Turtles can make great pets, but do your homework first

While turtles might seem like the perfect pet — less work than dogs and cats, more interactive than fish — there are a few things to keep in mind before buying one.

“They are definitely becoming more popular as pets. Some of them are very beautiful and they can be easily purchased over the internet. But there’s no such thing as an easy pet,” says Katrina Smith, adoptions co-ordinator for the Maryland-based Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society.

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

First, never take a wild turtle as a pet.

“Chances are they won’t do well in captivity,” Smith says. “Look into adopting a turtle from your local turtle society or www.petfinder.com before buying one. And if you do buy, make absolutely sure it’s been born in captivity.”

The cute, tiny turtles often found at tourist shops across the country may be hard to resist, but turtle experts say you should.

“Don’t buy those tiny turtles you see for sale in Chinatown in New York, or in tourist shops in Daytona Beach on spring break,” Smith says. “They’re being sold illegally.”

Some states, like New Jersey, require permits for pet turtles, largely due to concerns about already stressed populations of native turtles, Smith says. Be sure to check local laws before deciding what kind of turtle to adopt, Smith says.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Because many turtles carry salmonella, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and others at risk should avoid contact with turtles or be extra careful to wash their hands thoroughly after touching them.

Connected to this risk, federal law prohibits selling turtles less than 4 inches in size because of the risk of children putting them in their mouths.

Dave Pauli, a senior adviser for wildlife response and policy for the Humane Society of the United States, runs a large turtle and tortoise rescue and rehabilitation centre in Billings, Montana. He stresses the importance of “good hygiene protocol” when taking a turtle into a home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge people to treat all turtles as if they are contaminated with salmonella, because they probably are. Wash hands thoroughly after touching turtles, their cages or their feces, and do not touch your face, other people, or any surface until your hands have been washed. Also, turtles should be kept separate from food and kept away with people at high risk of infection, the centre advises.

PICKING THE RIGHT VARIETY

Some turtles that start out small can grow to the size of a garbage can lid, so do your homework ahead of time when selecting a type and gender of turtle to call your own. In many species, females grow to be much larger than their male counterparts, Smith says.

The best varieties for beginners are male painted turtles, U.S. mud and musk turtles, and male red-eared sliders, she says.

CARING FOR YOUR ANIMAL

“Turtles require more maintenance and space than most people generally assume,” Pauli says, “and they live for decades, so buyers should be aware that they are a pet that may well outlive them.”

Turtles require a varied and sometime messy diet, room to roam in an aquarium and strict temperature control. Their habitat needs to be cleaned more often than many people realize, although water turtles require less maintenance than box turtle or other varieties.

GET TO KNOW YOUR TURTLE

Turtles can be beautiful pets and “are really cool to have,” Pauli says. “They’re extremely interesting and have individual personalities. But they are exotic pets, and pet store owners are generally an extremely poor source of information about them.”

Experts advise seeking out a local turtle and tortoise society or club — there are dozens across the country — for information and animals. Turtle societies can answer questions about caring for pets and promoting turtle welfare.

If you have a turtle that is proving to be more than you can handle, contact a turtle society about what to do, and never release them into the wild.

Certain types of turtle — red-eared sliders, for example — are so frequently released by pet owners into the wild that they have become an invasive species around the world, and are threatening native turtle populations.

Turtles are hardy and can be wonderful pets, experts say. Just know what you’re getting into, and how to care for them properly to ensure a healthy life for the turtle, its owner, and native species in your area.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Buccaneers battle Wolfpack in AFL semifinal

The Central Alberta Buccaneers battled the Calgary Wolfpack in the Alberta Football… Continue reading

Raising awareness for Bikers Against Child Abuse

Second annual Raise A Ruckus Against Child Abuse was held at the Red Deer Radisson Hotel Saturday

Central Alberta Yogathon cancelled Saturday

Due to air quality concerns the fourth annual event will take place Sept. 15

City Hall Park construction begins next week

Construction to update Red Deer’s City Hall Park is set to begin… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Jazz at the Lake begins

The 16 annual event began Friday and runs until Sunday in Sylvan Lake

WATCH: Medicine River Wildlife Centre opens new playground

The grand opening of the playground was Saturday morning

Thousands to attend funeral service for officers killed in Fredericton shooting

FREDERICTON — Hundreds of people have lined the route of a funeral… Continue reading

Calgary police officer seriously injured

CALGARY — The Calgary Police Service says one of its officers was… Continue reading

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

MONTREAL — Canadian politicians are adding their voices to the international reaction… Continue reading

‘Four of a dozen kids will not make it:’ Tina Fontaine’s family healing together

WINNIPEG — Melissa Stevenson was just starting her career 18 years ago… Continue reading

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $16 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $16 million jackpot… Continue reading

Hundreds of neo-Nazis march in Berlin, protected by police

BERLIN — Hundreds of neo-Nazis waving flags with the colours of the… Continue reading

Romanian trucker is Genoa bridge’s 43rd victim

GENOA, Italy — The Latest on the Italy bridge collapse (all times… Continue reading

1 dead, 6 injured after building collapse in Nigeria capital

ABUJA, Nigeria — An emergency response chief says one person is dead… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month