Can You Keep a Box Turtle as a Pet?

We believe that having a pet is a wonderful experience that brings joy and happiness to our lives. One popular pet choice is the box turtle, which is a small and friendly reptile that is easy to care for. Box turtles are one of the most commonly kept reptiles in the United States, but are they suitable pets?

Yes, you can keep a box turtle as a pet, but it requires commitment and responsibility. Box turtles are not easy pets to care for and require specific diets, temperatures, and habitats to thrive. Additionally, they can live up to 50 years in captivity, so it is a long-term commitment.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about box turtles as pets, from their behavior and diet to their housing and health needs.

Can You Legally Keep a Box Turtle as a Pet?

Box turtles are often kept as pets due to their calm temperament and low maintenance needs. However, before deciding to bring a box turtle home as a pet, it is important to understand the legal requirements for keeping them.

The legality of keeping a box turtle as a pet can vary depending on the region. In some places, box turtles are protected by state or federal laws, and it may be illegal to keep them as pets without a permit or license.

In the United States, it is legal to keep box turtles as pets, but there are certain laws and regulations that must be followed. The exact regulations vary by state, so it is important to research the laws in your specific area before acquiring a box turtle as a pet.

Can You Keep a Box Turtle as a Pet?

Yes, you can keep a box turtle as a pet. Box turtles are popular pets due to their small size, low maintenance, and fascinating behaviors. However, it is important to understand the responsibilities and requirements of owning a box turtle before bringing one into your home.

Keeping a pet is a significant responsibility, and choosing the right pet is crucial. Box turtles are among the popular pet options for many people, but before bringing one home, it’s essential to understand the requirements, care, and legalities of keeping a box turtle as a pet.

Pros and Cons of Keeping a Box Turtle as a Pet

Keeping a box turtle as a pet can be a rewarding experience, but it also requires careful consideration of the pros and cons. Here are some of the pros and cons of keeping a box turtle as a pet:


  • Low maintenance: Box turtles do not require as much care as other pets, such as dogs or cats. They do not need to be walked and can be left alone for short periods of time.
  • Long lifespan: Box turtles can live for several decades, providing a long-term companion for their owners.
  • Calm temperament: Box turtles are generally calm and do not require as much attention as other pets. They can be observed and enjoyed from a distance.
  • Educational: Keeping a box turtle as a pet can be an educational experience, as owners learn about the turtle’s behavior, diet, and habitat.


  • Legal restrictions: Depending on the region, it may be illegal to keep box turtles as pets without a permit or license.
  • Specific care requirements: Box turtles have specific care requirements, such as temperature and lighting needs, and require a specialized diet.
  • Long-term commitment: Box turtles can live for several decades, which requires a long-term commitment from their owners.
  • Not interactive: Box turtles do not interact with their owners in the same way as other pets, such as dogs or cats. They may not provide the same level of companionship or emotional connection.
  • Expensive: Setting up and maintaining a proper enclosure for a box turtle can be expensive, including the cost of a suitable enclosure, lighting, heating, and food.

Choosing a Box Turtle: Factors to Consider

If you’re thinking about adding a box turtle to your family, there are several factors to consider before making a decision. Here are some key factors to keep in mind when choosing a box turtle:

  • Species

There are several species of box turtles, each with its own unique characteristics and care requirements. It’s important to choose a species that fits your lifestyle and experience level. Some species, such as the Eastern box turtle, are more common and easier to find, while others, such as the three-toed box turtle, may be more difficult to find.

  • Age

The age of the box turtle can also impact its care requirements. Younger turtles may require more frequent feedings and a different diet than adult turtles. Additionally, younger turtles may be more susceptible to health issues, so it’s important to be prepared for potential veterinary care.

  • Health

Before choosing a box turtle, it’s important to inspect the turtle for any signs of illness or injury. Look for clear eyes, a healthy shell, and active movement. If the turtle appears lethargic or has any visible injuries, it may not be a good choice.

  • Size

Box turtles can vary in size depending on the species and age. Consider the size of the enclosure you’ll need to provide for the turtle, as well as any potential space constraints in your home.

  • Diet

Different species of box turtles have different dietary needs. Some species are strictly herbivores, while others are omnivores. Be sure to research the specific dietary requirements of the species you’re interested in to ensure you can provide the appropriate diet.

Caring for Your Box Turtle

Once you have chosen a box turtle as a pet, it is important to provide proper care to ensure its health and well-being. Here are some important aspects of caring for a box turtle:

  • Housing

Box turtles need a spacious enclosure with a secure lid to prevent escape. The enclosure should have both a dry and moist area, as well as a hiding spot. The substrate should be easy to clean and maintain, such as newspaper, paper towels, or reptile carpet. The enclosure should also have a basking area with a heat lamp to provide a temperature gradient.

  • Diet

Box turtles are omnivores and require a varied diet that includes both animal protein and vegetables. Offer a variety of insects, such as crickets and mealworms, as well as dark leafy greens, carrots, and squash. Avoid feeding your turtle food that is high in fat or sugar, such as fruit.

  • Water

Box turtles need access to clean, fresh water at all times. Use a shallow dish for drinking and soaking. Change the water daily to prevent bacteria growth.

  • Temperature and lighting

Box turtles require a basking area with a heat lamp to maintain a temperature gradient in their enclosure. The basking area should have a temperature of around 90-95°F, while the cooler area should be around 70-75°F. Box turtles also require UVB lighting to help them absorb calcium and maintain healthy bones.

  • Health

Monitor your box turtle’s behavior and appearance for signs of illness or injury, such as lack of appetite, lethargy, or abnormal shedding. Take your turtle to a veterinarian experienced in reptile care if you suspect a problem.

  • Handling

Box turtles can be handled, but it is important to do so gently and with care. Support the turtle’s entire body and avoid picking it up by its shell. Wash your hands before and after handling your turtle to prevent the spread of bacteria.

In Summary

Box turtles make wonderful pets for families and beginners, thanks to their friendly temperament and easy care requirements. By following the tips and guidelines in this guide, you’ll be able to provide a happy and healthy life for your box turtle. If you have any questions or concerns about caring for your pet, be sure to consult with a qualified veterinarian.


What kind of box turtle can I keep as a pet?

Three species of box turtles are commonly kept as pets: The eastern box turtle, the Ornate box turtle, and the Three-toed box turtle.

Do box turtles require any special habitat conditions?

Yes, box turtles require a specific habitat to thrive in captivity. A terrarium with a substrate of soil, coconut coir, or sphagnum moss is ideal. It is also important to provide a basking area with UVB lighting, a water dish for soaking, and hiding places.

Can I release my pet box turtle into the wild?

No, releasing a pet box turtle into the wild can introduce diseases or parasites to the wild population and disrupt the ecosystem.

How often should I feed my box turtle?

Adult box turtles can be fed every other day, while juveniles require daily feeding. It’s essential to provide a varied diet that meets their nutritional needs.

What should I do if my box turtle is not eating?

A decrease in appetite can be a sign of illness. If your box turtle isn’t eating, consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.

Do box turtles need veterinary care?

Yes, box turtles require regular veterinary checkups to ensure they are healthy and to prevent any potential health issues. It is also essential to take your turtle to a vet if you notice any changes in its behavior or appetite.