We have a variety of educational pets at Animal Family Veterinary Care Center.  Miracle, our turtle was hatched in 1999.  That makes her young by Box Turtle standards.  They can live up to 75 years or more.  It may surprise you to learn that turtles have very distinct personalities.   Miracle is very social and loves interacting with people.  Even though Miracle is quite social, many box turtles are not.  Fortunately, Box turtles rarely bite and then it’s only when they mistake a finger for food.

Box turtles get their name from the hinged portion of their shell.  It allows them to pull their legs and head into their shell and close the doors.   This is how they try to protect themselves from predators. Unfortunately, it’s not fool proof.  Crafty birds have learned to drop the turtles from on high to break shells and dogs and raccoons can chew through them.

Box turtles are terrestrial or land based.  That means they spend the bulk of their time on dry land but are usually never too far from a pond.  Pet turtles like a swimming area too.   Unfortunately they aren’t very good at keeping their water clean so it will require daily changing.

Box turtles enjoy a variety of food.  To stay healthy they need a mix of meat, fruits and veggies.  Our Miracle is quite fond of earthworms.  She also likes dog food and meal worms.  We mix in a large variety of greens and fruits as well.  You can buy a commercial turtle food but it should never be the sole source of any turtle’s diet.

Miracle’s home is a glass terrarium that is appointed with rocks, water and cob bedding. Bark or alfalfa pellets may also be used.  Never use sand or cat litter. A minimum size of 36” X 12” is recommended.  

 Heating is a very important part of maintaining a pet turtle’s health.  The ideal is around 85 to 88 degrees F.  Place a heat lamp in one area of the enclosure so your turtle is able to get away from the heat source when they want. Too much heat can be just as deadly as not enough.  Floor heaters and heat rocks are also available but make certain to use them properly. 

Turtles can develop a variety of health problems   Beaks and nails can become overgrown due to lack of foraging and other activities which would wear them down naturally in the wild. Metabolic bone disease and soft shells can develop from either under feeding or a lack of variety in diet.  Remember, a turtle that is fed properly will never develop this problem. Shell rot is another health issue with turtles.  It is caused when bacteria gets between the shell layers either because of damage to the shell or wet, unsanitary conditions.  Turtles can also have internal parasites just like other pets so be sure to have a stool check.  Upper respiratory infections are also common.  They may present with nasal discharge, puffy eyes or both. With severe respiratory distress a turtle may extend its neck and gape.  Obviously any respiratory problems require a visit to the vet as well as a close look at your husbandry. Finally, wounds can occur on the face and legs of your turtle.  If these become infected they will require a trip to the Vet. 

Do turtles carry salmonella?  Yes, some do but not all. Either way, you can greatly minimize your risk by following CDC guidelines.

  • The kitchen sink is for people.  Don’t wash turtle dishes or turtles in it.
  • Clean and disinfect your turtles enclosure regularly
  • Wash your hands after handling your pet
  • No kissing turtles or touching them to your face.
  • Quarantine any new turtles for 6 weeks
  • and, yes, you can have your vet test to see if your turtle is carrying salmonella.

Please visit the CDC site for more complete guidelines.

Hopefully this has wetted your appetite to learn more about turtles.  Remember if you have any more questions, call us or check out our website.