Note: If there is anything you would to see added, drop me a line. And if you need help, email or call. I am always glad to help with turtles. If I don't know the answer, I usually know where to get more information.
Note: This care sheet is put together from many sources: books, other care sheets, several people's personal experiences.
Note: For box turtles, refer to the box turtle care sheet. For mud turtles, see the mud turtle notes below. For softshells, see the notes on softshells below.
* Turtles are not Ninja Turtles. They will not perform tricks, talk, or perform heroic deeds. They don't eat pizza either. Some turtles like to have their head or shells stroked, but most of them don't like to be held or touched. Water turtles are primarily a look-at pet. They will learn to recognize you, though; they will lose their fear; and they will eat from your fingers (sometimes including your fingers :-)
* Turtles live 40 and more years. Are you willing to take on a long term commitment? Or if you think you will only have the turtle for some time, are you willing to look for a good new home for it when you cannot keep it any longer?
* Turtles grow throughout their life. Do you have space available? A slider needs at least a 20 gallon tank to be happy, and a bigger tank is better. Outdoor setups are about the size of children's wading pools. Do you have a room where you can keep such a tank?
* Do you have time to take proper care of your turtle? It takes about 1 hour a week to thoroughly clean the enclosure, and about 10 minutes a day to feed and observe your animal. This is not counting the occasional visit to the vet.
* Are you willing to afford a turtle? Food will cost 10-20 dollars a month, depending on what you are feeding. An initial setup will cost you at least $50, but probably more. (For an indoor setup most of this money goes for the VitaLite - the rest can be improvised). Budget about 1 dollar a day for one animal. This budget includes food, housing, veterinary bills, and miscellaneous expenses. You will find that often you will incur extra expenses when you want to make life even better for your animals.
* Even though most turtles are cheap to buy, when they get sick, they can cost as much as a cat or dog to heal. Are you willing to pay vet bills for the animal when it gets sick? Though turtles suffer mostly silently, they feel pain just as other creatures. Once you take an animal and it becomes a pet, you are fully responsible for it.
* What about diseases? -- Wild caught turtles usually carry parasites. Captive bread turtles often do, too. Most of these organisms are harmless to the turtle and to people. Occasionally a turtle will have salmonella, especially if it has been fed raw chicken (don't!). You can have your turtle checked for parasites by a qualified veterinarian. You should ALWAYS wash your hands with an antibacterial soap after handling turtles or the water they are in. Keep your hands out of your face. If you have older children, strictly enforce hand-washing. If you have very young children, don't let them handle the turtles, and especially don't let them stick turtles into their mouth. Don't kiss your turtles, either. Proper hygene is sufficient to minimize risk. (Note that dogs and cats carry a lot of diseases and parasites, too, people just don't scream about them as loudly, because everyone adores furry, cuddly pets. So, don't have a dog lick your face, either!)
* Prepare a comfortable setup for your animal, buy some food, and decide where it is going to live. I know, most of the time we get the animal first and then we need to set it up. If you have the luxury to do the setup first, don't hesitate.
* Join or at least visit one of the herpetological societies in your area. Not only is it fun to meet other people with the same interests, they will also become a valuable source of information when the questions come. And questions there will be; no two turtles are the same. A FAQ or a small book can only provide for the more general cases. You may want to consider subscribing to one of the several magazines that either carry articles of interest to reptile keepers, or that are devoted to herpetology in their entirety.
* Decide where you want to get the animal from. Considering that turtles in the wild are declining, it is recommended that you buy an animal as opposed to catching one. If you have access to captive bred turtles, get a captive bred turtle. They also tend to be healthier and happier in captivity. You may want to adopt a turtle. Call the humane society or your local herp society.
Most pet turtles are acquired through the pet trade. If you buy a turtle from a pet store, check it over well; there is a good chance that it is weakened and stressed and thus suceptible to disease.
If you are lucky, you know a friend who has hatched turtles, and you become a proud owner of such a turtle. Such a turtle is likely to be in good shape, but you are faced with the difficult and rewarding task of raising a baby turtle.
There is no way this FAQ can describe all species available in the pet trade or in the wild. These are some of the species that are kept more commonly, and that I have experience with.
