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Is a turtle a reptile?

Are you considering getting a new pet? If you've thought about bringing a turtle home, you may also wonder what kind of animal a turtle is and how to care for one. Here, our Leighton vets explain whether a turtle is a reptile or amphibian and how to assess your circumstances to determine whether they'd make a good family pet.

Is a turtle a reptile or amphibian?

A turtle is a kind of reptile that can live in either freshwater or saltwater. When we discuss "turtles", we're referring to any reptile of the order of Testudines, including those that reside on land. This order was previously known as Chelonia, so all members of the order are referred to as chelonians. 

Turtles fall into the category of reptiles because they are four-legged vertebrates with a cold-blooded metabolism. They have scales covering their body. In contrast, amphibians have a smooth, water-permeable coat that's free of scales. Turtles have a tough, impenetrable shell to protect their bodies. Their lungs help them breathe life-sustaining oxygen, as is true for all reptiles, including lizards, snakes, and the Tuatara. 

What is it about a turtle that makes it a reptile?

Here is a chart to help you easily learn what makes a turtle a reptile, not an amphibian. 



Animals that dwell on land (tortoises, snakes, lizards); mostly in water (turtles); and on both land and water (alligators and crocodiles) fall into this class. There is no such thing as an immature (larval) stage for reptiles. Caecilians, frogs, newts, salamanders, and toads are in this class; they typically go through an aquatic larval state (e.g. tadpole), followed by a terrestrial adult stage. 
Use their lungs to breathe. Breathe using their gills at the larval stage and with their lungs throughout adulthood. 
Have scaly, dry skin.  Have sooth skin. Adults also use their skin as a secondary breathing organ.
Lay their eggs on land. These eggs are protected by shells.  Typically lay eggs in water. These eggs are surrounded by a jelly-like substance.

What animals are classified as turtles?

There are three different types of turtles in existence today: turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. The primary difference between the three is where they live. While turtles spend most of their lives in water, tortoises stick to land, and terrapins split their time evenly between the two. 

An animal must be cold-blooded, toothless, and have four legs and a bony shell to be classified as a turtle. The turtle's shell is its most distinctive feature, as it has a top and bottom and is connected to both sides of the turtle's body to form a kind of skeleton box. 

Turtles live all over the world, except for Antarctica. They can vary in size dramatically, from as small as four inches to as large as four feet.

Are turtles a good idea for a children's pet?

The truth is that turtles make excellent pets for children, but you must consider if they are the greatest choice for your family. They are fun to watch and require less ongoing maintenance than other pets, such as dogs or cats.

However, contrary to common perception, can be fairly expensive to keep since they require special care to stay alive and well. You'll need to buy a terrarium (likely one that you can fill half with water and half without), and a large one at that, so that the turtle can move about freely. The terrarium will also likely need to be cleaned daily of extra debris and turtle droppings.

As for food, you may need to purchase calcium-enriched turtle food to keep its shell strong. Speak to your vet about what kind of food is right for your turtle.

Avian & Exotic Veterinary Care in Leighton

At All Animal Clinic, we understand the special bond between exotic pets and their owners. We want to help you keep your reptile, rabbit, avian companion as healthy as possible. 

Our veterinary team in Leighton has knowledge and experience in providing dedicated veterinary care for many types of exotic pets, including birds, exotic mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and even wildlife and farm animals. 

We are always happy to answer your questions about preventive care for your reptile or other exotic pet. We're also well-versed in caring for sick pets and administering emergency vet care if required.  

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. If you are concerned about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment.

Are you thinking of getting a pet turtle but would like to learn more about their care? Contact our Leighton vets today to book an exam.

All Patients Welcome

Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Leighton animals. We currently only take pets by walk-in, so bring your pet to us today and let us help ensure their well-being.

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Contact (256) 446-8888