Turtles and tortoises as pets

turtle on a groundIf you’re looking for a unique, low-cost pet that enjoys a relaxed lifestyle, a pet turtle or tortoise may be for you.

What is the difference between turtles and tortoises? Most turtles have webbed feet or flippers and primarily live in water, while tortoises primarily live on land and do not have webbed feet. In fact, if you took a tortoise to a body of water, it likely would not know how to swim.

Whether you are interested in a turtle or a tortoise, Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said doing your research before getting one as a pet is extremely important.

Different breeds of turtles and tortoises require a specific diet and habitat.

Additionally, the adult size of turtles and tortoises vary by breed. For instance, the sulcata tortoise can easily weigh up to 200 pounds, which may not make it a suitable family pet. Other breeds are much smaller and can be easily held by supervised children.

The sulcata tortoise may not be the best option for a pet (especially since they are capable of out-living humans), but other tortoises, such as the Hermann’s tortoise and red-footed tortoise, can make great pets. For turtles, Blue-McLendon recommends the red-eared slider.

Be sure to get your pet turtle or tortoise from a reputable breeder.

“In almost all circumstances you should not take an animal from the wild and turn them into a pet,” Blue-McLendon said. “You change their life forever and potentially decrease their life expectancy.”

No matter the breed you choose, you should consider their adult maximum size before purchasing a tank and setting up their habitat. Additionally, doing your research will help you determine the appropriate temperature, bedding (for tortoises), and amount of lighting for your turtle or tortoise.

You should also determine through research an appropriate diet for your breed and the life stage of the turtle or tortoise. Although some commercial food is conveniently sold at pet stores, this food may not be nutritionally balanced.

Blue-McLendon recommends primarily feeding your pet turtle or tortoise leafy greens, since they are herbivores. Some species may enjoy fruit as a special treat. Additionally, drinking water for tortoises should be available at all times.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all reptiles carry Salmonella, including turtles and tortoises. Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause temporary infection in humans, especially in children under 5 years old, elderly adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system. Therefore, these individuals should avoid handling turtles and tortoises.

If you are set on getting a turtle or tortoise, the CDC recommends washing your hands thoroughly after handling your pet. Additionally, you should disinfect surfaces that your pet touches and not let your pet come into contact with the kitchen sink or other areas that might contaminate human food and drinks.

If you want a unique pet, a pet turtle or tortoise may convince you to come out of your shell. However, be sure you are ready for the commitment.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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