The Startling Biggest Mistakes Pet Turtle Owners Make Main Picture

Most pet turtle species are tough but they can still suffer when you make errors. These are the 5 biggest mistakes pet turtle owners make.

The Biggest Mistakes Pet Turtles Owners Make

I’ve been taking care of turtles for quite some time now and I’ve seen (and done) so many mistakes that I just had to make this post!

In this post, I will share what I think are the 5 biggest mistakes pet turtle owners make. Please keep in mind though that this list is by no means comprehensive!

#1 – What Size Tank Should A Turtle Have?

People putting their pet turtle into an aquarium that is far too small is easily the most common mistake I see. Turtles need as much space as you can give them.

Think about it. If you were an animal, and you lived in an environment that was essentially endless, would you want to be confined to a small glass jar your entire life??

Now, I know some people might be inclined to snap back that “But they’re animals!” but, indulge me for a second and try this.

Put a turtle into a small bowl and watch it try to escape. Now, ask yourself why it’s trying to escape. You wouldn’t want to be confined to a small place to live. Neither do turtles. Aside from small tanks stressing out turtles, it also increases the chances that your water will turn to a cloudy color.

If you want an adequate turtle tank setup, you should check out my video below:

If you need to figure out how much space does a turtle need, here is a simple guideline.

The 1 Inch Per 10 Gallons of Water Rule

For every 1 inch of turtle shell (measured vertically), you will need 10 gallons of water for pet water turtles.

So, you’d need at least a 50-gallon aquarium for a turtle that has a 5-inch shell. You’d need a 90-gallon tank for a turtle that has a 9-inch shell, and so on.

If you have an aquatic turtle, you will want the majority of the tank to be filled with water. To learn more, check out my article on how much water should be in a turtle tank.

Please note, that these are minimum guidelines.

I’m convinced that the number #1 reason that most pet turtles skimp on the size of their turtle tanks is due to cost. Most owners would simply rather not shelve out $100+ for a tank.

Here is my recommendation for a 55 gallon tank. You can click on picture for more details.

If that tank is too expensive, you can check out this 20 gallon turtle tank. In my opinion, you should always try to get the biggest aquarium you can for any pet water turtles, box turtles, or tortoises you have. If you plan on having multiple turtles, I would suggest you check out a 100 gallon turtle tank.

If you’re looking for a different size, you should read my full guide on cheap turtle tanks.

So, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a tank, but just be aware that turtles need their space! The only exception is if you have a turtle that falls into the small turtles species.

#2 – Do Turtles Need A Filter And UV Light?

The second most common mistake I see relates to a lack of proper turtle accessories and equipment. Usually, its either a missing filter or a UV light.

Filters are very important because they clean out excessive ammonia that comes from your turtle’s waste.

If your tank’s water has too much ammonia it can potentially hurt your turtle.

Ideally, you should always have a proper filter that uses biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration. Biological filtration describes the process of breaking down the ammonia from your turtle’s waste and turning it into nitrite. That nitrite is then broken down into nitrate, which is much less toxic and harmful to turtles.

My favorite turtle tank filter is the Tetra Decorative ReptoFilter. It has 3 step filtration, and best of all it is disguised as a rock. You can click on the picture to learn more about the product.

To learn more about turtle tank filters, check out my article on the best filters for turtles.

If the filter isn’t missing, then often times the UV light is. Having a UV-producing light bulb is absolutely necessary if it is kept indoors.

Pet turtles need UV-light for 2 reasons:

  • UV-A light for metabolism, breeding, and the regulation of their mood.
  • UV-B light for the healthy production of vitamin D3.

A great option for a light is the UV-A UV-B combo light that is 360 degrees adjustable.

UV lightbulbs are useful as a source of heat for your turtle as well.

Without this, your turtle will eventually die.

A great option for a light is the UV-A UV-B combo light that is 360 degrees adjustable.

For a list of more recommended UV lights for turtles check out my post on UVB lights for turtles.

#3 – How Much Water Should Be In A Turtle Tank?

Ok. I’ve got to admit. This one drives me a little crazy. But that’s also because I made this mistake myself.

