What Do Painted Turtles Need To Survive? [Full Care Guide]

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If you’re planning on bringing home a Painted Turtle as a pet, you may be wondering, “What do I need for a Painted Turtle?”These turtles need a lot when it comes to an indoor habitat. Also, they need their tank set up to be just right for them in terms of lighting, heat, water quality, and more.

What Do Painted Turtles Need To Survive
Painted turtle

In this article, we’ll begin with a short overview of what Painted Turtles are. Then, we’ll answer the question, what does a Painted Turtle need? Finally, we’ll provide a list of items they need, share their dietary needs, and more. Finally, we’ll go in-depth about setting up their aquarium, common problems to water out for, and their overall care.

What Are Painted Turtles?

There are about 300 known species of turtles, and Painted Turtles are just one of them. They are native to North America and have four subspecies. For instance, there are Western, Eastern, Southern, and Midland Painted Turtles. However, they can be anywhere in North America and Canada.

You can easily tell a Painted Turtle from other turtles based on their appearance. This type of turtle has a black, oval-shaped shell that’s flat. They also have red and yellow markings along their tail, legs, neck, and head.

Males are usually smaller than females, sometimes not even growing to be half the size of a female. However, you can expect these turtles to grow anywhere from four inches long to ten inches long.

In addition, Painted Turtles have an average lifespan of about 20 to 30 years in captivity. However, with proper care through nutrition, exercise, and habitat, they can live up to 50 years.

Baby Painted Turtles have different dietary needs than adult Painted Turtles. So, their care will switch up as they get older.

Many Painted Turtles live in the wild and enjoy the company of other Painted Turtles. However, they also make excellent pets. They’re friendly creatures, but they also need a lot of work and care to survive and thrive.

What Do Painted Turtles Need To Survive?

Before you bring home a Painted Turtle pet, you’ll want to make sure that you have everything they’ll need to thrive in your home.

For instance, research everything you’ll need for your Painted Turtle. Also, be sure you understand their needs and have everything prepared for them.

What should you prepare? Go to your local pet store and buy them a habitat, food, lighting, a filter, decor, and flooring for their tank, and more.


You want to make sure everything is set up before you adopt a Painted Turtle. However, depending on their age, Painted Turtles have different dietary needs.

So, if you get a baby Painted Turtle, be sure to buy a diet of live food that’s rich in protein and calcium.

For example, live food may include:

  • Bugs or insects
  • Worms
  • Small fish

Read more about a baby Painted Turtle’s diet here.

If you get an adult, you’ll also want to add vegetation to their diet. For example, you can get them:

  • Lettuce
  • Water Hyacinth
  • Duckweed

In addition, be sure to buy supplements and multivitamins, no matter your turtle’s age. You can then be sure that they’re getting the amount of calcium they need to grow big and strong.

Read what adult painted turtles eat here.


Another way to help them grow and keep them healthy is to provide proper lighting. For instance, they need a UVB light and a heat lamp. These lights will help them bask after meals and provide vitamin D.

Once you buy lighting, get a thermometer for both the tank’s water and the dry areas. Then you can always be sure that the temperature is just right for your Painted Turtle. 

Finally, you’ll need a proper Painted Turtle tank setup. Make sure you set up their terrarium in a good spot inside your house. You want to make sure that it’s in a safe spot in the house, especially if you have young children or other animals in your home.

Once you decide on a spot, let’s talk about the overall Painted Turtle aquarium setup.

Watch this video:

How To Make A Painted Turtle Habitat

One reason why you want to make sure everything is appropriately set up for your Painted Turtle is that there’s a lot to prepare. So, let’s discuss how to set up your Painted Turtle’s new home. 

Painted Turtle Aquarium Setup

Remember, Painted Turtles are an aquatic species. They reside mostly in ponds, rivers, lakes, and streams. So, you’ll want an aquarium that can hold water.

Painted Turtles need the water to be at least twice the width of their shell. So you don’t want it to be too deep, but deep enough that they’re able to swim around and stretch their legs.

In addition, you want to have a powerful enough filter that can filter through the water that’s inside the tank. Not only can you be sure that the quality of the water is better, but you’ll also have to clean the tank less. 

Unlike an aquarium of fish, you don’t want to fill the tank with water to the top. Aquatic turtles, just like land turtles, need a dry area to bask.

