Can You Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet? (Should You?)

Can you keep a box turtle as a pet?

The answer is yes!

However, just like any other pet, you should do your research to keep them happy and healthy.

Key Takeaway:

A pet box turtle is an excellent addition to a household that does its research and cares for its pets.

Let’s explore what makes box turtles fun pets and what you should know before you bring one home.

box turtle on garden

Can You Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet?

You can keep a box turtle as a pet if you know how to care for them. To thrive, your box turtle needs the perfect captive environment. Fortunately, box turtles aren’t very big, so keeping them as pets is easy.

Most box turtles live their lives on dry land. They live for multiple decades, which requires quite a commitment for pet owners.

But just because you know you want a box turtle doesn’t mean you know all about these super cute creatures.

For example, did you know that box turtles come in multiple different species, each with their own dietary, housing, and care needs? Some box turtles like lots of humidity, while other species prefer hotter temperatures. Some like to wade in the water and others enjoy basking in salty water.

The box turtle is native to North America and has a high-domed upper shell with brown coloring and yellow and orange patterns. Their heads are small and their hooked upper jaw makes their personality pop.

How Hard Is It To Keep a Box Turtle As A Pet?

While you can keep a box turtle as a pet, you may not be prepared for everything that’s required. For example, if you bring a young box turtle home, your indoor terrarium should be set up for younger turtles. But no matter how old your turtle is, most experts agree that it’s best to keep them outdoors.

Outdoor enclosures that feature ponds simulate the environment that turtles are used to. Fresh air, fresh water, and easy access to food make the perfect home for your pet turtle. An outdoor enclosure is ideal if you’re trying to adopt an adult box turtle.

Not everyone has an outdoor space, however. If you don’t, we highly recommend adopting juvenile box turtles that easily adjust to an indoor terrarium. Still, their terrarium will have to be big. It also requires a basking heat source and ultraviolet light. Your turtle should remain happy if you provide a spacious indoor terrarium with everything they want.

Think twice before bringing a box turtle home if you don’t have a sizable space to keep them in. Box turtles aren’t easy or low-maintenance pets. Their long lifespans (up to 100 years) and finicky environmental demands make them difficult to keep as pets.

Before you bring a box turtle home, remember it’s illegal to bring them home from the wild. Because the wild box turtle population is on the downturn, some states made them a protected species. They also stress easily in captive environments. If you’re dedicated to keeping your box turtle at home, it’s critical you keep them in a safe place they enjoy being in.

When You Shouldn’t Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet

You shouldn’t keep an eastern box turtle as a pet for a few reasons. Consider the following reasons why you shouldn’t bring one home.

Keeping That Turtle Could Be Illegal

Yes, it’s actually illegal to take a turtle from the wild and bring them home. Even those seemingly helpless turtles you run into on the road. They are wild!

Here is what you need to know about box turtles from state to state.

Read up about box turtles in your state and make sure you get a license if applicable.

Box Turtles Have Feelings, Too

Box turtles are gorgeous, and having one decorate a terrarium inside your home is tempting. But before you decide to pluck one off the street and bring them to your home, imagine for a second that you’re a box turtle.

How would you feel if you were kidnapped and brought to a new home? You wouldn’t like it any more than box turtles do!

Box turtles don’t possess the same brain power that we do. Different turtles have different favorite foods and habits. In the wild, turtles know where to find the food they love and typically feel their happiest in the wild.

So to conclude, that box turtle you see crossing the road is probably best left in a safe space to fend for itself–it will be just fine!

Wild Box Turtles May Carry Disease

Your super cute box turtle could make your stomach turn if you aren’t careful. While you can get box turtles from pet stores, wild ones also carry bacteria on their skin. The most common bacteria is salmonella. This is the same bacteria that causes food poisoning in raw eggs and undercooked chicken.

However, many people have box turtles and don’t get sick. But this is another reason why you shouldn’t grab a wild box turtle and bring it home. This is especially true if you have young children, older people, or pregnant people at home. Salmonella as a bacteria is particularly dangerous for these groups of individuals.

You Can Help a Turtle in Danger

Even though you shouldn’t bring home a wild box turtle, getting them to safety is perfectly OK. For example, if a turtle is in the middle of the road, you can pick it up and move them to a safe spot. However, don’t risk your life or other people’s.

Make sure to point the turtle in the same direction they were crawling. If you put it back where it was moving from, it will likely try to cross the road again.

Roads are in the way of where animals live. But if we work together, we can keep turtles safe by paying attention and keeping them in the same habitat they’re already in.

How Much Do Box Turtles Cost?

Most box turtles cost around $50 at your local pet store. However, its age, size, subspecies, availability, and location all determine those costs. This does not include the costs of creating an appropriate habitat for them or supplies they’ll need, like food and housing. The eastern box turtle typically ranges from $140 to $260.

On top of this, the terrarium you buy for your pet turtle will cost around $200 more, and food and snacks will cost you $40 every month at a minimum. Yearly vet checkups will cost you around $50 per visit, too.

