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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:

Behavior

  • 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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Advice Column: Select a Healthy Reptile – Part III

Welcome to Part III of a four-part 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.

So far, we’ve covered what to look for in the body of the reptile and in the head, eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the reptile 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:

General Appearance/Movement/Other

  • Can you feel the reptile resist you as you move its limbs? Weakness or shakiness indicates a severely debilitated or sick reptile. If a lizard or turtle, it may be suffering from calcium deficiency. In snakes, especially boas and pythons, it could be inclusion body disease. If it is a boa or python, I strongly suggest you not buy any boa or python from that store/breeder/vendor. Wash thoroughly and change your clothes before handling anyone else’s boas and pythons and before touching any of your boas, pythons, or their enclosures.
  • Are there any black, dark reddish brown, or bright orange dots (mites) moving around the snake’s or lizard’s body? Look especially carefully around the ears, armpits, and along the neck and dorsal crest on lizards, and under the belly scales and under the chin and neck on snakes. Indicates overall poor care and lack of concern in the store and possibly weakened and sick lizard.
  • Do the legs pull away from you strongly when you gently tug on them? A healthy chelonian will firmly pull the limb away from you; a sick one will pull more weakly, or may not react at all.
  • Is the body extremely wrinkled, dull looking? Dehydrated. May also be a sign of improper environmental conditions preventing the snake or lizard from shedding.
  • When you hold it, can you hear a clicking or wheezing sound when it breathes? This is another sign of respiratory infection.
Next week, we’ll look at the behavior of  a turtle when selecting one for purchase…

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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:

Head/Eyes/Ears/Nose/Mouth

  • 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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Advice Column: Select a Healthy Reptile – Part I

Normally on Mondays, I run the turtle or tortoise video posts. I thought we’d take a break for the month of November and bring back the Advice Column posts from way back when. With the holidays fast approaching, many parents will be looking at giving their kids pets as gifts. 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’ve ever walked into a pet shop to purchase a turtle for educational purposes, they probably looked all the same. It’s hard picking a healthy pet when you don’t know what to look for. To make your job easier in picking a healthy, happy turtle, you should really take the time to inspect the turtle you want to take home.

Since the list of what you should look for can be fairly long, I’ve made this a four-part post. This week we’ll start by looking at things you should check related to the body of the reptile:

Body

  • Is the skin clean, clear, firm, free of scratches and bites? Bites and scratches may lead to infected abscesses later on.
  • Is the belly free of burns? Burns may heal, but the skin may, from then on, always be sensitive to bottom heat.
  • Is the belly free from ground-in feces? Feces on skin and claws indicate an unsanitary environment and probably a weak and sick animal. Feces on the back of a reptile may indicate a very sick one who is too weak to get out from under stronger cagemates.
  • Is the vent free of dried feces and urates? Presence indicates a weak, and possibly parasite- and protozoan-loaded reptile.
  • Are the body, limbs, and tail free of lumps and bumps and swelling other than the joints?Abscesses, cysts, and broken bones require veterinary care and treatment.
  • Are the back legs shaped normally for that species, or is there a large, hard knot in both thighs? One hard, swollen leg may be a broken bone; both similarly swollen is likely to be severe calcium deficiency.
  • Is there plenty of flesh between the neck and forearms, or is there a deep recess on both sides of the neck? Deep recesses indicate a starved chelonian.
  • Is the shell firm and without defects? Soft shells indicate metabolic bone disease. Defects indicate possible shell infection due to being kept in unsanitary conditions; there may be a systemic infection, as well.
Next week we’ll look at what you should check for in the  head, eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the reptile…

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Get the Complete Turtle Guide Book!

I know many of you come here looking for advice regarding caring for your turtles and tortoises. It just so happens I found an excellent care book online called the Turtle Guide Book. The video above shows an overview of the book. The chapters include:

* Is a Turtle the Right pet for you?
* Common Turtle Profiles
* Getting Started with your Turtle
* Ongoing Care for your Turtle
* Breeding Turtles (something I have no idea about on this website)
* Looking After your Turtles Health
* Turtle Behaviour and Activity
* Training a Turtle
* Summary
* Best Buys
* Turtle Quiz
* Useful Turtle Links

You learn lots of information about caring for turtles and tortoises and all it takes is 30 minutes of your time. Go get more information on the Turtle Guide Book!

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Pet Turtle Care: How to Clean Turtle Shell

One of our readers asked us last week:

“I have a baby red ear she is only about a year old and she had a really soft brittle shell for a awhile . I have since been treating her like the vets have said and it is getting better , but now her shell is growning very dark green moldy fuzz all over . Should i be worried? And what could I do different?”

If you asked us before, we would have said to cleaning the turtle’s shell with a soft toothbrush, but this video from Expert Village says you don’t even have to. Go figure.

Want your photos or videos to be included on the blog? Join our Flickr group, Turtletopia, for a chance to get added and to see more turtle and tortoise related photos & videos!

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Advice Column: Can a red eared slider survive winter in a pond in NY

Question from Colleen:

My mother has a red eared slider who is about 8 months – 1 yr old. She recently has become ill which makes it difficult for her to care for her turtle. My sister has a beautiful pond in her backyard. We live in Utica NY. Can Red Eared Sliders stay outside in our climate?

Colleen,

Red-Ear Slicer 2 by Kyle Petersen on Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Kyle Petersen

Red eared sliders can be kept outside. However, for the winter months that needs to be reconsidered carefully.

