Can You Keep a Turtle in a Fish Tank?

Can You Keep a Turtle in a Fish Tank?

July 07, 2018

Is It OK To Keep Turtles In A Tank?

Turtles are amazing creatures. They seem to have slow-paced and straightforward lives, so in this time while many of us live on caffeine and crazy deadlines, it’s no wonder that we love to watch turtles do what they do best.

Red-eared sliders and related species do not live entirely underwater and can drown, so they can't just be placed in a full aquarium alongside other fish. 

However, it is possible to add a turtle to your tank if it is set up properly.

Other than the fact pet turtles aren't fully aquatic, there is much to consider before adding a turtle to a fish tank ...

terrapin turtle in a tea cup

What's involved in caring for a turtle?

It is possible to set up a fish tank specifically for some kinds of turtles. Is it a good idea? That’s a different matter. Consider these issues:

  • Many turtle species live a very long time if healthy and are a major commitment
  • You should observe your turtle to see if it attacks the fish in the tank, test the turtles personality with cheaper fish if you have an expensive aquarium.
  • Turtles will require a space that is large enough to stay healthy, so in some cases, you will need a very large space (30-gallon minimum,) a floor that can handle the weight, and a sizable amount of money to create and maintain your setup
  • Medium to large turtles will need a 55-125 gallon tank which could weigh over 1200 lbs
  • A turtle aquarium isn’t easy to maintain for beauty as turtles will destroy common decorations and they are often messy. If you want a pretty tank, you will have to replace décor often, clean the tank constantly and use the best filtration systems available. 
  • Don’t forget that all turtles carry salmonella that can be contracted by anyone who handles them carelessly. If there are very young children involved or anyone with immune disorders, you may want to re-think the situation.

Turtle in a fish tank

Thinking of moving forward?

Consider your reasons for wanting to keep a turtle in an aquarium before you move forward, even if you don’t mind the issues we’ve listed. 

  • Healthy wild turtles should never be taken from their natural environment and forced to live in confinement. If there is no reason to remove a turtle from the wild, surely you wouldn’t want to deprive one of a normal life. It is also illegal to keep most wild turtles as pets.
  • Remember that if you adopt a turtle that was raised in captivity and things become too difficult, you cannot just release the turtle into the wild. Captive turtles haven’t been exposed to the illnesses and parasites that wild turtles are. They may not know how to function in the wild. They are not accustomed to finding and eating foods on their own. If you release a turtle it is probably a death sentence, along with becoming a danger to the other turtles that come in contact.
  • Rescuing an ill or injured wild turtle is a major challenge. Regular veterinarians often have little experience with most turtle species. Unless you are a veterinarian with training in turtle medicine, you will have to pay for constant treatment. You will have all the challenges of owning a healthy turtle alongside the task of keeping a sick turtle alive and making it well.

healthy terrapin turtles in natural habitat

Ok, Im definitely still interested in moving forward. What do I need?

  • Turtles will need a large tank that gives them plenty of space to grow. A turtle is only able to grow as big as its tank allows. Bigger is always better in this case.
  • A good rule of thumb - 10 gallon tank per 1" of turtle (generally, a male RES may grow to 10" & a female RES to 12") *RES-Red Eared Slider*
  • They must have a resting platform outside of the water. If terrapins don't have a place to rest they will get tired and likely drown. Research your specific species (not all turtles bask, but should still be given the option)
  • The temperature needs to be controlled and maintained.
  • They should only be handled when necessary.
  • Turtles are omnivores, they will eat certain plants and vegetables, worms and insects, as well as small fish. 
  • It's important to keep in mind if you place turtles and fish in the same tank, the turtles will be ruthless and "bully" the other fish until they're the only ones left in the tank, especially if the tank isn't sized properly or they aren't fed routinely.
  • Feed them fruit or vegetables the size of their shell, daily. As well as feeding them fruit daily, feed them pellets about the size of its head 3 times a week.

turtles eating lettuce in tank

Should I get my pet turtle a companion?

Considering a companion for your pet turtle may not be the best idea if you're thinking about being a new turtle owner.

If you're a new turtle owner, its probably the best idea to start with just one, until you're comfortable with two. Think of them as any other pets, like cats or dogs. 

Turtles in captivity are generally considered to live solitary lives.

If turtles are in a tank that's too small for the both of them they will generally end up fighting, resulting in missing limbs.

If you would like to add another turtle, keep an eye on them for a while. The best way to avoid issues is ensuring the tank is large enough for the both of them.

Rescue VS Pet Store?

Rescuing a turtle from an organization that has already rehabilitated a turtle might be an option if you are prepared for everything else.

Some organizations take in seriously ill or injured turtles and bring them back to health, but the turtle is no longer able to live in the wild.

Sometimes these organizations lack staff, space, and volunteers and they may be interested in a very knowledgeable foster or adoptive home.

Don’t forget that becoming a caregiver for a turtle by volunteering at a rehab may be an option and could be the best of both worlds. 

Another great option is to offer volunteer work or financial support to the many wonderful organizations that are working toward tortoise, terrapin and turtle conservation.


If you're new to turtles, salmonella is something that should be seriously considered. Its important if you have small children, family with a weak immune system, or elderly people.

All turtles should be treated as if they carry salmonella, because it's likely they are carrying it.

Salmonella is invisible. Your turtle may look completely healthy, and also carry salmonella.

Turtles are not the type of pets that should be handled, unless it is for cleaning. 

Small baby turtles were once popular pet-store fare and shopping centers used to sell quarter-sized turtles in a tiny plastic “aquarium” with a little fake palm tree.

Selling turtles under 4 inches was banned in 1975 to prevent the spread of salmonella, and later on, they disappeared from stores for this reason.

Although healthy older children could even get salmonella and just contract a moderate gastrointestinal illness, smaller children or other people with health issues could become very seriously ill. In order to prevent this, the turtles were only sold for educational purposes after the ban.

Unfortunately, these turtles are sometimes still sold illegally.

Because of salmonella, turtles don't make the best pets for children under 5, or people with weakened immune systems.

Parents may not realize that many species like the red eared slider have the potential to survive not only until the child graduates from high school. They can actually live for longer than 30 years!

Its important to note turtles also shed salmonella.

Keeping all of this in mind, hands should always be washed whenever handling a turtle, cleaning the aquarium or changing the water.

terrapin turtle bubble

Did this help you make your final decision?

Im so happy to see you took the time to learn more about your pet, or a potential pet turtle!

Overall a turtle can make a great pet, but you should be cautious when you place a turtle with fish.

I hope this helped you make a final decision.

Comment below and let me know how this helped you, or what can you think can be added to help others.

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