Dr. Wright’s Quick Guide to Red-eared Sliders

Red-eared sliders are very popular pets. In fact, they are so popular that many of them end up released into ponds, canals, and lakes when they are big and no longer as cute as they were as babies.  Adult red-eared sliders need large swimming areas, such as an 150 gallon aquarium, or 150 gallon Rubbermaid cattle trough, or a large outdoor pond. A healthy box red-eared slider may live 50 years or longer with appropriate attention and care.

I recommend that you have your new red-eared slider examined by an experienced reptile veterinarian before you bring it home or within the first few days you have it. The veterinarian may find a hidden health problem that needs to be helped and will discuss what your new red-eared slider needs to be healthy.

I’ll give you a discount if you schedule an appointment within 7 days of getting a red-eared slider and present your proof-of-purchase from the pet store or breeder.

WELLNESS PROGRAM:

I offer a wellness program to help your red-eared slider live a long healthy life. The wellness program includes a spring post-hibernation examination, a fall pre-hibernation examination, fecal tests to detect internal parasites, and once-a-year bloodwork. (Note that red-eared sliders can live indoors without needing hibernation. However, they may live longer lives if allowed the regular rest of hibernation.)

CARE:

Caution – I Bite! Red-eared sliders may fight with each other if they are crowded, hungry, or there is a large size difference.

A red-eared sliders’s cage should increase in size as it grows from a hatchling (baby) to an adult. A hatchling red-eared slider turtle will do well in a 20 gallon aquarium while an adult red-eared slider needs a much larger living space. A large aquarium (about 150 gallons, or 48″ x 18″ x 24″) will adequately house a pair of red-eared sliders, as will a 150 gallon Rubbermaid cattle trough or a medium Waterland Turtle Tub (76″ long x 35″ wide x 24″high).   Do not try to keep two adult males together in a cage this size as they will fight and seriously injure each other. Sometimes a male red-eared slider will harass a female for breeding. This may lead to bite wounds and other injuries.

Baby Red-eared Slider Care

A baby red-eared slider may be kept in a 20 gallon aquarium. It is best to have a bare bottom. This makes it much easier to keep clean. It also prevents your turtle from eating gravel or rocks that may make it very ill.

Baby red-eared sliders need water at least deep enough for them to float and be able to turn over easily.

Your turtle should be able to flip itself upright in the water. If it is too shallow, it may fall on its back and be unable to turn over to breathe. Buy a good quality filter and change the water at least 20% after every feeding. Spot clean away uneaten food. Better yet, feed your turtle in a small separate enclosure, such as a dish pan, which can be easily cleaned after your turtle is returned to its regular home. 

Your turtle needs to climb out of the water to dry off and get warm. This basking platform may float or hang on the edge of the tank. It should be easy for the turtle to climb aboard and well below the top of the cage so your turtle doesn’t escap. If your baby turtles develops swollen eyes, bubbles from the nose, floats a lot or has trouble submerging or surfacing, has a  poor appetite, or simply doesn’t swim around much or it sits on the basking platform all day, it is sick and needs veterinary attention.

Baby red-eared sliders need a place to climb out of the water, dry-off, and get warm.

Baby red-eared sliders need warmth to do well. An underwater heater should be set to 80°F and it should be sized so that the heater doesn’t need to stay on all the time to keep the right temperature. If your baby turtle doesn’t want to eat, try increasing the water temperature to 84°F for a few days. Some do better with warmer temperatures.

A bright white basking light should be placed above one end of the aquarium where there is a “haul out area”. The temperature beneath the light should be about 95-100°F. At night, the white light should shut off and heat provided through a ceramic heat emitter. Watch to be sure your cage is the right temperature. If your red-eared slider stays at the cool end of the cage then the area under the basking light is too hot. If it always stays under the basking light then the cage is not warm enough. An infrared noncontact (laser) thermometer allows you to check different areas of the cage throughout the day and night and adjust the wattage of the light and heat sources as needed to keep the right temperatures.