* Red-eared slider (Chrysemys scripta elegans and related species) -- The common green turtle with the red cheeks. Sliders are native to the United States and common in the South. There are many related species that can be kept in the same way as red eared sliders, for example Cooters and Chicken turtles. Sliders are mostly carnivorous when young and become more and more vegetarian as they grow older. If they are kept under proper conditions, they make hardy pets. While sliders get rather tame, they also have a good bite! Adult male sliders may have to get separated during breeding season. Females get much bigger than males. Sliders can be kept outside all summer in temperate climate.
* Reeves turtle (Chinemys reevesi). This species is known in Southern China, southern Korea, and Japan. It is a small species and reaches maturity at around 5 inches. The carapace is parallel-sided, moderately domed, with three strong keels. The carapace scutes are usually brown.The plastron is generally yellow with brown blotches which can cover almost the whole belly. The head often has yellow or olive stripes which can fade in older specimens.- Reeves turtles make very good pets. They become quite tame, are good eaters, and have a friendly disposition. Several can be kept together without problems.
Reeves turtles are susceptible to shell disease. They must be kept in very clean water. When you buy an animal, thoroughly check it for rot. Many imported specimens have the problem.
Reeves turtles mostly are carnivorous, but they do take pellet food. Because of the susceptibility to shell problems, it is imperative that a good basking place with plenty of UV light is provided.
* Mata-mata. This turtle gets large and spends its whole live in the water. It is not recommended for beginners.
* Softshell turtles. Softshells spend their whole live in the water. They need a lot of room to swim and like to bury in gravel or sand. Softshells are carnivorous. They don't get very tame but are beautiful to watch swimming! Their water needs to be kept very clean. I don't think they make good beginner's turtles. Softshell turtles are also eaten in many countries.
* Mud turtles. Mud turtles make good pets. They can be kept similarly to sliders, but depending on the species more land and shallower water should be provided. They are hardy fellows that become quite tame. They are mostly meat-eaters. Depending on their climate of origin, they can be kept outside in summer.
* Snapping turtles In some states snapping turtles are illegal to keep. While they are very hardy and interesting animals, they don't do too well as pets. They get huge (up to 60 and more pounds) and they have a nasty disposition.
* A minimal setup for a small turtle consists of:
* A large heated aquarium with a swimming area at least as deep as the turtle is wide (so it can flip back over if it fall upside down). Add a rock or shelf which allow the turtle to completely get out of the water. Add a heat lamp (most commonly a shop lamp with a 60W incandescent light bulb) above the basking area, and a fluorescent light with a VitaLite(tm) bulb to replace sunlight. (Setting the tank under a window will not do, because that light is filtered). The jury is still out on whether feeding Vitamin D3 supplement can fully replace a VitaLite. I used VitaLites for several years, now I only supplement vitamins, but most of my turtles spend some time outdoors in summer. For much more information on lighting, look for articles in herp magazines or the Net. It is a big topic and cannot be discusses here in detail.
* I use no substrate at all in the swim area, just the bare glass bottom of the aquarium. It makes maintenance easier, keeps the turtles from swallowing anything, and the turtles don't mind. I use a wooden board or bricks as land areas. That way, the land area can be cleaned easily and dries off fast. It is important, that the land area is dry. Make sure the turtle can climb out. It is important to keep a turtle tank clean, and a functional setup helps dramatically. You can use natural rocks and real branches instead of a bricks for a basking area. That looks very nice and is still easy to clean.
* Change the water at least once a week completely, and wash the tank out with a thin bleach solution a few times every year. Adding a strong aquarium filter will reduce the frequency of cleaning. Clean water is the biggest factor in keeping healthy turtles. You may want to add one teaspoon of salt per gallon of water to help prevent diseases. I use untreated tap water, and have never had a problem with it.
* Filters: A Fluval4(tm) submersible filter will keep a 30 gallon tank with 2 turtles clean for about 14 days. If you want more filter power, or your tank is larger, consider getting a power filter. Your local fish store will be able to help you. Get a filter 2-3 times as strong as for a fish tank of the same size. (More on filters below.)
* Keeping the bottom of the tank bare will not only help cleaning, it will also prevent turtles from swallowing sand and rocks, which can lead to problems (see below).
There is some controversy about this subject. No substrate seems to be the best solution. While it may not look as nice as a gravel bottom, it prevents some trouble. It also makes cleaning efficient.
