How to Care for a Red Ear Slider Turtle

In this Article:Article SummarySetting Up Your Slider’s EnclosureMonitoring the Water in Your Slider’s EnclosureFeeding Your Red Ear Slider TurtleHandling Your Red Ear Slider TurtleCommunity Q&A

Red ear slider turtles are one of the most common types of turtles sold in pet stores throughout the world.[1] Sliders can be very personable, and may even swim up to you to ask for food when they are comfortable with you.[2] When well cared for, captive sliders can live for up to 20 years.[3] Caring for your slider is not a low-maintenance commitment, so be prepared to dedicate a fair amount of time and money to caring for him.

Veterinarian Pippa Elliott MRCVS advises: "Caring for a Slider is a long term commitment. Before taking one on, think carefully about what your circumstances might be in 10 or 15 years time and if you could still provide adequate care."

Setting Up Your Slider’s Enclosure

  1. 1
    Select an enclosure for your slider. Glass aquariums are a popular type of enclosure for red ear slider turtles.[4] Acrylic aquariums are also available, but are not ideal because acrylic scratches easily.[5] A general rule of thumb for tank size is 10 gallons of tank per inch of shell length.[6]
    • Be mindful that adult sliders can grow up to 12 inches in length. Females will also get larger than males, so if you want a smaller turtle, consider getting a male. Consider buying a large tank initially to avoid purchasing multiple tanks as your slider grows.[7]
    • If large glass aquariums are not within your budget, you can also use a plastic storage container, plastic stock tank, or wading pool to house your slider.[8][9] Whichever type of enclosure you choose, it should be clean, sturdy, and durable.
    • A screened mesh top is helpful to prevent your slider from climbing out.[10] These work well on aquariums.
    • A large enclosure is necessary for your slider’s health and well-being. He could suffer from poor mental health, illness, and injury if his enclosure is too small.[11]
    • Turtle-specific tanks are usually poorly designed and should be avoided.[12]
  2. 2
    Add water to your slider’s enclosure. Red ear slider turtles are strong swimmers and spend the majority of their time in the water.[13][14] Therefore, it is important for your slider to have plenty of water to swim in. Tap water is suitable to use, but you should test the water for chlorine, hardness, and pH before adding it to the enclosure.
    • Depending on the test results, you may need to use a filter that removes chlorine or add a water-softening agent. In addition, you may need to lower the pH (ideal pH levels are six to eight) using such substances as peat or bogwood.[15]
    • A helpful rule of thumb is to have 10 gallons of water per inch of your slider’s shell length.[16]
  3. 3
    Create a basking area in the enclosure. Your slider will need a dry, warm area above the water in which he can bask under a heat source. Materials on which your slider could bask include cork bark or driftwood.[17] Use large, smooth river rocks to create a sloped pathway from the water to the basking site.[18]
    • The basking area should be 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius).[19]
    • If you do not want make your own basking dock, you can purchase a commercial basking dock at your local pet store.[20]
  4. 4
    Provide adequate light and heat for your slider’s enclosure. The light from fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs are not only good for your slider’s health, but also provide an important heat source. Your slider’s enclosure should be kept at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius).
    • The full spectrum ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB) from fluorescent light bulbs will help your slider produce vitamin D3.[21]
    • Use an incandescent light bulb (75 watts or lower) directly above the basking area.[22]
    • Situate the light bulbs directly above your slider (about 18 to 24 inches up).[23] Consider purchasing a light fixture to secure the light bulbs.
    • Although direct sunlight provides UV light, it can make your slider’s enclosure too warm. Avoid placing his enclosure in the path of direct sunlight.[24]
    • Replace the bulbs every six months.[25]
  5. 5
    Include areas for your slider to hide. Red ear slider turtles are relatively solitary creatures and enjoy their privacy.[26] Structures such as live aquatic plants and caves can allow your slider to hide if he feels threatened (common in younger sliders).[27]
    • Be mindful that your slider may eat the live plants. You may need to replace them regularly.[28]
    • Caves are good choices for smaller sliders. However, a small slider could become stuck in the cave as he grows.[29]
    • If you choose to provide extra places to hide, make sure the objects are nontoxic and sturdy.[30]
  6. 6
    Consider adding a substrate to your slider’s enclosure. Substrates such as sand and river rocks can be added to the bottom of your slider’s enclosure to enhance its appearance. Do not put gravel small enough to fit in your turtles mouth, as it may eat it. The substrate could also pique your slider’s interest and give him something to sift through.[31]
    • Keep in mind that adding a substrate may create more work for you, in terms of keeping the enclosure clean.[32]
    • Do not use gravel as a substrate. Your slider’s digestive may become impacted if he eats it. Gravel can also trap food and waste, making the enclosure harder to clean.[33]
    • Marbles, pebbles, and beads should also be avoided. They can break when your slider steps on them, resulting in sharp debris that could injure him.[34]

