What can you do to make sure your new box turtle lives a long and happy life?
You’ll find out everything about taking care of a box turtle in this article.
To raise a box turtle keep him in a 36×12 inch enclosure in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees °F. Give him the right diet of fruit, vegetables, plants, insects, and freshwater. Clean his enclosure every few weeks. Take him to the vet every 6 months.
There’s a lot to consider when looking after a box turtle.
How often should you feed him? When should you clean his cage?
We’ll be diving into the details coming up next.
Table of Contents
How to Raise Box Turtles
So, you’ve just adopted a box turtle.
This reptile will be a source of joy and love in your home. To make sure your little box buddy lives as long as possible, you need to give him the right start in his new digs.
Here’s a complete guide on looking after a box turtle.
Most box turtles will be happiest in an outdoor enclosure that is similar to their natural environment.
But what should his outdoor enclosure look like?
As a box turtle owner, you want your little pet to feel at home in his new environment. Here are some instructions for setting up the very best outdoor turtle house.
- Build an enclosure that is at least 36 inches long and 12 inches wide. If you have more than one turtle, your dimensions should increase accordingly. The bigger the enclosure, the better. So, make the biggest enclosure you have space for.
- Put a wire mesh roof on the enclosure. This will prevent your box turtles from escaping and will make it easy for you to gain access to them.
- The enclosure must have sunny areas where they can bask. They must also have cooler areas and at least one hideout just like box turtles would have in their natural habitats. Provide them with half logs, a brush, and soft earth to burrow into.
- They need large flat rocks. These will help them to file down their claws.
- When housing your turtles outdoors, keep them safe from potential predators
- Keep them out of the cold weather. Do not expose your box turtles to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, bring them inside during the cooler months of the year.
If you live in a colder environment, it might not be possible for you to house your box turtle outdoors.
So what should you do to make your indoor turtles feel at home?
Here are some instructions for setting up a super-plush indoor turtle home.
- Build an enclosure that is at least 48 inches long and 48 inches wide. If you have more than one turtle, you will need a larger space. The bigger the enclosure, the better. The substrate must be at least 3 inches deep.
- Make the enclosure out of a glass aquarium or a glass tank that can hold at least 40 gallons and put it in a quiet room. Avoid clear plastic or glass as see-through enclosures can often confuse and stress a box turtle out. Do not cover it with a solid lid with small ventilation holes as this will not provide him with enough ventilation.
- When keeping your turtle indoors, make sure one end of the tank has a hot area where he can bask. He will need a basking light. (More about that in just a mo). Indoor enclosures also need a cooler area and a place where your box turtle can hide. Provide them with half logs and other natural hiding places.
- They need large flat rocks. They will help them to file down their claws when they climb on them.
- Whenever the weather is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, make sure he gets some exposure to direct sunlight for at least an hour a day.
- Keep the enclosure away from drafts from air handling vents. Do not keep him next to a window in the winter.
Cleaning the Enclosure
Keeping the enclosure clean will help your new pet to stay healthy. Here’s how to do it.
- Spot clean his enclosure every day
- Completely change his substrate every few weeks. Do this more often if the enclosure looks dirty or if you have more than one box turtle in it.
- Change his water every day. A box turtle defecated when he is in his water dish so make sure you clean it regularly.
- Properly clean and disinfect his enclosure
Remember, box turtles like other reptiles, often carry salmonella. Wash your hands after handling your turtle.
Wash your hands after touching any part of his enclosure.
The substrate in your box turtle’s enclosure will help keep his environment humid and will also give him something to dig around in. If your substrate is at least 4 inches deep, he will be able to burrow away to his heart’s content.
What are some of the best substrate materials your box turtle will love?
Here’s a list of the materials he’ll be dying to work his claws into.
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded hardwood
- Coconut bark
Make sure the materials in his substrate are not too dry. If they are, he will not be able to dig and will become stressed.
They should be parasite and chemical-free. This will help to keep him healthy and prevent parasitic infections.
The materials you use as a substrate should be nonabrasive and have a low dust content.
Heat and Light
Your small animal loves warm climates. But he is cold-blooded and cannot regulate his own body heat.
The temperature inside his enclosure should vary between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and a couple of degrees cooler during the night.
Your box turtle needs UVB radiation daily to prevent metabolic bone disease. To ensure he soaks up all of the UV light he needs, you will need an appropriate heat source.
Here are some of the best heat and light sources.
