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Red Eared Slider Care Sheet

Red-Eared Slider Care Sheet

Trachemys scripta elegans

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Originating in North America, the red-eared slider is named for the distinctive red streak on each side of their face. The red-eared slider is primarily aquatic and will emerge from the water for basking on rocks and logs. When basking, red-eared sliders commonly pile on top of each other, and when startled by the sound or sight of a potential predator will slide off their basking spot back into the water—hence their name, “slider.”

Typical red-eared slider appearance and behavior

  • Red-eared sliders are slow-growing reptiles who may start very small but ultimately get very large and should only be kept by pet parents who are able to accommodate their need for larger habitats as they grow
  • Young sliders have a bright green shell that dulls in color as the animal ages
  • Turtles do not have teeth but instead have a beak made out of hard keratin protein overlying their jawbones to help them rip and tear food
  • Male sliders are typically smaller than females, have longer tails and nails, and have curved plastrons for mounting females during mating
  • The top part of the shell is the carapace, and the bottom is the plastron. Both are covered in bony plates called scutes that are covered in keratin protein
  • Scutes are shed and replaced from underneath as turtles grow
  • Sliders are social and typically do well when housed with other sliders
  • Turtles may be held safely by their shells but do not like frequent handling and may bite when frightened. Be sure to monitor a turtle’s head at all times when handling them to avoid getting bitten
  • Turtles will get to know their caretakers over time and may come to the water surface when they approach
  • Aquatic turtles are excellent swimmers and spend most of their time in the water
  • Turtles will bask regularly under a heat lamp in a dry, warm area

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Moderate
Average Life Span 20 to 30+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 6-12 inches long or more
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 40+ gallons
May take up to 5-7 years to reach adult size, so upgrade habitat size as your turtle grows.

Habitat

Habitat Size

A red-eared slider habitat should be a 40-gallon or larger enclosure with a screened lid so the turtle can’t escape. Habitat size should increase as your turtle grows to adult size. Be sure the habitat selected is wide enough to give the turtle room to comfortably turn around. A good rule of thumb for aquarium size is 10 gallons per inch of carapace (length of top part of turtle’s shell). Ideally, the length of the aquarium should be at least 4-5 times the length of the carapace, and the depth of the water in the aquarium should be at least 1.5-2 times the length of the carapace.

Building your habitat

The habitat should have a dry area (commercial basking dock, rocks, logs, bricks, cork) on which sliders can climb easily for basking.

  • Substrate - Slate, rock or gravel that is too large to eat, Substrate is optional 
  • Décor - Basking area should be easily accessible with rocks or wood placed at an incline
  • Temperature
    • Water temperature should be kept at 75-80°F with the help of a shatterproof submersible heater 
    • Basking area should be kept at 85-95°F with the aid of a radiant heat bulb focused on one end of the aquarium to establish a temperature gradient so that one end of the aquarium is the hot zone and the other is the cool zone 
    • Cool zone air temperature should not fall below the low 70s°F
  • Lighting - Full-spectrum, commercially available, ultraviolet (UV) lighting is required 10-12 hours per day to help turtles absorb calcium from their food for proper bone and shell growth. A UV bulb with a radiant heat bulb can be focused over one end of the aquarium for basking. Combination UV/radiant heat bulbs are commercially available

Maintaining your habitat

Aquatic turtles drink the water they swim, eat and defecate in, so a high-quality water filter is mandatory. Partial to complete water changes should be performed often (25% water change weekly, or 50% every 2 weeks). 

Partial, rather than complete, water changes are typically recommended to keep the bacterial flora in the water constant. Ensure that water added to the aquarium is at the same temperature as the existing water in the aquarium. Uneaten food and fecal material should be scooped out with a net daily. 

