There comes a time in every mother’s life when she can’t ignore her child’s pleas for a pet any longer. If you are lucky, your son or daughter will not beg for a pony, but will settle for a relatively easy-care pet, such as a fish or turtle. In fact, turtles make terrific pets for children, according to Pet University. Still, there are a number of important things to consider before purchasing a pet turtle for your child.
Size matters when it comes to selecting a pet turtle for a kid. Small turtles may be cute and child-sized for little hands, but they are likely to carry the dangerous salmonella bacteria, according to the FDA. While all reptiles, including lizards, turtles and frogs may carry the bacteria, it is the smaller-sized creatures that are more likely to be handled by children, and thus more likely to have the bacteria transferred to the child’s mouth. So, consider purchasing a large-breed turtle that may not be so easy for a young child to handle. In addition, keep all reptiles away from children under the age of 5, and wash hands thoroughly after handling any pet turtles.
There is a difference between turtles and tortoises, although many people use the terms interchangeably. Both are part of the order of Chelonia. It is important to know the difference because turtles and tortoises have slightly different care needs, according to Pet Education. The word “turtle” is used to describe Chelonians that spend a lot of time in the water. Tortoises, on the other hand, spend much of their life on land. Some tortoises and turtles are called “terrapins,” an infrequently used term that usually refers to saltwater turtles.
There are three species of turtles and tortoises are commonly sold as pets, according to Pet Education. The first is the red-eared slider. These turtles spend a great deal of time in the water. While red-eared sliders are some of the easiest turtles to care for, they are also on the smaller side and should not be handled by young children. The second type of turtle is the box turtle. These are larger than red-eared sliders, but they have more specific care needs. They need more room to roam and often prefer to be outside in a pen. Russian tortoises are popular for their high, attractive shells and roaming habit. Like box turtles, they prefer to be kept outdoors.
Each of the three types of turtles have specific care needs. Depending on your home, one might be a better fit than the other. Red-eared sliders can be kept in a 20-gallon, water-tight aquarium or terrarium. They are swimmers, so they also need an environment that includes water, and one that is kept warm (about 75 degrees F) at all times. Box turtles prefer a pen, and preferably one that is outdoors. The pen should be 10 times the turtle’s length at the minimum. Box turtles don’t need to have a swimming area, although they will use one, but they do need a sturdy water bowl. Box turtles also need many plants and places to hide. Russian tortoises, like box turtles, prefer an outdoor pen. They also need a heat source and a soft substrate, such as gravel or sand. Russian tortoises also enjoy having places to hide and objects to climb over, such as rocks and logs. They do not need a swimming hole, but they do need a sturdy water dish.
Red-eared sliders enjoy eating live crickets and vegetables and are not picky eaters. Box turtles are picky eaters and will often refuse to eat if they don’t like their housing. For this reason, a box turtle may not be the best pet turtle for your child, unless you make sure they are happy. If they are happy, they will eat insects, earthworms and fruits and vegetables. Russian tortoises eat many different types of leafy green vegetables and like to nibble on them all day long, which is often fun for children to watch.