Tortoise & Turtle Care in Temporary Shelters
DIET: Feed a commercial turtle diet, a variety of leafy greens and other vegetables, and a little fruit (no pits or seeds), but avoid excess spinach.
Turtles (have a hinged undershell, webbed toes, and a more flattened shell) can have mealworms, earthworms, crickets, cooked chicken or canned cat food. Tortoises (have a solid undershell, stubby toes, and a domed rounded shell) can have timothy hay, but no insects or meat. Can be allowed to graze on grass and weeds but avoid pesticides. Place in a wire dog crate with the tray removed in a shaded area, with no large gaps allowing escape, to allow grazing. Water must be available at all times in a shallow bowl they can wade into.
HOUSING: Minimum temperature 70 degrees, maximum 80 degrees. Move to indoor climate controlled facility if needed.
Provide heat lamp when possible at one end of enclosure to allow animal to move to desired temperature up to 90 degrees. Use bedding of newspaper or paper towels, change daily. Do not use wood shavings, corn cob, cat litter, or small gravel that could be swallowed. Can house multiple species together if they were caged together in original home, unless some are showing signs of aggression to others. Some turtle species are mostly aquatic, and need deeper water for swimming at around 75 degrees. Pile rocks or a log at one end of aquarium or plastic tub, and when possible provide a heat lamp over one side. These turtles will eat their food, mostly pellets, insects and meat, when the food is floating in the water.
RESTRAINT: Lift by center of shell half way between front and rear limbs. Some may still be able to stretch their necks and bite, so be very cautious when handling.
Beware of fingers getting pulled into shell and trapped when limbs are retracted. May require anesthesia to examine fully. Turn head toward floor to get the head to come out, then restrain by placing thumb and middle finger behind head. Wear disposable gloves to avoid exposure to or spread of Salmonella.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS: Malnutrition causes most problems.
Skin and shell infections due to cold or unclean water. Pneumonia will cause bubbling from the nostrils or uneven floating. Shell damage requires immediate exotic animal veterinary care.
OTHER: Messy eaters may need frequent cleaning of cages and dishes.
Tap water is fine and does not need to be dechlorinated.
Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services and Burge Bird Rescue, August 2016
Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook for Veterinarians by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Diplomat ABVP-Avian