By Geoff Williams
If you’re looking to buy a turtle, you’ll want to consider how much they cost. Fortunately, turtles can be relatively inexpensive in comparison to cats and dogs, but require consistent and dedicated care throughout their lives in addition to a suitable habitat to live in. Learn more about the potential costs of owning a turtle, below.
How Much Do Turtles Cost? An Overview
Depending on their species, turtles can vary in cost. Red-eared sliders, one of the most common pet turtles, can be found for as little as $20 in pet stores, while some types can be purchased from breeders at a much higher cost.
“Collectors will pay in the thousands of dollars for unique, most likely illegally captured, rare specimens," said José Biascoechea, DVM and owner of Exotic Vet Care in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. "Most of the turtles that sell on the pet trade are quite inexpensive, especially if purchased while young."
African sideneck or Mississippi map turtles, less common than the red-eared sliders but still often kept as pets, can cost almost twice that of the red-eared slider. Whatever type of turtle you get, it’s important to do your research well in advance and purchase the appropriate habitat for your pet and its size, Biascoechea said. Russian and Greek tortoises, which live primarily on land, will grow to about 12 inches in length, while other types of turtles, like the African spurred tortoise, can reach up to 33 inches in length and weigh up to 220 pounds, according to Biascoechea.
Where Can I Buy a Turtle?
In addition to pet stores and breeders, turtles and tortoises can be purchased from non-profit adoption and rescue organizations. Turtles often wind up at rescue societies because potential pet owners will buy them without recognizing the time and care commitment turtles require. Depending on the rescue, you might be asked to pay an adoption fee, often comparable to the price of a turtle in a store. Other times, rescue turtles can be free of charge, said Natasha Nowick, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Avoid purchasing a turtle online or from a pet store that sells baby turtles that are less than four inches in length. Turtles are sometimes carriers of salmonella and since 1975, the U.S. has banned the sale of baby turtles less than four inches long because of these health risks. As with all reptiles, you should wash your hands after handling any reptile to prevent any illness from spreading to humans.
Turtle Supply and Medical Care Costs
It’s important to make sure your pet turtle has an appropriately sized habitat to live in, with a tank no smaller than four feet in length. Expect to pay $100 to $200 for a terrarium or an aquarium (used ones may be more inexpensive) and factor in additional costs for lighting, thermometers, a basking platform, a ramp into and out of the water (if you have an aquatic turtle), and a filtration system, which can cost up to $350, according to Nowick. She also recommends getting twice as much filter for your aquarium. In other words, if you have a 40-gallon aquarium, look for a filter that works for an 80 or 100-gallon tank. As for the water, you'll want to treat it to remove chemicals (like chlorine) and can find water treatment conditioner at your local pet store.
Fortunately, aquatic turtle food is relatively inexpensive and can generally last longer than other types of pet food, as turtles don’t need to be fed as frequently. "The average aquatic turtle only needs to be fed with pellets, and you only need to feed them once every two days, so that's 15 pellets a month," Nowick said.
As long as you take good care of your turtle, they generally will not require much veterinary care, although Biascoechea suggests visiting an exotic animal veterinarian as soon as you purchase your turtle to make sure it has a clean bill of health. If you notice any changes in your turtle’s behavior or eating habits, it should see a veterinarian.
"Unfortunately, most turtle owners wait until their turtle is sick to bring it to their vet so cost may become a factor then," Biascoechea says. Reptiles tend to hide their illness until they are very sick, so if you notice any sign that they are acting unusual, make note of it.
As with any pet, you're going to likely have miscellaneous expenses, and should discuss them with your veterinarian. Most importantly, you should plan to treat your pet turtle like any other household animal, providing it with the care it needs throughout its life.
“[Turtles] should be viewed as every bit the expensive pet as a pure bred puppy, and you should be as committed to your turtle or tortoise as you would be for any new member of the family," Nowick said. Though vaccinations, heartworm and flea medications are not needed, it is recommended to have yearly examinations and a fecal examination to make sure that turtle remains healthy throughout its life.