Monitoring the Water in Your Slider’s Enclosure

  1. 1
    Maintain a minimum water level. This is important to ensure that your slider does not drown. As a rule of thumb, the water level should be at least as high as his shell is long. For example, a slider with a 6-inch long shell should be in water that is at least 6 inches deep.[35]
    • This rule of thumb may be more useful if you are having trouble measuring the amount of water in gallons.
    • With the right water level, your slider will be able right himself in case he flips over in the water.[36]
    • Low water levels can increase the accumulation rate of harmful chemicals and debris in your slider's enclosure, regardless of the type of water filter.[37]
  2. 2
    Keep the water at a constant, warm temperature. Turtles are cold-blooded animals and need external sources of warmth to keep them warm. Use a thermometer to maintain the water temperature in your slider’s tank at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius).[38] Infrared thermometers are available that you can stick to the side of the enclosure to monitor the temperature.[39]
    • Water temperatures that fall below the recommended range can slow your slider’s metabolism, which can lead to inactivity and serious health problems, such as impaired digestion.[40]
    • Place a submersible aquarium water heater below the water line to maintain the proper water temperature.[41] The wattage of the water heater should be between three and five watts per gallon of water.[42]
    • Not all submersible water heaters accurately gauge the water temperature.[43] Check the water temperature regularly and adjust the heater as needed.
    • Turtles can be very rough. Consider purchasing a water heater guard to keep your slider from breaking the heater.[44]
    • Do not plug in the water heater until 10 minutes after you place it in the water. Also, wait 10 minutes after you unplug it to remove it from the water.[45]
    • When you change the water in your slider’s aquarium, make sure that the fresh water to be added to the tank is at the proper temperature.[46]
  3. 3
    Use a water filter to maintain water quality. Your slider’s health depends on the quality of the water in his enclosure. Poor water quality can lead to an accumulation of microorganisms that can not only cause the aquarium to smell, but also negatively affect your slider’s health.[47] There are several types of water filters (biological, chemical, mechanical) to keep your slider’s aquarium free of dangerous chemicals (e.g., ammonia, nitrates, chlorine).[48]
    • Biological filters remove ammonia from your slider’s aquarium. A mechanical filter removes debris, and a chemical filter removes various pollutants from the water.[49]
    • The website has a comprehensive overview of the many filters available for your slider’s aquarium. Talk to your veterinarian if you are unsure which filter to select.
    • It is recommended to use a filter with a filtration rate that is rated two to three times the amount of water in the enclosure.[50][51] For example, a 50-gallon tank would need a filter that can filter 100 to 150 gallons of water.
    • Although filters will make it easier to keep your slider’s enclosure clean, you will still need to change the water and filter regularly (check the manufacturer’s instructions). How often you change the water and filter will depend on several factors, such as how many sliders are in the tank and if you have a separate feeding tank.[52][53]
    • Whichever filter you choose, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure maximal efficiency of the filter.[54]
    • Aquatic plants can be used to filter the water. However, your slider may eat these plants and thus create more waste.[55]

Feeding Your Red Ear Slider Turtle

  1. 1
    Feed your slider animal-based protein. Sliders are carnivorous when they are young, but become omnivores as they progress to adulthood.[56] Feeding your slider a variety of foods will help keep him healthy. Examples of good protein sources are live crickets, earthworms and silkworms.[57]
    • It is preferable to choose worms and insects that have been gut-loaded to increase their nutritional value.[58]
    • Live snails are another good protein source, but could harbor harmful parasites, even if store bought.[59]
    • Your slider will also enjoy live fish, such as guppies or minnows.[60]
    • Your slider may suffer from a vitamin B1 deficiency if you feed him a primarily fish-based diet.[61] Be sure to incorporate multiple protein sources into his diet.
    • Animal-based protein should make up about 25% of your slider’s diet.[62]
  2. 2
    Include fresh produce in your slider’s diet. Your slider can eat a wide variety of fresh produce, including melons, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and bananas.[63] Consider choosing produce, such as greens and lettuce, that can float in the water[64]—this would give your slider something to munch on throughout the day.
    • Although fresh is preferable over frozen, fresh produce may have pesticides or herbicides on them that could make your slider sick.
    • Water hyacinth, water lilies, and duckweed are fresh plants that you can place in your slider’s enclosure.[65]
    • Keep in mind that fruit can disintegrate in the water, making it harder to keep his enclosure clean.[66]
    • Fresh produce should make up the majority of his diet (50 to 75%).[67][68]
  3. 3
    Feed your slider a commercial diet. Turtle pellets are available at your local pet store. These pellets can be another protein source for your slider.[69] The amount of pellets you feed your slider should be roughly the same size as his head (excluding his neck).[70]
    • Other types of commercial turtle food include frozen and freeze-dried food (e.g., shrimp, krill, feeder fish). They can be used as a small treat for your slider. [71]
    • Commercial food should make up 10 to 25% of your slider’s diet.[72][73]
  4. 4
    Learn how often to feed your slider. Juvenile sliders should be fed daily, and adult sliders should be fed every other day.[74] Be aware that sliders are voracious eaters and often beg for food.[75]
    • Do not give your slider food every time he begs for it—this could lead to overfeeding and health problems.
    • Be mindful that sliders eat only when they are in the water.[76] Do not attempt to feed your turtle is he is in his basking area.
  5. 5
    Consider supplementing your slider’s diet. Even with a well-balanced diet that is full of variety, your slider may need dietary supplements to keep him in optimal health. Calcium is an especially important nutrient for your slider. You can supplement his diet with calcium by sprinkling a calcium-vitamin D3 powder supplement on his food or feeding him cuttlefish bone.[77]
    • A calcium deficiency can lead to metabolic bone disease.[78]
    • To prevent a nutrient imbalance, consult with your veterinarian before supplementing your slider’s diet.[79]
  6. 6
    Feed your slider in a separate tank. Sliders can be very messy eaters.[80] To keep your slider’s main enclosure more clean, feed him in a separate tank or other enclosure. This will put a lot less stress on the tank filter. Be sure to clean out any remaining food after your slider has finished eating to prevent the food from rotting.[81]
    • Allow your slider to eat for about 15 minutes before placing him back in his main enclosure.[82]