How To Care For Your Pet Box Turtle

Pet box turtles are notoriously difficult to care for. In the wild, you’ll find them in somewhat warm climates like China, Vietnam, and North America. They prefer areas with lots of shade, like dense forests. You’ll find them hanging out on stumps, logs, under leaves, and at the edge of ponds.

The perfect day for a box turtle is a warm, sunny one where it can cool off in the shade and warm up in the sun whenever it likes.

But what if you can’t keep your pet box turtle outdoors? Here’s what you need to know about caring for box turtles indoors.

Indoor Habitats


Despite their size of around 6 inches max, box turtles require lots of space! You’ll need at least a 20-gallon glass aquarium, but up to 40 gallons is recommended. Juveniles are not much smaller than adults and can live in about the size enclosure.

Your turtle needs lots of leaves and logs to hide in if they live in an enclosure. A shallow pool of water is the ideal place for them to soak, too. The water shouldn’t be any deeper than up to their chin because they cannot swim well. They can drown if they try to escape.

You’ll also want to add a wire barrier to the top of their tank. This keeps them inside and prevents escape, giving you easy access to their enclosure.

Heating & Lights

The eastern box turtle prefers habitats with lots of shade. They also like basking in the sun. Logs and plants provide many shady areas, so use them in their enclosure.

Add a 75-100 watt bulb to illuminate the remainder of the cage. Lights can act as a heating source, too. Make sure the room temperature is relatively warm while you’re at it. We recommend UV light because it stimulates your pet’s Vitamin D production.

The best routine for a pet turtle is 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. This is particularly true if you have your pet in the wintertime and don’t want them to hibernate.

Your tank should be between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

Tank humidity should be high, also. The humidity gauge should range around 80%. A suitable pool of water for your turtle should simulate that humidity range. You can also use a mister if humidity levels drop too low.


The substrate for the enclosure should be made of carpeting, straw, hay, or newspaper. Newspaper is excellent if it’s your first time owning a turtle. The ideal substrate is wood chips because it allows your turtle to burrow as they do in the wild. Since substrate should be spot-checked daily, it is the easiest choice for cleanup.

Thoroughly clean their tank once a week. During this process, completely remove all old substrate, dead leaves, and uneaten food. And replace them with a new batch. The ideal substrate is wood chips because they allow your turtle to burrow as they do in the wild.

Outdoor Habitats

Eastern box turtles do well in the right indoor enclosure, but nothing can replace an outdoor habitat. You can keep your pet box turtle outdoors if you live in a warmer climate that allows them to hibernate in the cooler months.

Another element to consider is protection from predators. You’ll also need proper drainage for rainy conditions. If the weather gets bad, prepare to bring your turtles indoors.

To make them feel right at home, you need live plants, rocks, and big logs, which make for the proper outdoor enclosure. Check that plants are turtle-safe, too.

A small pond is a perfect addition to an outdoor habitat for box turtles. Make sure there are plenty of basking spots for your turtle.

box turtle enclosure

With the right places to bask in the sun, easy access to water, and plenty of vegetation, your Eastern box turtle will be happy.

What Do Box Turtles Eat?

In the wild, box turtles are omnivores. Their diets include both vegetation and animal protein. The eastern box turtle diet is balanced. Young turtles prefer high-protein diets, though. Feed your box turtle three times per week.

Some species of box turtles, like the ornate box turtle, eat insects, snails, slugs, earthworms, and sometimes other fish to meet their protein requirements.

Adults should have a diet of 50% plant matter and 50% animal-based material. A mixed pelleted diet with fruit and veggies gives your turtle a rounded meal.

Some of the best foods to feed your box turtle include:

  • Roaches
  • Phoenix worms
  • Hornworms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Earthworms
  • Crickets
  • Dandelion Leaves
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Plantain Weed
  • Pumpkins
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potato
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Prickly pear fruits
  • Papyas
  • Cantaloupes
  • Apples
  • Bananas

Health and Behavior Problems

Eastern box turtle behavior and health varies. However, among many turtles, one of the most serious ailments is a metabolic bone disease because they lack UVB exposure. This disease can lead to weakened bones and, eventually, death.

Other health problems include respiratory infections caused by insufficient humidity or lower temperatures. If your box turtle starts wheezing, has mucus around their nose and mouth, lacks appetite, and is lethargic, it could suffer from a respiratory infection.

Box turtles with lots of respiratory issues could have a vitamin A deficiency. Pro Tip: Don’t feed your box turtle iceberg lettuce if they have an infection; it lacks any real substance.

Most box turtles also have parasitic infections, primarily wild box turtles. This type of infection won’t show up immediately, but a vet can spot it if they’re experienced.

Another illness that many box turtles suffer from is shell rot. This painful condition is often linked to a bacterial or fungal infection, and it causes a box turtle’s shell to look dry and cracked and perhaps even smell bad. For proper treatment, see a veterinarian.

Common Illnesses in Box Turtles

Common illnesses in the wild with this species are less common in captivity but can happen. Maggot infestations, shell fractures, and trauma are common in wild box turtles. However, if you notice swelling in your pet’s shell, it could be linked to trauma or other similar issues found in wild box turtles. See a vet if that happens.