- 75 to 100-watt heat lamp
- Ceramic heat emitter
- Full-spectrum fluorescent lights
- Under tank heaters
- Heat cable
- Heat tape
To best mimic his natural habitat, your box turtle will need exposure to 12 to 14 hours of daylight every day. He will also need 10 to 12 hours of darkness each day.
When setting your lights up, make sure they are no more than 18 inches above the substrate. This will ensure your box turtle gets the full benefit from UV lighting.
Replace your fluorescent lights every 6 months to one year.
His basking spot must be at 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people think that using hot rocks is a good substitute for a basking spot but this is not true, they do not work well for turtles.
A 50-watt spotlight is perfect for him to bask in. Turn this light on 15 minutes before his main lights and turn it off 15 minutes after his main lights to mimic sunrise and sunset.
Common species of box turtles thrive in relative humidity levels around 80% at head level. Below their heads, the relative humidity levels should be close to saturation or about 98%.
Use the following methods to keep your adult-size box turtle’s enclosure humid.
- Mist the enclosure several times a day. Use a spray bottle to do this.
- Choose moisture-retaining substrate materials like hardwood leaf litter or sphagnum moss
- Use a warm air humidifier in the winter
Box turtles are omnivores and need to eat a balanced diet.
So, what’s on the menu of a healthy turtle?
Here are some of his favorite main meals.
- Fresh vegetables. Grater or finely dice squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and carrots for him to eat. He also needs to eat leafy greens like iceberg lettuce.
- Fresh fruits. He will eat apples, grapes, mangos, oranges, and papayas. Give him berries like blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and elderberries. He’ll love fruits but don’t spoil him by giving him too many to eat. Dark leafy greens are most important for your box turtle’s health.
- Plant material. These include clover, blossoms, dandelions, and cactus pads (with the spines removed).
- Insects. Local pet stores sell crickets, mealworms, earthworms, and other insects that are gut loaded and ready for your turtle to consume. All insects must be pesticide-free.
- Low-fat meat. Occasionally give him frozen baby mice.
- Calcium supplements. Dust his meals with calcium carbonate or crushed cuttlebone. The correct calcium levels are essential for preventing metabolic bone disease.
- Give him pieces of hard-boiled egg several times a month
There are also commercial turtle food bags available. But captive box turtles need access to the same food they would eat in the wild so you must always supplement these with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Now, we’re sure you would agree, that was quite an extensive menu!
So, how much of it should you give your box turtle?
He must eat a good balance of meat, vegetables, fruit, and plants. The best balance is to make up 60% of his diet out of animal protein and 40% of vegetables, fruits, and plants.
Ok, so now we know what to feed your box turtle, you also need to know how often you must give it to him.
Adult turtles will need feeding daily or 3 or 4 times a week. Your box turtle’s diet needs might vary slightly depending on his breed.
And how should you feed him?
Put your box turtle’s grub in a food dish to prevent him from eating his substrate. Putting his food in a dish also makes it easier for him to eat.
When is the best time to feed him?
Give your turtle his food in the morning after he has had time to warm up. If he doesn’t eat everything, take the leftovers away to prevent him from eating spoiled food.
Your box turtle needs access to clean, fresh room temperature water every day. Put his water in a shallow water dish large enough for him to get into.
The water level must be 1/4 to 1/3 of the box turtle’s height. The water should be no deeper than the box turtle’s chin when he retracts his head partially.
Change his water supply every day.
Your box turtle will use his shallow water dish for wading, soaking, cooling down, and drinking. Yup, it’ll be like a shallow pool for the little guy…that he also drinks from… Each to their own!
Take your new pet turtle to the veterinarian at least once every 6 months. This is important as box turtles do not show many obvious signs of illness when they are sick.
Taking your box turtles to the vet is a good way to ensure you’ll detect and treat diseases quickly. This may help you to increase the lifespan of your turtles.
How to Raise a Baby Box Turtle
We’ve seen a lot of information about looking after adult box turtles.
But what about the teeny tiny babies?
Baby box turtles are super cute and delicate and need the best care and introduction to their new world. And we want to provide you with awesome tips that will help you look after baby box turtles from when they hatch to when they reach sexual maturity.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Like adult-size box turtles, the babies will need a house that is big enough for them to explore around. Baby box turtles do not grow very quickly so you will not need to worry about them growing out of their enclosure for the first few years.
- Build an enclosure that is at least 36 inches long and 12 inches wide. Monitor the size and continued appropriateness of the enclosure as your turtle grows.
- If you are housing the hatchlings or baby box turtles up to 3 years old indoors, put them in a terrarium that holds at least 20 gallons.
