Selecting a healthy box turtle is not easy because they don’t show the same signs of illness or distress like the animals we are already familiar with. They don’t whine or run fevers. However, a good way to begin to assess a box turtle’s health is to look at the conditions the turtle’s been living in. If you are in a pet store look to see if the displays are clean and roomy. Look to see if the store is providing the right conditions for healthy turtles. Is fresh water available for the turtle or is the water bowl full of food and feces? Is there rotting food lying about? Are there flies and bugs in the cage? Will the store provide you with a detail care pamphlet? If the store doesn’t treat its animals well, it won’t treat you well either. Give your business to a store that is reputable and humane. There are many good pet stores, but it may not be the one closest to you. You can check with local turtle or herpetological societies for good pet stores. Sometimes a friend or veterinarian who keeps reptiles can steer you to well-run pet stores. The best way to obtain a box turtle may not be through a pet store. Other alternatives will be discussed later.

Any turtle you get should be taken to a veterinarian who’s worked with reptiles for a stool check. Worms are common in stressed-out reptiles, and you’ll feel better about starting out with a parasite-free turtle.

Here is a checklist of things to look for in a healthy box turtle:

Ask the pet store’s staff questions. Are these captive bred box turtles? Has the turtle been eating well? What does it eat; how often is it fed; has it seen a veterinarian for parasites? If you don’t get good answers to your questions then take your business somewhere else. There are some pet stores that are poorly managed, and not all pet stores treat reptiles with the same respect they would a puppy or kitten. You may want to reconsider giving your money to a store like that.

If you get your box turtle from the wild, you have the responsibility to provide a good home for the animal. It didn’t come up to you and say "take me home". A turtle picked up from the middle of a road or from a field being bulldozed for a new parking lot is a better choice for the obvious reason that their home range puts them at risk of being killed, but even they will not "appreciate" the act of kindness on your part. The same criteria for selecting a healthy pet store box turtle goes for wild-caught ones. An additional consideration would be the animal’s age. An older turtle may not adjust to captivity, and it would be cruel to subject him to confinement if all you can provide is a glass tank inside an apartment. An older turtle will have a plastron that is worn smooth and the top shell may even be showing signs of wear. Once the shell stops growing, usually between 8-12 years, the growth rings begin to wear down. The individual scutes will still be noticeable but the yearly growth rings will disappear due to the constant rubbing of grasses, digging in soil and rubbing against rocks and tree roots. A turtle set in his ways may be stressed to the point of illness if his food preferences and habits are changed. Of course that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t adjust, but if you are a new box turtle owner, a captive-bred animal would be a better first choice.

Captive-bred turtles can be purchased from breeders, whose addresses can usually be found in the back of reptile magazines. Their box turtles may be more expensive than pet store turtles, but I think they are worth the price. By buying captive-bred turtles you are not depleting the wild population.

Once the turtle is brought home, you will want to give it special attention for the next few weeks. Assess the turtle’s health and take care of any problems. If its housing hasn’t been made, you need to take care of that as soon as possible. Housing information is provided in another section. It should not be housed with any existing pet box turtles for several months. A quarantine period will lessen the chances of it infecting your other turtles. The quarantine housing can be a small pen or temporary housing in a glass aquarium setup like the "hospital tank" discussed in the health section.

The box turtle should be well hydrated and given a warm, dark place to rest between handling and feedings. For a week or so, the turtle should be placed daily in a wash basin with about 2 to 3 inches of tepid water. The water should only reach halfway up the shell, never over the turtle’s head. Observe it drinking and washing itself. It may defecate in the water. Look at the feces to see if worms are present. If it’s a mature male it may evert its reproductive organ for washing. After 15 minutes remove the turtle and let it rest undisturbed until the next soaking. Begin to feed the box turtle 3-5 days after you get it home. Detailed information about feeding and diet are supplied in the next section.


Go to next chapter, Diet and Feeding.

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Disclaimer: Please use all information contained on this web site at your own risk. Last updated on December 28, 2013 .