Do Turtles Drink Water? The Science Explained

Turtles are just like any other domestic pet in that they do need to drink water to survive. But how your turtle accesses that water depends on whether they are an aquatic turtle or a box turtle. Read on to learn more about your turtle’s water needs, how to handle water shortages in an emergency, and when to consult your vet.


Do Turtles Need a Drinking Bowl?

Pet aquatic turtles like the red-eared slider should live in an aquarium that is ⅔ water and ⅓ dry basking area. They do not need a separate water bowl, as they drink the water from their habitat.

Pet box turtles or tortoises that live in a dry environment do need a water container to drink from and bathe in. Choose a shallow dish that your turtle can climb in and out of but can’t tip over. You may need to add a special turtle ramp so your pet can access the water easily. Don’t overfill the container—the water level should be at your turtle’s chin when their head is extended from their shell. You’ll want to clean this water dish at least once a day, at a bare minimum.

amazon river turtle closeup on top of a tree branch and against a green background from a water pond
Image Credit: fewerton, Shutterstock

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Water?

Ideally, pet turtles should never be without access to water. However, emergencies and unforeseen circumstances do occur.

How long a pet turtle can go without water depends on their age and overall health. The conditions in the waterless environment—like temperature, direct sunlight, and humidity—also play a role. Going without water for 6 to 8 hours can be harmful and possibly fatal to a turtle.

You can prevent your turtle from being without water by planning ahead. Store extra bottled spring or distilled water in your home in case of a natural disaster, power outage, or damaged water main line. You should also have a spare water-tight container that you could keep or transport your turtle in if needed.

Can I Add Vitamins to My Turtle’s Water?

Your vet may recommend giving your turtle vitamins so they stay healthy. Pet turtles are especially at risk for vitamin A deficiency.

Unless your vet instructs you to, you should not add vitamins to your turtle’s drinking water. Doing so would dilute the concentration of vitamins to an unbeneficial amount. Most vitamins should be sprinkled on or added to your turtle’s food.

sick sea turtle in the water
Image Credit: Kevin Kipper, Shutterstock

Is Tap Water Safe for Turtles to Drink?

The short answer to this question is, maybe. Whether your tap water is safe for your pet turtle to swim in or drink depends on the water source. You’ll need to do your own research and consult with your vet. When in doubt, you can give your turtle bottled distilled water or plain spring water.

Many municipalities in the United States treat their water with chlorine and fluoride. Both substances can be harmful to turtles. However, adding turtle water conditioner to your aquarium or water dish can make it safe for your pet.

If your home’s tap water comes from a private well, it is most likely safe for your turtle to drink and swim in. You should double-check with your vet to see if adding turtle water conditioner is necessary.



All pet turtles drink water. Aquatic turtles drink the water in their tank, while box turtles drink from a water dish. Ask your vet if you need to add turtle water conditioner to your home’s tap water. Pet turtles should never be without access to water. Keep distilled or spring water on hand in case of an emergency.

Featured Image Credit: shymar27, Shutterstock

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