Rock ingestion: Some turtles ingest rocks, from sand grain size to whatever will fit into their mouth. Some turtles get intestinal blockage because of it. Even sand can accumulate and eventually turn into a plug that needs to be surgically removed. Turtles that do not have the opportunity to ingest sand and rocks live happily. No one is sure why turtles ingest the stuff. It does not seem essential to their digestion. Possibly they do it because they are bored.
Turtles with blockages are a lot of trouble (ever tried to give Castor Oil to a turtle?) If you are worried about the slipperiness of the glass bottom for turtles that "walk" on the bottom, you could try a piece of shower mat (the version with the suction cups). This works well, but debris tends to accumulate under the mat (and gets not washed through the filter, so you need more water changes). Or you could use gravel that is so big, that there is no chance it will fit into a turtle's mouth.
Water quality is the number one challenge when keeping water turtles. The ideal to strive for, is a lot of very clean water.
* Tap water is usually fine. If you are concerned about chlorine, let the water sit for 24 hours before using it.
* How often do you need to change the water? Well, it depends on the gallons of water per turtle, and whether you are using a filter. I change the water in the outdoor tubs once a week, independent of how many turtles there are in it (never that many). Indoors every 10 to 14 days, with a strong filter, depending on how much I have been feeding. Some foods soil the water more than others. While I use a filter on the indoor tank, I simply change the water often outdoors. (It is much easier to dump a tub full of water onto the grass than to pump it into the bathroom sink.)
* Give your turtle as much space as you can possibly afford. In this case, larger is always better. Custom made glass tanks are affordable. (Negotiate price and features, when you talk to a sales rep. Often extra features like screen tops, which you don't need for turtles, will make things a lot more expensive.)
* Turtles produce two kinds of waste: visible and invisible. The visible solids can (and should) be removed with a net (available at aquarium stores - don't use the same net for your fish!), especially larger pieces, before they fall apart. Invisible waste, must be dealt with by frequent walter changes or filtration.
* Disintegrating waste produces ammonia. Ammonia (the stuff that is in Ajax!) is bad for people, and it is bad for turtles. It makes them sick, and it can make their skin and shell root. Every turtle tank will have ammonia in it. You cannot avoid it, but you can deal with it.
Note, that letting feeder fish swim (and eliminate) in the turtle tank, raises ammonia level. Also, common dechlorinators also increase ammonia levels.
* A filter that has settled in, i.e. has been running for 4-6 weeks will eventually harbor enough bacteria that ingest ammonia and the levels will go down. Unfortunately, most filters are dirty and beyond use, and therefore in need of replacement, before that equilibrium is ever reached. Filtering over carbon and other specialized filter media also helps. I use a Fluval 4 submersible with carbon cartridges for about 20 gallons of water.
* I you are using a large cannister filter get one about 4 times as powerful as you would for an aquarium the same size, you might get lucky. You will still have to clean/rinse the media more often than for a fish tank.
* Feeding your turtles outside the tank also reduces waste. Many turtles will eliminate shortly after eating. If you leave them in their feeding tub for a while after feeding, they will eliminate, and you get less waste in the tank. Not overfeeding will keep the waste down.
* Adding a teaspoon of salt per gallon of water will reduce the level of "bad" bacteria and protect the turtles better from shell and skin diseases.
* A filter will not only reduce the frequency of water changes, it keeps the muck from floating around and being reingested by the animals.
* So, what filter should you use?
* Here is a non-exhaustive list of filters. For more information, refer to an aquarium book or the rec.aquaria newsgroup. The latter has an extensive FAQ on Filters and water quality. A lot of what they say applies for turtles, too.
2) Eheim or Fluval Cannister filters. Get the largest size you can afford. Filter over ceramic, carbon, and sponge and rinse frequently.
3) Several brands of Power Filters. They are good, and easy to clean, but often they require a water level that is higher than you have in your turtle tank.
4) Undergravel filters. Basically good, except that I don`t recommend gravel in the tank. Also, a grid to fit a turtle tank can be hard to find. Large gravel will not work with an UGF.