I’m talking about either not providing enough water for your turtle or providing too much.

This is an extremely common mistake but one that is luckily easily rectified.

Basically, what this all boils down to is this:

Different turtle species need different amounts of water in their tank.

Here are 3 general rules to follow:

  • Pet water turtles (such as red-eared sliders) should have most of their aquarium or tub filled with water. Not every inch though. Most aquatic species still need an area to bask and dry off.
  • Tortoises should have very little water in their aquarium or habitat. For most species, a simple shallow water bowl will suffice.
  • Certain other species should have a mixture of water (usually at least a few inches deep) and terrestrial environments.

Red-eared sliders, one of the most common pet turtle species, are rather easy. They will need a large tank filled with water. The more water, the better. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why an above the tank basking dock is perfect for these turtles because it maximizes water space in your aquarium.

With tortoises and box turtles, on the other hand, your habitat should be primarily or exclusively terrestrial. The only exception is an area for the turtle to drink or soak in.

An easy method to quickly figure out how much or how little water you need is to simply look at your turtle’s feet. Are they webbed? Webbed feet equals more water. No webbing = more land.

#4 – Can You Overfeed A Turtle?

This one is quite easy to make because it is easy to confuse your turtle’s constant begging for food for hunger. Don’t fall for it!

This can be easily avoided, however, if you follow a few guidelines.

  • Generally, turtles (under 6 months old) will need to eat every day.
  • Between 6 months and two years feedings can be reduced to every other day.
  • Turtles older than a two-years-old can be fed 2 to 4 times per week.

The easiest method to figure out how old your turtle is is to first look up what species you have online, and figure out how big they get when fully grown. Next, you can estimate its age by measuring its shell from top to bottom, vertically. Most species of pet turtle grow to 2 to 4 inches in their first year, and about an inch for every year after that.

This isn’t a foolproof method but you really only need to find out if its still very young or fully-grown.

Feeding your turtle too much protein such as shrimp, fish, cooked chicken, etc. can lead to your turtle developing a fatty liver and other harmful health defects over time. It can also lead to excessive shell growth and premature death.

A lot of pet turtle owners are tempted to constantly feed their turtles protein sources because they always go for those first!

This is a turtle’s natural instinct, as in the wild turtles simply hardly ever have the chance to snack on shrimp, fish, chicken, etc.

As turtles almost always have an abundance of aquatic vegetation or algae around them, they just don’t jump at the chance to eat that. Live shrimp on the other hand? In the wild, if they don’t jump at that, they aren’t eating it!

#5 – Do Turtles Like Being Picked Up?

Now, I know turtles are cute, but they aren’t like dogs and cats. Constantly handling your turtle causes it stress.

Do dogs like to be pet? Absolutely!

Do turtles like to be pet? Not really. In general, the majority of turtle species do not enjoy being handled or held.

For many turtles, being held by a human will just cause them immense stress.

Now, there are certain species, such as red eared sliders, that tend to handle being held a little bit better than others, but that doesn’t mean that you should allow people to handle and pick up your turtle every day. Just be aware that this experience is often frightening and stressful for them.

If you want to know how to pick up a turtle, then I recommend doing this.

Pick it up from underneath. Make sure its feet are resting in the palm of your hand and that it is using your hand as its base. This will allow the turtle to feel more secure and less stressed.


So, in summary, these are the most common mistakes I’ve seen pet turtles make over the years.

  • Putting them inside a tank or tub that is way too small.
  • Not using an appropriate water filter and UV light-bulb.
  • Putting too much or too little water inside their tank or tub.
  • Giving them too much or too little food.
  • Grabbing and picking them up too often.

Overall, if you can avoid these 5 biggest mistakes pet turtle owners make, your turtle will certainly have a better chance to live a healthy, productive and enjoyable life!

Lastly, if you feel that you cannot provide an adequate environment for your turtle, I strongly suggest trying to give it away to someone who can instead of releasing it into the wild.

Where can I give my turtle away?

  • Craigslist ads
  • Facebook
  • Adoption services such as MATT-turtles.
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