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Joan, Veterinary Technician
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 20071
Experience:  35+ years experience as veterinary tech and 40+ years experience doing reptile rescues.
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I bought a painted turtle last week and he is not eating. He

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Hello. I bought a painted turtle last week and he is not eating. He is about 4-5 inches long. I bought a 50 gallon kit with UV and heat lamps, water heater, filter and basking area. All he wants to do is bask on his rock.
JA: I'm sorry to hear that. What is the paint turtle's name?
Customer: Friday. Belongs to my grand daughter
JA: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about Friday?
Customer: Don't think so


My name is ***** ***** I have been a Vet tech for 35+ years and have worked with Reptiles over 40 years.

How much water do you have in the tank?

What type of diet are you trying to feed?


Strength of UVB bulb?

Any bubbles from the nose or mouth?

Any open mouth breathing?

Did you get the turtle from a Pet supply or through themail?


Customer: replied 1 year ago.
About 5" of water. Tried feeding turtle pellets and floating sticks, dried shrimp treats, lettuce and raw hamburger, both in the water and on his rock. No supplements. The UVB bulb is fluorescent, I think 13 W. No open mouth breathing. Got the turtle from nearby PetSmart. I noticed the turtle occasionally wipes or brushes at his head for maybe 10 seconds at a time. I have another week that I can return or exchange turtle if he is not well.

The turtle has to be in the water to eat and defecate. The need twice the amount of water to swim as their size if they are 4" the turtle needs 8 inches of water to swim in. As far as a UVB bulb I was asking if it is a 5.0 or 8.0 they sold you. Turtles need a Reptisun 10.0. 3/4 of their diet should worms or canned cat food and the other 1/4 should be leafy greens.No lettuce ony romaine or endives. Iceberg lettuce contains no nutrition. They als need to be getting a calcium supplement on their food and have a cuttle bone or calcium block in the tank.

It is not unusal for a turtle to take time to adapt, but since it has been a week there may be something going on that the turtle will not swim. I would try putting some meal worms in the tanl and see if he will swim for them. It may take something like worms to entice the turtle to eat.

I am going to give you a detailed care sheet. I would say if the turtle is not eating and defecating by Monday to take that one back and see if they have one that is more acclimated and eating. It is coming into winter season, and turtles do slow down, but by now the turtle should want to eat something and swim. This is the care sheet. Please read it over and and let me know if you have any questions and we can discuss them.


Well-cared for painted turtles can live 30 years or more.

The Tank

It's recommended that a baby have at least a 15 gallon tank. By the time the turtle is 3-4 years old, it will need a 60 gallon tank, so it's best to get the biggest you can in the beginning. You can also use a large RubberMaid tote. That's not as pretty as a tank, but costs a lot less. Set up the tank so there's a land area and a water area. Put the basking light at one end so the whole tank doesn’t get too hot. You want the water to be about twice as deep as the turtle is long. If the turtle is two inches long, you'll want four inches of water.

Temperatures and Basking Area

Turtles need certain types of lighting and need to be warm. Air and water that are not warm enough can lead to fungal and respiratory infections and unhealthy shells. Turtles must have a basking area where they can get out of the water, dry off, and bask in very warm light. The ambient air temperature in the tank should be around 80*F, with the basking area warmer still. Over the basking area there should be some sort of lamp that will take a 40-60 watt incandescent bulb (or you can buy a ceramic light fixture made just for reptiles). If you live in an area that has farm stores, you can buy a metal light fixture made to keep baby chicks warm for just a few dollars. Don't buy the accompanying bulb, however. You need an ordinary incandescent bulb in the basking light. Hardware stores sell similar fixtures as work lights. The basking area should be kept at 88-92*F. Use a digital probe thermometer to be sure. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the light fixture.The lights that come with the covers on aquariums are not suitable for turtles. You'll also need a submersible aquarium heater that will keep the water in the low 70’s.

UVB Light

It's extremely important that you buy an additional light that produces UVB rays. A Reptisun 10.0 in the straight tube style is a good brand that does. If you choose another brand be absolutely certain it provides UVB rays. Don't take the word of pet store personnel, but read it for yourself. Full-spectrum, DayGlo, SunGlo, UV, or UVA are not the same thing. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on this because it's crucial to your turtle's health. Without this light, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop because your turtle won't be able to produce vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are not a good replacement for the proper lighting. MBD causes a very slow and painful death.UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months as they lose their effectiveness after that, even though they may still look fine. Light that comes through a window isn't sufficient because the glass filters out most of the rays turtles need to stay healthy. To prevent MBD, turtles also need calcium. The easiest way to provide it is to place a cuttlebone in the tank. Cuttlebones are sold in bird departments of pet stores.


Turtles are very sensitive to water quality. Even if you change the water every day, it can still contain harmful chemicals. A good filtration system is essential. Water changes are also needed even with a filter. If the tank is too small, no filter can keep up with the amount of waste that turtles produce.


Feeding is an area where pet stores often give out bad information. Commercial food and animal products (meat, earthworms, canned cat food) should make up about 3/4 of the diet. The remaining 1/4 should be plant foods (dark lettuce like romaine, bits of strawberry or melon, etc.) Hatchlings should be fed every day. Older turtles should be fed 3 times per week. Overfeeding can lead to gout and kidney failure.


Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your quick response.
The kit I bought is a Zoo Med, and it is 40 gal, not 50. It has a dual light fixture with 5" domes, and the bulb was clearly marked as UVB, I think the heat bulb is halogen.
I bought a couple of digital thermometers, and the water and air temps are good.
I have some cute tetra Reptogard blocks I have not added yet, looks like they are mostly calcium and sulfa.
The kit came with a external canister filter I do not care for, and I am going to install an in-tank cartridge type filter tomorrow. I was planning to swap out most of the water as well, and I will bring up the water level. I am using a water conditioner that came with the kit.
I will go out in the morning and see if I can find some meal worms or earth worms. From what I was reading on the internet earlier today, that was going to be my next step.
Thanks again,
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I just noticed your care sheet calls for water temp in the low 70's. The heater I have is not adjustable and is set for 78 F. Is that too warm? If I turn it off the water temp should settle at 68-70 degrees.

That could be part of the problem. You also need to use a dechlorintor in the water. Turtles are like fish and cannot tolerate high amounts of chlorine and ammonia put in to tap water. I would try lowering the water temps and see if that makes a difference I would also try some meal worms or even wax worms to see if he will respond to the live prey. If these measure do not work I would exchange him for another turtle. They hide illness well and when they do show something is wrong it is usually late to be treated. Since it is for your granddaughter I hate to see something happen and she is attached.

Please let me know if you have other concerns. If I have addressed your concerns, Please take a moment to rate my service 5 stars. I am not paid by the site until I earn a positive rating and my goal is to give you excellent service.


Joan and 3 other Reptile Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Again, thank you for your prompt response and your advice.
The conditioner says that it neutralizes chlorine and ammonia, so that should be OK.
I will turn off the heater and keep an eye on the water temperature.
I have until next Saturday to return the turtle, so if he does not respond to live food in the next couple of days, I will return him.
Thanks again, you will get a 5 star review for sure.