- Secure the roof so the babies cannot escape and will not be in danger of predators like dogs, raccoons, and possums.
- Provide them with a heat lamp if they are indoors
- They will need flat rocks for climbing onto and natural materials to hide behind
- Keep them away from drafts and in a peaceful room in the house
- Do not expose them to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit
Cleaning the Enclosure
To keep your babies’ enclosure clean, do the following.
- Spot clean every day
- Replace the substrate daily
Your baby box turtle’s substrate needs to be the same as an adult’s. This includes 4 inches of the following soft, moist, and parasite-free materials.
- Newspaper shreddings
- Shredded hardwood
- Coconut bark
Heat and Light
Your baby box turtles can potentially live for decades in captivity. But they won’t make it out of their childhood unless you house them at the right temperature (70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and expose them to enough light (12 to 14 hours of daylight per day and 10 to 12 hours of darkness).
They will also need at least one hour of natural sunlight each day and a basking light and a cooling-off area in their enclosure.
The relative humidity inside your box turtle’s enclosure must be 80% around the baby’s head and 98% below it.
Most young turtles will eat the same things when they are babies as they will when they are adults. Cut the food into smaller pieces the babies will be able to eat.
A good way of doing this is by grating hard vegetables and dicing other fruit and veg or cutting it into small pieces. Here are the foods box turtles both young and old will eat.
- Fresh vegetables. Squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, and leafy veg.
- Fresh fruits. Apples, grapes, mangos, oranges, and papayas. Berries like blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and elderberries. Don’t give the babies too much fruit.
- Plant material. Clover, blossoms, dandelions, and cactus pads (with the spines removed).
- Insects. Local pet stores will sell crickets, mealworms, earthworms, and other gut-loaded insects that are ready for your baby turtle to consume. All insects must be pesticide-free.
- Low-fat meat.
- Calcium supplements. Dust their meals with calcium carbonate or crushed cuttlebone.
- Give them pieces of a hard-boiled egg several times a month
A baby box turtle will need to eat more often than an adult.
Most babies will need feeding once a day whilst adults may only need 3 or 4 times a week. You will need to feed hatchlings even more often, twice a day.
Put their goodies on a small tray to make it easier for them to eat. Feed them in the morning after they warm themselves up and take away any food they do not eat.
Your baby turtles need access to clean, fresh, room-temperature water every day. But your baby turtles are only small, so make sure the dish is not too deep for them to climb into and that the water level is not too high (up to 1/4 or 1/3 of their height).
Juvenile box turtles are much more aquatic than adults, but they can still drown if they turn over in the water. Your young turtles will use the water for soaking, wading, cooling down, and drinking.
Did you get your new box turtle from a reputable breeder?
Then he should be in pretty good shape. When your baby box turtles hatch or after adopting one, take them to the vet after 48 hours.
A good veterinarian will do the following.
- Look for evidence of malnutrition
- Look for evidence of dehydration
- Check his weight
- Complete a fecal test
- Deworm the box turtle
- Check him over for diseases
After that, take your new baby pet to the veterinarian at least once every 6 months. This is important to treat and prevent diseases.
Your vet will be able to monitor the progress of your pet turtle as it grows.
Special Care Tips for an Eastern Box Turtle
We have considered quite a few tips today in detail that will help you look after several species of box turtles. But the best way to take care of an Eastern box turtle often falls outside of your regular care instructions.
So, coming up, we’ll consider the tips that will help you to give the most specialized care to Eastern box turtles.
- Daytime enclosure temperature must be between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. His basking spot must reach between 85 and 88 degrees and nighttime temperatures mustn’t drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make sure his substrate is moist but it should drain well
- They eat vegetables like kale, green beans, and spinach. They like berries like blackberries and raspberries, and they also eat apples. They eat earthworms, snails, slugs, flowers, and mushrooms.
Happy and Healthy Box Turtles
Raising a box turtle can feel like a daunting feat. They live for 40 years or even longer in captivity.
How could you possibly keep him happy for that long?
Thankfully, this article has helped us to see that proper box turtle care means keeping him in a 36×12 inch enclosure in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees °F.
It also means giving him the right diet of fruit, vegetables, plants, insects, and freshwater. Regularly cleaning his enclosure and taking him to the vet are also essential.
Did you find the care guide in this article interesting?
At Oddly Cute Pets, we are always striving to provide you with the best guides for looking after your box turtles and other pets. For more information on raising different species of turtles and other reptiles, check out our website.
Thanks for reading!