How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water? (Full Guide)

The answer to this question depends on several factors, including species, age, temperature, diet, basking, and other factors. Generally speaking, most turtles can go for a few hours or days without water in a warm environment.

Just like humans, turtles derive numerous benefits from water from enhanced metabolism, hydration, digestion, and more. With water, turtles may not survive for very long.

In addition to a source of clean water, pet turtles also need to be fed a few times a week. As we will discuss, it’s crucial to ensure your turtle gets clean water.

6 Factors Affecting How Long Turtles Can Live Without Water:

Turtles are ectothermic, meaning that their cold-blooded bodies rely on external sources to regulate their temperatures, such as water and sunlight.

This is the reason why turtles spend a sizeable chunk of their day either swimming or basking in the sun. However, some factors can influence how long a turtle can live without water, including:

1. Age

Turtle hatchlings are more fragile than older ones, and they cannot survive for long without water as they are more likely to get dehydrated.

As turtles develop, their organs become more adapted to survive for more extended periods without water. Young turtles can only survive for up to a week without water, while adult turtles can go for longer.

Unlike a fully mature turtle, juvenile turtles are less likely to recover from dehydration as their organs are still underdeveloped.

2. Humidity and Temperature

Due to the reliance on external climate to regulate their internal temperature, how long a turtle can go without water is heavily influenced by the temperature and humidity within its environment.

The less humid the weather is, the less moisture is in the air, reducing the overall hydration that the turtle absorbs through the semi-porous shell and skin.  During humid conditions, turtles are less likely to need water.

On a hot day, your pet turtle is more likely to get dehydrated due to excessive water evaporation. In such conditions, a turtle requires more water to swim in and cool off.

3. Brumation

Turtles hibernate during their brumation period. Their metabolic rate slows down considerably, especially in the winter, allowing wild turtles to stay safely hidden away during the cold months.

The brumation period is usually spent sleeping most of the time, and the turtle doesn’t eat, which reduces its water intake. During hibernation, a turtle can go for up to 5 months without water depending on the climate, especially if it’s brumation underneath the mud, sand, or entirely underwater.

4. Species

Various turtle species are naturally adapted to survive in different weather conditions depending on their natural habitat.

Turtle species adapted to survive in hot climates such as red eared sliders can survive for more than a week without water, while those that spend most of their life in water, such as musk turtles, can only go for up to three days without water.

These differences are mainly due to differences in the turtle’s kidneys and water retention capabilities of their skin and shells.

 Turtle Testudo horsfieldii

5. Diet

A turtle’s diet heavily influences how long it can go without water. If their regular diet contains substantial amounts of moisture, they will absorb it and require less water to drink, later on, allowing them to go for more extended periods without water.

However, turtles that feed on dry food such as pellets will require water and can’t go for long periods without the dry diet impacting their health. 

Foods rich in protein content often require more water to digest and pass out the poop due to increased amounts of urea. As a result, turtles that feed on a primarily protein-rich diet cannot go for long without water.

6. Basking

Turtles rely on basking for temperature regulation, and the exposure to sunlight kills off bacteria and fungi, preventing infections. Basking also regulates a turtle’s metabolism and prevents parasitic infections.

UVB light exposure while basking allows the turtle to produce vitamin D3, needed for calcium absorption. However, exposure to sunshine for hours also leaves the turtle dehydrated, and therefore they cannot stay for long without water if they are regularly basking.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating?

A vast majority of turtles can survive for months without food, especially when winter comes. They have a slow metabolism, and the low temperature further reduces their activity rate.

Besides, they don’t want to move because they want to retain the energy and fats for as long as possible. In the state of hibernation, they can live for months without food, although they get weak.

This is not the case in captivity because they don’t have a cold season. Owners provide basking spots and UVB lights, and food and water is offered regularly.

Copyright: gasparij

How Long Can Turtles Stay Out of Water?

Turtles can stay out of water for around 8 hours. However, this may depend on their environment. In a cool environment, they can survive without water for a couple of days.

In a warm and dry environment, they might need water after just a few hours. It’s worth noting that turtles can develop serious digestion issues if they stay out of water for too long.

Why Do Turtles Need Water?

In addition to swimming and drinking, aquatic turtles need water to swallow food. They have a simple salivary gland that does not produce enough saliva. They rely on water to swallow food.

Also, turtles prefer to defecate in water because it’s thought to facilitate a turtle’s bowel movements. One more reason why turtles need water is to cool off after basking. Ensure the water temperature is between 720F – 820F for pet turtles.

What Happens When You Keep a Turtle Out of Water?

