Why Is My Turtle Trying to Escape? (Reasons & How To Fix Them)

Most people prefer adopting turtles as pets since they are calm and docile. When you bring a turtle home, you expect that you’ll create a long-lasting bond with this creature.

However, many pet turtle owners claim that’s not always the case since these shell-carrying creatures keep trying to escape from their enclosure. If you bring a turtle home and all it does is try to escape, you need to figure out what you’re doing wrong. Essentially, turtles will live happily in a habitat that caters to all their needs.

So, if your turtle keeps trying to escape its tank or enclosure even after several months, there are a few things that may be causing it to behave this way. Keep reading to understand the reasons why your turtle keeps trying to escape.

Why Does Your Turtle Keep Trying to Escape?

Although turtles are survivors, they don’t react well to extreme temperatures, poor living conditions, and poor handling. So, most of the reasons they may try to escape may be due to feeding, living conditions, and temperatures.

Below are some probable reasons why your cute and docile pet turtle wants to run away:

1. Small Enclosure or Small Tank

In the wild, turtles are used to vast water bodies where they can swim for hours without any restrictions. Although it’s hard to provide such space in captivity, turtle owners should avoid putting these creatures in tiny tanks or spaces.

When turtles feel like their movement is restricted, they’ll keep trying to get out of their enclosure. Turtles, especially juveniles, love swimming and playing. When you place them in a small tank, their movement will be restricted, and they’ll try at all costs to escape from this space.

When designing or buying a new enclosure for your turtle, the rule of thumb is that every inch of the turtle’s shell needs over 10 gallons of water. Therefore, if your turtle is 5-inch, its habitat should have at least 50 gallons of water.

Often, most turtle owners don’t follow this rule and rely on their intuition when picking a turtle tank for their reptiles. In that case, they fail to offer ample space for exercises and play. This makes the sell-carrying creature to s feel like they are trapped and keep trying and escape now and then.

If your turtle is often trying to escape from its enclosure, this may signify that its habitat doesn’t offer ample space.

2. Poor Water Quality

Turtles live in aquatic habitats such as lakes, rivers, and streams where the water is fresh and clean. To live comfortably and happily in captivity, they need to live in water with the same quality as their original domicile.

Since turtles are messy creatures, they’ll always make their tanks dirty. You need to ensure that the water in your turtle’s enclosure is clean and stays like that. If turtles feel like the tank water has low quality, they will always try to get out and find a more conducive environment.

If you want your turtles to stay put, ensure that you clean their tanks regularly. Investing in a water testing kit is imperative as it helps you know the level of ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite in the water. Additionally, you should change the water regularly.

Often most turtle tanks get dirty because of turtle’s poop, excess food, and algae. Therefore, you need to ensure that the water stays healthy and clean. First, you need to get the best water filter for your tanks to get rid of turtle poop. Additionally, you should inspect the filters and unblock them if they’re clogged with dirt.  

Leaving the water in a turtle’s enclosure to get filthy may be the main reason why your cute friend keeps trying to climb out of the tank.

3. Lack of Food or Poor Diet

One unique thing about turtles is that they’re not pretentious. If they’re not receiving adequate food or proper nutrition, they’ll leave and scavenge for food elsewhere. So, if you’re always catching your docile pet turtle trying to escape, it might be fleeing hunger or trying to find a balanced diet.  

Before you take a turtle home, take time to learn about its dietary requirements. This will help you know when and how much you should feed them. You should ensure that you don’t give your turtle too much of a single nutrient. For instance, excessive protein can lead to pyramiding or make your turtles obese.

Remember that just because your turtle consumes both plant-and animal-based food, this doesn’t mean that it can eat whatever you eat. Your turtle’s diet should incorporate essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Since most domesticated turtles are omnivores, their balanced diet should include vegetables, fish, fruits, dried insects, pellets, and meat.

Ensure that your pet turtle eats its rightful share of food with essential nutrients. This will ensure that it doesn’t spend its free time trying to flee. 

