Box Turtle Care FAQs

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Taking care of box turtles is not always easy. Sometimes, it is great to get some expert advice. In this section, we have collected several box turtle care FAQs asked by our readers who have sought advice from box turtle expert Tess Cook.

For a better overview, we have clustered the FAQs into categories. Just click on any of the links below to jump right to the section that might be of interest to you. Or you can just scroll down and browse through the questions.

FAQs about box turtles who are not eating
FAQs about box turtle illnesses
FAQ’S about box turtle hibernation
FAQ’S about eggs and hatchlings
FAQ’S about box turtle housing
General box turtle care FAQs
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FAQs about box turtles who are not eating

Western Ornate box turtles are not eating

Question

I have two Ornate Box Turtles. One I have had for five years and the other for two years. I recently constructed a new indoor pen that is 6′ by 4′. It has a large hot rock, a wooden house, a large shallow pan for water, a 150w daylight spotlamp, a 4′ Zoomed fluorescent daylight lamp, orchid bark and peat substrate. The lights are on a timer and on 10 hours a day. Daytime temperature is 80 to 85° F and night temperature is 68 to 70° F.

Both turtles seemed to adjust to the new pen just fine at first. About 2 weeks later though, they started to stop eating. Now they hardly eat. They both used to eat every other day. They don’t appear to be sick in any way except they seem to be very lethargic and spend most of their time near the hot rock. This has been going on for about 3 weeks and I am worried.

My box turtles usually eat a diet of insects, occasionally meat, and a lot of vegetables. They like bananas, tomatoes, carrots, apples, grapes as well as crickets, mealworms (not too often), and any insects I can find. Occasionally, they get some cooked chicken. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

Answer

When box turtles lose their appetite, it’s likely because they are too cold. Especially Ornate box turtles are used to higher temperatures than Eastern or Three-toed box trutles. I think the nighttime temperatures are too low and they cannot raise their core body temperature high enough during the day to maintain a hearty appetite. I suggest you buy several ceramic heat lamps and bulbs and try to maintain the temperature at night at 75° F (24° C). With the larger, open-air pen, the temperatures may be lower than you think, even in the daytime, so use another heat lamp or spotlight.

Check out our helpful post about the ideal temperatures and humidity levels for box turtles and how to reach the ideal temperature.

Try covering part of the open pen with a board or plastic sheeting. This will help maintain the temperature and humidity and remove drafts from the pen, which also cool things down. Here you can read more about the ideal box turtle housing. If you are unsure about their diet, you can find more information and food do’s and don’ts here.

FAQs about box turtle illnesses

Young Eastern box turtle won’t eat, is weak and has eye problems

Question

I have a young Eastern box turtle who has stopped eating (she is about 2 years old and 3 inches long). I haven’t seen her eat for almost two weeks now. There is plenty of food available and the other 20 or so turtles I have are eating fine. Her eyes are sealed shut and she is very lightweight and weak.

I believe that she has a vitamin A deficiency for some reason. Before, she used to eat like a pig – everything from crickets to cantaloupe to collard greens and earthworms. I need to get her eating again ASAP. I’m afraid I am going to lose her. There isn’t a vet in the area who looks at reptiles so I am going to have to do this on my own.

Answer

There is no quick and easy way to “cure” the eyes caused by vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency cause changes in the cell membranes the eyelids. Because of those changes, the Haridian glands in the eyelids get inflamed and pus and infection sets in. You must get the infection under control, the harden pus removed and change your diet so more vitamin A is present. In your case, get the turtle to eat something while she recovering. I’ll list the steps here.

1. Get the infection under control – take your turtle to any vet. Note to the vet you think your turtle has an eye infection and other turtle owners you know have suggested using Gentocin Antibiotic Eye Ointment. Smear some into her eyes per direction several times a day. It takes anywhere from a week or two for it to clear up. If it doesn’t clear up by then, she might have another kind of eye problem. Never take it for granted that it’s always a vitamin A deficiency induced eye infection. It could be an injury.

