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How To Care For Baby Red-Eared Sliders: Everything You Need To Know

If you’ve recently become the proud owner of a baby red-eared slider, you’re in for a lot of fun. 

These little turtles are adorable and make great pets. But it’s important to remember that they require a lot of care. 

This post will discuss how to set up your turtle’s tank, what to feed them, and how to handle their behaviors. We’ll also provide some tips on keeping your turtle healthy and happy.

How to Take Care of A Baby Red-Eared Slider:

  • Set up a dynamic tank
  • Control the temperature and UV
  • Provide a natural diet
  • Get to know their behaviors
  • Monitor their health
  • Clean their enclosure regularly

Can You Have a Red-Eared Slider as a Pet?

Yes, red-eared sliders make great pets. They are relatively low maintenance and can live for decades with proper care. 

Pet red-eared sliders can be purchased from pet stores, turtle breeders, or adopted from a reptile rescue. 

You should never take a turtle from the wild to keep as a pet.

Red-eared sliders are the most popular type of pet turtle in the United States. They make good pets as they are relatively low maintenance and can live for decades with proper care.

Related: Red-Eared Slider

Can You Have a Red-Eared Slider as a Pet

Where Can I Get a Baby Red-Eared Slider?

Because of their popularity, red-eared sliders are reasonably easy to source and purchase from breeders or local pet stores.

When buying a baby red-eared slider, avoid wild-caught turtles. These turtles may carry diseases and parasites that can be harmful to your turtle and other pets in your home. It is also important to avoid buying turtles that are too small.

Baby turtles less than four inches long are more challenging to care for and have a higher mortality rate. Turtles less than 4-inches are also illegal to sell.[1]

If you are unsure whether or not a turtle is healthy, ask to see a veterinarian’s health certificate. This certificate should state that the turtle has been examined and is free of diseases.

Baby Red-Eared Slider Tank Set-Up

Baby red-eared sliders need a spacious tank with a dynamic environment. The water needs to be of excellent quality and sufficient depth. The temperature and UV must be within optimal ranges to facilitate healthy metabolism.

Set up your baby red-eared slider’s tank before they arrive. This will allow you to make sure everything is in order and the temperature is correct.

If brought into an inappropriate tank set-up, baby red-eared sliders can suffer environmental shock. The stress of transportation combined with this shock can cause the baby turtle to become ill or, in extreme cases, die.

When setting up an enclosure for a baby red-eared slider, consider the following:

  • Tank size
  • Water level
  • Water quality
  • Temperature
  • UV exposure
  • Environmental gradient
  • Enriching furnishings

Tank

The larger the space you can provide for your red-eared slider, the better. More space allows for the expression of natural behaviors, promoting good physical and mental well-being.

As a bare minimum, a baby red-eared slider of 4-inches should have a tank size of at least 40 gallons. A small, 20-gallon tank is okay for short-term housing while sourcing a larger tank.[2]

Ideally, a tank of 100+ gallons is best as it will be suitable for your red-eared slider as they grow. For a general guide, use the “rule of the shell”: 

For every inch of turtle length, provide 10 gallons of space. 

For example, 60 gallons for a 6-inch slider or 120 gallons for a 12-inch adult.

Position the tank in a quiet area of your home with minimal traffic. After being translocated, your new baby red-eared slider can be nervous. A lot of activity around the tank may cause stress.

The tank should be away from direct sunlight, which can increase the temperatures inside the enclosure to unsafe levels.

Red-Eared Slider tank
Image Source

Water Level

Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic, and even babies are adept swimmers. They spend most of their time in the water and are usually only seen on land for basking or egg-laying.

The water depth should be three times as deep as your slider is long. So for a 4-inch baby, the water should be a minimum of 12 inches deep. This allows for full rotation and maneuverability within the water.

Baby sliders are not yet at their full strength. They require plenty of rest areas and exit points in their water. Floating islands and ramps to land ensures that they can get to land when they need to.