I’m not familiar with the seasonal climate of Utica, NY, but I suspect that a backyard pond would fully freeze, from top to bottom, during the winter months. Since red eared sliders that do hibernate (because it is actually not a requirement for a captive red eared slider to hibernate, nor is it recommended) would need a pond that has a thick, leafy and muddy bottom and is several feet deep in order to do so. I don’t believe your sisters pond would provide this, making it an uninhabitable place for the red eared slider. In general, you’ll find that most people bring their red eared sliders indoors during winter months.

My recommendation to you? Contact the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society to see if they have a program where they can take in captive turtles that can no longer be cared for by their owners. If they can’t help you, I’m sure they can at least point you in the right direction.

Good luck!

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Advice Column: What To Do With Turtle On Doorstep

Question from Mr Turtle Head:

What do I do when a turtle sits outside in front of my door?

Mr Turtle Head,

As it turns out, that turtle is probably on its way to its nesting area and saw your doorstep as a nice safe basking spot at the exact moment he/she wanted to take a rest. (Take heart…it means your home is very welcoming!)

While in general, you can simply pick up a turtle by getting a firm grasp of their shell on both sides of their body and moving them to a safe area in the direction they were already pointing, you do need special instructions if the turtle happens to be a snapping turtle.

Snapping turtles come in two variations: Common Snapping Turtle and Alligator Snapping Turtle. They are equipped with extra long necks that allow them to reach around and to their sides as far back as the middle of their body, if not more. So it is *very* easy for you to lose a finger or get a really nasty cut if the snapping turtle is not treated with respect.

Here is a great video that can show you how to…somewhat safely…move a snapping turtle along.



(Notice how this turtle is already poised in attack mode with its mouth open…scary!)

Good luck!

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Advice Column: There are little white worms swimming in the tank…

Question from Luther:

I can see little white worms swimming in the tank. Do i need to treat the RES and the tank?

Luther,

Planaria - Little White Worms - School book diagram
Photo Courtesy of câmara escura

Sounds like you may have Planaria in your tank. Planaria are flatworms, related to flukes and tapeworms. They are quite small and hairlike. Take a good look at them and you may see a hammerhead shape on one end with eyes.

Bottom line, they are not harmful to turtles.

However… they are an indicator that the tank has a problem. Either you are feeding your turtle (You do have a turtle, right? Making an assumption here since you didn’t mention, but you are asking this question on a turtle website) too much, or you are not cleaning your tank enough.

I say this because Planaria require a food source, which means there must be excess food wastes in the tank to support them.

If you want to get rid of them, you should:

  • Clean your tank thoroughly. Really get into the gravel as that is where the worms find food. Remove dead plants and other waste.
  • Cut back on the amount you feed your turtle. Excess food not eat becomes part of the waste and can sustain the Planaria as well.
  • Finally, once the tank is clean, make sure you keep it clean. Change the water frequently and do regular maintenance. A clean tank = no Planaria!

Good luck!

Advice Column: Red-Eared Slider is not eating…why?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I said I would be starting an advice column on the first and third Friday of every month. Now, I know your thinking I’m stupid, because here it is a Monday and I’m getting ready to post my first advice question.

Well, as it goes, I decided that Friday’s were just too busy for me and have changed the date to Monday’s. I have an irregular work week and Monday’s happen to be a day off for me, so this works quite well.

After my announcement, two girls logged into the Georgia Public Library System thought they would be funny by sending me questions regarding how to make turtle soup and how to get rid of turtles with suggestions of shoving them up one’s butt. Don’t hold your breathe on my answering those questions, ladies. 😉

That aside, here is the first question of the first column. Woohoo!

From Geannine

I have a red eared slider, approx. 10 years old.  She has stopped eating.  No matter what we try, pelletes for aquatic turtles or lean meat, even small fish. she refuses to eat.  I’ve also noticed some small soft brown spots on her shell.  Can you help?

Geannine,

If you still have your turtle and she hasn’t improved, I would recommend you take her to a veterinarian who is trained in reptiles immediately. While the lack of eating can be due to many things, the brown spots sound like the onset of shell rot. Shell rot is caused by organisms that penetrate the shell through scratches or abrasions. Once in, they start to eat away at the shell and eventually at the body of the turtle, leading to serious infections and potentially death.

As for the lack of eating, that maybe be related to the potential shell rot. Again, here it would also be good for you to get a fecal sample and have a veterinarian analyze it.

The easiest way to get a fecal sample is to put your turtle in a plastic container with breathing holes and a centimeter of water over night. If your turtle likes to roam, make sure you put a lid on the container otherwise you might be in for a game of turtle hide and seek in the morning. In the morning, you should have a fresh fecal sample to take to your veterinarian. (Fecal samples should not be older than 4 hours. You will want to keep them refrigerated as well.)

Now, to answer the actual question, here are several reasons your turtle might not be eating:

  • Need a change in food (shrimp is always good for getting them out of their rut)
  • What season is it? Turtles will generally get more lethargic when it’s time to hibernate. (Think winter for your region, just like all other creatures that hibernate.)
  • Is the water warm enough? If it’s too cold, their body might get confused and think it’s time for hibernation. They can stop eating if they’re too cold.
  • Is your turtle stressed? They experience stress just like humans, so if they’ve been traveling recently, get handled a lot, or have just gotten a new friend in their tank, they might be stressed. Give them some time and peace…they should be back to normal soon enough.
  • Is your turtle sick? Lop-sided swimming, nasal discharge or raspy breathing could mean you need to take a visit to a veterinarian for some antibiotics.

If eating doesn’t happen in two weeks and you think you’ve done everything right, definitely take them to a veterinarian. Something else might be going on that you can’t see.