Does a red eared slider need to be in water?

If you recently acquired a red-eared slider or plan on getting one, you’ve probably heard that they are semi-aquatic. You might be wondering whether or not this means they need to be in water, or if they can survive in a tank without it. This article will cover everything you need to know about red-eared sliders and their water needs.

Do red-eared sliders need to be in water?

Yes, while they are a semi-aquatic species, red-eared sliders absolutely need access to water to swim in.

While it can vary, most red-eared sliders in their natural habitat will spend ~75% of their time in water, and the remaining 25% on land.

Why do red-eared sliders need to be in water?

If a red-eared slider doesn’t have access to water, it can result in a wide range of health issues including dehydration, digestion issues, skin infections, respiratory illness, stress, and pyramiding.


The number one risk of a red-eared slider not having access to water is dehydration. Even if your red-eared slider is living in a dry environment that has a water cup, it will not be enough because turtles naturally drink while they are submerged in water. While you might be able to teach them to drink from a water dish, they will still likely not be able to drink enough water to stay hydrated.

Digestion issues

On a similar note, turtles naturally eat their food in water because it helps with digestion. Basically, when a turtle reaches out to eat a pellet in the water, they also intentionally gulp in some water to make it easier to breakdown the food and digest it. Since turtles don’t have teeth, they rely on this method to help the food become softer so it can easily go through their digestive system.

If you regularly feed your turtle on dry land, there is a good chance they will struggle to properly chew the food and digest it. In extreme cases, this can lead to constipation or diarrhea.

Skin infections

Turtles have semi-permeable skin, which means they are able to absorb some moisture through their skin. If your red-eared slider isn’t able to regularly submerge themselves in water, it can result in dry, cracked skin. It can also make it harder for them to shed their skin.

Over time, this can make them susceptible to a wide range of skin infections.

Respiratory illness

Unlike humans, turtles are cold-blooded and ectothermic. This means that they can’t internally regulate their body temperature and must rely on external forces. For example, if a turtle is on land and the air temperature becomes too cold, they might slide into the water if it is warmer. On the flip side, if your turtle becomes too warm on land, they would likely jump in the water if it is a cooler temperature.

If your turtle doesn’t have access to water, it can make it a lot harder for them to regulate their body temperature. If your turtle becomes too warm or too cold, it can make them susceptible to respiratory illnesses.

When a turtle develops a respiratory illness, it can cause breathing problems. They might also start to develop residue on their nose or mouth. In extreme cases, this can lead to death.


Red-eared sliders have a natural instinct to swim around, hunt in water, explore underwater, etc. If you don’t give your turtle the opportunity to experience this in a habitat that has access to water, it can lead to boredom and eventually stress.

An analogy would be if you had a pet bird, but you never let them out of the cage to fly around. While they might be fine for a little bit, it would take its toll over time.   

While stress might not sound like a serious health condition, it can make your turtle susceptible to a bunch of other illnesses. This is because stress can weaken your turtle’s immune system, mess up their metabolism, or even cause lethargy, which all can result in serious health problems.


Lastly, not giving your red-eared slider access to water can result in a condition called pyramiding. This occurs when your turtle does not exercise enough, and their shell starts to grow vertical pits, or pyramids. When a turtle has access to water to swim in, they are able to burn enough calories/fat to help avoid pyramiding. However, if they don’t get enough exercise, they will be storing more calories than they burn, which can result in pyramiding.

Unfortunately, this condition can be very painful for your turtle, and it is very hard to reverse.

Should you put water in your red-eared slider’s habitat?

I hope this article helps prove to you how important water is to a red-eared slider’s habitat. As you read above, you will put your turtle at risk of a plethora of health issues if you don’t give them access to water.

Not only should you make sure that your turtle has water, but it’s also important that your tank has filled up enough. A common mistake that I see in turtle tanks is that people only fill it up about 25%. Most of the time, this will not be enough water for your red-eared slider to swim and be happy. I suggest that you fill your tank up with at least 50% water, if not 75%. I go into more detail on this topic in my article on how much water should be in a turtle tank.

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