2. Remove the harden pus from eyes. Go to a pet store or online pet store and buy a bottle of Zoo Med “Repti Turtle Eye Drops”. It has soften agents in it to help remove the pus. Use it when you are soaking your turtle in about an inch and half of tepid water. Do this two times a day for the first week! She must get her eyes comfortable or she won’t want to eat. Sometimes, just soaking her twice daily will allow the pus to be pushed out after a while.

3. Get her to eat something while she recovering. Buy caplets of vitamin A (usually cod liver oil), poke a hole in it and squeeze a drop of the liquid onto anything that will hold the product and force-feed her the food. Feed her cooked chicken, or a soaked dog kibble. It’s just a small turtle and she can’t bite your finger off. Force-feeding box turtles is relatively easy. It just takes patience and effort on your part. If nothing works, then make her a gruel of baby-mashed sweet potato, with baby salt free chicken and the cod liver oil. Try placing her in a bowl of the thin gruel, or feed her via a syringe or eyedropper.

4. Check the vitamin A levels of the foods you have been feeding her. Here you can find some foods that are high in vitamin A. Most of the foods you listed are low in vitamin A. She needs more orange flesh vegetables. Buy a reptile vitamin with vitamin A and use it once a week. Until she recovers she should be housed alone in an extra clean hospital enclosure that you can build yourself. Make sure to keep it with warm temperatures and a clean water pan.

Turtle comes out of hibernation with eye problems

Question

I wish I knew where your site was before our box turtle got sick. She had been hibernating and she started to stir around. We looked at her and her eyes were closed shut. Nothing out of the ordinary. Her eyes usually do this. We just place her in the bathtub with lukTurewarm water and she opens them.

Well, this time her eyes stayed shut and are filled with pus. She is rubbing them too. We notice that a little pus is coming out of her nostrils. I guess we need to take her to the veterinarian. Is there anything that we can do to help her while we wait for her vet appointment?

Answer

Yes, your turtle will definitely need to see a veterinarian. Until then, you can try this, it may be all she needs: Put your turtle into a small tank lined with cotton towels and place half the tank on a heating pad or use an overhead lamp to bring the temperature up to 85° F (30° C). Keep her this warm both day and night. (Get a thermometer in there – you don’t want to cook her!) Add a hide box so she can get out of the light’s glare.

Soak her in tepid water twice a day. Do not let her get chilled. I usually use a bathroom basin so there is no chance of the turtle crawling out. If you use a basin, be sure to clean it before your human family uses it. She may work the pus out of her eyes in several days.

Hand-feed her favorite foods. She may not be able to see to eat, but can smell what’s in front of her nose and may eat. If she won’t eat then add some Pedilyte and apple juice to her soaking water. If the turtle does not respond in a few days get her to a veterinarian who is experienced with reptiles. He may want to begin her on antibiotic shots.

Question about box turtle smell, confidence and housing

Question

We recently bought my daughter an Eastern box turtle. I have a few questions for you:

1. He stinks! What can we do to eliminate this? Should we limit the time and availability of his water bowl, aka his swimming pool?

2. What can we do to encourage his confidence? He let me pet him under the chin a while today, then shot back in his shell.

3. We live in New York. Is it acceptable to keep him in his tank outside? Right now, he lives in my daughter’s room.

Answer

1. No, let him have his water at all times. Be sure the bowl is always filled with clean, fresh water. If he stinks, he’s probably not eating the right foods. What are you feeding it? The proper diet will eliminate the problem. Please read more about it in our diet section. If the diet is correct, he may have medical issue, possibly a protozoan infection. Take him to a veterinarian experienced with reptiles for a stool check.

2. Getting him to accept you will take time. If you want to speed it up, buy waxworms and hand feed him. He’ll love you for it. You can buy waxworms online or in pet stores.

3. No, you should not leave a tank outside. That is because the tank heats up in the sun like an oven and if it’s in the shade, it’s too cold. If you want it outside, please build it an outdoor pen. Check out our post on box turtle housing.

FAQ’S about box turtle hibernation

Keeping box turtles indoor during winter?

Question

Is it safe to keep box turtles indoors during their months of hibernation? Or should I leave them outdoors to allow them to hibernate and keep their body temperature low?