* Changing the water: It is a good idea to set things up in a way that water changes become quick and simple. Invsting in some hoses and a pump is worth it. I use a powerhead with a hose to pump the water into the bathroom sink or the garden. When I was in an apartment, I pumped it over the balcony into the shrubs. (While the other shrubs dried out during the drought, the one under my balcony grew like crazy.)
Then I use a hose with a special adapter to run water from the tab into tank. Adapters are available at hardware of plumming stores. You can then connect a regular garden hose to the tab. Make sure you empty the hose after use and store it in a place where it can dry out at least partially. Otherwise you get a lot of gunk growing in it, if you only use it occasionally.
* Heating pads. They are available at drug stores. Put under the tank and adjust level. They don't usually have a thermostat, so check the water temperature daily, and turn the pad on or off, depending on the weather. A timer is a great help, here.
* Heating Strips: a variation on pads. Usually not powerful enough for a turtle tank.
* Basking lamp. If your apartment is always warm, and you have just one small turtle in a small tank, the basking lamp, usually a 60W bulb, can suffice to keep the water warm. I use only lamps to heat the water for my semi-aquatic box turtle.
* Submersible heaters. They are very efficient and come with a thermostat. But, they are made of glass and any turtle can break it. So, you need to protect the heater, for example behind some bricks. If the glass heater breaks, both you and your turtle can get electrocuted. You can make a protective corner for the heater using bricks or tiles.
* Check the literature for the correct temperature for your turtle. Lower 80is is a good general range. The warmer the water the more active the turtles, but also the more bacteria in the water.
* Be sure the temperature is not too low, because it will put the turtle into a state, where it is too warm for hibernation and too cold to eat and move, and it will die. I keep my Reeves and Sliders at around 85 degrees F during the day; during the night the temperature drops slightly. In summer, when they are outdoors, the temperature drops to 65F at night in spring and fall, but the water warms up during the day. For indoors, you should not let the temperature go much below 80F.
Make sure, the pool is high enough, so your turtle cannot escape. If you provide a land area outside the pool, fence it properly. Most turtles climb surprisingly well, and they can dig, too!
If there are many cats and raccoons in the area, cover the pool, or your pet will get eaten. Insect screen is good. Make a frame that fits the tub from 1x2s, then put screen on it.
* Refer to a book on ponds to find out how to build a pond. This is, of course, the ideal setup for turtles, but few of us can do it. A landscaped turtle pond is my dream! (I am getting closer).
* Water turtles need to be in the water to feed. If they find food on a land area, they will run to the closest water source, so they can swallow.
* Most water turtles are predominantly carnivores, but often like to get some fruit and greens. Experiment with a good mix of food items to determine what your turtle likes best. Don't just feed one kind of food. In the wild, turtles eat a very varied diet.
* It is difficult to supply the right mix of food in captivity, so it is recommended that some extra vitamins are added to the food. (See vitamins).
* Good food: earthworms, nightcrawlers (make sure they are not raised on manure), redworms, mealworms (not very nutritious), whole feeder goldfish (very good), canned cat food (don't feed to often), snails, crickets, occasional lettuce (wash well) or spinach, melon and other fruit (find out what your turtle likes), very lean beef as an occasional treat, tofu, banana, strawberries, peas, kibbles, Reptomin, Tender Vittels, Trout Chow, king worms. Blueberries, dandelion flowers and leaves, vegetable scraps from your kitchen, tomato, cooked sweet potatoes.
Do not feed Tubifex worms. Do not feed raw chicken. Cooked chicken is ok. Feed organ meat sparingly. Shrimp, ocean fish, squid, can be fed occasionally.
* As a nutritional staple, you can use trout chow (not all turtles like it), or Reptomin(tm) pellets. Tender Vittels (cat treats) work really well, but not all turtles like them. Same is true for Science Diet kibbles.
* Feed your turtle every 2-3 days. If it gets too skinny, feed more, if it gets fat, feed less. Most likely your turtle will end up on the fat side, because it will learn to beg on no-feed days, and you will give in. I tend to feed my turtles daily in summer, feeding them veggies one day and dry food or worms the other day. In winter I only feed twice a week and mostly dry food, because it is cooler, and the population density in my tank is up.
* All non-dry non-concentrated foods can be fed until the turtle is full. Full is, when the turtle slows down eating. Stuffed is, when the turtle cannot get any more food down, even if it tries. It is funny to feed a turtle worms until the worms hang out of its mouth. But don't do this often.
