5 Most Common Care Errors

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? Do you feel like you never have enough time to spend with 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!

#1: Over-feeding

A turtle like yours needs to be eating only once every other day. To make it easy, we recommend sticking to a set schedule like Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. This is all a turtle needs to grow and be healthy. Your feeding portion 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 pellets can fit in this container is an appropriate feeding portion. For most turtles, this is around a tablespoon.

There are a few 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 (not growth) formula. You can substitute 1 feeding a week with red wiggler worms which don't dissolve in water at all. If the turtle is begging or looking hungry on non-feed days offer romaine or green leaf lettuce (a whole leaf). If untouched, remove after 2 to 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 dish pan you fill with water on a feed day. You place the turtle in the bucket with it's meal, and allow it an hour or two to eat and defecate. When they are done, put turtle back in it's daily habitat and discard the used 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 see them getting excited over just a glimpse of the bucket, and you'll have a fraction of the work!

#2: Too little water

A too small tank with too little water and not enough filtration

Your tank needs lots of water for the filter to work properly. At least 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 bacteria' to stick to (we will cover this on the next section).


#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 what 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 even better the Cascade 1500 (about $140). These are mighty filters for really competitive prices for how much they filter. Either one of these will keep a tank clean for 3 months to 6 months at a time. If you institute the feeding bucket 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 in order to put more ceramic (bio media) rings into the filter. Some of our filters utilize giant 5 gallon buckets of nothing but bio media and don't need a complete water change for years.

#4: Too much cleaning

A tank with too little water

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 ceramic pieces, colonizing it with good bacteria. All this bacteria eats up the poo until it is merely a chemical bi-product (nitrate and nitrite) which is scrubbed away by the rest of the filter. This reaction is happening throughout the tank as well. Whenever starting up a new filter it is of the 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, or boiling water (even avoid hot water). You should think of filter cleaning as more like rinsing. If there is 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.

#5: Tank in front of window

Though it may seem counterintuitive, your turtle gains nothing from being placed in front of a window. Most windows block 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 naturally in your filters. This means that the water is going to get dirty much faster. Additionally, placing a tank in front of the 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 heaters faster, and can also cause your turtle to develop illnesses. Your turtle simply needs proper artificial lighting. By moving your tank away from the window you can save yourself both time and money.