Answer

Indoor temperatures are not low enough to stop most of the activity of the box turtle’s body, so a lot of energy is used. Therefore, fat reserves are also used. The turtle can lose weight and become weak, even sick by springtime. Keep them outside, but protect them by making a safe hibernation site. Please read more in the post on box turtle hibernation.

What to do when hibernation sets in?

Question

I think my box turtle is trying to go into hibernation. It is very sluggish, won’t eat, won’t soak itself. I have had it for about 7 months and this is the first time it has acted this way. Is there some way to send it into hibernation, or should I just warm it up some? Currently, it is in my son’s room where it has always been. It is close to a window. I am keeping the water changed, and have tried to feed it, but it just isn’t interested. What should I do?

Answer

You are correct-the box turtle is trying to hibernate. But if it is being kept indoors, you should try to keep in awake and eating. If it continues to live in this half-awake, half-sleepy, non-eating mode, it will lose too much weight and may get sick.

Here you can navigate to our post on hibernation. It discusses ways to keep box turtles eating. You need heat and light to keep the turtle awake and eating. 12-14 hours of light and a warm temperature of at least 80-85° F (27-29° C). The window area may be too cold for it. Feed it live insects, like earthworms, gut-loaded crickets, super worms. Once it believes summer has returned, it will begin to eat again and become more active.

What if outdoor hibernation is not possible?

Question

I live in a duplex so I can’t hibernate my box turtles outside, but I hear hibernation is good for a box turtle. Is there another way I can hibernate my turtle?

Answer

I hibernate my box turtles in an artificial hibernation box made out of plywood. You can find the instructions here.

Find a cool place to set up your hibernation box and monitor the temperature with the thermometer. You can put the unit somewhere that is colder than ideal because the backup heat will come on when the temp goes below the prescribed 50 degrees. Do not put your turtles in until you are sure the temp is being maintained at the correct level.

If your turtles are outside they can be placed into the hibernation box after they have already begun to slow down or start hibernating. If your turtles are kept inside then begin their cool down about 2 weeks before you want to place them in the hibernation box. Stop feeding them and turn off the heat in increments till they begin to slow down. Soak them in tepid water daily so they can void their intestines.

Fill plastic shoe or sweater boxes with damp sphagnum moss. Place one turtle in each plastic box. Poke a dozen holes in the lid and close the top. Check on your turtles often to be sure the temperature and humidity is being maintained. I take the turtles out every 2 weeks in the first month to weigh them and soak them in tepid water.

After that I leave them alone until early spring where I again take them out every 2 weeks to weigh and soak them. If you notice any signs of illness like swollen eyes or runny nose or restlessness, take the turtles out and bring them out of hibernation by slowly warming them. Begin to feed them and take care of their problems.

FAQ’S about eggs and hatchlings

Found box turtle eggs. What to do?

Question

I saw a Common Eastern box turtle lay at least 3 eggs (maybe more) in my flowerbed and am wondering how long it usually takes them to hatch. What predators may try to get the eggs and do you have any recommendations for their protection and successful birth. Thanks.

Answer

Box turtle eggs do not have a set incubation period and can take 2-3 months to hatch, or 70 to 90 days. The factors involved in determining incubation time are average nest temperatures and relative humidity inside the egg chamber. Depending of the average nest temperatures, the turtles can be all males or all or females.

Sometimes, the hatchlings will overwinter in the nest if they hatch late or the fall is too cool. They live off the yolk that is still present in their intestines. So even if you don’t see any hatchlings emerge, they may still be down there, hibernating until spring. It’s best not to disturb a nest. To protect them, you can place a metal screen strainer over the nest to keep raccoons or dogs away.

Good luck and hope you are will be able to see the tiny hatchlings. If you navigate to our box turtle pictures section, you can see some of my hatchling Three-toed box turtles.

What to feed box turtle hatchlings?

Question

What do you feed your hatchlings? Do you modify their diet from what you feed larger turtles? I have two hatchlings, Cleo & Toni, about 6 weeks old, and although they’re doing very well, I appreciate the input.

