How to bond with your Red Eared Slider Turtle

Turtles as a species are expected to be rather aloof creatures that bask and chill. Turtles have more to offer than just a pretty face and my almost 28 year old red-eared slider has shown me just how sassy turtles can get.

Turquoise and I have a special bond and it is the most hard-earned blessing I have ever experienced.

I hope some of these suggestions work to improve the bond between you and your terrapin friend.

Disclaimer: As a turtle owner, I must express just how dangerous turtles can be without the animal itself being a threat. Red-eared sliders may carry a bacteria called Salmonella. The best way to protect yourself and your turtle is to wash your hands before and after handling.

1. Hand Feeding

This is always step one with any turtle that you want to bond with. Start by using a pair of feeding tongs or chopsticks to get a feel for how deep your turtle’s bite is without risking your finger tips.

Slowly integrate special foods (fresh shrimp for babies or long strips of thinly cut cooked carrot for older turtles) and use food as a bridge to get closer with your turtle.

2. Hanging out

Your turtle will constantly beg for food and if you only spend time feeding them, that is all they will expect.

The goal here is to get your turtle used to your presence to the point where they don’t freak out, slide away, or beg for food if you enter the room.

Every time you and your turtle hang out, you gain 2xp to your relationship bar. It may take a while since every turtle has a different XP requirement, but you will level up eventually.

3. Music

Turtles have an aptitude for music and I have experienced the joy of turtle head-bobbing to some of Turkey’s favourite songs. She also has learned how to communicate her music preferences by either fluttering or biting aggressively towards the speakers.

If you are able, take the chance to sing songs to your turtle. By associating songs with tasks, you will help your turtle understand the world around them.

For example, When Turkey is having a bath and I need her to calm down, I sing her favorite songs with her name as the lyrics.

4. Foods

Offer a wide selection of foods to your turtle. While turtle sticks have everything your turtle needs, allowing your turtle to try new foods will help you bond. You will be able to see how your turtle reacts to different turtle-safe foods and eventually, you may be able to hand-feed them without risk to your digits.

5. Talk to them

Turquoise loves attention. She adores it when I sit with her and interact. You could be saying anything – recite a speech for school, tell your turtle about your day, or just tell them you love them. By doing this, you are acclimatizing your turtle to your voice and your bond will grow.

6. Really look at them and say their name

Lock eyes with your turtle and say their name to them. Tell your turtle that you love them. You will know when your turtle truly sees you in return. Turtles are very intense about their eye-contact.

7. Handle them

It is not recommended to handle young turtles and the stress from doing this can kill small turtles. When they’re big enough to handle, start slowly and for a short amount of time. Wrap your turtle in a towel and hold them against your chest. When they’re dry, you can place them on the ground in a safe location and play with them. Things you can do: call their name, put your hands on the floor and let them crawl on you to know you’re safe, roll a ball and see if they chase it. Turquoise loves climbing me and sitting on my head while we’re having floor time – it’s odd but it makes her happy.

8. Routine

Red Eared Slider Turtles are opportunistic in every way – they will gorge on food until they burst and climb other turtles to get the best basking spot. Having a routine that your turtle can learn will help your turtle understand your motivations. Not every time you walk through the door is feeding time.

9. Dedicated Cleaning Time

When you have a routine, you can schedule time for your turtle to have some time getting their shell scrubbed. Make sure to use a soft toothbrush since turtle shells are quite sensitive and can be damaged easily. Take your turtle out of their enclosure and allow them to dry before using the toothbrush to help any stuck shed off their shell. Do not use soap or any type of detergent. Your turtle may dance for you by wiggling back and forth against the toothbrush – it’s always a delight to see.

10. Proper hygiene

Taking care of yourself and ensuring that you are clean before and after handling your turtle will improve your ability to care for your turtle and enjoy that time together. Introducing contaminants (hand lotion, sanitizer residue, bacteria, etc) in to the tank will be detrimental to your turtle’s health. 

I hope this list is beneficial for you and your turtle. It has certainly proven useful between Turkey and I. 

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