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Vet Talks: How to Care for a Turtle

Vet Talks 5 min read
pet turtle poking out of a little wooden house

At NHV, we meet all kinds of amazing pet parents and pets. And although turtles may not be on the traditional list of pets, such as dogs or cats, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing and dedicated turtle rescuers and guardians. Turtles are lovable creatures that can make a wonderful addition to any family that knows the specialized care they need. To help you get ready before bringing a pet home a new turtle or to learn more about your shelled friend, here are some tips on how to care for a turtle.

But before anyone rushes out and gets a turtle, it’s important to remember that they are long-term commitments. A turtle can live up to 50 years, and some species of turtles can live up to 100 years and so they need a lifetime of specialized care. They are also ‘wild’, and sadly the pet trade of turtles can severely negatively impact their populations and many turtles in the pet trade suffer due to unhealthy conditions. Turtles have been on the planet for over 200 million years, which means that these fascinating creatures roamed the earth at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Housing for A Turtle

Aquatic turtles need to have their own habitat or space, which can be an aquarium or a terrarium.

The size of the terrarium or aquarium must be sufficient for the turtle to have enough space to swim and a dry area to rest. It must have a size of at least 3 or 5 times the length of the turtle. The bigger space, the better living conditions the turtle will have.

Most of the diseases of aquatic turtles are related to their basic needs, such as not providing sunlight in the environment or inadequate feeding.

A pool with enough depth is also important so that they can swim peacefully without colliding with the decoration that the habitat may have. There must also be a dry area above the swimming area where the turtle can dry, have some sunbathe, and rest.

In addition, to help prevent your turtle from developing diseases due to poor hygiene, the water should be kept as clean as possible, and a filter system may help to clean the water. It is also important to add elements in the terrarium such as castles or plants (verify with a specialist which kind of plants are not toxic and adequate to add to the turtle’s environment) and create an original and unique environment.

Turtle Environments: Temperature and Sunlight

The turtle’s environment is particularly important, so we must consider the following:

The water temperature must be warm, between 80° to 98°F (26° – 37°C), and there must be a dry area of the aquarium or terrarium. It is important that the temperature of the water does not vary much with the temperature of the environment since a sudden change is not good for the turtle. Under no circumstances, should a turtle be subjected to temperatures below 5°C or above 40°C.

Sunlight must be accessible to the turtle, and a full-spectrum UV light source is necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D to calcium absorption. It can keep their bones and shell healthy. If you cannot find a good position for the aquarium to receive natural sunlight, you can choose to buy a lamp that simulates the same effect.

Diet – What to Feed a Turtle

It is possible to find turtle food at any pet store; they are specific and nutritional balanced for them. You can also vary their diet by incorporating other ingredients such as raw and low-fat fish, vegetables, crickets, larvae, and even small insects.

If you want to feed any of these foods, ask a veterinarian specialist first who can advise you. If you see that your turtle accepts raw fish, but the turtle does not accept the commercial food that can be found in a pet store, you can mix both and try to give it to the turtle.

If the turtle is small, she/he should be fed once a day, and if he/she is large, she/he should be fed three times a week. Remember that you must remove all the remaining food from their housing to prevent it from becoming excessively dirty.

Turtle with NHV Multi Essentials

The Most Common Diseases of Turtles

Most of the diseases of aquatic turtles are related to their basic needs, such as not providing sunlight in the environment or inadequate feeding.

If a turtle becomes ill and has other turtles in the aquarium, the sick turtle should be separated from the other turtles until it is healed.

Skin: In case the turtle has a skin lesion, it is important to visit the vet that will recommend the correct treatment. The vet usually prescribes an ointment that is water-soluble and helps in healing and does not harm the turtle. NHV All-Clear Ointment may be helpful for turtles suffering from skin disease, bacterial and fungal skin infections.

Shell: The softening of the shell may be due to a lack of calcium and light. Sometimes small spots may also appear on it. It is recommended to increase exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, discoloration of the turtle’s shell may be caused by the presence of chlorine in the water or a lack of vitamins. Finally, if a white layer on top of the shell is observed, it may be because your turtle has fungi, due to excessive humidity or lack of sunlight. NHV Multi Essentials and PetOmega 3 help to fill the nutritional voids and may help to avoid shell problems related to vitamin deficiency. Also, applying all clear ointment on their shell may help to treat the fungal infection.

Eyes: Eye infection is also a common problem in turtles, it is generally seen when their eyes are closed for a long period of time. The cause may be a lack of vitamin A or poor hygiene in the environment, in this case adding vitamins to their diet and increasing hygiene may be helpful. As it is also an infection related to lack of vitamins, NHV Multi Essential along with Ey-Eas may decrease the eye infection.

Respiratory: If it is observed that the turtle secretes mucus from its nose, breathes with its mouth open, and decreases its activity, it is important to move the terrarium to a place and increase the temperature to 25ºC. Resp-Aid may help naturally the turtle’s respiratory system fighting against infection.

Digestion: Turtles can also have constipation due to the diet. If they have a lack vitamin and fiber, they will be prone to constipation. On the other hand, diarrhea may be caused by excess fruit, lettuce, or eating a non-balanced diet. Offering a balanced diet and good quality water are possible solutions. Also, adding Maris may be helpful, as it helps pets suffering constipation.

Anxiety or stress: If the turtle presents a change in his/ her behavior, such as restlessness, move the turtle to a calm place, so that its immune system will not be affected. NHV Lesstress and Matricalm is good support for turtles suffering anxiety and stress.

Egg retention: This happens when the egg breaks inside the turtle. It can be caused by a lack of vitamins or dietary deficiency. In this case, you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible, as it can be life-threatening. In this case, NHV Multi Essentials and PetOmega 3 also may help, as the retention may be related to the lack of vitamins.

Prolapse: Prolapse can be caused when the reproductive system falls or slip out of place. It usually goes back to its place by itself or with help.

If this happens, it is important to talk with your vet.

Turtles can make amazing companions, but these amazing pets, like any other pet, require a lot of love and attention from us.

Do you have questions about the care and well-being of turtles? Leave us a comment below.

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Dr. Nascimento will be hosting her own blog series and sharing her knowledge with our extended NHV family.

Published: July 22, 2020

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