Answer

I feed my box turtle hatchlings just like I feed adults. I use a different protein each time. It could be waxworms one time or soaked Repti-TEN sticks, waxworms or mealworms, or soaked Milkbone, or soaked low fat dog kibble another time. I avoid feeding them insects I collect outside until they are at least 50 grams. If they need treatment for internal parasites, they will be at a size where the medication won’t hurt them.

I also provide them with very finely chopped vegetables, greens and fruits. I do not give hatchlings just protein as some books advice. They eat the fruits and vegetables when they are ready, but until then, they are getting used to seeing and smelling these foods. I’ve found that at around age 6 months they will eagerly eat the plant foods.

Please read the post about breeding box turtles. There, we provide some more information about baby box turtle care.

Baby box turtle not eating

Question

I have seven baby box turtles in a 20 gal aquarium. My problem is that not all of them are eating. When I get them out of hiding and present the food, it seems that all they can think about is getting back to their hiding place. They do not eat and the food sits there until it gets old. I would appreciate your suggestions.

Answer

How warm and humid is the 20-gallon tank? You need to keep baby box turtles warm and humid or they will not feel like feeding. Keep the tank to around 85° F (30° C). Please be sure the substrate is one that retains moisture and there is plenty of clean, fresh water in a shallow Tupperware type lid for them to drink from.

How are you keeping the tank warm? And is there enough light for them to think it’s spring time and the time to eat? Read more about the proper box turtle housing in our habitat post.

Try feeding them finely chopped up food and place it on a paper plate under a small box with two sides cut off. It will feel like a cave to them and they will feel protected and not exposed to predators. They feel scared in the open tank. A few of the very weak and shy ones may need to get their own tanks if they continue not to eat. They will get sick and may die if they don’t eat soon. Seven hatchlings in one 20-gallon tank is quite crowded and maybe the commotion caused when the greedy turtles eat is scaring the shy or smaller turtles.

What are you feeding them? Something they even want to eat? Baby box turtles need lots of live foods like waxworms and small mealworms. I also feed mine soaked milk bones and chopped up romaine, grated carrots or yams and grapes. Read more in our post about breeding box turtles and in our box turtle diet post.

How to get newborn box turtles to eat

Question

My two newly hatched babies seem to be doing all right. I have been soaking them for 15 min. every day, although one seems to like to crawl out of the water before that. I am now trying to get them to eat. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answer

How old are the baby turtles? They may not eat for several weeks to a month. Keep trying small insects like pill bugs, small worms called red wigglers, waxworms and small crickets or mealworms. I’ve even had luck with Reptile-TEN floating food sticks.

They will eat when they are hungry unless they have something wrong with their brain or body. I doubt that is the case with your babies, but everyone should be aware that some babies just don’t make it. Be sure you have the right housing for them. Read the post about breeding for more info. Good luck!

Pregnant box turtle not laying eggs

Question

I have an estimated twenty-six year old, Three-toed box turtle named Shelly. She has been displaying signs that she is pregnant (digging and soaking) for about two months now. I had her x-rayed and she is, indeed carrying five well formed, well-placed eggs. Should I be concerned that she has not layed yet? Should I induce “labor”. If I (and a vet) did, and it didn’t work, would she have to have an emergency c-sec? She has layed 14 eggs in the past four years with no problems (although they have all been infertile).

Answer

If the vet concurs, I would induce laying, especially if you really think it’s been two months since she been trying to lay these eggs. I don’t think she’ll retain the eggs if she’s given oxytocin. Be sure the vet is aware that the turtle should receive injectable calcium some hours before the oxytocin. If she still will not lay, I’d try another round of calcium and oxytocin before cutting open her plastron up to remove the eggs.

FAQ’S about box turtle housing

Box turtle not adapting to habitat

Question

Help! We have had our turtle in a glass aquarium for several months. Since I have read that this is bad, I have covered the sides of the aquarium, so the turtle cannot see through. I have put in cedar shavings. Also, we have maintained him on a diet of lettuce for a long time now. Should I change it up? I have given him vegetables other than lettuce periodically, but he won’t eat them. Maybe I should try fruit. I wonder if I should release him in the wild. I know this sounds terrible, but I want to do whatever is best.

