The Turtle Lover's Utopia

Advice Column: Select a Healthy Reptile – Part II

Last week, we started a post series on selecting a healthy reptile.  With the holidays fast approaching, many parents will be looking at giving their kids pets as gifts and turtles are a very popular first pet. I hope this guide will help those out there as a guideline of what to look for when picking up a new reptile for the house.

If you haven’t read the first part of the series, you can catch the list of what to look for in a reptile’s body before purchasing.  This week we’ll start by looking at things you should check related to the head, eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the reptile:


  • Are the eyes bleary, weepy, crusted? Possible respiratory infection, eye inflammation/infection, or mite infestation.
  • Is it gaping (breathing with mouth open)? If the enclosure is not too hot for the species, and it is not a lizard giving an open-mouth threat, it is a sign of a respiratory infection.
  • Is the nose free of wet or dried mucous, or is it “runny”? (Note: if salty deposits are present, is this normal.) Bubbly or dried mucous indicates respiratory infection; requires veterinary care. Runny nose and/or eyes indicates respiratory infection.
  • Is the interior of the mouth pale or grayish pink? Stringy, ropey, or sheeting mucous? Small yellowish, whitish or greenish patches in gums, tongue or roof of mouth? (Gently pull down on the dewlap to open the mouth) Systemic infection causing secondary mouthrot; requires veterinary care.
  • Is the lower jaw swollen out equally on both sides? Indicates probably metabolic bone disease.
  • Are their any swellings near the ears? Indicates systemic infection and abscesses.
  • Are the eyes swollen? Could indicate respiratory infection, hypothermia, or, in less frequent cases, vitamin A deficiency.
  • Are there any lumps or swellings on the face, neck, or dewlap? (Note: large sexually mature male iguanas often have large fleshy jowls surrounding the large subtympanic scale and soft swellings on the top of their heads–both of which are normal and healthy; tegus may have fleshy jowls below and caudal to their ears.) Swellings, hard or soft, may be infected abscesses; requires veterinary care.

Next week, we’ll look at general appearance, movement and other things related to selecting a healthy turtle or tortoise…

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