Aquatic Turtles: Why are they difficult pets?

These animals are difficult to own because they require special veterinary care, a certain diet, and more space than you would think.
Aquatic Turtles: Why are they difficult pets?
Eugenio Fernández Suárez

Written and verified by the vet Eugenio Fernández Suárez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Having aquatic turtles as pets is complicated. This not only because of caring for them, but also because most breeds have become invasive species.

Invasive Species

Exotic invasive species are from other parts of the world and cause damage to their new ecosystem. This is a phenomenon that began to spread after bringing these animals to the worldwide pet market.

In the 20th century, invasive species made all across the world because they are desired exotic pets. For example, in Spain, there are Kramer parrots, raccoons, and several species of American aquatic turtles that are not native to the country.

Aquatic Turtles as Pets

Aquatic turtles are popular pets because they are small in size when they’re young and are inexpensive. Also, many people believe they do not require much care.

Animals such as the red-eared turtle can live an extremely long time. They can reach up to 30 years of age and they can grow up to 40 cm long. They can’t be kept in small terrariums their entire lives because they grow out of them.

Older aquatic turtles also can carry salmonella. Therefore, children that have contact with aquatic turtles put their health at risk. Outbreaks of salmonella have been reported in several countries, including the United States.

This health risk, along with the difficulties of handling the nutrition and environmental conditions of the red-eared turtle, makes these animals predisposed to numerous trips to the vet, especially when raised by inexperienced owners. In many cases, owners choose to abandon the aquatic turtles, rather than continuing to treat them.

5 aquatic turtles resting on a flat rock.

The Consequences of Having Aquatic Turtles as pets

Abandoning pets is not exclusive to these aquatic turtles, although the majority of animals born in captivity do not usually survive when they are abandoned. However, in the case of some American aquatic turtles, they have such a good success rate at survival that they are endangering ecosystems in Spain.

American aquatic turtles are much more aggressive than their European counterparts. This is why the releasin non-native species such as the red-eared turtle is causing problems for European aquatic turtles, which is why these invasive turtles are harmful to these ecosystems.

Due to this invasion, groups of people have begun capturing these turtles in order to reduce and control their populations in the wild. These animals can be kept in captivity provided they were purchased prior to new legislation. Currently, when they are captured in the wild, they are sent to specialized centers or, unfortunately, eliminated.

Aquatic turtle resting on a rock

Therefore, it is important to remember that having aquatic turtles as pets is a huge responsibility, as it with any pet, exotic or domestic. In regard to these animals, their abandonment is a problem for nature and animal activists.

Can I have an aquatic turtle as a pet?

Despite all this, an aquatic turtle can be a great pet to have. There are many species you can legally own. You just need to think long and hard about whether it’s the right pet for you.

These animals live very long lives. You must handle them with extreme caution and you’ll need much more space than you think.

Plus, you should consider any additional veterinarian expenses and a giving them a special diet. If you take all this into consideration and are very responsible, an aquatic turtle as a pet might not be a bad idea for you.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.