Once every 3-4 weeks, at minimum, fully clean your turtle habitat by:

  • Placing turtles in a temporary holding aquarium
  • Scrubbing all aquarium surfaces, including aquarium décor, with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution that should be left on for 10 minutes to ensure adequate disinfection before completely rinsing it off and returning the turtle to the habitat. Be sure to follow the habitat cleaner manufacturer’s instructions on usage 
    • Décor can also be soaked in water with dechlorinator added
  • Thoroughly rinse the habitat and décor so that no cleanser smell remains before placing the turtle back in it  

Feeding

What to feed a red-eared slider

The nutritional requirements of red-eared sliders change as they age and grow. While sliders of all ages are omnivorous, juvenile sliders require more animal protein for growth, and fully grown adults eat more plant matter to help prevent obesity. Juveniles and adults can be fed a base diet of commercially available pellets or sticks made for aquatic turtles, along with vegetable matter such as dark leafy greens (dandelion, mustard and collard greens with chopped broccoli, carrots, squash and green beans). Nontoxic aquatic plants (such as anacharis and water lettuce) also can be good sources of vegetable matter. Vegetable matter should make up 50-60% of the adult turtle’s diet. Earthworms and insects, freeze-dried krill or bits of cooked chicken, plus small amounts of fruit (apple, melon, cantaloupe, berries) can be offered as occasional treats. Remember that treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s overall diet.   

Things to remember when feeding your red-eared slider:

  • Fresh, clean, water should be available at all times
  • Feed juvenile turtles daily. Adults may be fed every other day unless instructed by a veterinarian
  • Turtles need to be fed in water
  • To help keep the habitat clean, consider offering turtles food in a smaller feeding aquarium

Care

  • Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease
  • Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Where to buy

Red-eared sliders are available at Petco stores. Contact your nearest location to check availability. 

Supplies

Aquarium mates

Adult aquatic turtles of the same species may be housed together as long as the aquarium is large enough. Do not house different turtle species together and avoid overcrowding, which can lead to aggressive behaviors.

Health

Signs of a healthy red-eared slider

  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy, hard shell with no lesions or retained scutes
  • Clear, bright eyes with no swelling or discharge
  • Healthy skin with no sores
  • Clear nose and vent

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge or bubbles
  • Discoloration, bumps, pitting or spots on shell or skin
  • Lethargy
  • Frantic swimming or swimming on side
  • Abnormal feces
  • Sneezing or runny nose
  • Overgrown beak
  • Swelling around eyes or ears

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue GI tract parasites Symptoms or Causes Poor appetite; listlessness; possible diarrhea. Rectal prolapse. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Health Issue Respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Open-mouth breathing; discharge or bubbles from eyes/nose/mouth; sneezing. May be caused by improper habitat temperature suppressing immune system function. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat is the proper temperature.
Health Issue Shell rot/ulcers Symptoms or Causes Discolored or foul-smelling patches or pits on the shell that can become infected. May be caused by an unclean habitat, lack of UV light or improper diet. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure appropriate habitat cleaning, UV light and proper nutrition.
Health Issue Eye or respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Swollen eyes and sides of head (ears). May be caused by vitamin A deficiency. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian; ensure a proper diet; and consider vitamin A supplementation.

FAQs 

  • How long do red-eared sliders live? Red-eared sliders can live up to 20-30+ years with proper care.
  • What do red-eared sliders eat? Juveniles and adults can be fed a base diet of commercially available pellets or sticks that are made for aquatic turtles, along with vegetable matter such as dark leafy greens (dandelion, mustard and collard greens with chopped broccoli, carrots, squash and green beans). Nontoxic aquatic plants (such as anacharis and water lettuce) can also be good sources of vegetable matter. Vegetable matter should make up 50-60% of an adult turtle’s diet. Earthworms and insects, freeze-dried krill or bits of cooked chicken, plus small amounts of fruit (apple, melon, cantaloupe, berries) can be offered as occasional treats.
  • How big do red-eared sliders get? Red-eared sliders can grow up to 12+ inches.
  • How to tell if a turtle is male or female? Male red-eared sliders are typically smaller than females, have longer tails and nails, and have curved plastrons for mounting females during mating.
  • Do red-eared sliders bite? Turtles do not like frequent handling and may bite when frightened, however, they may be held safely by their shells. Be sure to monitor the turtle’s head at all times when handling them to avoid getting bitten.
  • Do red-eared sliders hibernate? Turtles, like other reptiles, are ectothermic, meaning their body temperatures change in response to environmental temperatures. In nature, in response to cooler temperatures in the fall and winter with accompanying decreased food availability,  turtles’ body temperatures drop, their metabolism slows down and they enter a state of hibernation (also called brumation). When they hibernate, their digestion slows and their immune systems don’t function as well, so they become more susceptible to infection. In a pet parent’s home, the goal is to keep conditions in turtles’ habitats constant so that they don’t become immunosuppressed and sick.

Additional care sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian