I've been reading a lot about impaction in reptiles. Various articles have suggested alternatives that prevent impaction in reptiles, but they've all been about land reptiles. So far all substrate I know of for turtles carry with them the possibility of impaction.

I do not feed my turtle in the aquarium, however I do sometime drop a carrot peel, which eventually sinks after being soaked. Sometimes I see my turtle scavenging for the carrot near the substrate and I fear that one day it swallows some. Even if their is no food in the tank, my turtle will still search for food.

Is their any specific kind of substrate that is fool proof against impaction? If not then what is the most appropriate substrate for a turtle? And if the risks of impaction are unavoidable then how much is the substrate actually important for turtles?

Update: I removed the substrate completely and put some rocks, as I saw my turtle eating one of the small rocks then spitting it out , I still suspect it might have ate some. I kind of feel it's having a harder time floating, I just hope it didn't and if it did it won't affect it and it'll just be excreted.

1 Answer 1


Realistically, there is always a risk for impaction when a substrate is present. The risk is highest when the substrate is small rocks that can fit in the turtle's mouth, however, there is an exception when the rocks are large and cannot fit in the turtle's mouth.

Admittedly, the smaller rocks are more pleasing to the eye; the bigger rocks are just... clumsy. So a more pleasing alternative that carries with it a very small risk of impaction should be pursued. You can use sand, as long as it's hygienic, since it does also have a low chance of resulting in impaction. But there is an even better alternative: fine crushed coral, or fine calcium carbonate, and aragonite sand, are great choices. Not only do they have a very low probability of causing impaction, but they also provide calcium for your turtle if swallowed. The particles are so fine that the turtle's digestive system should be able to deal with them, and they shouldn't be able to block the intestines, unless swallowed in very large amounts, which typically doesn't happen.

There are also arguments about the veracity of impaction itself. Many owners report using small gravel for years without any noted effects, and the cases of impaction are very minute. Some say impaction is anecdotal. Many owners report noticing some gravel in the turtle's intestines when taken to a vet and x-rayed, but they still insisted that the turtle's habits did not change, and that most of the gravel swallowed were removed (pooped out). You can read more on this forum: http://www.turtleforum.com/forum/upload/?showtopic=142631

Basically, the cases of impaction are very rare, but the risks are definitely there and should be avoided. Substrate will make the turtle feel like it's at home, and this should be the aim of any turtle habitat setup. You can still avoid a substrate completely, unless the turtle is a substrate dependent turtle like the softshell turtle. However, I'd recommend to stick to crushed coral or aragonite sand, as they minimise the risks of impaction while keeping the looks and providing a discernable amount of calcium. Aragonite sand is thought to be safer, since the particles are smaller, for more info follow this link: http://www.reefcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1551529.

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