Turtles are commonly given as a first pet to children. Promoted as a low maintenance pet, turtles look like a more suitable option than a cat or a dog.
What better introduction to the responsibilities of pet ownership than a small cold-blooded animal that doesn’t make much noise and does not need daily walks?
Well, the truth is that turtles can make great pets, but they need a lot of care. Adult turtles are beautiful creatures and can live decades, often passed on to the next generations in the family. They are peaceful and will not hurt anyone, even when they are feeling threatened.
Most likely, a child will not be able to handle caring for a turtle. Turtles are not the kind of pet that you can bring into the house and not think too much about afterward. This brings us to the point of today’s guide: do turtles need company?
Can they do fine on their own or they get lonely and sad just like a human would?
If you want your turtle to spend its long life joyfully swimming around the pond, make sure you read this article all the way to the end!
Do turtles have feelings?
Turtles are reptiles and do not possess the range of emotions we do.
While we would like to think that our pet turtles are happy when they see us or when they’re bathing in the sun, the truth is that they most likely don’t experience emotions like we do.
That does not go to say that they do not feel anything. They have senses and have evolved for survival reasons to be very perceptive of things like external danger, food, and mating opportunities. They feel pain, fear, and stress. It is uncertain, however, if they process those the way humans do.
It is important to keep in mind that turtles, like all reptiles, have different brain structures to mammals, and by extension to humans. Therefore, even though we might see a turtle exhibiting certain behaviors, it is difficult to say that the reason behind those is a specific emotion.
For example, turtles will regularly fight other turtles for things like territory or mates.
However, that does not mean that turtles are angry while doing so.
If you forget to feed your turtle for a day, it will definitely feel hunger. But will it be angry towards you? Probably not.
Do turtles get lonely?
There is general agreement that turtles do not get lonely. There had been anecdotal evidence from turtle owners that turtles like to eat together or walk and swim together. However, scientists explain that this is solely due to survival instincts.
Safety is found in numbers. Many animals share the same practice when eating, drinking water, or moving, like gazelles.
The truth is that turtles are not social animals, and therefore do not feel the need for friends or social interactions. They are better on their own. In fact, fights might occur if more than one turtle shares the same tank.
It is rarely the case that there is such uniform consensus on pet-related issues. Delving a bit deeper into why everyone thinks of turtles as loners, it becomes easy to understand the reason.
Adult turtles mainly care about three things: territory, food, and mating. Therefore, the introduction of new adult turtles in the habitat is bound to cause problems. If both turtles are males, there will be territorial aggression.
They might also fight when food is left around. On the other hand, if a male and a female turtle are placed together, the male one will keep trying to mate. At some point, the female might decide it has had enough. Male and female fights can be rather brutal.
Other issues that might occur are the larger male acting dominant over the others or older turtles bullying younger ones, resulting in some turtles getting less food or basking time.
Fighting is natural for reptiles, so it is not as if the turtles are misbehaving. There is no special training to keep this from happening.
Of course, every turtle has a slightly different personality, so some will tolerate co-habitants better than others. However, in general, turtles just like being alone.
Keeping several turtles in one tank is not impossible. You would need a large tank so that turtles will not interact with each other. However, this sort of goes against the idea that turtles need company.
Do turtles get depressed?
Yes, while turtles presumably do not feel sadness, they do get affected by depression. Or at least something that really looks like depression. They will stop eating and moving, limit time otherwise spent basking, and pretty much stop being themselves.
The most common cause of depression is stress. Turtles are sensitive to stress. They can feel stressed for a myriad of reasons. They boil down to fear or unfavorable habitat. Any change in the environment can cause stress. Most often, things that can cause problems for pet turtles are:
- Improper handling, by visitors to the house, children, etc.
- Loud noises, such as a TV or speaker placed too close to their tank
- Abnormal or unusual interactions, like more frequent contact than usual, or suddenly showing up in front of their side of the tank
- Another pet such as a dog hitting, scratching, or clawing the tank
- A bad diet. Pet store food is often the reason
- The tank’s temperature
- No basking area
- Pretty much anything that would stress a human
The first thing to consider if your turtle is acting depressed is stress because of constant scares. Turtles can get scared as we do. The two most common scary incidents for pet turtles in a home environment are loud noises and relocation.
It is important to avoid both. How will you feel if someone starts banging on your door, or if suddenly your home is lifted and moved around with you in it? Precisely, terrified. That is exactly how turtles feel as well.
Many things can make your turtle pet feel depressed, but they can all be easily solved.
Do turtles get bored?
The answer depends on who you ask. Some people believe that turtles do not need any other stimulation than eating, swimming, and perhaps mating. Others claim that pet turtles need to be given appropriate care since they don’t enjoy the same environment as their wild counterparts.
The fact is that when your pet turtle is digging or trying to climb out of the tank, it is probably trying to entertain itself or perhaps burn off some excess energy. Even if they do not get bored in the exact same way as we do, they will enjoy some variety in their environment.
It is important to keep in mind that turtles are solitary and do not particularly crave human interaction. You should avoid trying to entertain them in a way you would with some other pet like a dog or cat.
Handling them, moving them around, or speaking loud next to them are all things that can stress out a turtle.
In fact, entertaining and stimulating a turtle is quite easy. Something simple like changing up the tank a bit when cleaning it by moving some logs around or placing some new pots can go a long way. You can even throw some turtle toys in the mix.
Your turtle could spend days exploring the new arrangement of its tank, making sure it investigates and gets accustomed to everything in it.
Turtles love having space to swim and bask. There is no such thing as too large of a pond for them, though a turtle tank can theoretically be too deep. The more space they have, the more time they need to explore it. Always go for the largest tank that can fit in your space, and your turtle will surely not be disappointed.
You can also make sure to put in a couple of dozen appropriate feeder fish every few weeks to stimulate and promote natural hunting. Feed them live food as a snack. Turtles enjoy chasing their food.
By giving your turtle prey to chase you will provide it with nutritious supplements to its diet and a reason to exercise. Wild turtles spend hours hunting and looking for food. It is a great way to exercise and stimulate their brain. Your pet turtle will be happy to follow along.
If you would like to go for something more advanced or permanent, you will be pleased to know that there are many landscaping ideas for turtles. From obstacle mazes to tanks that resemble a beach, there are endless options to choose from. Just make sure that you have your turtle’s needs in mind!
While turtles are reptiles and do not share our emotional complexity, they are not entirely incapable of feelings. However, meeting emotional needs is a simple process and will result in a long, happy, and healthy turtle life!