Can I Keep a Turtle in a 10 Gallon Tank

Can I Keep a Turtle in a 10 Gallon Tank?

Many consider turtles to be ideal pets. They’re quiet, they don’t smell, and they don’t chew up your furniture. Turtles are also relatively low-maintenance. 

However, like every pet, turtles need proper care and maintenance. While a 10-gallon tank is suitable for hatchlings or juveniles, most adult turtles will need much more space than a 10-gallon tank can provide. According to most experts, adult turtles need a minimum tank size of 40 gallons – with a screened top and about two-thirds of the tank being filled with water for plenty of swimming. 

Read on to learn more about what to look for when choosing a tank for your turtle. 

What to Consider when Choosing a Turtle Tank

Since not all turtles are alike, there are a few important factors to consider when choosing a tank for your turtle. 

  • Size of the turtle
  • Type of turtle
  • Setup of tank
  • Tank maintenance

Let’s dive in and discuss each of these factors. 

Size of the Turtle

Different turtle species vary in size and activity level, so the tank you choose must be large enough to accommodate  your turtle’s adult size. 

One rule of thumb is the “rule of shell” – for every inch of length of your turtle’s shell, you should have 10 gallons of space in their tank. This means a turtle with a 4-inch shell needs a 40-gallon tank, a 6-inch shell needs a 60-gallon tank, and so forth.

However, this isn’t a cut and dried solution, and many adult turtles will be happy in 40=gallon tanks despite the length of their shells. 

Type of Turtle

Different types of turtles have different needs, so make sure you do your research about the kind of turtle you’re considering adding to your tank. The three basic types of turtle are aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial. 

Aquatic turtles need most of their tank filled with water for plenty of swimming – about 60%. So if you have a 50-gallon tank, you’ll want 30 gallons to be water. 

Aquatic pet turtle species: 

  • Red-eared sliders
  • Yellow-bellied sliders
  • Cooters
  • Mud turtles
  • Musk turtles
  • African sideneck turtles

Semi-aquatic turtles – as the name suggests – spend about half their lives on land and half in the water. Their tanks should be about 25% water, so in a 50-gallon tank, you should have 12.5 gallons of water. 

Semi-aquatic pet turtle species: 

  • Wood turtles
  • Map turtles
  • Western painted turtles
  • Spotted turtles

Land turtles or tortoises don’t spend any time in the water except for an occasional soak, choosing instead to bask in the warmth, so their tank should be completely composed of dry land with a shallow dish of water for drinking. 

Land – or terrestrial – turtles

  • Box turtles
  • Eastern box turtles
  • Tortoises

If you’re unsure whether your turtle is aquatic or terrestrial, take a look at its feet. Webbed feet indicate an aquatic turtle while non-webbed feet means that your turtle (or tortoise, since tortoises are terrestrial by nature) is a terrestrial species. 

Tank Setup

Aquatic turtles and semi-aquatic turtles need tanks with water. Aquatic turtles need about 60% of their tank to be water, while semi-aquatic turtles only need about 25% of their tank as water. Land turtles and tortoises don’t need any water in their tank aside from a shallow drinking dish. 

All turtles need various things in their tanks for them to thrive. Besides water, they will need substrate or dirt for digging, shelter and hiding places in the form of flat rocks and sticks, and a nice flat area for basking. They’ll also need a UVB lamp to help them metabolize calcium, which is important for healthy shell growth. 

Tank Maintenance

Because turtles produce a lot of waste, regular cleaning and maintenance of the tank is vital for your pet’s health and well-being. Aquatic turtles and semi-aquatic turtles need frequent water changes and regular testing of the water parameters to prevent the buildup of toxins such as ammonia and nitrates – which come from waste. 

Is a 10 Gallon Tank Suitable for a Turtle?

No. While 10-gallon tanks are fine for hatchlings, turtles grow quickly and will rapidly outgrow such a small space. It’s vital to monitor your turtle’s growth and switch to a larger tank when they outgrow the tank. 

Even if you get your pet turtle as a hatchling, choose a tank that will fit them in their adult size, since turtles grow quickly and it’s easier to get one tank that lasts your turtle’s lifetime than having to switch tanks when your turtle outgrows the small 10 gallon one.

A 10-gallon tank can be a temporary fix while you are between tanks or having to downsize for a finite period of time, but keep in mind that aquatic or semi-aquatic turtle species or turtles with large adult sizes (such as sliders and cooters) require much more space and are unlikely to thrive for even short periods of time in 10-gallon tanks. 

Alternative Tank Options

While a 10-gallon tank is generally unsuitable for most adult turtle species, there are some creative options you can consider for your pet turtle. 

  • A larger tank – Turtles that have a small adult size of 2 – 4 inches need a minimum tank size of 20 gallons, with terrestrial turtles and tortoises being able to thrive in smaller tanks due to not needing part of the tank to be filled with water. For aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles, the tank should be at least 40 gallons. 
  • An outdoor pond or enclosure – large turtles or aquatic turtles may be happier in an outdoor environment, especially if you live in a warm climate with lots of sun. 
  • A custom-built habitat – if you have the time and materials, you could build your turtle a custom tank. This is also a great option for turtles that need special accommodations, such as those with a deformity or illness, that wouldn’t be addressed as well in a traditional tank. 


Your tank needs to be the right size and contain everything your turtle needs to thrive in its new home. Consider your turtle’s adult size, how much water it needs in the tank, tank setup, and regular tank maintenance.