Terrapins, Turtles & Tortoises

Choosing Terrapins, Turtles, or Tortoises as Pets

These are three names for a very similar reptile, their name depends really on where you live. In Ireland we would generally only keep Terrapins as a pet.

Classification between the three:

  • A terrapin is your typical pet and can survive happily in a tank. They live mainly on land but need water to wet themselves with. Terrapins are carnivorous, they eat fish and vegetables.
  • A tortoise is a land creature. They are strictly vegetarian and hibernate through winter. Tortoises can be pets in a warmer climate, but in Ireland they would not survive outside.
  • A turtle is a sea dwelling creature – again eating fish and vegetables. They cannot live on land, only coming to shore to lay eggs before returning to sea. Turtles are not advised to be kept as a pet.

Read on to learn more about having Terrapin’s as a pet reptile.

Petmania Common Musk Turtle 1

Where Terrapins Like to Live

You should house your terrapin in a large vivarium or tank with a secure lid on top. Position this where there is some natural light. Your tank interior should include some water for the terrapin to wet itself, some large stones and an island in the tank for the terrapin to climb.


Terrapins are very delicate and timid creatures and may get frightened and alarmed when you try to pick them up. Begin with hand feeding your terrapin as it learns to relate you with food and becomes fearless about you handling it. Gradually you can start picking it up with utmost care.

While handling, the terrapin should be held firmly from the side of the shell. Never drop it on the floor from high up as that can break its shell, head, neck or legs. Any such injury can be fatal for your pet. A stressed or upset terrapin may struggle and try to bite or scratch while being handled; it is better then to leave it alone. Though most of the terrapins get used to the owner with time, some remain aggressive forever and that should be given respect.

Both pre- and post-handling, rinse your hands properly with soap and mild disinfectants to stay away from any contamination. Reptiles may carry some micro-organisms like Salmonella, which can cause severe diseases in humans.

Diet & Nutrition

Terrapin or turtle food should make up the base of your terrapins diet. Mix this with plant foods and fish to give them a balanced diet. Terrapins particularly like relish lettuce, watercress, and some other green leafy vegetables. Whilst some also love fruits like apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and bananas. You can judge your terrapin’s preference by giving it a small bit, if it enjoys eating it, you may give it some more.

Dietary Supplements

Supplements to its diet are essential to provide minerals, such as calcium; an essential mineral for shell maintenance, and trace elements. Cuttlefish and ground eggshells are good sources of calcium. Cuttlefish can be broken into bits and kept in the tank for the terrapin to nibble on. One should ensure that the eggshells are ground fine, because any big pieces can cause injury.

Health & Hygiene

If your terrapin is not eating or shows any kind of uneasiness, bleeding, breathing trouble etc consult a capable veterinary doctor immediately. But generally pet terrapins do not suffer from many health problems. Occasional fungal infections of the shell may show and can usually be dealt with preparations suitable for fish.

Cleaning your tank or aquarium is important. Clean your tank at least once every two weeks, as terrapins use the water in their tank like a bathroom. This water should be changed every two to three days to keep your terrapin happy. With all reptiles we highly stress the importance of washing one’s hands after handling it.

Take Me Home Checklist

Before you take your Terrapin home, it is important that you have a habitat set up for them to move straight into. This list will help you identify what you need, and if you have any further questions, our Pet Care Advisors in-store will be only to happy to assist you.

  • Minimum 60 litre tank to start
  • 0 U.V.B bulb
  • Turtle Dock
  • Water conditioner
  • Water heater Filter
  • Food – Hatchling formula
  • Gravel
  • Terrapin Book