Baby red-eared sliders need ultraviolet-B light to absorb calcium and develop strong healthy bones. Be sure to have an ultraviolet-B light bulb on for 10 to 12 hours a day such as Zoo Med’s Reptisun 5.0 compact fluorescent. Some bulbs combine white light and ultraviolet-B and may be used for the daytime basking light. Zoo Med’s Powersun is an example of this.  Use only brand names that are well known. Most fluorescent UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 6 to 9 months while the mercury vapor bulbs like the Powersun are often good for 12 to 18 months. After that the bulbs grow weak and do not produce enough ultraviolet-B to keep your red-eared slider healthy.

Red-eared sliders eat insects, fish, earthworms, and other small animals, and also like algae and plants. Baby red-eared sliders normally eat anything they are offered. Tetra Rept0-Min, Purina Kitten Chow, salmon chow, and trout chow are a good stalple diet. Finicky feeders may need movement to stimulate eating. Try offering bloodworms, minnows, or crickets if you have a fussy feeder, and the change they to a broader diet once they are feeding well.

A good home-made diet for red-eared sliders is this Gel Diet:

  1. Use 1 packet of unflavored gelatin (Knox brand)
  2. Blend into a fine paste: 1/2 cup of soaked pellets (e.g. Reptomin, kitten chow, or salmon pellets) and 1/2 cup of its favorite food. (Yes, it can be earthworms, crickets or other insects. Do not blend these to a paste.  Freeze and thaw them and mix them into the gelatin  in whole pieces.)
  3. Stir in 1/4 cup grated dark leafy greens, shredded orange vegetables, and frozen mixed vegetables.
  4. Squeeze out excess water
  5. Add 1/2 teaspoon of Zoomed Calcium with D3, and 1/4 teaspoon Zoomed Reptivite. 
  6. Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1 packet of gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Add several drops of red dye to the paste so it results in a bright red gelatin. Some turtles prefer orange or yellow colors.
  7. Instead of using cold water to thicken the gelatin, stir in the blended paste from Step 5. You may need to adjust the amount of gelatin so that you end up with a thick rubbery material rather than a more wet and soft gelatin.
  8. Spread this chunky gelatin paste into a glass pan in a thin layer, cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate until solid
  9. Cut this into thin strips, wrap individually in wax paper, and freeze
  10. Thaw as needed for feeding.  Roll the strip on the favorite foods so they coat the outside of the gelatin. This should encourage your turtle to sample the new foods.

Adult Red-eared Slider Care

The bright colors of a red-eared slider may fade to a muddy black as it ages.

Choose a large aquarium (about 150 gallons, or 48″ x 18″ x 24″) for a pair of adult red-eared sliders. Other options include a 150 gallon Rubbermaid cattle trough or a medium Waterland Turtle Tub  (76″ long x 35″ wide x 24″high). Do not try to keep two adult males together in a cage this size as they will fight and seriously injure each other. Sometimes a male red-eared slider will harass a female for breeding. A bare floor in the water section makes it much easier to keep clean and prevents your turtle from eating gravel or rocks that may make it very ill.

Your turtle should be able to flip itself upright in the water. If it is too shallow, it may fall on its back and be unable to turn over to breathe. A large filter is important to keep the water clean in an aquarium but for troughs and tubs it may be cheaper and easier to drain-and-refill the enclosure every few days.  If you are filtering the water, change it at least 20% after each feeding. Spot clean away uneaten food and feces. You should consider feeding your turtle in a separate container, such as a mortar mixing pan, which can be easily cleaned after your turtle is returned to its regular home.

Provide basking sites for your turtle to dry off and get warm. This basking platform may float or hang on the edge of the tank. It should be easy for the turtle to climb aboard and well below the top of the cage so your turtle doesn’t escape.

Adult red-eared sliders are more tolerant of cooler temperatures than babies but they still need warmth to thrive. An underwater heater should be set to 80°F and it should large enough to keep this temperature without constantly running. Some do better if the water temperature is 82 to 84°F .

