The Turtle Lover's Utopia

Advice Column: Select a Healthy Reptile – Part IV

If you’ve been following the post series on selecting a healthy reptile, you’ve reached the final list!  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.

So far, we’ve covered what to look for in the body of the reptile, in the head, eyes, ears, nose and mouth and the general appearance and movement of the reptile before purchasing.  Lastly, we’ll look at things you should check related to the  head, eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the reptile:


  • A healthy reptile may try to avoid being caught when you or the pet store employee/vendor go into the enclosure. Once in hand, it may try to escape from you. It may musk or defecate on you. It may try to bite your fingers. It will be alert to its surroundings, checking you out as much as you are checking it out, and looking around. This is all normal behavior. A reptile who lays there, unresisting, uninterested in what is going on around it, is sick. While some pre-owned reptiles may relax when being held, they will still appear alert and responsive, to you and to activity going on around you. Apathy and lethargy should not be confused with tameness.
  • A sick baby, juvenile, or adult may still try to avoid being caught and held, and may still try to flee, but will do so with less strength, noticeable once you have them in hand. Once you have held healthy reptiles, the weak muscle tone of a sick one will be hard to miss. A diurnal lizard whose leg or toe muscles tremor or twitch in the absence of any other movement has metabolic bone disease.
  • A possible exception to the “lethargy = sick” rule is if the store or vendor has kept the reptile too cold. They will naturally be sluggish, slow moving and very slowly or non-responsive. Some stores keep them too cold because they don’t know or care. Others do it to keep wild, untamed animals quiet, making them easier to sell to customers who don’t know any better. If the reptile is cold, ask the employee/vendor to warm it up, or skip the store and go elsewhere. If the reptiles have been kept too cold for too long, they are very likely sicker than ones kept properly.
I hope this post series helps you find the right turtle for you and your family!

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