Why did the turtle cross the road

turtle crossing the roadHave you ever wondered why turtles cross the road? There are a few reasons why these slow-pokes venture into the street, but no matter their agenda, we should be cautious of their presence while driving.

“Turtles often cross the road after rain events,” said J. Jill Heatley, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Additionally, many times they are female turtles seeking an appropriate place to lay their eggs.”

If you come across a turtle in the road while driving, the turtle may benefit from a helping hand to get to safety; however, Heatley said to be careful in doing so.

“If you can pull safely off to the side of the road and traffic permits, you can safely move the turtle to the side of the road in the direction it was headed,” Heatley explained. “If the turtle is injured, you can also take the turtle to a rehabilitator or veterinarian for care.”

Even if traffic permits you to save a turtle’s life, you should be careful handling certain turtles for your own safety. Heatley said some turtles, such as the alligator and common snapping turtle, can injure a person by biting or jabbing at them with the rear of the shell.

“Only experienced individuals should handle these animals,” Heatley said. “But in the case of box turtles, soft-shelled turtles, and slider turtles, they may be safely handled by grabbing the rear of the shell while wearing lightweight gloves.”

If the turtle needs to be taken to a veterinarian, it can be placed in a cardboard box. Otherwise, Heatley said uninjured turtles should remain in the wild to live their lives and breed.

Though wild turtles may need our help every now and then, you should not risk your own life to save a turtle. If you do see a turtle crossing the road, drive cautiously and stop to help, if needed.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. 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 .

Snake season is here

snake in a grass areaSpring and summer are a great time to get outdoors. However, warmer temperatures also mean that certain creatures, such as snakes, will be more active. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the vast majority of Texas snakes are harmless and non-venomous, but just in case, you should always be cautious.

Dr. J. Jill Heatley, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said garden snakes, a non-venomous group, are some of the most common snakes in the Bryan-College Station area. But be careful; venomous snakes also are prevalent.

“Common garden snakes in the area include the rough green snake, rough earth snake, the rat snake, and the diamondback water snake,” Heatley said. “There also are non-venomous snakes in the area that may mimic venomous snakes, such as the hognose snake. Common venomous snakes include the cottonmouth and copperhead.”

Though some parks may not require you to keep your pet on a leash, it may be a good idea to keep Fido controlled in case you do encounter a snake. In this situation, Heatley said to lead your pet away and avoid the snake by taking another path. Even if the snake doesn’t appear to be venomous, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Though we can do our best to avoid snakes when they are visible, sometimes they can be hiding in places we least suspect, such as in brush in our backyard. To help prevent snakes from making your backyard their new home, Heatley recommended removing all brush and other possible hiding places.

“You can give snakes a warning before doing yard work,” Heatley said. “Get outside and rustle around before working the leaf pile to give snakes time to get out of the way.”

Unfortunately, snake bites can happen. If you or your pet is bitten by a snake, move away from the snake and call medical help right away. Heatley said venom from snakes can damage blood, nerves, and protein in the body, and can even lower blood sugar. In addition, swelling and pain at the bite-site can occur.

“If a pet is bitten by a snake, they should see a veterinarian, especially if the bite-site is swelling,” Heatley said. “If left untreated, the bite could develop into a bacterial infection because snake mouths can harbor a variety of bacteria.”

The best way to prevent any trouble with snakes this season is to treat each snake with respect and give it plenty of distance. Enjoy the great outdoors, but always explore with caution.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. 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 .

A Case of the Snuffles

If your Peter Rabbit has a runny nose, he may have more than a case of the sniffles. He could have “snuffles,” a common upper respiratory infection in rabbits.

“Snuffles is a disease which affects the eyes and nose and sometimes the lungs, skin, or even the middle ear of rabbits,” says Dr. Jill Heatley, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Also referred to as paranasal sinusitis, snuffles is most often caused by a certain bacteria known as Pasteurella multocids, but sometimes other bacteria can also be involved.”

Heatley adds, “Snuffles is a very common disease of rabbits and can be found in up to 10 percent of rabbits which appear normal. It is found in almost all rabbits that show clinical signs, such as a runny nose, skin infections, or a head tilt.

Symptoms for snuffles vary among rabbits. According to Heatley, the most common signs to look for relating to snuffles are nasal discharge, head tilting, and skin sores.

“Many times a veterinarian will make a presumptive diagnosis of snuffles based solely on a physical examination,” explains Heatley. “However, radiographs (x-rays) and blood work are also often used to determine a diagnosis. This disease can progress to a serious infection like septicemia and pneumonia, which rabbits are very good at hiding.”

“The treatment plan for snuffles varies based on the clinical signs, but antibiotics are often prescribed because it is a bacterial disease,” Heatley says. “However one must be very careful with antibiotic use in rabbits as improper types or routes of antibiotic administration can cause problems within the rabbit’s stomach and intestines that could lead to death. Please make sure the veterinarian you visit is familiar with antibiotics that are safe for use in rabbits.”

Heatley also recommends using probiotics in rabbits, because they help replace the good normal bacteria in the rabbit’s gut which it needs to live.

If you are looking into purchasing a new rabbit for your household, it is best to talk with your breeder or pet store representative about a particular animal’s health history and breeding conditions. Very few facilities can guarantee a completely disease free environment. If any rabbit in the facility shows even the slightest symptom of snuffles, such as wet facial fur or paws due to a runny nose, it would be better to look elsewhere for your new pet.

