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How to Take Care of a Painted Turtle (Tank, Diet, and Care Guide)

To take care of a painted turtle as a pet you must provide an enclosure that offers the optimal temperature range for your turtle. Additionally, you will need to ensure that your turtle has access to a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a suitable source of protein like crickets or mealworms.

When you bring a new pet into your life, there are many things to think about. 

How will you set up their tank? What should their diet be? How can you keep them healthy and happy? Let’s dive in and answer these questions. 

We’ll cover everything from tank size and set-up to the best food and health advice. So whether you’re a first-time turtle owner or just looking for some tips, read on.

Can You Keep a Painted Turtle as a Pet?

Yes, you can keep a painted turtle as a pet. They make great pets as they are small, hardy, and have attractive shells. They’re also long-lived, with some turtles living up to 50 years in captivity.

There are some things to consider before bringing a painted turtle home. They require a bit of work to set up and take care of and a sizable commitment.

Painted Turtles, as well as other reptile species, are not affectionate pets. They don’t like to be touched or handled and don’t often interact with humans.

This species is best as a “hobby” pet, where the owner enjoys maintaining the environment and watching their turtle’s behaviors.

Related: Painted Turtle vs Red-Eared Slider

Can You Keep a Painted Turtle as Pet
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How To Take Care of a Painted Turtle

Painted turtles need specific care when kept as pets. They need a suitable enclosure with optimal temperatures and a healthy diet. Owners need extensive knowledge of their behavior, access to an experienced reptile vet, and designated cleaning and feeding supplies.

Taking care of a painted turtle is largely about the owner’s knowledge. Pet turtle owners need to know about their pet’s specific behaviors and needs and create a perfect environment for them.

Once a pet painted turtle has a great environment, they tend to self-regulate. This means they essentially take care of themselves by engaging with the spaces around them.

They thermoregulate by moving from basking zones and cool water and seeking out UV exposure.

Painted Turtle Tank Setup

Painted turtles are semi-aquatic and need a large tank with water and land. The water should be deep enough for swimming and the land large enough for the turtle to dry off completely.

Related: Painted Turtle Tank Setup Guide

Tank Size (Aquarium)

Painted Turtles Tank Set-Up
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The larger the tank you can provide for your pet turtle, the better. More space allows for more movement and engagement in natural activities.

As a bare minimum, aim to provide 10 gallons per inch of shell length. For example, a 5-inch turtle needs at least 50 gallons, while a large 12-inch turtle needs 120 gallons minimum.

A hatchling painted turtle is fine in a small 50-gallon tank, but we recommend a large tank of 100 gallons.[1] This way, you do not need to change the tank as your turtle grows.

Water Quality

Painted turtles are semi-aquatic, which means they spend time both on land and in the water. They bask on logs or rocks to dry off and warm up but need to be able to swim and dive as well.[2]

Water quality is important for any pet, but it’s especially crucial for reptiles. Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates can all build up in the water and be harmful to your turtle’s health.

Use a filter to help maintain water quality. A good rule of thumb is to change about 20–25% of the water every week. This helps to remove any toxins which have built up.[3]

To clean the tank, use a water-safe scrubber and disinfectant. Be sure to do this while your turtle is in a separate container or tub, as the chemicals can be harmful to your turtle.


Baby Painted Turtle Tank Size
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Painted turtles are intelligent animals that need various things to keep them occupied. You need plenty of decorations to place around their tank.

Turtles need places to bask. You can achieve this with a basking platform or dock. Place this underneath a heat lamp to provide a warm spot for your turtle to dry off and soak up some UV rays.

Your turtle also needs hiding spots, both on land and water. Hiding spots help turtles feel safe and secure and are made from rocks, logs, or plants.


The substrate is the surface covering of your tank. It’s important to choose the right type. Use a sand or gravel mixture that helps with water filtration and allows for easy cleaning.

If you are using an artificial substrate, be aware these often have dust particles that can irritate your turtle’s eyes. If this is the case, cover it with a layer of moss or rocks.

Painted Turtle Temperatures

Painted turtles need a temperature gradient in their tank. They should have a warm basking area and cooler areas of water to allow them to regulate their body temperatures.

Control temperatures with the use of heat lamps and thermometers placed throughout the tank. Measure the temperature using a probe thermometer in both the basking and water areas.

Temperatures should vary across the enclosure, with the warmest spot being the basking zone and the water being much cooler. At night, the ambient temperature should drop to encourage a natural photoperiod.

Basking temperature90°F
Water temperature70–75°F
Nighttime temperature65–70°F

Painted Turtle Basking Temperature

Painted turtles need a warm basking spot to help them stay active and healthy.[4] This area should be 90°F.

The easiest way to provide this is by setting up a heat lamp above an elevated surface in the tank, such as a platform or dock. This lamp should be on a dimmer to allow you to control the heat and avoid overheating your turtle.

Painted Turtle Water Temperature

Painted Turtle Water Temperature
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The water area of your tank has to be cool, as turtles need to be able to regulate their body temperatures. Aim for a temperature between 70°and 75°F.

Nighttime Temperature

The temperature at night naturally drops, and your turtle’s tank should do the same. The nighttime ambient temperature should be between 65° and 70°F. Simply turn off the heat lamp at the end of the day to allow the temperatures to decline naturally.

This temperature dip, along with the darkness, signals your turtle to rest and recover for the night.

Painted Turtle UVB Lighting Requirements

Painted turtles need UVB lighting to help them process calcium and vitamin D3. Household bulbs cannot produce UV, so you need a special UVB bulb for your turtle’s tank.