Answer

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Get rid of the cedar chips ASAP. It is toxic to reptiles. It does damage to their respiratory tract and can cause eye problems. Don’t use rocks or sand either, or anything that is drying. The best thing is terrarium moss and topsoil or leaves. I use terrarium moss and reptile bark. And I mist it twice daily to keep the humidity up and wash the moss and bark once a month.My young turtles can walk around an outdoor pen once a week so they get some sun. Please read our post about box turtle housing and make the turtle a better home.

As for the food, turtles cannot survive on lettuce. Just imagine where box turtles live in nature. They eat insects, worms, fallen fruit, weeds, earthworms and slugs. Also, they like to eat baby mice and dead birds if they can find them, and fallen fruit like apples, mulberries, wild grapes and strawberries. You must get it to eat a better diet. The diet post tells you how to retrain your turtle’s eating habits.

There’s a lot of changes you need to make but after you get him fixed up there won’t be any extra work than what you are doing right now. I don’t think you need to let him go back to the wild. That takes a lot of work also. Look at my post on releasing turtles to see what is involved.

General FAQ’S about box turtles

Can a box turtle be released into the wild?

Question

I have a box turtle that was taken from the wild about ten or eleven years ago when I was a kid. I would like very much to return this turtle to it’s natural habitat. However, my sister argued that it will not survive on its own after being fed for so many years. I called my local humane society and they told me that the turtled would be okay if I let her go in something like a strawberry patch in early summer. What do you suggest?

Answer

I understand your desire to release your box turtle back into the wild. However, there are several factors to consider before you release a pet back into the wild.

1. You should only release turtles that have never been sick. Captive turtles that have been sick can spread disease to native populations.

2. Pet turtles should have an acclimation period in the new area before release and the release site should be perfect-that means plenty of food, hibernation sites, and permanent water.

3. The area must be safe from cars and people. For example, if you release it in a strawberry patch someone else will find it sooner or later and maybe it will not be a good owner.

A better idea may be to find someone to adopt your pet turtle. Perhaps there is a turtle club in your area and you can find someone to adopt your turtle who has an outdoor pen for box turtles.

Here is an article I wrote about some turtles I released.

Thinking of getting a box turtle

Question

I am interested in buying a box turtle. Any suggestions? I was specifically looking at an Ornate box turtle. Do you recommend it? What type food, lights and bedding do you suggest?

Answer

I have Western Ornate box turtles and I can tell you that they are not well suited for indoor set ups. It depends on where you live whether or not they will do well in your area. Many ornate box turtles were sold in pet stores and many have died because of their poor acclimation to indoor captivity. If you can maintain one outside, please get one from a rescue organization.

But if all you can do is keep it inside, then I would suggest getting a captive-bred Eastern or Three-toed box turtle instead. But make sure to provide a suitable habitat. Here you can find some things to look for when you want to buy a box turtle.

Help! My box turtle is missing

Question

I’m hoping to get some insight to find our missing box turtle, we call her Gertie & we enjoy her company routinely. She has always been very habitual about where in the house she eats and voids when we let her out. We’ve found her in a number of places before, but this time, well, we’ve looked everywhere. We appreciate any help you could give us.

Answer

I recommend you look not only under things but inside of things. Turtles will crawl into little openings and dig their way far into the back reaches, as if they were going into a den or tunnel. So look between cushions, between folds in blankets, between magazines, drapers, and anything that touches the floor or could be reached by a turtle standing on her tippy toes.

Pull everything away from the wall. Nothing is too crazy. For example, look inside an umbrella if it’s on the floor. Look into boots. She could even be inside the bedframe.

I have heard of turtles climbing trees! So look in indoor potted plants and anything that would be up against the wall that she could scoot up on and end up off the ground.

Another thing to try is get ripe bananas, very ripe strawberries, or strong smelling canned cat food and place several plates of it out around the house. If she smells the food and is hungry enough, she’ll come out to eat. I hope you will find her!

Submit your own question

We hope this FAQ section has answered many of your questions. We are trying to update this section regularly. If you have any questions or tips you want to share with fellow box turtle keepers, send us an email at [email protected] or through the contact form. We are happy to include any additional information. You can also use the comment section below for further questions.

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