Picking out a new toy for your pet can be one of the most fun things you do for them. While we can picture the excitement of a dog or a cat, most people aren’t aware that turtles love toys just as much.
Though turtle toys look different than the toys we typically get our mammal friends, the enrichment they provide is no less important. In this article, we will be discussing all of the enrichment and toy options available for your freshwater aquatic turtle.
The Importance of Enrichment
Enrichment is the act of improving or enhancing the quality of life of an animal. Enrichment objects and activities are important for animals in captivity because they help them stay happy and healthy.
There are documented cases or turtles displaying signs of depression or stress when placed alone or in a scarce habitat. Some of the signs that a turtle is stressed or depressed include a lack of appetite, lethargy, unprovoked panic attacks, or distressed swimming patterns.
Depression and stress are not only bad for your turtle’s mental health; they can influence your turtle’s physical health as well. Turtles that suffer from stress or depression are more open to infection and illness.
The best way to fight depression and stress in your turtle is through play. Surprisingly, turtles are very similar to toddlers in how they play. When creating enrichment opportunities for your turtle, it’s best to follow guidelines similar to those that you would use for a child:
- Rotate enrichment objects to keep your turtle from getting bored
- Make sure toys are big enough that your turtle can’t swallow them
- Interaction with you or other turtles is important for enrichment and development
Enrichment objects for turtles can be broken into several distinct categories, each discussed further below.
Despite how much turtles love toys, there are not many turtle-specific toys on the market. Therefore, it is up to you, the turtle owner, to get creative.
Turtles all have unique personalities and will therefore have their own preferences on toys. When choosing toys, pay attention to the color (yes, turtles do have favorite colors), shape, type, and texture of their favorite toys to help you focus your future toy purchases. For example, my turtle loves red toys and prefers toys that are shaped like a turtle.
In general, we recommend using the following toys with your freshwater aquatic turtles:
- Floating Toys: Toys that float, such as ping pong balls and rubber duckies, are great additions to an aquatic turtle tank. Your turtle will enjoy pushing the floating toys around and attempting to submerge them.
- Plastic Kids Toys: Small plastic toys, such as those found in old fast food kids meals, are the perfect size for turtle fun. Your turtle will love having toys that it can pick up and move around. Just make sure that there aren’t any pieces that can come off and be consumed.
- Treat Balls: You can easily repurpose dog treat balls as turtle treat balls. Filling these small balls with leafy foods like lettuce or cabbage will give your turtle a fun, long-term foraging project.
- Aquarium Decorations: The bright, whimsical decorations of fish aquariums can double as exciting toys for turtles. Like the plastic kid’s toys, these decorations can make the perfect enrichment objects to entice your turtle into elaborate games.
The most important consideration when adding enrichment objects to your tank is to make sure that they won’t harm your turtle. Ensure all objects are cleaned thoroughly with filtered water and do not contain chemicals that are toxic to your turtle.
As a rule of thumb, only put items in your turtle tank that would be safe for toddlers or fish. And remember- it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Enrichment through Interaction
Another way turtles can find enrichment is through their interaction with other animals. This can include other turtles, fish or other animals in their tank, or even you.
When you interact with your turtle, it is important to first determine whether or not your turtle enjoys being touched. Some turtles like to keep their own personal bubble, while others will enjoy having their shell rubbed or their feet lightly brushed.
Just remember- turtles can feel things on their shells the same way you can feel things on your fingernails. Make sure any interactions you have with them are gentle.
You can still provide enrichment through interaction, even if your turtle likes to keep its space. Try wiggling your fingers outside of the tank to raise their curiosity, or letting your turtle chase you around the house.
Exterior Environment Enrichment
Your turtle will spend a good portion of their time inspecting the world beyond their tank. Rotating the decorations you have on the outside of your tank can help maintain your turtle’s curiosity while also giving them a sense of security.
If your turtle is especially adventurous, they may also enjoy leaving the tank. If you remove your turtle from the tank, make sure you never leave them unsupervised. They may be slow, but they disappear quickly when your back is turned.
Internal Environment Enrichment
Inside the tank, you can provide your turtle with enrichment using just the habitat:
- Gravel: Turtles are natural diggers, and they will get endless enjoyment from shifting through their substrate. Make sure that the rocks at the bottom of your tank are large enough that they can’t eat them, but small enough that they can move them around.
- Floating Logs: Floating logs are great for giving your turtles a place to bask while also providing enrichment. Balancing on the log is stimulating while playing on the poles below the log can be entertaining.
- Caves: Caves provide turtles with a sense of security while also bringing out their sense of mischievousness. Turtles will enjoy foraging in the caves and even hiding toys and treats inside.
While eating is necessary, it doesn’t need to be a chore for your turtle. Giving your turtle a diverse diet can make daily meal times just as exciting as the toys in the tank. When choosing enrichment foods, consider supplementing the following into your turtle’s diet:
- Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and veggies with different colors and textures will offer great stimulation for your turtle. Some of the best treats for the physical and mental health of your turtle include tomatoes, strawberries, and lettuce.
- Live Food: Juvenile turtles need a healthy blend of meat and vegetables to stay strong. Live foods, such as shrimp, fish, insects, and tadpoles, can provide your turtles with hours of entertainment as they hunt.
- Foraging Food: Food that falls into the substrate of your tank, such as dead mealworms or dried shrimp, will allow your turtle to dig and forage like they would in the wild. Just make sure you are vacuuming your tank regularly so that the food doesn’t remain in the substrate for too long.
- Floating Food: Floating foods that are hard for your turtle to bite and hold will entertain them for hours as they chase the food around the tank. In addition to naturally-floating foods, you can also use specifically-designed turtle treats, such as the Zilla Turtle Chasers or Zoo Med Turtle Bone.
There is no one correct way to provide your turtle with the enrichment they need. If you pay attention to what your turtle is telling you, focus on providing several different types of enrichment, and never stop giving your turtle the attention they seek, you can help your turtle stay happy and healthy.