of your tank. Turtles are exceptionally messy and therefore need extra filtration.

For Tortoises

Tortoises don’t require an aquatic component to their setup. You should offer your tortoise fresh, clean, filtered drinking water in a shallow dish. A heavy dish (such as one made of ceramic) with a strong grip on its base is recommended, to ensure that your tortoise does not tip their water bowl over accidentally while going for a drink.

Image Credit: sssubinpark, Shutterstock


Final Thoughts

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

Featured Image Credit: JJ Gouin, Shutterstock

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