Turtle & Tortoise Habitat Maintenance

Keeping the habitat clean is key to helping your turtle or tortoise stay healthy and disease-free. In the case of water turtles, filters certainly help but it is necessary to clean out the entire tank and change the water routinely. Tortoise habitats may require less maintenance, but should also be cleaned regularly. Find tips below on how often to clean your habitat.

How often should the tank - habitat be cleaned?

For water turtles, experts recommend cleaning the entire tank and changing filter media about every two to three weeks or when the water is fouled with uneaten food or waste. Use a small net to scoop about leftover food, debris and waste.

When cleaning your turtle tank or tortoise habitat, you will want to move your pet to a separate container. This container should be used exclusively for temporarily housing your turtle or tortoise – do not use it to store other items, especially consumables.

Be sure to wash your hands with soap after handling your turtle or tortoise to avoid the potential transfer of bacteria. Use specially-formulated products to sterilize your habitat cleaning tools instead of soap and water which can be harmful to your pet.

Use a bucket to fill smaller turtle tanks and for larger tanks, try connecting a hose to a faucet. If a child is cleaning the tank, an adult should supervise closely to avoid overfilling and spilling accidents.

For tortoises, change the substrate every two to three weeks and wipe out with cage cleaner/disinfectant. Change out their water dish daily and scoop out uneaten food and waste as needed.

Water care for your water turtle

Even if your water turtle's swimming water looks clean, it could be high in ammonia or nitrite levels which can make your pet sick. Experts recommend partially changing the water at least once a week.

Before you put your turtle back into his habitat, test your tap water with a pH test kit. The pH scale in tap water ranges from very acidic (a reading of 1) to neutral (7) to very basic (14). Ranges that are too high or too low can be damaging to your turtle. Most tap water ranges between 7 and 8 which is fine for most turtles. You can purchase a pH test kit at your local PetSmart or ask a knowledgeable associate to test a sample of your water for you for free.

Filters for water turtles

Filtration helps keep your turtle's swimming water clean and clean water helps keep your turtle healthy. There are several filters available on the market, but the two most common are the canister filter and the power filter. When choosing what type of filter is right for you, the general rule of thumb among turtle experts is "the bigger the better." The more water that moves through the filter and the larger the filtering surface, the cleaner your turtle's water. However, you will want to be sure that the filter isn't causing too much turbulence in the tank which can injure your turtle.


Information from the book "Aquatic Turtles" by (Complete Herp Care series) by David T. Kirkpatrick (ISBN: 978-07938-2885-2) was used in this guide. Copyright 2006 TFH Publications, Inc. Used by permission.

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