Parents looking for a low maintenance first-time pet for their kids often turn to exotic small animals, like rabbits, guinea pigs, and turtles. Small pets can be a wonderful way to educate children about the responsibilities of being a pet owner, while also providing fun and meaningful companionship. Turtles are unique and fascinating creatures; they are entertaining to watch, and compared to other pets, such as puppies, they require less constant maintenance after initial setup.

Turtles are intelligent animals; they are known to have efficient long-term memory, can be taught to perform basic tasks, and can even navigate mazes better than rats!

But are turtles really the best choice for kids?

The truth is, under the right circumstances, turtles can be great pets for kids providing parents do their research beforehand. Despite popular belief, turtles can become quite expensive to keep, as they require specific care to keep them alive and well. 

Here’s are some questions to consider deciding if a turtle is right for your family:

What Species of Turtles Make Good Pets?

There are three main types of turtle: land tortoises, tropical land turtles, and aquatic turtles. 

There are many different species of turtle, and they all have unique requirements for diet, habitat, and general care. Being among the easiest to maintain, the most common turtles are the red-eared slider, box turtle, and painted turtle. Before choosing a turtle as a pet, be sure to carefully research the species you’re interested in well in advance. 

Turtles are often dumped in the wild by those overwhelmed by daily care requirements, size, temperament, and more. This is often due to a lack of education on the owner’s part; they simply did not know what they were getting into.

What Are The Bacteria Risks With Owning a Turtle?

Turtles bring with them a higher risk of bacterial transmission than most other pets. It is common for turtles to carry salmonella on their outer shell and body. There is a high risk of contracting salmonella poisoning while holding a turtle, and also while touching any surfaces that the animal has come into contact with. This means that children must thoroughly wash their hands after handling their turtle. Additionally, turtles should not be allowed to roam freely around the house as every surface they touch may become contaminated with salmonella.

In fact, the risk of salmonella transmission from turtles is so high, it is illegal to sell small turtles in the United States. In 1975, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of turtles with shells less than four inches long to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.

Read more about salmonella risks from the Association of Veterinary Medicine here.

Do Turtles Have Special Habitat Requirements?

Turtles can grow quite large as they mature, and this means they’ll need upgrades to their habitat. This can be quite costly, especially as some turtles may require multiple habitat upgrades before they reach their full size. 

Smaller turtle species can be less expensive in the long run, but are also more inviting for children to pick up and handle. Picking up turtles can cause a great deal of stress to the animal, and again it greatly increases risk of bacteria transmission.

Depending on their species, turtles require special equipment in their enclosure. Some turtles need special basking lamps in order to keep their shells strong and healthy. Others need swimming areas, dirt for digging, heated areas, and more. Controlling temperature and humidity conducive to the species are crucial to keeping turtles happy and healthy. 

Over time, as your turtle grows, the amount of space they require may grow exponentially as well. In order for your turtle to live comfortably, they may need a fairly sizable space in your home, so space is a very important consideration for proper ongoing care. 

A turtle’s habitat requires regular cleaning; removing droppings and uneaten food daily, cleaning water filters and testing PH of swimming water every few days, and cleaning the entire tank and filter every 2-3 weeks, among other things.

What Do Pet Turtles Need to Eat?

Like all pets, turtles need to eat. Omnivorous turtles require a protein rich diet that includes cooked meats, eggs, and insects. Whereas herbivorous turtles will only require fruits and veggies. Turtles also require high amounts of calcium for their shell, yet cannot consume dairy, so you’ll have to provide a fortified calcium supplement to keep them healthy.

Commercial pellet-based turtle foods are very popular, however they should only account for one quarter of a turtle’s daily diet. Feeder fish and insects provide excellent sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals. The rest of a turtle’s diet should consist of fresh produce. Dark leafy greens like kale, mustard greens, and collards are best. Berries, melons, and apples are also great sources of fruit-based nutrition.

Do Pet Turtles Have a Long Life Expectancy?

This is probably the most overlooked aspect of turtle ownership. Turtles can live a long time – commonly between 20-30 years, whereas some species of turtle can live in excess of 40 years! If you are thinking of getting a pet turtle, buckle up because he will be a member of your family for a very long time.

Overall, turtles can be a fun pet to watch, and can provide valuable lessons in responsibility. However, turtles are a serious long-term commitment, and are often more maintenance than expected. Unfortunately, turtles aren’t the type of pet that can be cuddled and played with despite your child’s desire to do so. 

If you’re considering an affectionate and interactive pet for your child, a turtle is not a wise choice. Instead, consider your alternatives, like bunnies, guinea pigs, kittens, or rats. Also, please give serious consideration to pet adoption. Search for exotic small animal rescues and shelters in your area, and you may be surprised to learn just how many animals are waiting for their new forever home.

About Brandon Forder

Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition and canine psychology. He has more than twenty-five years experience specializing in pet nutrition, behaviour, and healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon has a lifelong passion for helping people become great pet parents. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, web, and radio.

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