Guide to Keeping Your Turtle Happy and Healthy

Tanja is a qualified postgraduate scientist with a great passion for nature and how different ecosystems interact. Her education included coursework and practical experience to advance in biological sciences, farming, aquarium research and fisheries management. She has experience in constructing ponds, aqua- and hydroponics, productive gardens with a small worm farm and compost heap, and larger scale mariculture facility setups.

Keeping your red-eared slider happy and entertained is essential to its well-being. Red-eared sliders are among the most commonly kept turtles as pets. They are curious and interactive creatures fond of exploring their surroundings and engaging with their keepers. Their voracious appetites also make them easy to maintain.

However, this does not come without challenges. Keeping a red-eared slider happy and stimulated can be difficult at times. This is especially true if you purchase a pet turtle before researching its housing requirements or the habits of red-eared sliders in captivity.

The term “enrichment” comes to mind when considering your turtle friend(s) happiness. Enrichment is the act of incorporating different stimulants and activities to keep your animals happy, healthy, and from becoming bored. Enrichment can be easily integrated through food, habitat setup, toys, personal interaction, and many other ways.

Read on to learn more about how to include different enrichment in your enclosure, keeping your red-eared slider happy, healthy, and occupied!

Bright Lights, Big Spaces

Red-eared slider turtles are nocturnal. This means they are more active during low light conditions. Keeping your red-eared slider in a brightly lit environment during the day will cause stress and may lead to health issues.

To decrease the risk of your red-eared slider becoming lethargic, depressed, or developing other health issues, provide it with a space that is minimally lit. Make sure the lights in the room where you house your turtles are turned off during the day. The UVB light and basking lamp provide optimal conditions. Outdoor setups should be placed in semi-shaded areas, where your red-eared slider can choose to move between the sunlight to shaded spaces.

Additionally, provide ample space for swimming and exploring to keep your turtle happy. The larger the area, the happier your red-eared slider will be. Young red-eared slider turtles are particularly active and have voracious appetites. They also require a larger space for swimming than older red-eared slider turtles that have grown larger.

Weekly Cleaning and Swimming Sessions

Red-eared slider turtles are messy creatures. They often defecate in the water they swim in and produce significant waste. This, along with the decaying food they eat, can quickly turn your turtle’s water toxic.

To prevent harmful bacterial growth and keep your red-eared slider’s water clean, change it weekly. Make sure to clean the floor of the tank where your turtle swims at least once a week as well. During cleaning, remove any decaying food and your turtle’s waste. This keeps the water clean and maintains a healthy environment for your turtle.

To prevent your red-eared slider from becoming bored with its water, change the water at least once a week. Once your red-eared slider is an adult, you may have to change its water more frequently. Adult red-eared slider turtles live in deeper bodies of water than their younger counterparts. Hence, they produce more waste and must be kept in clean water more often.

However, you might find that you do not have to change the water as frequently based on the food source you are administering. If your red-eared slider’s diet consists of mostly plants and commercial pellet feed, you can do bi-weekly water changes.

Food Diversion Tactics

Red-eared slider turtles are notorious for defecating in the water they swim. This can quickly turn your turtle’s water toxic. To prevent a toxic environment, feed your red-eared slider in a separate container. Once your red-eared slider is an adult, feed it in an aquarium.

Remember that moving them around too often will cause unnecessary stress in red-eared slider individuals. Doing regular water changes is way less stressful than moving your turtles every time you need to feed them.

It is also important to administer your red-eared slider a diet that varies (see my blog posts on “foods red-eared sliders can and cannot eat,” “A healthy diet for your red-eared sliders,” and “Best commercial turtle feed and food combos for red-eared sliders”).

There are several red-eared slider turtle food options on the market. They are often high in protein and low in fat. However, most varieties include a high amount of artificial coloring. These dyes can be harmful to both your red-eared slider and your freshwater fish. To avoid feeding your turtles unsafe food and preventing them from defecating in their water, diversify their diet.

Feed your red-eared slider a variety of insects, crickets, and feeder fish. Occasionally, you can give your red-eared slider(s) a snack like fruit, freeze-dried shrimp or krill, and bite-size raw vegetable chunks. Do not be fooled in giving them more snacks because of the way red-eared sliders adorably gobble the snacking pieces.

Turtle Tunes

Turtles love to swim and explore. However, they also need time to relax and rest. To keep your red-eared slider happy, provide it with an aquarium to swim in and a place to rest. Place aquatic music in the water to keep your red-eared slider happy while it swims in its aquarium.

Additionally, turtles love to bask in the sun. A basking light in your turtle’s aquarium will allow it to bask and relax comfortably in indoor tanks. An outdoor pond should receive ample sunlight that creates natural basking areas. Again, you can keep your red-eared slider happy and engaged by placing a stereo in the enclosure with aquatic music.

Hide-and-Seek Games

Red-eared slider turtles love to explore. This means they often try to climb out of their tanks. To keep them from escaping, provide your red-eared slider with a ramp leading up to its aquarium. The ramp will allow your red-eared slider to easily enter and exit its enclosure, provided you want your slider(s) to explore outside its enclosure.

If you do not wish for your turtle to travel outside of its enclosure, you can place some climbing objects like a piece of wood or a large rock inside the water. This way, your red-eared slider(s) can still climb and adventure inside the enclosure.

You can also keep your red-eared slider engaged by hiding food in their aquarium. The hunt and search for food will keep your turtle pet(s) actively searching for food, encouraging a form of enrichment that red-eared sliders are exposed to in their natural habitat.

Decorate your enclosure

It is nice to look at your aquarium and think, “this is a good-looking setup,” but what is too much for red-eared sliders?

For a red-eared slider to thrive, they require a housing setup as close to their natural habitat as possible. Therefore, you can decorate your enclosure with the following to provide optimal environmental enrichment for your red-eared slider(s):

  • Underwater digging patches
  • Aquatic, edible plants
  • Compatible freshwater fish or guppies
  • Hides
  • Various basking areas
  • Medium and large pebbles or stones
  • Dryland space for walking
  • Small toy raft to play with

Whatever you choose to decorate your enclosure, make sure not to have it occupy the majority of the available area. Red-eared sliders still require enough space for hiding, swimming, walking, and interacting with their surrounding environment.

More on enclosures and aquarium decorations with promising reviews can be read about in the post “Just 15 things to make your pet turtle happy”.

Personal interaction

In general, red-eared sliders are not cuddly pets. However, this does not mean they do not enjoy personal interaction with their owner(s). Red-eared sliders can enjoy personal interactions based on their personality and temperament, such as:

  • Belly, neck, and feet scratches
  • Empty shells bigger than your pet turtle’s head to play with
  • Playing fetch by rolling a Ping-Pong ball or similar towards your slider
  • Shell brushes with a toothbrush or other soft-bristle brush
  • Taking them out of their enclosure and onto some grass

Final thoughts

Keeping your red-eared slider happy and engaged is essential to its well-being. Red-eared slider turtles are curious, interactive creatures with a fondness for exploring their surroundings and interacting with their keepers.

Every red-eared slider has different needs based on their personality and temperament. Thus, you can include various enrichment options to keep your turtle friend(s) entertained and happy. This way, you will be assured to have red-eared sliders that are less aggressive, healthier, more active, and overall happier.

Enjoy setting up an interactive enclosure and making your turtle pet(s) happier than ever!

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