A Cautionary Turtle Tale

By March 7, 2023 No Comments

If you ever wondered how important your pet’s enclosure is to their health and wellness, this case involving our patient Illaoi the red-eared slider should put any doubt to rest. Illaoi was recently adopted into a new family, who became concerned because she wasn’t eating as much as she normally does.

We took some x-rays, which showed that Illaoi had stones in her stomach. It turns out that Illaoi’s previous family kept her in a tank with gravel that people typically put on the bottom of fish tanks and she had ingested some of those small pebbles.
We treated Illaoi with a medication to help her pass the pebbles and one week after her initial visit, she came back to our clinic having passed nearly all of the gravel in her stomach. Her family even brought them in a little bag to show us!
We are pleased to say that Illaoi is doing much better now and her story had a happy ending. But her story is also a cautionary tale on the importance of having a proper and safe enclosure for your pets.
For red-eared slider turtles – the bigger the tank, the better. The rule of thumb is that they need to be in a tank that should have the equivalent measurement of 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell. When fully grown, red-eared sliders can reach a length of 12 inches, so they should be housed in a 120-gallon tank. Red-eared sliders need enough water in their tanks to allow them to swim fully submerged and they also need a dry area within their tanks so they can climb completely out of the water and have an area where they can bask and walk around.
As Illaoi’s case illustrates, don’t put fish tank gravel or small stones at the bottom of your red-eared slider’s tank as they can be ingested and make your turtle sick. Small stones and gravel can also trap your turtle’s waste and other debris in the tank which will pollute their water. The best and cleanest option for a red-eared slider tank substrate is no substrate at all.
Given that red-eared sliders sleep, eat and poop in the same water, it needs to be changed regularly. Even if you have a filter in your turtle’s tank, a partial water change of 25% weekly will help remove waste, bacteria and other contaminants. If you see that the water in your red-eared slider’s tank is murky or foggy, it is already far too dirty for your turtle.
The tank water for red-eared sliders should be a temperature of between 75º and 82º F (24º-29ºC), heated with an unbreakable electric fish tank heater. Just like water temperature, a heat source is necessary for the tank’s dry basking area. The heat source should be placed outside and above the tank over the basking area to avoid contact with your turtle and the water.

Red-eared sliders live longer and grow bigger than most people anticipate and are not ideal pets for everyone. Always remember to do your research before bringing a red-eared slider or any other type of pet into your family.

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