Painted Turtles as Pets

Painted turtles on a log in a pond
Painted turtles love to bask in the sun or under a heat lamp. Getty Images/Brian E. Kushner

Painted turtles are named as such because of their ornate shell markings but they may also be known as Chrysemys picta, the Eastern painted turtle, the Southern painted turtle, the midland painted turtle, or the Western painted turtle. Regardless of what you call them though, painted turtles require special attention paid to their water quality, enclosure temperatures, and the food they are fed in order to provide optimal care to these aquatic turtles.

About Painted Turtles

The average painted turtle grows to be between four and ten inches long with males being smaller than the females. In the wild, painted turtles can live to be over 50 years old and are found in ponds and around small lakes, often congregating on logs to sun themselves and dry off. In colder weather, they will hibernate.

Like other aquatic turtles, such as map turtles and red eared sliders, painted turtles are not ideal for households with small children or immune compromised individuals. Salmonella is something all reptiles can harbor and everyone should wash their hands before and after handling any aquatic turtle.

Housing Painted Turtles

Since painted turtles are aquatic turtles they will spend the majority of their time swimming and the rest of their time eating and basking on a dry piece of land in the sun. The care of painted turtles is similar to that of a pet fish in that they need a tank almost entirely filled with water but unlike a fish, they also need somewhere to dry dock. A large fish tank that will hold 100 gallons of water or more is necessary for a full grown painted turtle but some turtle owners will also use a kiddie pool, pond liner, or other large plastic container.

Gravel built up with larger rocks to create a beach on one side of the tank serves well as a basking area and dry docking station for your turtle. You can also use a variety of floating accessories that are available at pet stores.

Food and Water

Painted turtles typically eat their food while swimming so items that float or that can be clipped to the side of the enclosure are best. Aquatic turtle pellets are a good staple diet but your turtle should also get some fresh leafy vegetables. Dark, leafy greens like romaine, dandelion greens and fresh parsley should be offered on a regular basis. These can be placed in the water or clipped to the side of the tank with a suction cup clip sold in the fish department at the pet store. Fresh, chopped apple pieces and freeze dried shrimp can be offered as treats from time to time but should not make up more than 10% of your turtle's diet. Painted turtles will also eat some insects and fish. Fatty fish like goldfish should be avoided but an occasional guppy, cricket, or worm can be offered for variety.

It should go without saying that water quality is very important to animals that spend the majority of their lives swimming, and aquatic turtles are no exception. Dirty water can cause a number of health problems for an aquatic turtle.

Quality water filters are a must for any painted turtle enclosure to keep the water clean, clear, and fresh. Submersible filters and canister filters are both good options and should be constantly running to not only provide filtration but also aeration to your painted turtle's water.

Light

If housed indoors, UVB lighting and supplemental heat lights should be provided to aquatic turtles. Painted turtles don't need extremely warm temperatures but they will be more active and eat better if their home is heated properly. If temperatures are allowed to drop below 70 degrees, your turtle may become lethargic, not eat well, and start to go into hibernation. Turtles that are housed outside in warmer months should be brought inside when the outside temperature gets too cool.

UVB lighting should be provided for 12 hours a day, regardless of the season, in the form of a UVB bulb. This bulb should also be replaced every six months since the invisible UVB rays expire before the visible white light does. Painted turtles that are housed outside do not need this supplemental UVB light since they receive natural UVB rays from the sun.

Heat can be provided in the form of heat lights or ceramic heat emitters. A temperature gradient should be created so your turtle has temperatures between 70 and 95 degrees to choose from. The warmest side of the tank should be the same side as the basking or dry dock 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.

  • Parasites - 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 is 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.
  • Metabolic bone disease - 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.