Aquatic Turtle Care: Painted Turtles as Pets

Painted turtles on a log in a pond

The term "painted turtle" refers to the elaborate decorations on their shells, however other names for this species include Chrysemys picta, Eastern painted turtle, Southern painted turtle, Midland painted turtle, and Western painted turtle. Regardless of the name given to them, painted turtles need particular care to be taken with the water quality, cage temperatures, and the food they are fed in order to receive the best care possible.

About Painted Turtles

Male painted turtles are typically smaller than females, growing to a maximum length of four to twelve inches. In the wild, painted turtles, which have a lifespan of more than 50 years and are located in ponds and surrounding tiny lakes, frequently gather on logs to dry out and bask in the sun. They will hibernate if the temperature is cooler.

Map turtles and red-eared sliders are two more types of aquatic turtles that are not recommended for homes with young children or immune-compromised people. Everyone should wash their hands before and after handling any aquatic turtle since all reptiles can carry salmonella.

Housing Painted Turtles

Being aquatic creatures, painted turtles will spend the most of their time swimming and the remainder eating and sunbathing on a dry area of land. In that they require a tank almost totally filled with water, painted turtle care is comparable to that of a pet fish, but unlike fish, they also require a place to dry dock. A full-grown painted turtle needs a big fish tank with at least 100 gallons of water, although some turtle owners may also use a kiddie pool, pond liner, or other large plastic containers.

Your turtle will enjoy using the gravel that has been piled high with bigger rocks to make a beach on one side of the tank as a place to bask and dry-dock. Additionally, you may utilize any of the floating accessories that are sold at pet stores.

Food and Water

Items that float or may be attached to the edge of the enclosure are excellent since painted turtles often eat their food while swimming. A suitable staple meal for aquatic turtles is aquatic turtle pellets, however your turtle should also consume some fresh green vegetables. Regular servings of dark, leafy greens like romaine, dandelion greens, and fresh parsley are advised. These may either be submerged in water or attached to the tank's edge with a suction cup clip found in the pet store's fish section.

You can sometimes give your turtle delicacies like freeze-dried shrimp and fresh, sliced apple pieces, but they shouldn't make up more than 10% of its diet. Fish and various insects are also consumed by painted turtles. Avoid giving your pet fatty fish like goldfish, but you can sometimes give them a guppy, cricket, or worm for variety.

Aquatic turtles are not an exception to the rule that animals that spend the most of their life swimming place a high value on water quality. An aquatic turtle may have a variety of health issues from dirty water.

To keep the water clean, clear, and fresh, good water filters are a need for any painted turtle habitat. Both submersible filters and are suitable choices, and both should be running continuously to give your painted turtle's water filtration and aeration.


Aquatic turtles should have access to UVB illumination and other heat sources if they are housed inside. Although painted turtles don't require exceptionally hot weather, a properly heated environment will make them more active and improve their eating habits. Your turtle can grow sluggish, eat poorly, and begin to hibernate if temps are allowed to fall below 70 degrees. When the weather outside becomes too chilly, turtles that are kept outside during the warmer months should be brought inside.

No of the time of year, UVB illumination in the form of a UVB bulb should be available 24 hours a day. Since the unseen UVB rays have a shorter lifespan than the apparent white light, this bulb should also be changed every six months. Outside-housed painted turtles don't require this extra UVB light because the sun provides enough UVB radiation for them.

Ceramic heat emitters or heat lamps can be used to generate heat. You should set up a temperature gradient so your turtle may pick between 70 and 95 degrees. The tank's hottest side should also be the side with the dry dock or basking area.

Common Health Problems

Painted turtles are relatively easy to care for with the proper setup and diet but they are not immune to health issues.

  • : Intestinal parasites are found naturally in most reptiles, including painted turtles, but they can become a problem¬†for your turtle if they overpopulate the intestinal tract. Annual fecal parasite exams should be performed by your exotics veterinarian.
  • Infections: If water quality is a problem, your turtle can get skin, shell, and ear infections from the dirty water. If too much algae are building up on your turtle's shell or skin, use a soft toothbrush to help keep it clean. Ear infections from poor water quality will display as large bumps behind your turtle's eyes and need to be addressed by your vet.
  • Hypovitaminosis A: When a painted turtle doesn't get a proper diet it may develop a lack of vitamin A in its body called hypovitaminosis A. Swollen eyes, raw skin, stomatitis, and nasal drainage can all be symptoms of this disorder.
  • : Without proper UVB lighting and calcium, painted turtles will develop metabolic bone disease and shell deformities.

If you suspect your turtle has a health issue get him in to see a vet as soon as possible. With your help, your turtle can live a long and healthy life.


"Pet Turtles: Cute But Commonly Contaminated With Salmonella. U.S. Food And Drug Administration.", "Parasitic Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.", "Disorders and Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.", "Common Diseases of Aquatic Turtles. VCA Hospitals." ;