How Much Water Does A Turtle Need: Aquatic Pet Problems Solved

Though tortoises spend all their time on land, turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic as stated by Christal Pollock, DVM. So, it is crucial to know how much water a turtle needs. However, not all species of turtles are the same. Some live mostly in the water, while others prefer to live on the land. Both types need some water for drinking. Notably, aquatic turtles need a lot more water because they swim most of the time. Moreover, both types of turtles need land. Even sea turtles require some time on land because that is where they lay their eggs. Fortunately, you will never need to set up a sea turtle habitat. For pet turtles, the right balance of warmth, dry land, fresh drinking water, and in many cases, a place to swim is vital to their health. A turtle without the right habitat will not thrive, and it may die. I will walk you through everything you need to know about turtles and water so yours will always have the drink they need.

How much water does a turtle need? A turtle needs to have its water depth to be three times the length of its shell at its widest point. For instance, if your turtle’s shell is three inches across, add enough water so that the water level is at 9 inches.

Here is a chart showing the amount of water needed for different types of pet turtle based on average size:

Type of Pet Turtle Water Level for Tank
Ouachita Map TurtleNine inches
Northern Map TurtleOne foot
Spotted Turtle Nine inches
Ornate Wood Turtle Fifteen inches
Common Musk Turtle Six inches
Three-toed Box TurtleOne foot

How Much Water Should Be In a Turtle Tank

Assuming you have an aquatic turtle, you will need to make sure your pet has enough of two different sources of water. First, they need fresh, filtered drinking water. Please do not use tap water in turtle aquariums.

Tap water is treated with chemicals that can make your turtle sick. They will need a wide, shallow dish for drinking. Place this in the area outside the water where your aquatic turtle goes to spend time on land.

Since turtles are not very tall, they need a drinking dish with low sides. Despite the stretch of a turtle’s neck, they aren’t very flexible, and they cannot climb or bend to reach their drink. Keep drinking water at ground level so your pet can have a sip anytime they are out of the water.

As for their swimming needs, you want the water area to be at least three times the length and width of your turtle. They will need plenty of space to swim since aquatic turtles spend most of their days in water. Moreover, aquatic turtles eat and defecate in the water as well.

Eating in the water makes it easier for your pet to manage their food. Regardless of their diet, all aquatic turtles will eat in the water. Moreover, they also poop and drink this water.

It is vital to keep the water in a turtle aquarium clean. Unfortunately, these pets are also messy eaters, so you will have to clean up frequently.

I recommend the Hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner from Amazon for cleaning out aquatic turtle habitats. Since your turtle will drink the water they swim in, it is important to keep contaminants and impurities out of their swimming water. Using this clever cleaner will help reduce water-related issues between full cleanings. Plus, it’s great for ponds. Learn more by clicking right here

Feeding Your Aquatic Turtle

Aquatic turtles are carnivores. How often you clean their water will depend on the mess they make and feeding schedules. For hatchlings, this will mean cleaning and feeding at least weekly. Older, mature aquatic turtles only need to eat every one to two weeks.

Turtles can become obese if overfed. However, the largest pet turtles may need weekly feeding. It’s best to time your cleaning and water changes for later in the day, after your turtle eats. Ensure that you keep an eye on their water and change it whenever it gets murky, whether the turtle ate that day or not.

How Much Water is Needed for a Red-Eared Slider Turtle

Red-Eared Sliders are common aquatic pet turtles. In addition to a shallow bowl of water to drink, your turtle needs a lot of water for swimming. In fact, this species needs more than most. A twenty to forty-gallon aquarium is a baby or starter tank for this turtle.

Like most turtle species, you should provide a shallow bowl of fresh drinking water away from the swimming area. Turtles, especially aquatic types, need lots to drink. Even when it is on land, your pet will get thirsty.

If your Red-Eared Slider is a hatchling, it may be tiny. You will still need a lot of space and water for this breed at just a couple of inches long. The general rule for this type of turtle is ten gallons per inch of length. A baby Slider needs around twenty gallons of water.

Additionally, the Red-Eared Slider will grow to be ten to twelve inches long as an adult. That can mean up to a hundred and twenty gallons of water. By comparison, the average bathtub holds around forty-two gallons. Your turtle is going to need about three and a half bathtubs worth of water for swimming in its habitat when it grows up.

In short, you are going to need a large aquarium. Some Slider owners opt for outdoor enclosures instead as their pets grow. It is vital to keep in mind that glass aquariums make bad outdoor turtle spaces. The glass can concentrate sunlight and trap heat inside.

If you overheat your turtle habitat, it may kill your pet. If you opt to build an outdoor enclosure, make sure it has ample space for shade in the summer. Keep your pet protected from predators that can climb or dig, and make sure it will not freeze in the winter.

Sadly, due to their long lives and unprepared pet owners, many domestic Red-Eared Sliders are released into the wild each year. These turtles may survive, but they don’t belong outside. Take the time to research the lifespan and needs of your future pet before you buy them.

