5 Most Common Care Mistakes


Do you find turtle care difficult?  Does it seem like you just can't keep the tank clean no matter how often you clean it?  Perhaps this makes you feel as if you have no time to spend enjoying your turtle.  If you answered 'yes' to these questions, you might be falling victim to one of the most common care errors.

The good news?  There are cheap and easy solutions that can make turtle care the easiest thing you'll do all day!

Tip 1: Over-feeding

Most turtles should be eating only once every other day, or less.  To make it easy, we recommend sticking to a set schedule like Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.  This is all a turtle needs in terms of food to grow and be healthy.

The turtle's portion size should be determined by the "hollow head" method, which is if you picture the turtle's head as a hollow container (just the head, not the neck), whatever number of pellets or portion of food would fit in this 'container' is an appropriate feeding portion.  For most pet turtles, this works out to about a tablespoon.

There are more ways to improve cleanliness involving feeding.  We recommend avoiding ReptoMin brand - it is wheat based and dissolves rapidly in the tank, fouling the water.  A better choice is Zoo Med Turtle Sticks Maintenance Formula (not the Growth Formula).  You can substitute one feeding a week with "red wiggler" worms, which don't dissolve in water at all and add enrichment and variety to your turtle's diet.  If the turtle is begging or looking hungry on non-feed days offer romaine or green-leaf lettuce (a whole leaf).  If the lettuce is untouched, remove after 2 or 3 days (this will prevent dissolving, mess, or it going bad).

Another useful way to reduce maintenance is to use a feeding bucket.  This is essentially a dishpan you fill with water on a feed day.  You place the turtle in the dishpan with it's meal, and allow it an hour or two to eat and defecate.  When done, put the turtle back in it's daily habitat and discard the used dishpan water.  Some turtles don't get the hang of it right away, but after missing a few feed days, they will figure it out.  You'll notice them getting excited over just a glimpse of the feeding container, and you'll have a fraction of the work!  

Tip 2:  Too little water

Your tank needs lots of water for the filter to work properly.  Having the tank half filled to three quarters filled is a good range.  If you rely on piled rocks for a basking area, you may consider switching to a floating ramp (it takes less real estate).  Too many objects means too many things to clean, but too bare means there is nothing for the good, healthy bacteria to stick to (more about good bacteria below).

Tip 3:  Too little filtration

The golden rule for turtle filtration is to choose a filter rated for twice or more the capacity of your tank fully filled (not the amount of water that is actually in it).  For example, a 40 gallon tank needs a filter rated for an 80 gallon tank (or even better a 100 gallon tank).  Check out the Cascade 1000 (about $80) or better yet, the Cascade 1500 (about $140).  These are mighty filters for very competitive prices.  Either one of these will keep a tank clean for 3 to 6 months at a time.  If you implement the feeding bucket technique, you might get a year between water changes.

Filters need to run all the time.  If they are shut off at night, the good bacteria will starve for oxygen and your filter's performance will suffer.  The bacterial aspect of your filter is the most important part.  Most experienced keepers will even pull out the activated carbon bag that is often included with filters to put more ceramic (bio-media) rings into the filter instead.  Some of our filters utilize giant 5 gallon buckets of nothing but bio-media and don't need a complete water change for years!

Tip 4:  Too much cleaning

Yes, you can make your life difficult by cleaning too much!  The turtle digestive system is less than high efficiency and turtle poo is still breaking down when it hits the water.  This is a good thing!  Your filter's primary function is to collect the poo, which then gets stuck in the bio-media, colonizing it with good bacteria.  The bacteria eats up the poo until it is merely a chemical byproduct (nitrate and nitrite) which is scrubbed away by the rest of the filtering process.  This reaction is happening throughout the rest of the tank as well.  Whenever starting up a new filter it is of utmost importance not to over-clean for the first 4 to 6 weeks.  No full water changes should occur.  If things are getting cloudy, or there is a smell, a partial (50%) water change is all that should occur.  If you keep your conditions too sterile, your filter will never get up to speed.

When cleaning a filter, NEVER use bleach, cleaning chemicals, soap, or boiling water (even avoid hot water).  Think of filter cleaning as more like filter rinsing.  If there is a good flow leaving the filter it does not need cleaning at all.  A light touch goes a long way.  Even the most expensive filter out there won't work properly if over-cleaned.

Tip 5:  Tank in front of window

Though it may seem counter intuitive, your turtle gains nothing from being placed in front of a window.  The glass in the window blocks UVB and most UVA light, which is what your turtle really needs.  This means that the light coming through does not help your turtle.  It does, however, help algae grow, which will strip oxygen from the water.  It also kills the good bacteria that grows in your filter.  This means that the water is going to get dirty much faster.  Additionally, placing a tank in front of a window in the summer can super heat the water, which can cause your turtle to develop illnesses.  In the winter, this can cause you to burn out water heaters faster, and like summer, your turtle may develop an illness.  Your turtle simply needs proper artificial lighting.  By moving your tank away from the window you can save yourself both time and money.