Why Pet Turtles? Turtles as Pets

Why Pet Turtles? Turtles as PetsPet turtles are part of growing up for many kids, but many adults (cough cough) remain enamored by them as well. This begs the question for many would-be turtle keepers, why keep turtles as pets anyway? The question is a good one, and I hope to do it some justice.

Pet Turtles Are Very Engaging

Turtles – especially aquatic turtles – are some of the most outgoing and inquisitive of all of the reptiles. Unlike snakes and most lizards, which are generally nearsighted and deliver a cold, blank stare, a turtle will often react to you from a distance. I will never forget trying to catch sun-bathing painted turtles as a kid; with their unblinking watchful eye, they would see me and quickly slip into the depths of the pond before I even got close.

Watching aquatic turtles swim can be mesmorizing.

In captivity, most aquatic turtles are much less nervous and become very comfortable with their keeper. They will swim over to you for food and normally take it out of your hand. They also seem to make sense of certain shapes and colors, both in and out of the water, in a way that suggests some deeper understanding of their environment. In short, they are highly interactive pets. Land turtles, such as box turtles and tortoises, are also interesting pets. They are also somewhat easier to maintain. However, they are not nearly as active or inquisitive as aquatic turtles in my experience.

Pet Turtles Are Relatively Low Maintenance

Unlike dogs and cats, pet turtles need little attention. This of course does not mean “no” attention. You must provide a proper turtle tank setup and perform periodic maintenance, especially aquatic turtles that have a large water area that must be kept clean. However, if properly cared for, they are mostly disease free, so you should rarely – if ever – have to seek the counsel of a veterinarian.  In addition, with their comparatively slow metabolisms, there is no reason why you can’t make provisions sufficient to leave your turtle unattended for several days, without hiring a turtle-sitter. Don’t try doing that with a cat or dog!

Most pet turtles are very comfortable accepting food from your hand.Pet Turtles Are Easy & Inexpensive to Feed

If you’ve ever had to buy crickets for some reptiles (like some lizards and most tree frogs), you will understand the toil of having to deal with them.

Fortunately, depending on the species, pet turtles will happily accept a variety of vegetables and prepared turtle foods, which should be supplemented with some fresh or frozen food. This makes them one of the least expensive and easiest reptile species to feed.

Pet turtles are not fragile, but should be handled infrequently to minimize stress.

Pet Turtles Are Not Too Delicate

Turtles may tolerate but don’t enjoy being handled. Thus, it’s a good idea to leave them alone most of the time. Nevertheless,as far as handling goes, given their armor, they are considerably more durable than small lizards and thin-skinned frogs that are also popular cold-blooded pets. A turtle’s bulk also makes it easier to find if it escapes. Have you ever tried to capture a fleeing lizard or find a frog that has left the enclosure?

Pet Turtles Can Live a Long Time

Turtles as a whole are very long-lived vertebrates, with many tortoises having especially long life-spans of a 100 years or more. Yet, even the common red-eared slider can easily live well over 20 years in captivity if adequately cared for.

Pet Turtles Can Be Safe With Proper Hygiene & Supervision

This tiny hatchling is cute, but keep it away from young children that may want to see what they taste like!It is widely known that amphibians and reptiles can potentially harbor the harmful bacteria Salmonella, and that this bacteria can be particularly dangerous to the young, sick and elderly. Turtles have received particular scrutiny by the FDA in terms of this threat, which is in party why they banned the sale of turtles less than 4-inches long back in 1975.

Young children that are likely to put any part of a turtle in their mouth – or even put their fingers in their mouth after handling them – should not be allowed near any turtle or amphibian or any other reptile without supervision. This doesn’t mean that turtles should be feared. Rather, it is a reminder that one should also practice good hygiene when handling the turtle or any part of their enclosure. Just about any surface that comes in contact with a turtle or the tank should be assumed to be contaminated with Salmonella. Fortunately, this can be easily addressed by: (1) thoroughly washing your hands and any surfaces that may have come in contact with the turtle; and (2) securing the turtle tank to prevent children from coming in contact with the turtle or its enclosure.

Turtles as Pets – The Verdict

Turtles make great pets the require minimal care.While any amphibian or reptile pet poses some concerns with respect to hygiene and the threat of Salmonella, turtles are among the most fascinating and charismatic of the bunch. In particular, aquatic turtles are colorful, lively, easy to feed and have relatively modest care requirements. They also can be part of the family for a very long time and teach younger adult keepers an important lesson in responsibility.

Nevertheless, we discourage anyone from buying a turtle for a young child as a surprise “gift.” Beside Salmonella concerns, and despite being comparatively low maintenance, turtles do require considerable care. And this is a responsibility that should be borne voluntarily by someone of an appropriate age, and with a clear understanding of both the nature and extent of the commitment.

Turtle photo credits (in order of appearance):

Strevo under CC BY-SA 2.0

Daniel Orth under CC BY-ND 2.0

Johan Fantenburg under CC BY-SA 2.0

Tudor Buliga under CC BY-SA 2.0

Tony Alter under CC BY 2.0

Eli Duke under CC BY-SA 2.0

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