Sub-clinical snuffles (infected rabbits that show no symptoms) can be diagnosed through a physical examination administered by your veterinarian. Physical examinations should be a routine part of your pre-purchase or initial ‘well pet’ health exam.

To try to avoid snuffles in your current pet, keep its environment stress free.

“Most, if not all, rabbits have this bacteria and can have a bout with snuffles if they become stressed,” Heatley says. “So for your rabbit we recommend a healthy diet, stress free environment, and plenty of enrichment and exercise. Their diet should consist primarily of grass hay, such as oat or timothy, but not alfalfa which has too much protein and fat. A grass hay diet will ensure normal tooth wear and good gut health. Also, remember to regulate their temperature, because if they get too hot or too cold they will become stressed.”

Snuffles is extremely contagious among rabbits, and infected rabbits should never be allowed to come into contact with healthy rabbits. Any cage or bedding that has been in contact with infected rabbits should be thoroughly disinfected with a mild bleach solution before using for healthy rabbits. Humans that handle infected rabbits should wash their hands and clothes before handling healthy rabbits.

“Pasteurella multocida, as with most bacteria, is contagious to man, but usually requires a skin break such as a bite or a wound to enter the system,” says Heatley. “This bacterium can cause diseases to other animals such as chickens and pigs. So if your bunny has snuffles, it should not play with other animals until it is well or at least until it starts an antibiotic treatment program.”

“With adequate care and treatment most cases of snuffles can be resolved and have a good prognosis,” Heatley adds. “However, some cases of snuffles can have multiple bacteria or may involve a tooth problem or bone infection in the rabbit’s nose. These bunny patients may require months of treatment and require much patience on the part of the owner.”

To ensure a healthy pet rabbit at home, begin with a healthy rabbit and then maintain that good health by avoiding any contact that could infect your rabbit. When in doubt, hop down to your veterinarian for a complete checkup.



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

Texas Box Turtle….A Good Pet for You?

In our hurried world, we can be intrigued or frustrated by the pace of the Texas box turtle.  Most of us have seen this reptile making its way across a country road or paved highway.  You can stop and help it cross the road or, take it home for a pet.  Question is, “Which is the better choice?”

“Turtles are some of the oldest reptiles on the earth,” notes Dr. J. Jill Heatley, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “They are slow-moving, but these creatures have survived virtually unchanged for thousands of years.”

“The box turtle is a land animal that can also swim well,” states Heatley.  “It spends its life around water, marshes or wetlands.  It is an air-breathing animal, toothless and reproduces by laying eggs.  Generally, you can distinguish male from female box turtles based on the color of their eyes.  Males have bright orange to reddish iris color while females have brown to tan iris color.”

The box turtle is characterized by a high domed shell that hinges so the turtle can enclose itself, thus the fitting name of box turtle, notes Heatley.  Box turtles eat vegetation as well as insects, slugs, snails and dead flesh.

Will this terrestrial creature survive the fast paced world of today?  Can it “out-pace” today’s human desires for exotic pets, run-ins with automobiles and loss of habitat?

“Turtles can make good pets, but taking a turtle from the wild and placing it in your home may lead to a slow death for the animal,” cautions Heatley.  “Like any pet, turtles require daily attention, care and have specific nutritional and environmental needs.”

“Relocating the native turtle to your home can be detrimental to the animal.  Turtles establish home ranges and they will try to return to their home territory.  If removed from it, they may travel long distances looking for familiar grounds. This is sometimes called ‘homing’.  In the process they may come in contact with predators, unsuitable habitat, or they may lose the race while trying to cross the highway.”

The most common question I get asked is, ‘What do I do if I see a turtle crossing the road?’, says Heatley.  She recommends pulling your vehicle safely to the side of the road and put on your hazard lights.  When you can safely approach the turtle based on traffic, pick the turtle up by the back of the shell and place it off the road in the same direction that it was headed.  Injured turtles may be brought to the college of veterinary medicine at any time for care and repair.

Resist the temptation to “adopt” a turtle from the wild.  The box turtle confines its activities to a small area (several acres) for its home range and breeding ground.  Once removed from this territory, many displaced turtles fail to establish a new home range and few find their way back to their original home range, explains Heatley.

Since the box turtle is long-lived with a life span of 20 years or more, they experience delayed sexual maturity (anywhere from 7 to 10 years).  This turtle species requires a long life span and high population density to increase its population.  A box turtle must survive lawn mowers, farm machinery, predators and crossing roads during its growth years before it can add to the species.

The box turtle is also threatened by the pet trade, notes Heatley.  As more people collect box turtles as pets or to sell to others as pets, the turtle’s population density would be expected to decline.  If levels get too low, box turtles will not be able to sustain their numbers.

“Since box turtles take a long time to reach sexual maturity, live in a limited home range and produce a small number of eggs in each clutch, this animal is hard pressed when additional pressures are encountered,” explains Heatley.  “It is for these reasons that harvesting adult box turtles from the wild for pets is a concern.”

In our hurried and fast-paced world, if you make the time to look for the Texas box turtle, may you continue to find them in their natural setting, may you marvel at this centuries-old creature who is trying to survive in an ever changing world.  Remember that it is best to leave the Texas box turtles on their home range.




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