How Big and Deep Should My Box Turtle’s Water Dish Be?


Giving your box turtle access to water is important to health.

Box turtles need regular access to water for soaking
Cropped & enhanced version of photo by Bernard Dupont @ Flickr; licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’ve read up on creating a nice, healthy home for your box turtle (and we hope you have!) you probably know your pet needs water for drinking and to bathe in. You can either give him a bath regularly (every few days to a week) or leave water in his habitat for him to use when he wants to.

Giving him constant access to water is best. Although it does mean you will have to clean it more often.

But either way, you may be wondering just how big his bath should be.

The short answer is: big enough to move around in but shallow enough that he doesn’t drown.

Box turtles can swim, but they’re not very strong swimmers. They get tired easily and can drown if left in deep water for too long.

For Occasional Baths

Any container big enough for your turtle to walk around in and deep enough for a few inches of water will work. Something like a 2.4 gallon plastic storage container, for example.

The depth of the water will depend on the size of your turtle. Basically, make sure she can hold her head above the water. But you don’t have to make it too easy on them. We like to make it deep enough that they can swim, but can also just keep their heads above water when standing.

But our turtles can swim pretty good. And we only do this for short soaks. You don’t want your turtle to have to strain to keep her head above water for too long. So if yours won’t swim, keep the water shallow enough she can stand comfortably.

If your turtle is an escape artist, you may want to use something a little deeper than the storage tub mentioned above. But don’t make the water any deeper. Or put it in the bathtub in case she does climb out, so she can’t go far.

For In-Habitat Water Dishes

For this water supply, you want to use a dish your turtle can get in and out of easily, since the point is letting him use it as he pleases. So you’ll want to use something relatively shallow. Many people like the plastic or ceramic dishes used under flower pots. Or paint trays (new, of course!).

If you use something light like a plastic tray, you might want to weight it down with a couple of rocks. Otherwise, you risk your turtle upending it and making a soggy mess on a regular basis.

Of course, many pet supply companies make reptile bowls you can buy, too. It’s not necessary to buy a special dish like this. But some of them are made to look (kind of) like natural rock. Others fit into a corner. If you like any of those features, by all means, get one of these bowls. They do come in different sizes, so make sure you get the right size!

An Outdoor Box Turtle Pond

If you have an outdoor habitat for your boxie, you can either use a dish as discussed above or, if you have enough room, you can make a little pond for him.

The simplest way to make a pond is just to dig a shallow hole, line it with pond liner (available at hardware stores, at least during spring and summer) and fill with water. Make sure the water is not in direct sunlight all day. It could get too hot for your pet. Also, make sure the sides slope so it’s easy to get in and out of. This kind of set-up will need to be cleaned regularly, preferably daily.

You could even dig different depths and add rocks and plants to make it more interesting. If it’s too big to clean out easily with a hose, you’ll need to use a filter to help keep it clean. This can be a bit more complicated, since you’ll need an area with water deep enough for the filter but without making it dangerous for your pet.

Many turtle parents get quite creative with their ponds, and you can find examples and pictures around the web.

Keep the Water Clean!

If you’re using an in-habitat water dish, you will probably need to clean it on a daily basis. Many box turtles like to poop in their water dish. While you might find this unpleasant, it’s actually easier to clean up poop in the water than in the rest of the habitat.

So whenever you see poop in the water, just lift the dish out carefully and dispose of it. Disinfect the dish, refill with water and put it back. You might want to keep two water dishes so you can just exchange a clean one for the dirty one. This gives you a little extra time to thoroughly clean the dirty one.

Box turtle eating strawberryIf you have a small pond without a filter, hose it out every couple of days at least. You may need to do it every day.

And of course, if you just give your turtle baths every couple of days, clean and dry the container after each bath.


2 thoughts on “How Big and Deep Should My Box Turtle’s Water Dish Be?

  1. Adam

    I thank you for this article because there’s a lot of misinformation about box turtles. People seem to have this weird belief that they’re tortoises and they dob’t like water

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      You’re welcome! Glad you like it.

      It’s true many people don’t realize that box turtles need water. They’re land animals, but always live near a source of water. Of course, some like water more than others. We know one who only takes very short baths. Has no interest in soaking too long. Others will settle in for a nice long soak!

      Much like people, turtles have their own personalities. 🙂


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