Keeping Pet Turtles

Often misunderstood, turtles grow very large and have long life spans.

General Information:

  • A turtle will grow to its natural maximum size regardless of the size of its tank as long as it is provided with the correct nutrition.
  • For the species listed below this is a carapace (shell) length between 25 – 30cm.
  • Penny Turtles do not exist.
  • Turtles can live for well over 25 years.
  • They need heated water, a basking spot and ultraviolet light.
  • A good filter is essential as they are very messy.
  • Water needs to be changed weekly, 20% - 25% of the total tank volume is recommended.
  • Turtles are easy to overfeed. Young turtles should have more protein than older animals as they are growing more, try to only feed small amounts every 2 days and provide them with live plants and live food. Hatchling turtles should be fed small amounts daily.
  • If you want to keep multiple turtles in the same tank you need to ensure that they are eating the same amount and that one is not larger than the other. If one turtle is larger it will often dominate the smaller turtle, even if you don’t observe this behaviour.


Adopting a Pet Turtle

Species you can find at Pet City are:

Species sold in store:

  • Kreft’s Turtle (Emydura kreftii),
  • Murray River Turtle (Emydura macquarii ),
  • Saw-shelled Turtle (Elesya latisternum)
  • Long-necked Turtle (Chelodonia longicollis).


Tanks and Filtration:

Start off with as big a tank as you can get: a good size is 4’ x 2’ x2’ (120 x 60 x 60cm) as you will not have to upgrade your tank as soon.

A good filter is one that can pump the entire volume of the tank between 8 – 10 times every hour (i.e. if you have 100 litres in your tank, you want a filter that moves between 800 – 1000 litres every hour).

You will need a water heater: the water needs to be between 24 – 27°C for the turtle to function normally.

Gravel is the best thing to put on the bottom of the tank: the main requirement is that it is large so the turtle cannot swallow it. If they swallow gravel, you will need to take them to the vet.

Ideally, an adult turtle would either live in a pond outside (this is suitable for them once they are approximately 15cm across). If this is not possible, a 6’ or 180cm tank (at a minimum) will do.

Furnishings to provide hides. Be careful what you use and where you place it. Turtles will drown if they become wedged or pinned underwater.

Plants provide food and somewhere to hide and sleep in.


Heating and Lighting:

The tank needs to have at least one turtle dock; this not only allows the animal to get out of the water, it also means that you can set a basking spot up. A land-based basking spot is essential for the proper digestion of turtles. A 50W Swamp Bulb will do most tanks, with the basking spot needing to be between 32 – 33°C.

Ultraviolet lighting is necessary for the correct growth ofa turtle’s carapace (shell. The bulbs  that we recommend are 5% UV and the length of the tank. Position it approximately 6” (15 – 20cm) from the water and ensure that it covers the basking spot. The UVB source needs to be replaced every 6 months.



Overfeeding turtles is extremely easy: this can be detrimental in their early years as their body can grow too fast for it to keep up with it’s self and also can establish patterns of behaviour that make it increasing difficult to control the amount of food the turtle consumes. Turtles that are used to being overfed will become a nuisance if they are fed a smaller amount, leaving the turtle stressed and the owner feeling terrible. Overfeeding in the later years, once the animal has reached its adult size, can lead to fatty liver disease and can decrease the lifespan of your pet.

Variety is of utmost importance in your turtles diet. They will eat everything form lean meat, to live food, to vegetables and plants.

Feed your turtle every second or third day whilst ensuring they have access to suitable water plants. Plants that you can feed your turtle include: Elodea, Vallisneria, Azolla, Water Lettuce, Water Hyacinth, Duckweeds and Water Lillies. You may find that as your turtle gets older it may start to increase the amount of vegetation that it eats: if this happens, decrease the amount of protein that it receives from you.

In the wild, turtles feed on shrimp and fish. In captivity, feeding shrimp can enrich the environment for your turtle as they will chase them to eat them. Giving them crickets as a treat is also beneficial. Turtle pellets are a healthy and balanced part of your turtles diet. Try to find one that is calcium fortified.

Calcium supplements need to be added to their diet on a regular basis. You can achieve this by making your own mix of lean red meat, vegetables, vitamin and mineral supplements, and a good calcium powder. Freeze the mix

into small balls and feed out accordingly. In addition to this you can add a calcium block to the tank: as the block dissolves it increases the level of calcium in the water and promotes strong carapace growth.



You can handle your turtle, however we do not recommend to do this until your turtle shell is about 10cm across. When you do start to handle them, it is advised to remove them from the tank for no more than 15 – 20 minutes, as this can stress and dehydrate them. If you were to handle your turtle for this amount of time, we would recommend to only do this once or twice a week and gradually increase the amount of times you handle the turtle as it grows.

Taking your pet outside is beneficial as they will receive more UV from the sun than in their tank: when doing so you must ensure that there are no predators around (dogs, cats, birds), that you keep an eye on the turtle the entire time and that the animal will not dehydrate. A plastic container with a few centimetres of water from the turtle’s tank will stop it from dehydrating and putting it back in the tank after 15 minutes will stop it from overheating. It is not recommended to do this with hatchling turtles as it is too stressful for them.