Related: How Long Can A Red-Eared Slider Be Out Of Water?

What Temperature Should a Red-Eared Slider's Water Be
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Water Quality

Use only fresh, clean water for your baby red-eared sliders tank. While this species is relatively resistant to water quality, they do much better in high-quality water. 

This is especially true for babies, as poor environmental factors can impact growth and development. 

Red-eared sliders excrete their waste within the water, producing a lot of ammonia and nitrate. These are harmful at high levels. An excellent filter system is required to keep the water safe.[3]

A full water change is needed approximately once every six weeks, but completely changing the water can put a baby turtle’s system under stress. Instead, partially change the water every week by removing one-quarter of the old water and replacing it with fresh water.

Sustain the water with an efficient filtration system. A motorized filter is the most effective, but the addition of aquatic plants can act as biofilters and absorb wastes.

Red-Eared Sliders movement

Temperature

Red-eared sliders are ectotherms, which means they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. They bask in the sun to raise their internal temperature and enter the water to cool down in the wild.

Replicate this with a basking lamp in captivity

A comfortable basking spot is positioned under the light so that your red-eared slider can warm up when necessary. Provide a basking rock or log so that your turtle can completely get out of the water if it needs to.

Keep the water temperature between 75 and 80°F. This can be met with a water heater, but make sure to get one that is turtle-safe.

A drop in temperature at night is also beneficial for your red-eared slider. A drop of around 20 degrees should suffice. Turn off the basking lamp and let the room temperature lower the tank temperature overnight.

A night-time temperature drop, alongside light changes, keeps a red-eared slider’s body clock in sync. Creating a night period in captivity allows for restful sleep, which is vital for a baby red-eared slider’s growth and development.[4]

The temperature should not drop below 50°F as the turtle will begin to brumate to save energy. Brumation is not recommended for baby sliders, as stress can impact their development.

Basking temperature 85-90°F
Water temperature 75 to 80°F
Night-time temperature 65-70°F
Hours of light 8–10

UV (Ultra-violet)

Baby red-eared sliders need full-spectrum lighting that emits UVB rays. These rays are required for a baby red-eared slider’s health. 

UVB is the energy that powers the synthesis of vitamin D3 from dietary vitamin D. D3 is crucial for the absorption of calcium, which is essential for shell and bone health.

Calcium powder can be sprinkled on food items or added to the water to supplement your baby turtle’s diet. A lack of calcium can lead to metabolic bone disease, characterized by softening the bones and shell deformities.[5]

Baby red-eared sliders that suffer from growth deformities suffer poor welfare for the rest of their lives.

A red-eared slider’s optimal UVI (ultra-violent index) is between 3.0and 4.0. UVI is highest near the UV bulb and dissipates as you move further away. The height placement of the UV bulb is essential to provide the optimal UVI range on the basking spot.

UVI can be measured using a solar meter. This tool can help locate the UV bulb’s correct position within the enclosure. UV lamps lose efficacy over time, so replace them annually.

Related: Red-Eared Slider Lighting

Red-Eared Slider tank with Ultra-violet light
Image Source

Environmental Gradients

A full spectrum UVB lamp should be placed at the end of the enclosure, above the basking spot, next to the heat source. The heat and the UV offer a baby red-eared slider all the benefits of sun exposure.

The positioning at the end of the tank is vital to maintain a temperature and UV gradient. The UVI is highest under the lamp and decreases with distance (same with the temperature).

This environmental gradient allows red-eared sliders to self-regulate their temperature and UV exposure. Given the correct parameters, they will adjust their positioning and behaviors to acquire their physical needs.

Enriching Furnishings

Additional furnishings within the tank provide enrichment and encouragement of natural behaviors. 