Adults still need a warm and brightly lit “haul out area” where the temperature runs about 95 to 100°F. At night, the white light should shut off and heat provided through a ceramic heat emitter. Watch to be sure your cage is the right temperature. If your red-eared slider stays at the cool end of the cage then the area under the basking light is too hot. If it always stays under the basking light then the cage is not warm enough. An infrared noncontact (laser) thermometer allows you to check different areas of the cage throughout the day and night and adjust the wattage of the light and heat sources as needed to keep the right temperatures.

Adult red-eared sliders need ultraviolet-B light to absorb calcium maintaining strong healthy bones. Female red-eared sliders may have problems producing healthy eggs without ultraviolet-B light. The ultraviolet-B producing light bulb should be on for at least 10 hours a day. Most fluorescent UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 6 to 9 months while the mercury vapor bulbs like the ZooMed Powersun are often good for 12 to 18 months. After that the bulbs grow weak and do not produce enough ultraviolet-B to keep your red-eared slider healthy.

Adult red-eared sliders eat a mix of green leafy vegetables, Purina Kitten Chow, salmon pellets, trout chow, Tetra Repto-Min, and thawed frozen fish three times a week. The gel diet listed for babies is also good for adult turtles.

Hibernation

Red-eared sliders may live longer when they are allowed to hibernate. They stop feeding when the night time temperatures drop below 55°F or the day time temperatures drop below 70°F for several days in a row.

If your red-eared sliders live outside in a pond about 2 feet deep, they may hibernate at the bottom of the pod or they may climb out of the water and dig into a deep layer of mulch and hide until the spring. If there are long stretches of warm sunny days during the winter your red-eared slider may be seen walking or swimming but it will not eat. A pre-hibernation and post-hibernation examination by an experienced reptile veterinarian is recommended so that your red-eared slider turtle has the best chance of coming through hibernation without any problems.

COMMON PROBLEMS: As a general rule, if you think something is different with your red-eared slider you should schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. Most veterinary offices will listen to what’s wrong with your turtle and let you know if your pet seems to have an emergency requiring immediate attention or if it has something that may wait for a scheduled appointment.

SEEK IMMEDIATE CARE for your red-eared slider if you see any of the following life-threatening conditions:

Not moving or moving weakly, not responding to touch or noise
Attacked by another animal, such as a cat, dog, or other pet, or struck by an object
Open-mouth breathing, wheezes or clicks, sneezing, bubbles form in the nostrils or mouth
Seizures, twitches or rolls uncontrollably, frantically moves its legs and tail, staggers, has a head tilt or has its head rolled back
Bleeding that doesn’t stop, a broken bone or leg that is held in an odd position, an eye injury, or a cut in the skin or opening in the shell that has a flap or exposes muscle or internal organs
Entire cage is above 95°F and it is open-mouth breathing or collapsed
Something is coming out of its cloaca (vent) that is red, pink, white, black, green, or oozing blood, or it is straining to pass something
Swallowed a rock, large piece of mulch, or other indigestible object, or poisonous plant
Seems painful and refuses to move or bites at a body part

While the following signs may not be life-threatening, your red-eared slider needs veterinary care as soon as possible and no later than by the next day after you noticed the condition:

Hiding a lot or sleeping a lot
Excessive sneezing or crusty nose or eyes
Swelling or growth anywhere on its body
Crusts, brown or yellow spots, other changes in the skin, or visible mites
Diarrhea
Constipation
Stops eating or becomes fussy about what it eats
Has a dark or discolored toe or tail tip
Has laid abnormal eggs or fewer eggs than normal and looks “full” as if more eggs are yet to be laid

Copyright 2013
Dr. Kevin Wright, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian Specialist)
Member of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
Wright Bird & Exotic Pet House Calls
Distinctive Veterinary Care for Unusual Pets
4908 S. Val Vista Drive, Gilbert, AZ 85298
For appointments call (480) 495 3420 FAX (480) 323 2947 drkevinwright@q.com www.wbpeh.com

 

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