This month we are going to discuss turtles and tortoises. Turtles can be a very popular pet with many people including children, though turtles cannot be sold legally in New Jersey. The term turtle generally refers to those that live in or need access to water frequently. These include red-eared sliders, yellow-bellied sliders, Florida Cooters and Eastern box turtles. Tortoise refers to those that live on land exclusively. They still need water but just not as frequently.
Turtles and tortoises can make very friendly and fun pets, but they require a great deal of work to keep them healthy. They are not as easy to feed and maintain a proper environment as domesticated animals like dogs and cats. All turtles and tortoises need special light bulbs that produce UVA and UVB light as well as heat if they are to be kept indoors. These bulbs should be changed every 6-12 months. It is best to allow access to natural sunlight when the weather is appropriate. Even just 30 minutes twice a week of sunlight will improve pet turtles’ health.
Water turtles should be kept in a large tank which accommodates plenty of movement. The depth should be 4-6 times the shell length of the turtle, and the width should be 4 times the shell length. This requires at least a 50 gallon tank for one red-eared slider. There must be a basking area under the full spectrum light that also provides warmth, and the water temperature should be between 78 and 82 degrees F. Filtration of the water is very critical in water turtles. Filtration should be 2-3 times that of what a fish requires, so a 50 gallon tank would require 100-150 gallons of filtration power.
Feeding turtles appropriately can be challenging. Different species of turtles require vastly different types of food. Some turtles are more carnivorous (eat meat) when they are young and become herbivores (eat vegetables and fruits) as they grow older. It is very important to find out what kind of turtle you have and feed it appropriately. There are many good pellet diets that are good for turtles but should be a portion of their entire diet. Many turtles also enjoy fruits and vegetables but it is important to find out which ones are best for your specific turtle. Most turtles also need calcium and vitamin A and D added to their diet.
One of the most common diseases seen in turtles and tortoises is metabolic bone disease. This occurs when turtles do not have access to proper UV light and/or are fed an improper diet. Soft or abnormally shaped shell and inactivity are the most common signs. Turtles are also prone to Vitamin A deficiency which can cause swollen eyes and ears. We can also see aural (ear) abscesses especially in wild box turtles. It is thought that pesticides cause this.
Turtles can be a very rewarding pet but proper care is challenging. Always do plenty of research before committing to taking care of a turtle. Turtles can live very long lives (in some species over 50 years) and require a lifetime commitment. Wild turtles should never be caught and kept as pets. They are important species in the wild and should be allowed to live in their natural habitat. Similarly, pet turtles should never be released into the wild without careful consideration of their natural habitat.
We love turtles at the Blairstown Animal Hospital. Please contact us with any concerns you have about your turtle and to schedule an appointment.