Caring for Your Red-Eared Slider

Small Pet Care > Reptile Pet Care >

The red-eared slider is one of the most commonly kept aquatic turtles. They are native to the United States and their natural habitat are sluggish rivers, shallow streams, swamps, ponds, and lakes with soft bottoms and dense vegetation. Along with providing adequate housing for your pet, you must also provide a nutritious diet and fresh, clean water that is the proper temperature.

Diet and Nutrition

The exact nutritional requirements of turtles are not known, so you will have to provide a variety of foods and monitor what your turtle actually eats (as opposed to what he is offered). It may take weeks for your turtle to accept a new food, but if he is warm and healthy, he will eventually try it. If your turtle is ill, or if his environment is not appropriate, he will be less likely to have a good appetite or to try new foods.

  • Protein source: Water turtles are primarily carnivorous and will benefit from a varied diet. Feed your slider goldfish, guppies, minnows, trout and smelt in small quantities. Live fish should be well fed before being killed and fed to the turtle. Do not feed wild-caught fish because they may carry parasites transmissible to the turtle. You can also feed your pet chopped or whole baby mice or skinned, chopped whole adults. Pinkies (furless young mice) cannot be fed exclusively because a calcium deficiency will develop. Whole adult mice are nutritious, but they must be pre-killed.

    Insects, earthworms and mealworms are calcium deficient, but also can be fed in moderation. Earthworms should be cultivated in a wormery, since wild worms may carry parasites or bacteria harmful to sliders. Feed very little, if any, raw meat, liver, chicken gizzard, mince or heart because they have an extremely low calcium content. Do not feed crayfish, shrimp, wild-caught insects or spiders; these may carry harmful bacteria.

  • Commercial diets: Feed your slider commercial diets only in moderation, and feed only those not composed primarily of insects. Small amounts of cat and dog food (not more than 5 percent) are valuable supplements. Trout chow and rabbit pellets can form part of the diet, but do not offer medicated feeds. Bone meal or calcium carbonate can be used as sources of calcium to supplement the diet. These can be included if the diet is prepared in bulk. For large collections, food can be prepared in advance, bound in plain gelatin, cut into portions and frozen.
  • Fruits and vegetables: As they age, turtles may be more willing to consume fruits and vegetables. You can offer your slider dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, chard, romaine lettuce, spinach, and bok choy. You can also offer fruit in small quantities (not more than 5 percent of the diet) but only very occasionally. If necessary, you can add greens to a gelatin mixture to force the consumption of vegetables.

    Water Quality

    The health of your turtle depends on the quality of the water. Sliders are aquatic animals and they release their waste into the water, so the enclosure must be cleaned and disinfected often and the water drained and replenished. If the water is not clean, it harbors more bacteria and the chances of your turtle getting sick increase. Water quality should be evaluated weekly because, although the water may appear clean, the pH, ammonia nitrate, and nitrite levels may be inappropriate or even dangerous. Keep a test kit handy, available at aquarium supply stores.

    Partial water changes are not adequate. Keep in mind that tanks with lower water volumes need to be changed more often than tanks with higher water volumes. For example, a 10-gallon tank housing three or fewer 4-inch turtles should have the water changed every 2 to 3 days. A 50-gallon tank will need to be changed weekly. If the turtles are fed in the same enclosure, the water should be changed within 12 hours.
    A small tank can be carried to a sink for a water change, but if your tank is large, you will have to siphon or drain it. When it is empty, scrub and rinse the walls to remove bacteria and any traces of cleaner. Dechlorination of the water is not necessary, but a drastic change in water temperature can kill the animals, so be certain that the temperature remains the same. Check it with a thermometer. The water should be at least as deep as the width of the widest turtles shell. Otherwise, if the animal overturns, he will not be able to right himself and may drown.

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