Chances are, turtles and tortoises make awesome pets for reasons you've never even thought about. You say you're not a turtle person? You will be, after you read this.
Every pet has its challenges, and we're not claiming turtles are an exception to that rule. We are saying, though, that turtles may give you fewer headaches than some higher-maintenance animals. "Turtles and tortoises are good pets because most of them are relatively small; they are quiet and easy to care for if provided with the correct habitat and diet," said Nick Saint-Erne, DVM, CertAqV, and resident PetSmart veterinarian.
You have enough picky eaters at your house. Turtles won't add to that problem.
"Most water turtle species are omnivorous, and will eat fresh green produce as well as feeder fish and worms," said Saint-Erne. "There are also pelleted diets for them that are nutritious and easy to use."
Tortoises aren't much more difficult. According to Saint-Erne, they're mostly herbivorous, and eat fresh greens, grass, hay, other vegetables and fruits and pelleted tortoise diets. "Most reptiles also benefit from calcium and vitamin powder sprinkled over their food a few times per week," he added.
Depending on where you live, you may have more options than you think for housing your turtle or tortoise. "Turtles and tortoises are relatively easy to maintain in either outdoor pens or ponds — seasonal or year-round with shelters, depending on geographical location — or indoor habitats," said Saint-Erne. "Water turtles need a minimum of 20 gallons of water, and as adults may need a 55-gallon aquarium with strong filtration to properly house them."
We all love the feel of the sun on our skin. Turtles and tortoises love to feel it, too... on their shells. If you have a shelled critter that spends most of his time indoors, make sure you're making up for the loss of natural light.
"Turtles and tortoises need exposure to ultraviolet light, so a UV bulb as well as a heat source needs to be provided in their habitats if kept indoors," said Saint-Erne.
You know those quickly little traits that make the family dog so endearing? Turns out turtles have those, too. According to Saint-Erne, turtles have very unique personalities. And he knows what he's talking about. Not only is Saint-Erne a turtle expert, but he's also a turtle owner.
"I have nine different species of turtles and tortoises I keep as pets, and not only do their personalities differ between species, but even in the same species they vary," he said. “Some are very friendly and run toward me when they see me, others are more reclusive and hide when observed. Some like to be picked up, some don't. Most will eat directly from my hands when being fed."
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra brand manager at Rolf C. Hagen, says land-based tortoises can actually hang out with the family in your home, as long as they have a safe habitat to return to when they're not being supervised.
"Many [tortoises] become part of the family and can freely roam around the house much like a dog or cat. Their vegetarian diets may require that you keep them away from the family garden, but cleanup and care are fairly simple and straightforward," he said.
OK, so you're probably not going to be playing fetch with your pet turtle, but these shelled creatures are not totally unteachable.
"In ancient Turkey, tortoises were taught to 'dance' to music, and many pet turtles will learn to come when called. Rolling over, however, is not something they can be taught to do," said Saint-Erne.
When you make the decision to add a turtle or tortoise to your family, it's important you know that they live a lot longer than most pets.
"Turtles can be longtime friends," says Sotelo. "Some turtles and tortoises can have a long life span. Many common, pet-friendly species can live up to 20 years if cared for properly."
It's a big commitment, but the payoff is huge if you're up to the challenge.
This post was sponsored by PetSmart.
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