* Read up on the species of turtle you have to find out what ratio of meat-to-veggies to feed. Captive turtles tend to be fed too much meat. Young turtles need more meat than adults. For example, adult sliders should be fed a diet of 60% veggies and 40% meat.
* Calcium -- Turtles need calcium to build healthy shells and bones. A cuttle fish bone in the tank will be nibbled on by most turtles and supplies extra calcium. Get a new bone, when the old one get slimy! There are also calcium supplements specially for reptiles.
* Vitamin D3 -- Synthesized in the turtle`s body using natural sunlight. A VitaLite(tm) is an acceptable substitute, or a supplement can be fed. There are supplements available that contain Ca/D3. Also, many commercial dog foods are fortified and include D3. Of course, the best way for your turtle get D3 is to get unfiltered sunlight, and then it will synthesize the vitamin.
* Vitamin A -- If lacking, will cause loss of appetite and swollen, runny eyes. A common symptom in turtles not fed properly. Can be fixed using a varied diet. In severe cases, drops may be recommended by your vet. Feeding too much Vitamin A will cause the skin to peel and eventually come off and leave bare flesh. It looks very ugly, is very painful, and often the turtle will die. Vets used to give turtles vitamin A shots. But since dosage is hard to determine, this should only be used as a last resort.
* There are some products available now that are formulated for reptiles. Bird vitamins are also good. I feed vitamin fortified Tender Vittels or and cuttle fish bones for all my water turtles.
* There are all sorts of other brands of bulbs that claim to be full-spectrum. Most of them do not supply enough UV, or the wrong kind. Plant lights, are not good enough. Black lights, on the other hand, produce too much UV for your turtle to be exposed to continuously. So do tanning lights.
* Some of my turtles enjoy a walk outdoors every once in a while. Watch your turtle at all times, so he won't get hurt or lost.Turtles can get lost very quickly, if they want to.
* Turtles need a basking light. The silvery shop lights from the hardware store are great. Place it on a screen top or hang if (high enough that the turtles cannot touch the bulb). I find that a 60W bulb is about the right strength. I tend to use a 40-60 Watt bulb in summer and 75W in winter.
* The lights should be on between 10 and 14 hours a day, depending whether you use a yearly cycle, or not, and depending on where your turtle comes from.
* If your turtles live outside in the summer, you can take them in in winter and need not hibernate them.
* Sliders can be kept outdoors all year in the southern states and will hibernate on their own, provided the pond is deep enough and has a thick mud bottom for the turtle to bury in.
* Turtles from tropical areas do not hibernate. They will die if you try.
* If you want to hibernate your turtles, refer to one of the books listed below.
* If your animal gets sick and either gets worse fast, or does not get better after you made the environment perfect, see a veterinarian who has experience with turtles. Some are in the yellow pages, or ask your local animal hospital or Humane Society for a reference to a turtle vet. Your local herp society may also be able to help.
* If your turtle gets sick, make sure you are keeping it in clean water, feed it the right foods, and keep it warm enough. These are the primary reasons for turtles getting sick. Fix the environment, or the turtle will not get better, even with expensive medication.
* The most common symptom is a turtle not eating. See next section.
* Swollen eyes -- Can be caused by lack of vitamin A (check diet) or can be the beginning of any kind of an infection. Do not just use eye drops. They ease the symptoms, and the turtle will be happier, but you need to treat the cause. Many infections have swollen eyes for a symptom. You can harm your turtle if you automaticall assume vitamin A deficiency and then pump it full with the vitamin. WARNING: Vitamin A injections are not recommended. It is very difficult to decide on the proper dosage, and an overdose will kill the turtle; it is easy to overdose. Supplemented diet should be tried first!
Also, not all swollen eyes are caused by Vitamin A deficiency. Other causes should be ruled out first.
* Wounds in the skin and small rashes. You can treat these by disinfecting them with Betadine or Nolvosan solution (dilute with same amount of water) and keeping the turtle warm and dry. Soak it twice daily for 1/2 hour in warm water, separate from other turtles, and disinfect after each bath. If the condition does not improve, see a vet. These things can take several weeks to clear up. If it does not get worse, be patient and wait a bit.