Your turtle is also likely to get:

  • Egg retention
  • Internal parasites
  • Ear infections

It can be challenging to diagnose captive turtles properly, but a veterinarian specializing in reptiles should be able to do so easily.

Selecting The Right Common Box Turtle As A Pet

Now that you know more about the health and behavior of a box turtle, how do you choose the right one to be your pet?

Box turtle populations are declining, so you might choose a captive-bred pet box turtle from a reputable breeder. If you buy from a breeder, you’ll also get access to their history and any health issues they already face. Wild-caught turtles don’t do well in captive environments, either.

To adopt a healthy box turtle, look for the following signs of disease before purchasing:

  • Bumps and redness on the shell, nasal area, and mouth
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Verify their shell is firm with no swelling in the body
  • Younger adult box turtles

Avoid adopting or buying a box turtle in fall or winter since they typically hibernate during these seasons, and placing them in a new environment can be incredibly distressing to them during this time.

Captive-raised animals are the best pets, tend to be healthier, and bond easily with their owners. Older imported turtles may have internal parasites and deal with stress from their previous home environment.

You’ll be off on the right foot if you identify a healthy pet box turtle. Don’t adopt box turtles with sunken or closed eyes, discharge from their mouths, and lethargy.

Eyes sunken into the head or swollen shut indicate hydration, starvation, emaciation, and even vitamin A deficiency.

Healthy turtles are active and alert and don’t have any trouble retracting into their shells when handled.

A smooth, untracked, nonpitted shell is a good sign of a healthy box turtle. If you can gently open their mouth, you should see a pink inner lining around the mouth. Mucus that’s bloody and looks like cottage cheese or that is stringy could also be an indicator of a mouth infection.

Also, ask about any sort of health guarantee when you’re shopping for a new pet turtle. Some breeders provide a health clause.

Do Female Box Turtles Look Different From Males?

Female box turtles look slightly different from males because they have concavity that allows males to mount them more easily. Males are also just a bit larger than their female counterparts. Males have longer and thicker tails, too, making mating easier. The distance between the vent and the back edge of the shell is also seen more frequently in males. Males also have red irises, and females have yellow-brown irises.

When Should You Take Your Box Turtle To The Vet?

Within two days of your purchase or adoption, you should have them examined by a veterinarian. The vet should give your turtle a physical examination that measures its weight and any signs of dehydration or malnutrition.

Your vet should also run a fecal test to check for gastrointestinal parasites. They should examine your turtle’s mouth for signs of infectious stomatitis and handle the abdomen to check for swelling and abnormal masses. They may even recommend blood tests, radiographs, and cultures. Most turtles don’t require vaccines.

Every year turtles should be physically examined and have their feces tested for parasites. Toenail clippings may also be necessary for captive turtles.

What’s The Difference Between Box Turtles & Other Pets?

Turtles have protective shells instead of bones and ribs, like other animals. Their dorsal shell is called the carapace, and the bottom of their shell is called the ventral shell or plastron. The shell is also covered with scutes, which are bony plates. The scutes are shed in large patches, unlike snake scales, which are shed simultaneously.

Turtles also have strong neck and leg muscles that make it easier to retract into their shells when stressed or disturbed. If it’s easy for them to retract in their shells, it’s a sign they are healthy. Turtles lack teeth but have strong beaks.

Mammals have diaphragm muscles that separate their abdominal cavities and chest, but turtles do not. They draw air into their lungs or breathe by movements of membranes enclosing their internal organs and with their legs and head. Unlike mammals that have a four-chambered heart, however, turtles also have a three-chambered heart.

Another difference is that turtles have a renal blood system that takes blood from their hind limbs and filters it through their kidneys before returning it to their general circulation.

This directly affects how and when antibiotics are injected into their body. They should only be administered in the front legs and never in the back because they can be removed from the bloodstream by the rental portal circulation before they reach your body’s primary organs.

Mammals also excrete urine as the main byproduct of protein metabolism; box turtles and other reptiles try to conserve water by excreting urine. This allows them to survive well in desert environments.

Box turtles also have a cloaca, a space behind the hind end of their body that collects all urinary, gastrointestinal, and reproductive secretions. Feces and urine go into the cloaca, voided outside the body through a vent.

eastern box turtle

Final Thoughts On Keeping A Box Turtle

If you’ve read everything we laid out above and still want to keep an eastern box turtle as your new pet, then there are a few things to remember and prepare before you get to that point.

  • Read up on all there is to know about box turtles.
  • Set up the enclosure and test the environment before bringing them home.
  • Gather all supplies, from the substrate to basking rocks, ahead of time.

Thinking of keeping your box turtle outdoors in a safe yet natural environment? Then you’ll need to consider building security measures to keep predators out. Plants, logs, and hiding spots are equally crucial to their happiness.

Your turtle’s enclosure indoors should adjust for lighting and heating for the proper temperatures, humidity, plants, and water source.

A healthy turtle is happy, so try to keep them happy by following the tips we’ve outlined above.

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