Before answering this question, it’s worth noting that the temperature of the surroundings determines ideally what happens to a turtle when you take it outside of water. Their physiology is similar to humans because their body is about 70% water.

However, they are cold-blooded and would need water to regulate their temperature, especially when faced with high temperatures. In extremely cold weather, they lose water much faster than in cooler weather.

For this reason, it’s wide to only allow the turtle to stay out for only a couple of minutes and only in the vicinity of the freshwater. Similarly, when the weather is cooler, they lose their water much slower, meaning they can stay in the cold weather outside much longer and not have adverse effects.

Humidity also plays a crucial role in how long your turtle spends time outside water. During times when humidity is high, the turtle is able to maintain its moisture needs much better.


Why Do Turtles Come Out of Water?

Terrestrial turtles spend most of their lives out of the water, just like torts. Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles must stay in the vicinity of a freshwater source. To maintain a healthy life, these turtles need to come to the surface for two basic needs.

  1. To breathe when they replenish their lungs with oxygen. Turtles can breathe underwater by inhaling and exhaling slowly.
  2. Basking is the other reason turtles come out. If they don’t bask, they can fall sick.

While turtles just need to stick their heads out to breathe, they have to get out of the water to bask completely. If their enclosure lacks a basking platform, the turtle may develop shell rot and infection.

How Long Can Turtles Stay In the Water?

Generally, turtles can stay underwater for at least 45 minutes. Sea turtles are known to spend almost 2 hours. Also, the lower the temperature, the higher the humidity, so the time frame extends.

During the winter, they hibernate for months to avoid the harsh conditions. Some species will also stay underwater longer.

9 Reasons Why Turtles Won’t Get Out of the Water

Perhaps you are a new owner and afraid because you know turtles should come out of the water from time to time. Well, you are right. However, turtles are aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial. For example, if it’s softshell, it barely leaves the water for basking.

So, if the pet is aquatic, the pet loves to swim. The sliders and painted turtles, on the other hand, will come out regularly because they enjoy basking. The box turtles, like tortoises, won’t even get bothered by water.

They can even stay for days without swimming, just drinking. Regardless, sometimes the turtle may stay underwater more than normal: here are possible reasons.

1. Low Temperature

A possible reason is the tank temperature is too low, lowering the metabolism of the reptile. When the temperature drops, turtles start to prepare for hibernation season.

During the season, turtles sleep a lot and are lethargic: they prefer not to move. When the temperatures are low in the tank, they will stay in the bottom for hours, sometimes days.

It’s essential to regulate the water temperature if you notice they won’t come to land at all. Although staying underwater for long is normal, too much of it could cause severe illnesses such as respiratory diseases and shell rot.

To prevent this from happening, ensure you provide the perfect tank temperature, ideally between 750F to 850F. Note that some turtles will require a higher temperature than others.

2. A Lack of Attractive Basking Dock

Don’t forget to have an attractive basking dock for the turtle. This will encourage the pet to come out and spend a few hours on land. Every aquatic turtle requires to have a flat area outside of water to warm itself.

It can be an island, floater, a platform, or a secure pile of rick above the waterline. Ensure they have easy access to the basking site and should be able to get up without hassle.

The basking site should be moderate in size and should not take too much of its aquatic space. Keep ¾ of the tank available for these swimmers.

The basking dock should be made of materials that won’t scratch the turtle’s shell. It should not have sharp edges because any damage to the turtle’s shell takes time to heal and lead to bacterial and fungal infections. If you use UVB, the temperature on their basking area should be 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turtles need exposure to UVB light as it’s essential for their health and helps them utilize the calcium they eat in food. Calcium is vital for turtles because they use it for their bones and shells.

It’s the reason you don’t need to cover the tank with grass or any cover so that the turtle can get UV light. Position a UVB above the turtle’s basking area and ensure it isn’t too close to avoid roasting your turtle. Make sure the light is on for 12 hours every day.

When the temperature on the basking spot is too high, they tend to avoid the area. You should use a thermometer to monitor the area. Also, the basking dock should be dried at all times without a material that holds water.

3. Stress

Sometimes everything is right in their enclosure. It’s just that they are stressed. If the turtle is new in this tank or something is scaring the turtle, it won’t come out of the water.

If this is the case, allow the pet to have their own time and adjust to their new home. Refrain from forcing the turtle to stay on the basking are if they don’t want it. Also, avoid handling the turtle because turtles hate this.

Instead, you can try placing treats on the basking area to encourage them to explore it. Red-eared sliders, for instance, love leafy greens and fruits. Placing some kale or apple on top of the dock can quickly entice him.