* Shell sores, hole in shell, bloody sores on shell. Immediately remove the turtle from the water and keep it in a dry environment. Give a 1/2 hour soak twice a day. Sponge it off with Betadine or Nolvosan several times a day, especially after the soak. See a veterinarian immediately. Shell diseases need much tender loving care to heal, and it takes months or years to clean it up. Prevent by feeding a proper diet and cleaning the water. You may want to apply a THIN layer of Silvadene cream after putting the turtle back into its dry box. Oil based antibiotic creams are good to put on when the turtle is in the water but should be wiped of afterwards. An important part in healing is drying out of the affected area. An oil-based cream will prevent that from happening. Keep the turtle plenty warm!
* Sneezing and gaping (occasionally) -- Like humans, reptiles occasionally sneeze or yawn. Turtles can get water in their nose and need to sneeze it out. If the sneezing happens only every once in a while, and if their is no mucus discharge, there is nothing to worry about.
* Sneezing (often), coughing, gaping -- Almost always a sign of respiratory infection, often pneumonia. This needs the immediate attention of a turtle veterinarian. The turtle will need antibiotics, X-rays, and a lot of care. One cause can be too low a water temperature. If your turtle is only sniffeling a little, try upping the temperature and wait a few days. If condition does not improve, see a veterinarian.
* Constipation -- Not very common in water turtles. But if you are sure your turtle is not defecating (remove the filter and see whether anything happens), he might have an obstructed intestine or some other problem. You may need and X-Ray to determine the exact cause.
* Skin shedding -- A little peeling occasionally is fine. Turtles shed their skin like other reptiles, but more continuously. Mine usually shed more for a while, then less or not at all. As long as the shed skin is thin and translucent, and you don't see anything unusual on the skin, and the shedding is not excessive, don't worry. If the shedding is continuous, or the skin looks sore or red, or the shedding is very heavy, you may have to deal with a skin fungus. Have your turtle checked by a veterinarian. You may also soak the turtle in an idodine solution twice a day for 15 minutes and keep it warm and dry outside the water overnight for a while.
* Shell shedding -- Turtles shed occasionally the outermost layer of their scutes. They are thin, translucent scutes. If the whole scute is shed and the bone becomes visible, or if shedding is continuous, you may have a fungus problem and should have your turtle inspected by a veterinarian. As an immediate measure, remove the turtle from the water except for a 30 minute bath twice a day; keep it warm and dry; soak twice a day for 15 minutes in iodine solution or sponge off with Nolvosan.
* Does the turtle like the food you offer? Try out different foods. Some turtles can be very finicky eaters, especially in the beginning. And they have definite likes and dislikes. Most turtles will eventually take small earthworms that are wiggling in front of their nose. Start feeding favorite foods, then slowly introduce other items.
* Is your turtle exposed to too much stress? This is often a cause in new animals. Stress can be caused by handling, traveling, tank mates. New turtles will often not eat properly for several weeks. Be patient and keep trying.
* Is your turtle healthy? Not eating can be a symptom of other problems. If your turtle has been eating well and suddenly stops, a health problem is a likely reason. Take a fecal sample to your veterinarian. (Fecal samples need to be no older than 4 hours, and you need to store them in water in the refrigerator.)
* Don't panic! A turtle can go without food for weeks, even months, and when it feels well again, it will eat again. See a veterinarian, if you think you are doing everything right, and the animal does not eat for more than 2 weeks.
* Males often have fatter, bigger tails than females.
* Males have the vent (cloaca) about 2/3 from the shell towards the tip of the tail. Females have it closer to the shell.
* Males have a flat or concave plastron (bottom shell) - so it will fit better on top of the female. Females have a flat or convex plastron - so there is more space for eggs.
* Male sliders grow long claws on their front legs.
Baby turtles need extra care to remain healthy. Mostly they are much more affected by an unhealthy diet. If you feed too much protein to young turtles, their shells will deform. This is fixable in young animals by adjusting the diet. Once the turtle reaches a bigger size, the deformities are permanent and cause the turtle much discomfort.
People have succesfully raised baby turtles on an almost exclusive diet of Reptomin.
Occasional prolapses are common and more annoying than dangerous if dealt with properly. There is little pain involved for the turtle.
