Are Red-Eared Sliders Good Pets for Kids?

The jellybean-shaped red markings on the sides of the head are this turtle's namesake.
The jellybean-shaped red markings on the sides of the head are this turtle's namesake. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) fill turtle enclosures in pet stores; they're among the most commonly kept turtles in the world. Females can reach 12 inches long; both sexes can live well over 20 years. They're hardy turtles, but consider a few things before allowing a child to be the sole caregiver of these colorful turtles.


Red-eared sliders, like other turtles and reptiles, are reservoirs of the dangerous Salmonella bacteria, which is potentially deadly in children and other humans. Outbreaks of salmonella were traced to small turtles, particularly those small enough to fit in children's mouths, and a federal law passed in the mid-1970s made it illegal to sell turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches in diameter. Even in larger turtles the disease is prevalent; a child who handles a turtle can easily contract it if he doesn't wash his hands afterward. Literature of the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health claims 10 percent of reported salmonella cases in L.A. county were the result of direct or indirect contact with reptiles and that 50 percent of these cases were from contact with red-eared sliders.


Red-eared sliders require less hands-on involvement from you than a dog, a cat and some other pets like birds do, but a great deal of responsibility nevertheless comes with caring for these creatures. A red-eared slider aquarium should be no less than 100 gallons; 125 gallons' capacity is more acceptable for a single adult female. The tank needs a partial water change of at least 25 percent weekly and a large water change of 50 percent to 90 percent at least every three weeks. The turtle also requires feeding daily.

Enclosure Setup

A red-eared slider is a basking turtle. A basking turtle's aquarium needs enough water for the turtle to be able to dive and swim in, and basking areas. The basking area for these turtles can be custom-made platforms that slip beneath the water surface, little logs stacked or sloped, or a sandy area that gradually rises from the water. Large, smooth rocks with some portion of area out of the water also suit these turtles well. The basking area needs to be cleaned occasionally.

Diet and Feeding

Young red-eared sliders are more carnivorous than their adult counterparts; they need high-quality turtle pellets supplemented with live, frozen or freeze-dried meaty foods and leafy veggies. As turtles mature, high-quality meaty pellets with leafy vegetables every other day will suffice.

Bottom Line

Red-eared sliders are not picky about water temperature or pH, making them suitable beginner turtles for responsible children. Before deciding that a red-eared slider is the best choice for your child, realize that turtles come with a large amount of responsibility. If you're willing to help take on the care for this pet for a couple of decades, the red-eared slider is among the best turtles for a child.

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