Can Turtles Drown in Too Much Water

As much as turtles love water, they can drown. Every turtle needs plenty of fresh, clean water (except sea turtles, of course), but they can have too much. Although turtles are not mammals, they aren’t fish either. Since turtles lack gills, they don’t breathe underwater.

Any animal that cannot breathe in water can drown. Water in air-breathing lungs is always dangerous. Luckily, you don’t need to worry overly much about your aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles. So long as you give them adequate ways to get out of the water to dry off, they will handle the rest.

Please note, not all turtles are good swimmers. Some don’t need large ponds or lots of water in their habitat. It is vital to learn about your breed of turtle before you stick them in the water. A dome-shelled turtle will generally be terrestrial, while turtles with flatter backs are the better, more streamlined swimmers.

How Much Water Should You Put in a Baby Turtle Tank

Since different species of turtles have different needs, it can be hard to guess how much water baby turtles need. A good place to start is making sure they have four to six inches for swimming and a shallow bowl for drinking. Red-Eared Sliders and a few other species will need more water.

Make sure the swimming area is as deep as three-quarters of your turtles’ length. For example,  a four-inch turtle would need a three-inch deep pool. You must use properly treated filtered water since tap water can make your turtle very ill.

Grab a jug of Zoo Med ReptiSafe Water Conditioner from Amazon for your new pet’s bowl and swimming area. ReptiSafe will remove chloramines and chlorine, in addition to detoxifying ammonia and nitrites. Plus, this conditioner provides essential ions and electrolytes, which will help your turtle hydrate properly. Read the outstanding reviews when you click here

Do Turtles Actually Need to Be In Water

All turtles need to go into the water. More than simply asking how much water a turtle needs to swim, you will also need to provide drinking water, and both sources must be filtered, clean and treated. While most turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic and prefer to go for a swim, some species don’t need a whole pond.

When looking for a turtle that only wants a place to splash around in a shallow puddle-style pool, consider a box turtle. Though these turtles certainly need the extra water, they don’t spend all day in a deeper pool. With three-hundred and fifty-six known species of turtles roaming the earth, turtles are diverse and adapted to living in many areas.

Though they don’t breathe in the water, this is where many turtle species live most of the time and where they hunt their food. Yet all turtles need a good dry spot to bask and soak up the sun (or UV light from a lamp) as well. This helps raise their body temperature and gives your pet a rest from all that swimming. More importantly, they are also absorbing nutrients from the light.

How Often Can a Turtle Be Out of Water

Turtles need a lot of water, but unlike fish, they can be out of the water as well. When you set up an aquarium for a turtle, it’s necessary to have a rock or other dry area where they can hang out outside the water. Can they be out of the water too much?

More importantly, some turtles live mostly in water, and others live more on land. You need to set up your turtle habitat for the species you have. The balance of land and water in their home is important, but diverse types of turtles have quite unique needs.

Most of the time, there’s nothing to worry about. Once its home is set up, your turtle will climb in and out of the water on its own. You do not need to keep track of when, how often, or for how long your pet is out of water. Still, it is good to know that the more often your turtle gets out of the water, and the longer they stay out, the more energy they use.

Typical water turtles won’t spend more than about thirty minutes out of the water in a day. Moreover, they’ll often do this all at once. Meanwhile, land turtles like the box turtle will spend more time living on land.

Let your turtle climb in and out of the water in their habitat as they like. Don’t worry overly about bringing them out for a few minutes to show off or spend time together but put them back promptly when you’re done.

How Long Can My Turtle Stay Out of the Water

An aquatic turtle can be outside the water for six to eight hours at most before they need to get back to the water.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a clever idea to leave them out of the water for so long. Unlike their tortoise and land-turtle cousins, these legged creatures spend much of their time swimming.

With higher-than-normal humidity, an aquatic turtle could be outside the water for longer. Especially when it’s warm and moist where they are, a turtle could be out of water for up to a month and survive. Sadly, they wouldn’t be comfortable or happy.

Turtles are cold-blooded according to Dr. Nick Saint-Erne, DVM, so they enjoy warming up on a nice sunny shore or rock. Your aquatic pet needs a place to hang out when they don’t want to swim, just like turtles in nature will climb ashore or hang out on rocks and logs in a stream.

Aquatic turtles also use swimming water for drinking and regulating their body temperature. It is not a good idea to keep aquatic turtles out of water unnecessarily. They will self-regulate and know when to come ashore. Furthermore, turtles need the water to take pressure off their dense bodies, so they use less energy.

Final Thoughts

Keeping pet turtles can be incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun. So long as you know how much water your turtle needs and you keep it clean, your pet will enjoy its habitat. That is important for all animals, but especially for long-lived pets like turtles.

Choosing a turtle for a pet is a lot like getting a parrot. You are not opting for a short-lived critter, and it is essential to understand how long your species will live. Turtles are a big commitment and a lifetime companion.

Check and refill your turtle’s drinking water daily, and make sure their swimming water is clean too. Turtles aren’t fussy about where they drink from, so you must keep all the water drinkable and filtered for the sake of your pet.

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