To provide an ample basking spot, create dry land using a floating dock or rocks where your Painted Turtle can easily get itself out of the water and completely dry off and warm up.

As for the water, you’ll want to provide a cave or other hiding area for your Painted Turtle to disappear and relax. However, you don’t want to have anything too heavy or bulky that your turtle might get trapped and drown. 

Also, you can add non-toxic artificial plants or live plants for a more natural look. Your turtle may eat the live plants, though.

Finally, you can leave the bottom of the tank bare or add substrates such as gravel or sand. This flooring will give it a more natural look for your Painted Turtle.

However, you want to make sure the substrate is either large enough that your turtle can’t swallow it or small enough that, if they do accidentally swallow it, it will safely pass through their digestive tract. 

Lighting For A Painted Turtle’s Tank

Believe it or not, Painted Turtles don’t require as much heat as other turtles. However, the heat and lightning will allow your turtle to be more active and eat better.

You’ll want their tank to range from 70 to 95 degrees F. This temperature includes the water and the basking spot, which should always be kept warmer for them to digest their food properly. 

When buying bulbs, you’ll need a UVB light and a heat light if the UVB doesn’t provide much heat.

Also, to keep the bulbs working in great condition, you’ll want to change the UVB light once every six months, even if the bulb hasn’t burned out yet. 

Cleaning Your Painted Turtle’s Aquarium

A general rule of thumb is to clean your turtle’s tank at least once a month. However, it will depend on how messy your Painted Turtle is. If they’re super messy, then you’ll want to clean their tank once every other week.

To clean their tank, you’ll want to take everything out of it and completely drain the water. Then, you can clean the tank of algae and other bacteria. Finally, let the tank air dry and dry completely before you fill it with new water.

While you wait for it to dry, you can rinse off the decor from the water and also the dry dock if that’s dirty as well. Then, you can put the tank back together and put your Painted Turtle back into their home.

You can put your Painted Turtle in a clean bathtub or a plastic bin while you clean their tank so that you know they’re safe. Alternatively, you can allow them to wander around the room as long as you can keep an eye on them and make sure they’re safe. 

How Big Of A Tank Does A Painted Turtle Need?

To provide ample housing for your Painted Turtle, you’ll want to have a fish tank that can hold at least 100 gallons of water. The bigger, the better, since you’ll want to give them enough room to roam and swim. However, 100 gallons should be the bare minimum. 

painted turtle and fish

Read a full guide to setting up a Painted Turtle habitat here.

Do Painted Turtles Need Water?

Yes, Painted Turtles do need water. In the wild, they live by ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. They thrive in the water and even have webbed feet to help them swim and survive in the water.

So, what kind of water do Painted Turtles need? They need high-quality, filtered water. Otherwise, your turtle may end up getting sick and come down with various health issues.

Also, Painted Turtles only eat food when they’re in the water. So you’ll want to be sure they have enough room to swim around, catch their food, and eat it before climbing on their dry dock to bask.

Common Problems To Look For

Unfortunately, some common problems may arise when it comes to the care of Painted Turtles. 

For example, you want to ensure that you’re feeding your Painted Turtle a healthy, nutritious diet. You also want to make sure that they’re in a suitably sized tank with proper lighting.

The biggest problem is health issues, though. For instance, Painted Turtles are known to carry salmonella. So, when handling your turtle, you should always wash your hands before and after.

In addition, Painted Turtles are known to get the following health issues:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Ulcerated Corneas
  • Skin Swelling
  • Parasites
  • Respiratory Issues

If you notice that your Painted Turtle is not eating or not basking, or they won’t come out of the water or enter the water at all, then you’ll want to call the vet and bring them in as soon as possible for an evaluation. 

Whether they’re feeling great or not, you should always bring your Painted Turtle to the vet at least once a year for an annual checkup.


Are you still thinking about bringing home a Painted Turtle? They require a lot of setup and work to care for, but it’s worth it.

Painted Turtles are fun to watch while they swim and make great pets overall since they’re diurnal and friendly.

Caring for them will be a breeze once you have all that you need for your Painted Turtle.

Learn more about turtles here or click here to read what painted turtles eat in the wild. You can also read how big painted turtles get here.

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Frank Kane

By Frank Kane

Frank is a huge animal lover with many pets of his own. He loves sharing all his knowledge of all creatures here and learning more whenever possible.