How Long Can a Turtle Go Without Water?

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Steward.

Home » Blog » How Long Can a Turtle Go Without Water?

Turtles make great pets because they are more low-maintenance compared to other animals. However, if it’s not in its natural habitat, how long can a turtle go without water? For this guide, we’re going to discuss how long turtles can survive without water, including the factors that may influence endurance.

How Long Can a Turtle Go Without Water?

Healthy adult water turtles can go about a week without drinking water. They can go up to a month outside the water tank if there’s access to drinking water. However, box turtles can only survive without water for 12-24 hours as they need constant access to water for drinking and wading.

While turtles can thrive on land, they still need water to hydrate and regulate their bodies. Regardless of age, they get weaker the longer they are out of the water. This is why you need to consider aspects such as your turtle’s species, living conditions, and even the climate. 

Turtles can be out of water for up to 7 days because they have natural mechanisms to help them survive.

Hand holding a turtle


Basking or sunning means turtles need to dry out and absorb essential nutrients from the sun. Turtles may need to bask for 2 to 8 hours a day, which is just enough time for them to go without drinking water.

Sunning helps regulate temperature and improve metabolism. Likewise, drying out their shells prevents moisture from harboring bacteria and infections.

However, turtles still need to return to the water within 30 days because they must hydrate and support internal organs. Furthermore, water provides turtles with better mobility, allowing them to exercise by swimming.


Hatchlings and juveniles in captivity can only survive without water for about 3 to 5 days. Younger turtles haven’t fully developed yet, so they won’t have as much stored energy and fats to use. 

Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and humidity are also essential elements in determining how long your turtle can live without water. The hotter the temperature, the less time a turtle can go without drinking water. 

Heat can cause stored water from the body to evaporate quickly. It’s crucial that water turtles drink water within 7 days, and box turtles drink water within 24 hours. Otherwise, they may succumb to rising temperatures.

More than that, turtles know that when it’s too hot for them, they can rely on water to cool off. In contrast, humidity can help turtles endure not being on the water longer because their bodies and shells can absorb moisture in the air.

Turtle swimming in the waters


Brumation refers to the hibernation of reptiles. For turtles, it’s a time to slow down their metabolic rate, especially when they go on resting periods during winter. While this usually occurs on wild turtles, knowing how brumation works can help your pet, even in a temperature-controlled environment.

During brumation, your turtle’s breathing rate drops dramatically, causing its metabolism to slow down. It would rely on stored energy and uptake oxygen from water, so it’s best not to take your turtle out of the water for more than a month.

How Long Can a Box Turtle Go Without Water?

A healthy box turtle can survive without water for 12 to 24 hours. They need more access to water for hydrating and soaking.

To care for your pet, put a water-filled dish or a shallow container. It should be large for wading yet shallow enough that your pet can easily climb in and out. This ensures your box turtle has enough water without the risk of drowning.

What Happens When a Turtle Go Without Water for Too Long?

Being semi-aquatic animals, turtles can spend some time on land, yet they need to drink again within a week or return to the water tank in a month to recover. If they spend time on the ground longer than that, they may suffer from severe health conditions.

  • Digestion problems: Turtles can’t produce saliva, so they need water to swallow and digest food. Additionally, turtles don’t have teeth, which is why they need water to help push food down the throat.
  • Closed or sunken eyes: Severely dehydrated turtles may develop closed or sunken eyes, as well as dimpled corneas.
  • Weight loss: A turtle’s weight also consists of the water in its tissues. Your pet may start to lose weight if it doesn’t drink water within a week.
  • Poor muscle tone: A turtle may suffer from poor muscle tone if it doesn’t return to the water in a month. If you notice that your pet turtle can’t withdraw its legs quickly into its shells, or do so sluggishly, I can examine your turtle for potential health problems.
  • Wrinkled skin: While some species have rough skin, a turtle’s skin should lie smoothly against the muscles, except on creased parts, like the insides of the elbow.

If you notice signs and symptoms due to lack of water, it’s best to consult our clinic for their health and wellness examinations and determine the appropriate medication.

How to Best Hydrate a Pet Turtle

To ensure your pet water turtle remains hydrated, make sure not to leave it without drinking water for more than 7 days. Your turtle can spend time on land for 30 days if there’s access to water.

Turtle swimming in the sea
  • Fill your aquarium with water. A good rule of thumb would be 60 to 80 gallons.
  • Dechlorinate tap water before putting it in your turtle’s tank.
  • Regularly replace a portion of the tank’s water with fresh water.
  • Clean the tank regularly, as murky water may harm your pet.
  • Turtles are cold-blooded animals, so they need well-regulated tank temperatures to cool off. The ideal water temperature ranges from 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than that, take time to consult with me to monitor and improve your pet’s well-being.

How Long Can Pet Turtles Go Without Eating?

While it depends on the species and age, pet turtles may survive without food for 2 weeks. Meanwhile, adult and healthy turtles may go without eating for 150 days during hibernation. However, this is only possible if they have access to water and a healthy amount of light.

Which Turtle Species Make Good Pets?

Red-eared sliders, musk turtles, painted turtles, and mud turtles are among the best ones for first-time owners. It’s vital that you do your homework first and determine what kind of turtle would suit your budget, living conditions, and capacity to care.


Water turtles can survive without drinking water for 6-7 days, whereas box turtles can only go without water for a day. However, the exact duration of how turtles can go without water depends on the species, age, health, temperature, and living conditions.