How to Play with Your Turtle (Indoors and Outdoors)?

Turtles aren’t exactly like other pets. They don’t require much socialization, and for the most part will be perfectly happy by themselves. That doesn’t mean they don’t need enrichment. A good turtle owner will take the time to play with and care for their pet.

Of course, knowing how to play with a turtle can be difficult. They don’t exactly run about, their little limbs aren’t good for most toys, and it’s almost impossible to read their facial expressions. A bad owner will think it’s not worth the effort, and leave their turtle alone.

If you want your turtle to be as happy as can be, then we’ve put together a guide for how to play with them. Respond to their needs, provide them with enrichment, and this fascinating creature can provide hours of fun.

Indoor Games

Playing with your turtle indoors is all about creating a fun tank environment.

  • Obstacle course. Building an obstacle course for your turtle is a great way to get them active, and it’s fun to watch. Keep it simple, and use natural items to build a basic maze. Lure the turtle in with their favorite treat, and then place it at the end of the course. The turtle will enjoy working for their reward.
  • Empty shells and other play things. Turtles love to play with empty shells and ramps. They can use them to hide, to float, or just to crawl about on. Other good options are sticks and plants. Your turtle will love climbing sticks, and you’ll love watching them.
  • Rummaging/ Hide the food. In their natural environment, turtles have fun digging in the ground. Fill your tank with a layer of gravel substrate. Make it extra fun by hiding some treats for them to dig up.
  • Live food. Putting fish and small creatures in the tank provides the turtle with a  friend and playmate – and a tasty snack. Hunting the fish will keep the turtle’s brain sharp, and make them more active.
  • A place to hide. Hides and caves are fantastic additions to turtle tanks. Your turtle will enjoy crawling all over them, and they can hide when things get stressful.
  • Change the decor. A turtle will spend all day looking at the same thing, so they appreciate the occasional change in decoration. Every couple of months, redecorate the tank and provide your turtle with a fun new environment.
  • Toys. Ping pong balls, rubber ducks, sticks, and logs. These are all potential play things for a turtle. Floating items are particularly good, because they’re so fun to chase after.

Outdoor Games

Although you shouldn’t just let your turtle roam free outside, it is fun to let them out occasionally. Here’s a few games you can try:

  • Paddling pools. Investing in a paddling pool is a wonderful way to get your turtle playing. They’ll enjoy some time in the sunshine, and the larger environment provides them with plenty of things to do. Make sure to consider your turtle’s needs, so give them a place to rest and relax.
  • Foraging. In the wild, turtles often have to hunt far and wide for their food. At home, you can give them an opportunity to stretch their legs (and minds) by letting them forage in the garden. Be sure to keep a close eye, as turtles can burrow and hide. 
  • Turtle racing. If you have more than one turtle, or know a friend with a turtle, try racing them. Make a small runway for your turtles, using sticks to create a barrier. Place a treat at the end of the runway, and watch them go. Turtle racing may not make it into the Olympics, but it’s still a joy to watch.

Toys for Turtles

Turtles don’t really need a lot to play with, but there are some things you can give them to brighten their day.

  • Empty shells and rafts. Turtles love empty shells! They enjoy playing with them, crawling on them, and moving them about.
  • Floating logs. Turtles love to climb, but they don’t enjoy rolling over. Floating logs are weighted, so the turtle can clamber on top without rocking about.
  • Sticks and plants. The tank should be filled with things to satisfy your turtle’s curiosity. Sticks and plants mimic the natural environment, and give them something to explore.
  • Gravel or dirt. Digging and foraging is a natural part of the turtle’s lifestyle. A simple layer of gravel substrate gives them a new opportunity to explore and play.
  • Hides and caves. A cave or hide is an absolute must for a turtle tank. They need a place to retreat to when things get stressful. 

Things to Remember

We all want to keep our turtles happy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending extra time with them. Turtles aren’t dogs, they have their own unique needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to get your turtle to play.

  • Avoid handling your turtle too much. They prefer to be watched, rather than touched. If you need to pick your turtle up, do it gently to avoid scaring them. A turtle may bite when upset, so it’s better for everyone to respect their space.
  • Never put your turtle on its back, and never pull the tail. This can hurt them.
  • Don’t expect them to learn many tricks. These games should be engaging for the turtle, rather than just fun for owners to watch. If you’re constantly trying to teach the turtle new things, it will only get stressed out.
  • Don’t force your turtle out of its shell. If your turtle doesn’t want to play, then leave it alone.
  • Stay alert if outside. Turtles like to burrow, and they can be quite the escape artist. Watching your turtle keeps it safe, and you stay aware of any distress.

Final Thoughts

Turtles don’t need, or want, a lot of playtime. However, they do need an environment that keeps them entertained. Provide your turtle with games indoors, and some time outdoors. 

Playing keeps your turtle mentally sharp, and physically active. Incorporate the occasional game into your routine, for a happy pet.