Why Does My Turtle Eat Sand?

Why Is My Turtle Eating Sand? 

If you have used sand as a substrate in the bottom of your tank, it is inevitable that your turtle could swallow a little when he is searching for food.

Whilst eating a little sand will not do him any harm, eating sand regularly and in excessive quantities will certainly  cause impacted bowels in a turtle, which will make him ill

Does My Turtle Need Sand In His Tank?

The ideal covering for the bottom of your turtle tank is a layer of rounded stones/pebbles – with each stone being larger than your turtle’s head.

Stones are the perfect choice.

Stones are good because they are easy to keep clean and do not affect the chemical composition of the tank water – which is very important as this can upset your turtle as turtles are amazingly sensitive.

Having said that, the stones in your tank need to be regularly cleaned. 

Breeders believe that turtles who eat sand are doing so because they are mistaking it for food as they often do this with gravel

Gravel certainly looks really good in a tank but is a real ‘no no’ where turtles are concerned as it can cause problems if they ingest any.

Gravel is also a real trap for old food and other debris which will quickly affect the quality of the water.

Related article you may find interesting – Why does my turtle eat rocks?

As well as being potentially harmful for your turtle to eat, sand is not a good idea in turtle tanks as it can block the water filter. 

VCA  Animal Hospital in Los Angeles,  states in one of its information sheet – 

Avoid sand or gravel as this particulate matter is commonly ingested by turtles leading to gastrointestinal tract obstruction. If stones are used in the tank, they must be washed and cleaned frequently, as they accumulate algae, fecal material, and food debris, making them unsanitary over time’. 

Stones/Pebbles Are The Best Choice

For turtles, stones certainly seem to be preferable as you can ensure your turtle won’t potentially swallow some.

Stones/ large pebbles are functional as well as decorative.

They can serve as a substrate for both aquatic and semi-aquatic species of turtles.

The important point is to check that the stones are too big for your turtle to scoop up in his mouth. 

A pebble/stone is defined as a piece of stone larger than 2 mm which in reality is dangerously small for turtles.

When shopping for stones/pebbles to use as substrate it is best not to go by the description on the packaging but actually look at the size of the stones – the stones should be at least twice the size of your turtle’s head for safety.

What Type Of Sand Is Best?

If you are really confident that your turtle will not try to eat the sand and that it will not block the water filter and you think he might enjoy burying in it, then you are probably still keen on sand. 

It is important to choose a type of sand that will not do your turtle any harm.

You can buy special aquatic sand in your pet store and this is really good because it is totally natural, extremely fine and pH neutral.

An alternative that many pet owners buy is the type of fine sand that is safe for children.

If you do decide to use sand in your tank, you must ensure that it is kept really clean and does not contain any bacteria.

It is quite a laborious task to regularly wash the sand – but it is very necessary to keep your turtle healthy.

How To Keep The Sand Clean?

  • Pour the sand into a bucket. 
  • Pour boiling water on the sand and stir until all the sand gets fully submerged in boiling water. 
  • Drain the sand into a large second bucket and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. 
  • Keep rinsing the sand until the water is running clean. 
  • Carefully place the sand back in the tank.

How Do I Stop My Turtle From Eating Sand?

The only effective way to stop your turtle from eating the sand is to remove it totally from the tank.

The ideal choice for a replacement is pebbles and stones that are washed and larger than your turtle’s head plus a variety of aquarium plants for your turtle to play with and hide behind.

Is Sand Good For Red Eared Sliders?

Red eared sliders are no different from other species of turtles and the risk of using sand in their tank is the same.

Although sand is popular with some breeders, it can cause serious problems so to err on the side of caution, it is best to choose size-able well-washed stones and pebbles.

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