Furnish the tank with:

  • Aquatic plants
  • Substrate
  • Floating platforms
  • Ramps
  • Hides

Aquatic plants not only improve water quality but also provide enrichment for a baby red-eared slider. Plants can include Anacharis, Hornwort, and Water Lettuce.

These plants are used to create hiding spots, basking sites, and feeding areas. All of which are important for your turtle’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Line the bottom of the tank with gravel, sand, or reptile carpet. All of these substrates are easy to clean and provide a natural look to the enclosure.

Don’t use gravel and sand if your turtle is still small enough to fit in its mouth, as it can pose a choking hazard.

Red-Eared Slider tank with Enriching Furnishings
Image Source

What Do Baby Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

A baby red-eared slider needs a diet high in protein to support its development. Their diet should be 50% commercial turtle food. Insects are suitable for high-protein live feeds. Leafy greens and nutrient-dense vegetables can be used as supplements.

Offer a baby red-eared slider a diet primarily consisting of commercial turtle pellets. 

This formulated food ensures the growing turtle has all the vitamins and nutrients it needs, as insects and plants offered in captivity are not as varied as their wild diet.[6]

Related: What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat

Pellets 50%
Live food 25%
Vegetables  25%

You can feed baby red-eared sliders the following live animals:

  • earthworms
  • crickets
  • mealworms
  • small minnows

Purchase live food from pet stores. Do not use wild-caught insects as they may contain pesticides and other chemicals.

Vegetables suitable for a baby red-eared slider include:

  • dark, leafy greens
  • squash
  • carrots
  • green beans

These can be steamed or boiled to soften them.

Only give fruit as an occasional treat due to the high sugar content. Suitable fruits include berries, melon, and mango.

Supplement their diet with calcium powder and vitamin supplements. These can be sprinkled on food items or added to the water.

Red-Eared Slider Diet & Feeding

How Often Should I Feed My Baby Red-Eared Slider?

Feed a baby red-eared slider daily. A juvenile slider has a higher metabolism than an adult to fuel physical growth and mental development.

How Much Do I Feed My Baby Red-Eared Slider?

A baby red-eared slider rarely overeats. They should be allowed to eat as much as they can within a 15-minute feeding window. This way, they can eat as much food as they require, and there’s no risk of underfeeding them.

Ensure to remove all food after the feeding time to maintain tank hygiene.

Baby Red-Eared Slider Behavior and Health

A baby red-eared slider’s behavior and health can indicate its well-being. A happy, healthy turtle is active and has a good appetite. Unhealthy turtles may display lethargy, hide for long periods, refuse food, or have cloudy eyes. If you’re concerned about your turtle’s health, take it to the vet.

Preventative care is the best way to keep your baby red-eared slider healthy:

  • Maintain a clean tank.
  • Provide a varied diet.
  • Ensure your turtle has an excellent enclosure setup.

This baby turtle slider should see a vet at least once a year for a check-up. The vet assesses the turtle’s weight, shell health, and overall condition during this appointment. They also check for parasites and other health concerns.

Related: How To Take Care Of A Baby Turtle

Baby Red-Eared Slider Behavior and Health
Image Source

Common Health Problems in Baby Red-Eared Sliders

The most common health problems seen in baby red-eared sliders are respiratory infections, shell rot, and vitamin A deficiency.

Bacteria and viruses usually cause respiratory infections. These can spread through contact with other sick turtles, dirty water, or contaminated food.

Shell rot is a bacterial infection that affects the shell. Causes include poor tank hygiene or injury to the shell.

Vitamin A deficiency can cause respiratory infections, shell rot, and eye problems. This can be prevented by providing a diet with plenty of dark leafy greens and supplementing with vitamin A.

Signs of a sick baby red-eared slider include

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • runny nose
  • discharge from the eyes or nose
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • listlessness
  • cloudy eyes
  • swollen eyelids
  • inability to close eyes
  • puffy face
  • bulging neck
  • lesions on the shell

If you think your turtle is sick, take it to the vet immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a full recovery.