Turtles are easily stressed by a change in environment, excessive noise, illness, the presence of other pets, and excessive handling. You can help the turtle by removing all causes of stress from his environment. Avoid playing loud music in the room where the enclosure is based.

Keeping other pets like dogs with the turtle is not advised. Handling the pet leads to tension and can also cause biting. A turtle bite is painful and could lead to infection.

4. Pregnancy

Perhaps the reason your friend is hiding and behaving abnormally is pregnancy. If they combine this with digging activities as if they want to begin nesting, your doubts are probably right. If you aren’t sure of their gender, claw length, shell size, tail length, and the position of their cloaca can give you a clue.

If you discover your turtle is female, the next step is to touch their belly and see and feel the bumps which are eggs. Avoid handling the turtle too much, and do not press the bumps.

If they break inside the turtle’s body, they can cause problems. If you are unsure how to perform the turtle pregnancy test, you can seek an appointment with the vet instead.

Surprisingly, female turtles get pregnant even without the intervention of the male. The only difference is that these won’t be fertilized and thus won’t hatch. Regardless, the turtle won’t often bask until she lays the eggs. Also, do some solid research on how you can assist the turtle lay the eggs comfortably.


5. Illness In Turtles

If the basking area is ideal and everything above is ruled out, your turtle may be unwell. Signs of sickness to look for are a lack of appetite, lethargy, drowsiness, and swollen, teary eyes.

6. Aural Abscess

This is an infection in the ears usually caused by bacteria. Most of the time, this type of infection begins in the mouth and goes through the ear canal and the eustachian tube.

Turtles lack external ears, so when the infection reaches the inside, it can’t drain. Signs of an abscess are swelling behind the eyes. This can turn severe in a flash, so you should contact a vet immediately.

7. Vitamin A deficiency

Aquatic turtles are the most likely victim of this disorder. If they don’t receive enough Vitamin A through their diet and supplements, they will likely have puffy eyeballs, nasal discharge, reduced appetite, and improper growth.

Three-Toed Box Turtle

8. Parasites

Internal parasites are prevalent in turtles, and some won’t even show visible symptoms. If you suspect that they may be dealing with worms, it’s probably wise to deworm the turtle. If unsure, contact your vet to come and perform a fecal examination.

9. Metabolic bone diseases

When turtles don’t get adequate calcium and lack enough exposure to UVB light, they can quickly develop this disease. It’s also common in turtles that eat too much protein.

Symptoms of stunted growth include deformed shells, stunted growth, fatigue, and lethargy. If the turtle shows any of the above symptoms, you need to call a vet as soon as possible.

Do Turtles Like Cold or Warm Water?

A vast majority of pet turtle species don’t like to swim in too cold or too warm water. A good temperature range for most of them is 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Dropping below 70 seems to be too cold, while a temperature exceeding 90 is considered too hot.

Because turtles are endothermic, and their temperature depends on that in their environment, turtles swimming at 550F will be sluggish and lethargic. Too hot is too uncomfortable for turtles, and they would rather stay in the cold than hot. Turtles that live in high temperatures are likely to overfeed.

How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Stay Out of Water?

Red-eared sliders are favorite for turtle keepers because they are adorable and hardy. Some say they are built like tanks and hardly get dehydrated. They can even survive for a week in hot and dry conditions. If the air is humid enough, they can even stay for a month.

They survive for more extended periods in the wild as long they can find some puddle to drink. Red-eared sliders are known for going on long migrations on the land where they could go for long without getting water.

This does not mean they don’t like water. Red-eared sliders love water more, especially when basking. If you are considering adopting a red-eared slider, you need to have a large tank and basking area.

For a start, you might need at least a 10-gallon tank. The thumb rule is simple: for each inch of shell, provide 10 gallons of water. So, if the slider is 6 inches, ensure you have 60 gallons of water.

In my opinion, a giant aquarium is good because they won’t outgrow it. Their basking area needs to be completely dry with a heat lamp to emit UVB.

How Long Can Yellow Belly Turtles Stay Without Water?

The yellow belly turtle is one of the most aquatic turtles in North America, and one’s that’s known to love water. These spend most of their time submerged, but can they stay out of water. A typical yellow belly turtle will spend time submerged for about 85% of their time. In other words, they could survive 8 hours outside water.

Because of their eternal love for swimming, you should look for a bigger tank above 30 gallons. If you have a baby yellow belly turtles, they won’t need as much. You also want to provide a basking area using driftwood, rocks, or plants to allow them to dry off outside water.

Saltwater is not suitable for yellow belly turtles because it can irritate and damage their eyes and cause digestion issues. Without water, they can succumb to failed digestion, poor eyesight, and dry skin. Besides, they won’t be able to regulate their body temperature.