4. Presence of and Exit Spot

Turtles might be slow and docile, but their curiosity is unmatched. If your turtle tank has an opening, be assured that you’ll at one point in time get this creature squeezing itself through this opening. For instance, when creating a turtle’s enclosure, most people leave their tanks uncovered to allow the sun’s warm rays. While this may be a brilliant idea, it leaves an opening that turtles can use to escape.

Every time the turtles are looking up, they’ll start thinking of how they can get out of the enclosure. You must cover a turtle tank to ensure that your pet doesn’t climb out.

However, don’t use glass or plastic covers since these two materials will obstruct UVB rays, which are essential for turtles. Steel mesh covers are preferred since they allow UVB rays and are heatproof. More importantly, they do a fantastic job discouraging turtles from escaping from the tank. 

For turtles kept in outdoor enclosures, inspect the fence or barriers to ensure that there are no exit points. At times, your turtle may try to escape not because they lack or face any challenges but just out of curiosity.  

5. Pregnancy

When a turtle is pregnant, it will do many weird things that you’re not used to. It will refuse to eat, avoid basking, try to dig everywhere, and often try to escape from its enclosure. When your turtle is pregnant, it will find the best place to nest and lay the eggs.

So, when you see your pet turtle trying to get out of the tank when pregnant, this is not necessarily because it doesn’t want to stay in the cage. It’s an indication that they want to lay the eggs in a safe place. Since turtles don’t lay eggs in water, they’ll be looking for areas with piles of leaves and sand where they’ll dig and bury the eggs for security.

The most unfortunate thing is that you can do nothing to help a pregnant turtle calm down. Once you discover that your docile reptile is about to lay eggs, the best thing you can do is to provide a nesting area outside the water. Anything else won’t help the creature in any way.

6. Water Temperature

Being cold-blooded, turtles rely on the surrounding environment to regulate their internal temperature. This is why it’s essential to keep the water temperature at optimal levels.

The water temperature in a turtle tank should range between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius (75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). Nonetheless, turtles can adapt to slightly lower or higher water temperatures. However, if the water temperature is too high or too low, turtles will react by trying to escape from the cage.

Maintaining the correct temperature is vitally essential for turtles. Therefore, you should ensure that the turtle tank has a heater to help regulate the temperature even during the winter season. If your turtle stops trying to escape when you add a heater, then the temperature was the reason behind its relentless quest to try and get out of the enclosure. 

7. Stress and Anxiety

Turtles will try to escape their habitats if the tank or the surrounding areas have too many stressors. Things such as sudden movements, loud noise, and overcrowding can cause distress and lead to turtles seeking a new home.

Naturally, turtles are solitary animals that don’t want to be disturbed by anything. You should ensure that you place their enclosure in a place with less traffic and minimal disturbances. When a turtle’s enclosure is in a place with too much noise or regular movements, they might feel anxious and try to get out.

Conversely, if you place more than one turtle in a tank, they might engage in fierce territorial battles, and the losers will always try to get out and find a peaceful habitat. Additionally, putting your turtle’s cage in a place where dogs and cats can easily access can get the turtle scared whenever these creatures try to poke or get into the enclosure. 

Constant handling and not providing the best living conditions can stress the turtle, making escaping the only solution. Get rid of things that can make your turtle feel stressed or anxious, and you’ll see it stay put without trying to escape.

8. Absence of a Basking Area

Turtles need to spend a few hours every day basking. These docile reptiles are cold-blooded and must alternate between the water and the sun to maintain optimal internal body temperature. More importantly, the sun provides UVB light, which plays a crucial role in synthesizing calcium, vital in bone development.

 At times, new owners fail to recognize the importance of a basking area and forget to include it in the turtle’s enclosure. This makes it challenging for turtles to regulate their internal body temperature. If a turtle’s enclosure doesn’t have a basking area where turtles can warm up and get UVB light, it’s not unlikely that they will try to escape.

Whether it’s a baby turtle, a juvenile, or an adult turtle, it’s vitally essential that you designate a basking area where they can receive adequate UVB and heat for internal thermoregulation.

9. Lack of Exercises

Inherently, turtles are not meant for captivity. They need to explore, hunt and exercise. Since turtle tanks and aquariums don’t provide adequate space to keep their body stimulated, pet turtle owners should allow them to get out of their enclosure, swim in a larger pool, and even wander around the compound. 