Cleaning and Hygiene for Baby Red-Eared Sliders

Clean your baby red-eared sliders tank regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria and other contaminants. The necessary frequency of tank cleaning depends on the size of the tank, the number of turtles, and their diet.

Clean a baby red-eared sliders tank at least once a week. 

Cleaning includes tasks such as the following:

  • Water replacement.
  • Filter cleaning.
  • Cleaning of decorations.
  • Removing bacteria.
  • Dechlorinating water.

Partially replace the water by removing a quarter of the water and topping it up with fresh water. Full water replacements can be stressful but should be done at least once a month alongside a full tank scrub.

Remove the turtle from the tank during this process. Having a smaller temporary tank around for cleaning days is handy.

Clean the filter and any other equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It is also important to clean any decorations or rocks in the tank. These can harbor bacteria and other contaminants.

After cleaning, refill them with fresh, clean water. Treat with a dechlorinator or water conditioner before adding to the tank.

Cleaning and maintaining a clean tank is essential for the health of your baby red-eared slider. A dirty tank can cause respiratory infections, shell rot, and other health problems.

Red-Eared Sliders Minimize Handling

How To Hold a Baby Red-Eared Slider

Most baby red-eared sliders do not want to be held and will try to squirm away if you try. If you must hold your turtle, make sure to wash your hands first and support its bottom so it does not fall. Don’t hold the turtle for too long as they can get stressed.

The easiest way to safely hold your baby red-eared slider is by pinching its shell between two fingers. Position your fingers between their front and back legs so they are unable to use them to push off you.

While small red-eared sliders can be held with one hand, try to make a habit of always using two. This ensures if your grip slips on one hand, that the slider is still supported.

Dropping a baby red-eared slider can cause serious injuries or death.

Common Health Problems in Baby Red-Eared Sliders
Image Source

How Fast Do Baby Red-Eared Sliders Grow?

Hatchling red-eared sliders grow four inches in their first year. From one to five years they will grow at a rate of approximately one inch per year until they reach their full size. Female red-eared sliders grow faster as they have larger average sizes.

Stage Age Size 
Hatchling 1 month 1 inch
Baby  1 month–1 year 1–4 inches
Juvenile  1–4 years 4-8 inches
Adult 5+ years 8–12 inches

Related: How Big Do Red-Eared Sliders Get?

How Much Does a Baby Red-Eared Slider Cost?

The average cost of a baby red-eared slider is between $20 and $40. The price depends on the size, age, and appearance of the turtle. Some pet stores charge more for turtles that are captive-bred and raised.

If you are considering getting a baby red-eared slider, be sure to do your research first. Turtles can live for 20 to 30 years. They are a long-term commitment. Be sure you are prepared to care for your turtle for the next 20 years before making the purchase.

There are set-up and maintenance costs associated with owning turtles, as well as the purchase price.

To create a healthy environment for turtles, special equipment is required. These costs can total up to $2,000 for the best quality, or at a minimum $800. This includes:

  • Tank
  • Filtration system
  • UV lamp
  • Heat lamp
  • Furnishings
  • Substrate

Pet turtles also need close ongoing care, resulting in annual costs of $200–$500. Include these expenses in your turtle budget:

  • Food
  • Water conditioner
  • Replacement filters
  • Replacement bulbs (heat and UV)
  • Health care
  • Parasite treatment
  • Insurance

Final Thoughts

Adding a baby red-eared slider to your family is a long-term commitment. They require a lot of care and attention but can be rewarding pets. Be sure to do your research and purchase from a reputable source.

When setting up your turtle’s home, choose the best quality items you can afford. This will save you money in the long run and provide your turtle with a better quality of life.

Cleaning and maintaining your turtle’s tank is essential for their health. A dirty tank can cause respiratory infections, shell rot, and other health problems. Be sure to clean the tank regularly and replace the water often.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.