How Long Can Painted Turtles Live Outside Water?

Depending on the humidity, painted turtles can survive for a few days outside of water. Just like the red-eared sliders, they are hardy creatures. Inside water, they can stay for days without surfacing.

When they stay for too long inside water, it’s not a good sign. Painted turtles love basking and will bask about 8 hours a day. They are a bit unpredictable and may sometimes overstay underwater.

The amount of time they stay underwater is affected by various variables, such as the oxygen level in the water. When the temperatures are high and oxygen low, turtles prefer to stay out and just bask.

To keep a healthy painted turtle, ensure you provide a large enclosure, a good filtration system, a nice basking area, and UVB bulbs. If they can’t dry off completely, they can become susceptible to respiratory infections and shell rot.


How Long Can Musk Turtles Stay Outside Water?

Musk turtles are a bit different from the painted and red-eared slider turtles. Musk turtles prefer to hang in on shallow shift-flowing rivers and creeks, which means they are less aquatic. In fact, they could drown if they found themselves in deep waters.

To make up for this vulnerability, however, must turtles can survive outside water much longer. These can survive for years out of the water as long as they find some shade to bury themselves.

If you have a musk turtle, ensure you offer adequate UVB light and enough basking area to bask and dry. Be cautious with the depth of their enclosure because they are not the strongest swimmers.

How Long Can Box Turtles Stay Outside Of Water?

Box turtles are thought to be tortoises because they can survive indefinitely without submerging in water. As long as they find clean water to drink, they are good to go. They are categorized as terrestrial turtles who choose to tread on land than swim.

Unlike other turtles, they lack webbed feet, which makes them weak swimmers. A box turtle can only stay submerged for a few minutes before they begin gasping for breath. On land, they have less risk.

Do Box Turtles Like Water?

The short answer is yes. Box turtles rely on water to regulate their body temperature because they are cold-blooded in nature. Although they often lay in the sun to get toasty, they regularly slip into the shallow waters (where they are not entirely submerged) to cool down before heading to chill in the shade. Additionally, they like to hunt and eat underwater or just sit in water.

turtle in water

Can I Take My Turtle Out of the Water?

Yes. Experts believe that removing the turtles out of the tank and letting them walk is beneficial. It’s not only a good form of exercise but can help them adapt better to their habitat. However, turtles dislike excessive handling.

If you take the turtles out too many times, they may get stressed and even bite. So, while it’s great to get them to explore around the house, you also need to consider how they respond to it.

Also, ensure there are no other pets around because turtles are timid. Dogs can disturb turtles too and potentially injure them.

How to Provide Your Turtles with Clean Water?

One of the best things you can do to your turtles is offer them clean, dechlorinated water. Despite debates as to whether tap water is healthy for turtles, the presence of chlorine is proof enough that it isn’t safe. Tap water contains chlorine which acts as a disinfectant. Although this amount of chlorine is safe for humans, it’s toxic to turtles.

Chlorine also destroys the healthy bacteria in the turtle’s tank, interrupting the useful nitrogen cycle. It also destroys the biological media in the filter, which introduces good bacteria to the aquarium.

Additionally, tap water may contain chloramine, which stings your turtle’s eyes. Due to all the risks regular tap water presents, it’s always essential to dechlorinate your tap water before adding it to your tank. If you are asking how you can do this, purchase conditioners that are effective at that.

Another way to ensure your turtle gets clean water is to clean the tank regularly and replace it with fresh water. Turtles spend most of their lives in water and will become dirty quickly. A lack of regular cleaning makes the tank murky and could emit a foul smell.

Such water is likely to carry harmful germs that can make your turtle ill. You should also invest in a powerful turtle-specific filter to remove debris.

How to Make Your Tap Water Safe for Turtles?

Tap water is not safe because it contains chlorine and chloramine. You can get a water conditioner that not only eliminates chlorine but also removes ammonia.

If the turtle tank lacks healthy bacteria, ammonia builds up slowly and makes the water toxic for the turtle.

Wrap Up – How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water?

Most pet turtles spend about 60% of their lives in water and the rest in the land. Usually, turtles spend 8 to 12 hours in the water. They also prefer to bask around the same time per day.

So, what if they have ni water to dive back? Scientists say this can depend on the species, but they can spend around one day to a few weeks. Factors that influence how long they can survive without water are age, the weather, the season, species, and more.

There may be several reasons why a turtle isn’t basking, such as new habitat, low water temperature, illness, and pregnancy. If your turtle shows any abnormal behavior, it’s always safe to inform a vet and seek help.

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