Handling Your Red Ear Slider Turtle

  1. 1
    Use both hands to handle your slider. Proper handling of your slider is very important. Handling your slider may not be easy—he will slippery, and may hiss, bite, and even release his bowels in response to being held.[83] To minimize his distress and decrease your chances of being bitten, gently hold and support him with both hands.[84]
    • Place him back in his enclosure if he begins to rapidly flail his arms and legs.[85]
    • Your slider may bite or scratch you when he begins to struggle.[86]
  2. 2
    Wash your hands before and after handling your slider. Salmonellosis is a bacterial disease than can be transmitted from sliders to humans. Your slider carries the bacteria in his system, but does not become sick from it.[87] However, salmonella can make humans (especially children) very ill.[88]
    • Washing your hands with soap and water before and after handling your slider will decrease the likelihood of contracting salmonella from him.[89]
    • Be aware that sliders can release salmonella in their feces when they become stressed, such as when being handled.[90]
    • If you have children, closely supervise them when handling your slider. Make sure they wash their hands before and after handling him, and do not allow them to put their hands near their mouth after handling him.
  3. 3
    Minimize handling of your slider. Besides the risk of disease transmission, sliders typically do not like to be held frequently. In fact, your slider may immediately withdraw into his shell when you try to handle him. He may even try to bite you.[91]

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question
    Can I keep a red eared slide turtle together with another type of turtle?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    This depends on the type of turtle, but most other turtles should be fine together.
  • Question
    There are so many white spots on my turtle. What should I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your turtle could be very sick. You should get it to a vet immediately.
  • Question
    How do I tell the age of my red ear slider?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    First you have to sex your turtle. Males will have longer claws and longer, skinny tails. You can tell the age by the size. Keep in mind that females are bigger than males.
  • Question
    Can I take my red ear slider to the park?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Usually bringing some sort of reptile to the park is not necessary. These animals do better in a wet environment and should not be displayed in a park, especially since they could get lost or hurt.
  • Question
    Is it okay to let a red eared slider roam around in a backyard once or twice a day?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, but only if you are positive there has been no use of pesticides or fertilizer on or in the area. Also, keep a close eye on your turtle outside as they can move quickly and get lost easily.
  • Question
    Is it okay to keep two red eared (baby) sliders in one tank, and keep it that way when they grow up?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, for babies, but once they reach sexual maturity, there's a good chance you will want to separate them.
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    • The cost of basic start-up items for red ear slider turtles can range from one hundred to several hundred dollars.[92] The long-term care of your slider can easily cost hundreds of more dollars per year.
    • Keep your slider’s enclosure away from drafts to prevent the development of respiratory infections.[93]
    • Sliders do not need a companion in their tank.[94] Housing multiple sliders in the same enclosure may lead to bullying and fighting.[95] Consult with your veterinarian if you are considering having more than one slider in the enclosure.
    • The websites and provide helpful lists on which types of food are most and least recommended for sliders.
    • Clean your slider's tank with a diluted bleach solution (two ounces of bleach per one gallon of water). White vinegar can be used to remove spots from a glass aquarium.[96]


    • Falls can be fatal for sliders.[97] Make sure you have a firm hold of your slider when handling him.
    • Do not release your slider into the wild.[98] This puts them at serious risk for illness, injury, and death.
    • Sliders can transmit salmonella to humans, which could make you very sick.[99]
    • Sliders have a tendency to bite when they become stressed.[100]

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    Article SummaryX

    To care for a red ear slider turtle, feed it once a day if it's a juvenile slider or every other day if it's an adult. Feed your slider mostly fresh produce, like melons, collard greens, and bananas, which should make up 50-75 percent of its diet. You should also feed your slider animal-based protein, like live crickets and earthworms, so it makes up 25 percent of its diet. Then, for the rest of your turtle's diet, give it commercial turtle pellets, which you can find at your local pet store. To learn how to set up a tank for a red ear slider turtle, keep reading!

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