Therefore, one of the reasons your turtle may keep wanting to escape is the lack of enough exploration and exercise. While you can try to make a turtle’s enclosure stimulating enough like its original habitat, you should allow it to walk around the compound or swim in a more extensive water body than its tank.

However, don’t forget to supervise your turtle the whole time it’s out of its enclosure as it may decide to leave for good. Yes, turtles aren’t meant for captivity, but you can make their experience more worthwhile by ensuring that they play, exercise, explore and hunt.

What Can You Do to Prevent Your Turtle from Escaping?

1. Fix All Tank Issues

Since most of the reasons turtles keep trying to escape are associated with problems with the turtle tank, you should fix these issues. First, you need to ensure that you get the right tank size for your turtle. Make sure you factor out the turtle’s size even if you bring it home as a hatchling or a juvenile.

Ensure that every inch of your turtle’s shell has at least 10 gallons of water. If your turtle is 6 to 8 inches long, your tank should have at least 60 gallons of water.

Secondly, you’ll need to fix all exit spots in a turtle tank. Often, turtle owners choose to leave the top of the tank open to allow their cute shelly friends to get adequate sunshine. Unfortunately, turtles will always try to escape from this spot. You must close the upper part of the tank with a material that allows UVB rays from the sun.

Additionally, you need to add hiding spots, playing toys, as well as a basking area. If your turtle feels trapped and bored, it will always try to escape. Lastly, ensure that pregnant turtles have a designated area to dig and lay their eggs. Like in the wild, turtles will try to hide their eggs in a place where predators can’t find them. If they don’t find such a place in their enclosure, they’ll definitely try to escape.

2. Keep the Tank Clean

Another reason that makes turtles want to escape is dirty and unhealthy water. Therefore, if you want them to relax and stay put, you need to ensure that their enclosure stays clean at all times. While the water in the turtle tank may look clean to the eyes, it may contain impurities that can’t be seen with bare eyes.

So, the first step to ensuring that a turtle tank is clean is getting a water testing kit. This will help you know the nitrite, ammonia, and nitrate levels in the water. With such information, you’ll know when to change the water in the tank.

With turtles being one of the messiest aquatic creatures, their tanks get dirty faster. You need to add top-quality filters that will help you get rid of turtle poop and the harmful components in the urine. More importantly, you need to maintain a cleaning routine based on the size of your tank. Smaller tanks will need to be cleaned regularly since they accumulate dirt faster than larger aquariums.

You’ll also need to clean the turtles after a few months using a soft brush. This will ensure that they don’t dirty the clean water once you change it. Sprucing up the turtle, its cage and changing the water will help you provide a suitable environment where turtles won’t feel the urge to flee.

3. Get Rid of Stressors

A stressed or scared turtle will always try to flee. You should ensure that your pet turtle doesn’t live in fear or anxiety by providing suitable conditions. Your turtle’s aquarium should be placed away from the road or any noisy place.

 Also, keep the tank away from other pets, such as dogs and cats, and ensure that you don’t pick or touch the turtle without a valid reason. Ensure that you provide a basking area and avoid keeping more than one turtle in the same tank.

4. Provide Adequate Food and Balanced Diet

Turtles and food are a match made in heaven. Therefore, if there’s food scarcity, they won’t hesitate but try to find food elsewhere. Pet turtle owners should ensure that their turtles are fully fed and not just any food; they should provide a balanced diet.

 Giving your turtles a single type of food will fuel their urge to flee. You should ensure that you provide food that supplies all the vital nutrients. Please give them a combination of plant-and animal-based ds, fruits, vegetables, and insects.


Turtles trying to escape is not something new, especially for new owners. However, if this issue continues for several months after the turtle has settled in, it may indicate that there’s something wrong. Often, turtles may try to escape if the tank is small, dirty, and lacks optimal temperature for their survival.

Other reasons that may cause your turtle to try and flee include lack of enough food, stress and anxiety, lack of a basking area, and pregnancy. If you always catch your turtles trying to squeeze themselves in every tiny opening they find, you should check whether this is due to one of the reasons mentioned above. 

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