How Long Can a Pet Turtle Go Without Water?

Written by Angie Menjivar
Updated: October 10, 2023
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Key Points

  • Turtles require a long-term commitment when kept as pets as they have long lifespans.
  • Some turtles are more beginner-friendly than others.
  • Turtles require roomy tanks, basking areas, and water that’s kept at the perfect temperature.
  • How long a pet turtle can go without water depends on several factors, including the species, age, and environment.

You’re considering a pet turtle. While not exactly cuddly creatures, they sure are cute. But first, learn about the kinds of turtles you can keep as pets and what their requirements are. Consider pet turtle basics like how long a pet turtle can go without water. With enough information, you can be a great pet turtle caretaker. On the other hand, when you realize the care that pet turtles require, you may change your mind. Either way, it’s good to know it all upfront!

What Kinds of Turtles Can You Keep as Pets?

There is a range of turtles you can keep as pets. Some are more beginner-friendly than others, though. For example, box turtles and red-eared sliders are great first-timer turtles. So are razor-backed musk turtles and painted turtles. These are small turtles that you can most easily care for. They have long lifespans, which is something to consider as well. Although they are beginner-friendly, choosing to keep a turtle as a pet is a long-term commitment. Here’s a little more about each of these turtles below:

Box Turtles

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Box turtles have an impressively long lifespan!

© Rieck

These turtles only grow up to about six inches by four inches long. But don’t let their size fool you. They can live for well over 50 years if you provide them with the right nutrition and environment. This gives you a buddy for life (and one that may outlive you!). Taking one home as a pet should be thoroughly considered to ensure they always have a place alongside you or a loved one if they survive you. Box turtles eat a variety of foods, including fruits, veggies, and insects. They thrive in high humidity and outdoor environments with a large tank. They can be kept indoors with a little extra care as well. `

Red-eared Sliders

Red-Eared Slider Price - Red-Eared Slider in Aquarium

Red-eared slider turtles can grow to a little over a foot long.


These turtles grow only six to eight inches long on average (though sometimes they reach a little over a foot long!). These are long-term pets that can live up to 30 years! They thrive on snacks like freeze-dried shrimp, minnows, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes. You can also pick up turtle food for them at the pet store. This is a major commitment because they live for entire decades and can grow a bit larger than you might expect. Once they reach adulthood, they need at minimum a 40-gallon tank. They’re semi-aquatic, so while they enjoy the water when it’s at the ideal temperature, they also need an area where they can bask comfortably under a heat lamp.

Razor-backed Musk Turtles

Razor-Backed Musk Turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)

Razor-basked musk turtle live up to 15 to 20 years on average.

© grichenko

These types of turtles grow only about five or six inches. Razor-backed musk turtles have a shorter lifespan than some of the others, usually making it up to around 20 years. Aesthetically, they’re not as bright as others but their size makes them attractive to many pet turtle beginners. Since they’re smaller, they can handle a smaller tank as well. Usually, a 20-gallon tank suffices but if you can go bigger, your turtle will be more content. They need a basking area where they can soak up the heat. As for food, they eat minnows, insects, and worms. This is a carnivorous species. They also do well on turtle food you can pick up at your local pet food store.  

Painted Turtles

Issaquah, Washington, USA. Western Painted Turtle sunning on a log in Lake Sammamish State Park.

Painted turtles can live up to 50 years!

©Danita Delimont/

Like box turtles, painted turtles have remarkably long lifespans. They can live up to 50 years with the right care. These turtles snack on a range of foods, including guppies, romaine lettuce, and crickets. They also do well on commercial pellets too. They grow up to 10 inches. These turtles enjoy their own space, and you should only handle them when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, enjoy them by watching them do their thing. Although not particularly social, they can share space with others — just ensure the tank is large enough so they can coexist peacefully.

Pet Turtle Basics

How you care for your pet turtle differs depending on the type of turtle you take home. Each has specific needs regarding diet, space, and lighting. You should also confirm that the type of turtle you intend to take home is legal to own in your state! Then, you should conduct research on the specific needs of your chosen turtle. Even small turtles require large tanks — they need to be able to move freely and exercise comfortably to remain healthy. They also need a place to bask underneath a heat lamp so they can warm up. In the wild, they rely on heat from the sun but when you keep them indoors, you need a heat lamp that acts as the sun. Without this integral part of their setup, they won’t survive.

As cute as little turtles are, they are not to be handled. You should let them enjoy their environment without frequently removing them from their tank. If you have other pets in the home, ensure that they cannot get to your pet turtle. They can do serious harm to an unsuspecting turtle. Similarly, you must be careful what you put inside your pet turtle’s tank. Some plant life can be toxic, for example. You also want to avoid the use of tap water. Spring water is a better choice to keep the pH at an appropriate level. Overall, you need a plan for your pet turtle. After conducting research, put your plan together. Execute it with care and schedule regular maintenance to keep your turtle friend happy.

pet turtle

With proper care, your pet turtle can enjoy a long, comfortable life alongside you.

©Mark Leung/

How Long Can a Pet Turtle Go Without Water?

Clean water is vital for your pet turtle. Not only do they swim around and exercise in the water, but they literally need it to eat! Unlike you, turtles don’t salivate. If you’ve ever had cottonmouth, you know how hard it is to swallow without a bit of moisture helping food morsels move along. Pet turtles rely on water to help them swallow. The water is also present so they can regulate their body temperature. Being that they’re cold-blooded, they need help from external sources. So, when they’re a bit too cold, they head on over to their basking area. When they’re a bit too warm, they head into the water (which should have a temperature between 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit). That said, a pet turtle can go without water for about six to eight hours so long as they have a dry, warm place to retreat to. This depends on several factors, however, including the turtle’s general health, age, and what their environment without water looks like.

Is a Pet Turtle Right For You?

The dream of owning a pet turtle may come crashing down when you realize that they require specified care. Even beginner-friendly turtles are a bit high-maintenance. If you’re not ready for the commitment a pet turtle requires, it’s best to hold off. You already know about their impressively long lifespans, but you should also know that they can carry diseases like salmonella. Additionally, they need ample room, maintenance, and plans in case you bring one home that outlives you. Unfortunately, when there aren’t care plans in place, pet turtles may be released into the wild where they may not survive.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Elina Leonova/

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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