UVB bulbs come in different strengths, so be sure to choose the right one for your turtle’s size and the depth of its tank. A 10% UVB bulb works for most painted turtles. Other strengths are also suitable but need to be placed at differing heights to ensure the correct level of UVB gets to your turtle.

Painted turtles need around 3.0 to 4.0 UVI (UV index). Measure the UVB at the basking spot with a solar meter and adjust the height of the UV lamp until the UVI is in the correct range.

This type of lighting should be on for 12 hours per day and placed on the basking platform or dock. This allows your turtle to absorb the UVB rays while basking.

The efficiency of UVB lamps reduces over time. Replace it every six months to ensure your turtle is getting the right level of UVB.

Painted Turtle Diet

Painted turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. They eat a wide range of vegetation, insects, and small animals to help meet their nutritional requirements in the wild.

Related: What do painted turtles eat?

Western Painted Turtles Size and Growth Rate

What Do Painted Turtles Eat in The Wild?

Painted Turtles are opportunistic omnivores and eat a wide range of available foods in the wild.

They eat small animals:

  • Frogs
  • Fish eggs
  • Insects
  • Small fish
  • Crustaceans
  • Mollusks
  • Worms

Turtles also eat aquatic plants:

  • Seaweeds
  • Algae
  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Pondweed
  • Duckweed

As they develop into adults, they begin to eat vegetable matter. Biologists do not know if they do so because they no longer need high protein levels or they simply cannot catch as much live food as they could when they were small and agile.

What Do Painted Turtles Eat in Captivity?

Painted turtles in captivity do well on a diet of both animal and vegetable matter.

Foods to feed your painted turtle:

  • Feeder fish
  • Shrimp or crayfish
  • Earthworms (often purchased from bait stores)
  • Dead insects such as mealworms, waxworms, and crickets
  • leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, and collard greens
  • Floating turtle pellets

Some turtles also eat vegetables:

  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Squash

It’s important to offer a variety of foods to your turtle to ensure it gets all the nutrients it needs. A diet of only pellets or only vegetables does not provide all the nutrients your turtle needs and could lead to health problems.

How Often Should I Feed My Painted Turtle?

Feed young turtles every day and adults every second day. A good rule of thumb is to offer them as much food as they can eat in one sitting, removing any uneaten food.

This may be a few pellets or pieces of vegetables for a small turtle or a larger portion for a bigger turtle.

Overfeeding your turtle can lead to health problems, so it’s important not to overdo it. If you’re unsure how much to feed your turtle, it’s best to err on the side of caution and give them less rather than more.

How Often Should I Feed My Painted Turtle
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Painted Turtle Health & Behavior

Painted turtles are hardy animals that can live for many years in captivity. There are some common health issues all owners should be aware of, some of which are transferable to humans.

Common Painted Turtle Diseases

There is a range of potential illnesses painted turtles can encounter. Avoid many of these with proper care in captivity.[5] 

All owners should familiarize themselves with some of the common issues so potential illnesses are identified quickly and treated:

  • Shell rot
  • MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease)
  • Respiratory issues
  • Malnutrition
  • Parasites
  • Salmonella

Household Health

As with any reptile, shed skin and droppings from painted turtles can lead to salmonella. It’s important to take the proper precautions when feeding or handling your painted turtle, especially if you have small children in the home.[6]

To prevent salmonella from spreading:

  • Clean all food and water bowls daily, preferably with a product designed specifically for use on reptiles.
  • Keep your turtle’s habitat or tank and all equipment clean, including the water dish, basking area, rocks, and anything else they may come in contact with.
  •  Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling your painted turtle or its habitat.
  • Keep turtle cleaning and feeding equipment separate from household items.


As they are a prey species, painted turtles hide their illness to avoid vulnerability. The first sign something is wrong is a change in their behavior. Turtles are simple creatures and spend their day basking or foraging.

Unusual behaviors include the following:

  • Not basking
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive hiding, such as under the water dish or in the tank gravel
  • Lethargic behavior

If you notice any changes in your painted turtle’s behavior, talk to your reptile vet right away. Early treatment of a health problem can improve its prognosis significantly.

Final Thoughts

Painted turtles are a popular pet reptile for good reason. They’re hardy, long-lived, and relatively easy to care for. But as with any pet, they require some work on your part to keep them healthy and happy.

By following the care guidelines outlined above, you can provide your painted turtle with everything it needs to thrive. This includes a nutritious diet, a clean and comfortable habitat, regular veterinary care, and plenty of attention and love.

So if you’re thinking of adding a painted turtle to your family, go ahead – they’ll make wonderful companions for years to come.


What Do Painted Turtles Need in Their Tank?

Painted turtles need both land and water in their tank. They need a dry, warm basking area to absorb UV and a range of enriching furnishings.

Is It Hard to Take Care of a Painted Turtle?

With the right knowledge and experience, painted turtles can be an easy-care, low-maintenance pet.  They have specific needs that must be met in order to stay healthy.

Do Painted Turtles Need Water?

Painted turtles do need water, but they also require a basking area to dry off and warm up. Without both elements, your turtle will not be healthy. A good rule of thumb is to have at least as much water as there is land in the tank.

How Do You Pick up a Painted Turtle?

When handling your painted turtle, it is important to support its body from beneath. Avoid holding the turtle by its shell as this can cause injury. Instead, place one hand under the turtle’s belly and use your other hand to support its hind legs and tail. Be careful not to drop the turtle as they are fragile creatures. 

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.

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