It is not known for sure, what causes prolapses. Diet, stress, parasites and intestinal infections, general disease, obstructed intestinal tract, and weak cloacal muscles have all been suggested, but there are no final conclusions. So, there are no known preventive measures, either.
If your turtle seems otherwise healthy, an occasional prolapse is nothing to worry about. If the prolapses happen frequently and cause too much distress to you and your turtle, you might consider asking a herp vet to apply a purse string suture.
If you catch your turtle in the act, watch and keep dirt away form the exposed parts. If they don't go back in immediately, make sure, they stay moist (you may even want to put the animal in a pan with a little luke warm water) and massage the surrounding area gently and make the turtle move. For water turtles, keeping the parts moist is less of an issue than for land turtles, but putting the turtle into clean water is still recommended.
With water turtles, other turtles might try to bite the prolapsed body part which can lead to heavy bleeding and ugly consequences. Land turtles may step on their intestine, or tear it with their hind feet when trying to remove the 'thing' extending from their body. The turtle is not aware, that this is a body part. Observe the turtle, until the prolapse has gone back inside.
Purse String Suture: The suture basically keeps the cloaca from opening too wide, and so the intestine should stay in. The turtle can still pass feces, of course.
If the intestine does dry off, usually, the vet will put a suture around it and eventually remove the dead part completely. This is done under anesthesia and can be more or less complicated, depending on the size of the dead parts. This operation has a guarded prognosis.
Do not use chemicals to kill algae!!!
If you don't like the algae, brush them off every time you change the water, change the water more often, use a stronger filter, and add a little salt to the water.
In the wild, it is normal for turtles to grow algae on their shells. It helps them camouflage! In captivity, the algae should be removed every once in a while, since algae can encourage growth of fungus in a confined environment.
To remove the algae, hold your turtle under warm tap water and gently brush it with a soft vegetable brush.
In rare cases a turtle may carry salmonella. Often, the disease is acquired if the turtle is fed raw chicken. If you are worried about salmonella, you can have your vet test the turtle and treat it.
There are several excellent articels on turtles an salmonella in some of the herp magazines and books mentioned below.
* If you are using home treatment, and the turtle is getting worse. I usually give anything a few days to a week to get better. If things stay the same, I go see a veterinarian after that time. If things get better, I don't see a veterinarian. If things get worse in spite of my attempts at treatment, I see a veterinarian immediately.
* If your turtle is sick or maybe sick, and you don't know what to do. As with people, it is much cheaper to treat the beginnings of a problem. The money you think you are saving by putting off a visit to the doctor, will be more than used later if you have an advanced disease to deal with.
Turtles. R.J. Church, 1963, TFH, ISBN 0-87666-226-2, around $10, a good introduction. In spite of its age a very useful book. Not enough by itself, though.
Turtles. H. Wilke, 1979, Barron's, ISBN 0-8120-2631-4, priced around $12. Well structured introductory book with list of popular species and their requirements. A good book, but you'll want to know more.
Encyclopedia of Turtles. Pritchard. Price varies from $40 to $80. The comprehensive listing and description of turtle and tortoise species.
Turtles and Tortoises of the World. David Alderton, ISBN: 0-8160-1733-6, $22.95. This book discusses everything there is to know about turtles and tortoises.
Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins. F.J. Obst, 1988, ISBN 0-312-82362-2, priced around $20. A wonderful book which covers the life of turtles. Emphasis on conservation issues; wonderful photographs and excellent drawings; small section on husbandry.
Reptile & Amphibian. Bi-monthly magazine, $12 per year. For information, write to Reptile & Amphibian, RD3, Box 3709-A, Pottsville, PA 17901.
The Tropical Fish Hobbyist. Primarily a magazine about tropical fish, a with a reptile section. Many topics relevant to water turtle keeping.
The Vivarium. Published by the AFH (American Federation of Herpetoculturists. For membership and subscription information, write to AFH, P.O. Box 1131, Lakeside, CA 92040-0905, or call (619)-561-4948.
Reptile. A new magazine primarily directed at the beginning herp keeper. Good, basic, interesting information for the general public.
TEAM: Turtle and Tortoise Education and Adoption Media. Monthly newsletter, $10 per year. For information, write to TEAM, 3245 Military Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034. Emphasis on tortoises and tortoise conservation efforts.
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