How to Select and Buy a Pet Red-Eared Slider

how to buy a red-eared slider

Red-eared sliders are some of the most inexpensive pet reptiles sold in stores. However, due to the large numbers of turtles that end up unwanted and put up for rehoming or adoption, we at ReptiFiles strongly recommend that if you are considering a pet red-eared slider, to acquire one “secondhand” from your local classifieds or a reptile rescue.

You can also buy red-eared sliders from professional breeders. This is your best bet if you have your heart set on a particular morph such as albino, pied, pastel, or leucistic. “Morphs” are reptiles that have been bred to have an appearance that is different from the wild type, which is referred to as “Normal.” Morphs can be very pretty, but keep in mind that morphs are significantly more expensive than naturally-colored animals, and may be more prone to health problems.

Another thing to keep in mind is size. While baby turtles are awfully cute, in the US it is illegal to purchase turtles under 4” diameter unless you have a special permit. This is to increase their chances of survival as pets, as well as to prevent accidents such as being put in a small child’s mouth (you may laugh, but it used to be a real problem). If you’re at a pet store or visiting a vendor at an expo and they’re selling turtles less than 4” diameter, that means they’re operating illegally and probably have shady practices in other aspects of their business.

You can also buy red-eared sliders in-store or online. Avoid large-scale dealers, as these turtles were raised on turtle farms or wild-caught, and their health will likely be questionable. Also resist the temptation of turtles sold by street vendors or offered as prizes at a carnival.

Buying In-Person

If you are buying a red-eared slider in-person, you are most likely at a pet store or reptile expo. In this setting, try to get a look at the animal up close and watch it for a few minutes so you can gauge its overall health:

  • Look at more than one animal so you can compare them.
  • Is it alert, watching you and its surroundings?
  • Are the eyes clear and open?
  • Are the eyes swollen at all? (bad)
  • Are there lumps where the turtle’s ears should be? (bad)
  • Does the turtle seem to move easily?
  • Does it seem to have trouble diving? (bad)
  • Is the top and bottom of the shell smooth?
  • Are there any unusual light or dark spots on the shell? (bad)
  • Do the growth rings look even and smooth?
  • Are there any open wounds? (bad)
  • Does the shell appear broken anywhere? (bad)
  • Does the body between the shell seem sunken at all? (bad)
  • Does the turtle feel relatively heavy when picked up?
  • If you pull gently on one of the legs, does it retract quickly and strongly?

Also take a moment to examine its enclosure:

  • Is there both a heat source and UVB?
  • Is the enclosure generally clean?
  • Is the glass clean?

Clean enclosures usually indicate that the animal is generally well cared-for.

Buying Online from a Breeder

Whenever possible, buy from a small breeder who specializes in red-eared sliders, not a big-box reptile distributor. The narrower their focus, the more likely you are to receive a healthy, high quality animal. Some questions to ask yourself as you evaluate the breeder:

  • Do they provide plenty of information in the listings for each available animal?
  • Do they offer a live-arrival guarantee?
  • Do they offer a health guarantee?
  • Do they have a DOA (dead-on-arrival) policy?
  • Do they have a good reputation in the reptile community?

Some questions to ask about the turtle:

  • Does s/he have a good appetite?
  • When was the last time it ate, and how much?
  • Have they had any past health issues?
  • Do you have proof of a clear parasite check from a veterinarian for this animal?
  • (If adult female) Has she ever been with a male?

Of course, buying a red-eared slider directly from a breeder often means that you have to pay more, but it’s worth the extra money to get a healthy animal. Also, buying online means that you will have to pay for overnight shipping — in the US, that’s usually around $50-$75.

NOTE — If you have other turtles in your collection, and especially if you plan to add your new red-eared slider to a pond with other turtles, you will need to quarantine your turtle to prevent it from accidentally passing diseases to the rest of your collection.


  • Whenever possible, “adopt, don’t shop”!
  • Be careful about who you buy from.
  • Ask questions before buying.
  • Quarantine new turtles for at least 3 months.
albino red eared slider
Albino morph red-eared slider