Spring 2012 Magazine
PET TURTLES: What You Need to Know When Caring for These Special Pets
People are discovering turtles make great pets. However, like all pets, it's critical to understand the basics of their care and how to keep them healthy. Many times, people buy turtles simply for the novelty of owning a turtle and don't pay close attention to the special needs of their new pet. Sometimes turtles can live for decades when they receive proper care.
Turtles need special lighting which allows them to perform bodily functions. Regular lighting does not do this. Turtles are ectothermic, which used to be called "cold blooded". This means that they do not generate their own body heat. They rely on the sun to get warm and water to cool down. You need to ensure that their air, basking and water temperatures are within acceptable guidelines. This will not only ensure their health, but they will feel more natural in their habitat.
It's important to know what your turtle would eat in its natural habitat. Some are omnivores and some are carnivores. Their diets are highly specialized. Toss out the idea that turtles can survive on hot dogs, cat food and shrimp treats. Different species have specific dietary needs. Not all prepared foods are good quality so you need to research the exact requirements for your type of turtle.
Turtles are opportunistic feeders. In other words, they grab food when they can because they really aren't sure when they might get the chance to eat again. They don't know that you are going to feed them routinely, so keep a regular schedule and try not to veer from it. Turtles learn to recognize you and any food containers you have. They will quickly have you trained! Overfeeding is one of the most common mistakes in captive care. Keep in mind that they are not always hungry...but they are always looking for a meal because it's how they survive in the wild. Regulate the intake of food carefully.
As far as a diet goes, you want something high in calcium yet low in phosphorus. Stay away from fatty foods and those with a high carbohydrate and protein content unless the turtle is a strict carnivore. Don't over-feed or under-feed anything; even if it is good for their diet. Not enough is dangerous and too much isn't any better.
It is vital to your turtle's health that you vary the diet. Use pelleted/prepared foods as a way to augment a more natural diet. Herbivores need to be offered a wide range of veggies and plant matter; carnivores need to be offered a range of live foods (or thawed, frozen foods); and omnivores need a balance of the two. Citrus fruits should never be offered.
Use common sense sanitary measures every time you touch your turtle or anything the turtle has touched such as food bowls and aquarium tank or bowl. Wash your hands with an anti-bacterial soap before as well as after touching a turtle. You don't want to give your turtle a disease nor do you want to catch anything from your pet. Young children should not be allowed to touch turtles. Older children should do so only under strict adult supervision. Afterward, wash the child's hands immediately. Children are quick to put their hands in their mouth - an excellent way to transfer bacteria. Follow the CDC guidelines.
Remember. Turtles are not for everyone. Educate yourself about turtles and their needs before you decide to adopt to see if a turtle is the right companion for your family. Follow the CDC guidelines below to keep people and turtles safe and healthy. And never, never take a turtle out of the wild. For further information see Austin's Turtle Page website at: www.austinsturtlepage.com
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