Here at Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotics Hospital we are committed to providing the highest level of care for your terrapin and therefore we have a specially designed ‘Hot Ward’ in order to hospitalize your terrapin and other reptiles under the best condition.
If your terrapin requires special care, for example so we can provide close monitoring before and after surgery, or to provide fluids or food support when they are ill, then our vet may recommend your pet staying in hospital.
In our hospital in the past we have comfortably hospitalized large adult 12 kg Giant Asian Pond Turtles (Heosemys grandis) down to 5 gram hatchling Red-Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta).
In our ‘Hot Ward’ we have a variety of cages, tanks and spas as well as all the necessary additional equipment, in order for us to provide the ideal environment to support your terrapin’s recovery.
Even though it is not necessary to vaccinate your pet terrapins it is a good idea to schedule yearly routine health checks for your pet. Like many other ‘exotic’ pets your terrapin may only show obvious signs of illness when they become very ill, so by the time your pet looks sick the disease may be very advanced.
At a regular check our vet will discuss the general management, environment and diet of your pet as 90% of the problems a pet terrapin will develop are generally due to a problem in one of these categories. Infectious disease is quite rare in captive terrapins. In the wild a terrapin can generally move to the environment which suits it the most, but in captivity the owner must provide everything it needs in its enclosure.
The specific needs of your pet terrapin depend upon which species it is. Accurately identifying the species of your terrapin is very important. If you are unsure about the species you own please book an appointment and bring your pet for a health check.
During the consultation we may be able to identify your terrapin for you, but if not we will take photographs and send them to other experts who can provide further help with identification.
We would normally recommend yearly health checks for your terrapin in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet. Terrapins can often look ‘normal’ even when they are sick therefore out vets may also suggest further diagnostics like x-rays or blood testing if we suspect there is a problem, so that we can hopefully treat the problems before they become serious for your pet.
Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:
What symptoms is it showing, if any
What food your pet is fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
Any medicines that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
What is the origin of your pet and what animals has it been in contact with.
What the urine & faeces (poop) are both normally and presently like.
What heating & lighting is being used.
That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.
Older Terrapin Health Checks.
If your animal is very old and becoming frail, or has specific healthcare needs, your vet may suggest more frequent checks.
We would normally recommend yearly health checks for your terrapins in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet. Terrapins can often look ‘normal’ even when they are sick therefore our vets may also suggest further diagnostics like x-rays or blood testing if we suspect your terrapin has a problem, so that we can hopefully treat the problems before they become serious for your pet.
As some species can live to be very old (for example over 50 years for diamondback terrapins) you should think carefully before taking one on!
Correct nutrition is very important for maintaining health. ‘You are what you eat’
If we eat a poor diet, we cannot be surprised if we get sick. The same applies for your pet terrapin. This is especially true when an animal is outside of its normal environment and reliant upon us humans to feed it. Choosing what to feed your pet terrapin is very important, the appropriate diet depends upon the species of your terrapin as well as life stage and health status.
We suggest you discuss what to feed your pet terrapin with your vet at a consultation. It will help if you bring along the packaging of any commercial diet you are currently feeding.
As a general rule however aquatic species of terrapin are generally omnivorous.
Therefore they require some whole animal flesh items like fish, shrimp or worms as well as some fruit and vegetables. The proportions of animal material, fruit and vegetables will change depending on the species and life stage of your turtle. A common problem is to continue feeding your terrapin the same diet he or she enjoyed as a young animal (mostly animal protein items plus some vegetables), rather than change to a diet more suitable for adults (mostly vegetables with some animal protein occasionally). This can lead problems, such as kidney disease or gout in older animals.
A young turtle should be fed:
– Insects and insect larvae,
– Small live shrimp
– A good quality pelleted turtle food. (The terrapin equivalent of dog or cat biscuits!)
– Vegetables and fruit should be offered (but don’t worry if they are ignored!)
– Feed most days.
An adult turtle should be fed:
– Feed only every other day or 2-3 times per week.
– Offer vegetable and fruit in every meal.
– Once a week offer small amounts of good quality turtle pelleted food and 1-2 small pieces of whole small fish, shrimp or crickets.
The main difference in feeding of adult turtles is the feeding frequency. It is easy to over feed an adult turtle. Healthy adult turtles do not need to be fed every day.
Commercial terrapin diets
There are number of ‘complete turtle diets’ available in pet stores. These are advertized as complete, or almost complete, solutions to all of your terrapins nutrition concerns.
Compared to the wild diet these diets are still generally too high in protein, may have high sugar levels and inadequate amounts of fibre, but can be a useful source of vitamins and minerals.
We do not recommend that you feed your tortoise solely on these products but there are cases where will advise their use in combination with other dietary advice.
In our Shop we sell the Zoo Med Forest Tortoise Food which is useful in supplementing the diets of some of the Asia and American Box terrapins. We also sell the Mazuri Freshwater Turtle diet which is intended for more carnivorous terrapins again following the direction above we recommend feeding two or three times per to juvenile terrapins and once per week to adult terrapins.
Some of the reptile shops in Mong Kong sell ‘soft’ pellet diets and canned insects for terrapins. We recommend that these are not fed as a sole diet but as used in balance along with fresh food products.
Other Common Diets:
A diet of pork meat, shrimp and rice is not a balanced diet and is not suitable for your pet turtle. Pork or shrimp meat contains mostly protein, with low levels of calcium and vitamins.
Calcium/Vitamin Mineral Supplementation:
As with all reptiles great care must be taken to ensure a varied diet adequate in all essential trace elements.
We recommend adding calcium supplementation (with or without Vit D3 depending on your environmental situation) to the fruit and vegetable part of the diet.
Proper calcium supplementation during the carnivorous phase of juvenile terrapins is critical to balance out any Calcium: Phosphorus imbalances in the meat/protein based diet
Add a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement once per week.
If you have any questions about the suitability of your current diet for your pet terrapin and what supplementation is needed, please contact us to schedule a consultation.
Do not wait for an obvious problem such as stopping eating, it is best to be proactive and avoid health problems through providing a healthy lifestyle and good diet to your pet turtle.
I am sure your doctor will tell you the same about your health too!
It is very important to correctly identify the species of your pet terrapin order for you to research and learn how they live in the wild so you can recreate the best environment possible for them in your own home. Terrapin means a fresh water turtle, tortoise means it lives on the land. Turtle should mean a sea turtle, but this term turtle is often used for all of them, especially in America.
If you are unsure about the species you own please book an appointment and bring your pet in for an examination. During the consultation we may be able to identify it for you, but if not we will take photographs and send them to other experts who can help with identification.
Terrapins are generally freshwater animals but depending on the species will spend a varying amount of time on the land or in the water e.g. Musk Turtles (Sternotherus) prefer to spend most of their time in the water whereas the Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) will spend virtually all of their time on land.
In general most terrapins have the following basic requirements:
In the wild terrapins generally live in and around fresh water systems e.g. in rivers and streams. As they normally live in flowing water they are used to ‘clean’ water and therefore in your home you must provide a tank of clean water. Depending on the size of your tank the water may be kept clean by changing the water every day or if you have a larger tank then having a proper filtration system would be an easier option.
The water should normally be deep enough to allow normal swimming behavior- unless your pet is too sick to swim and then our vets will provide you with alternative advice.
Most terrapins will bask on the land to warm themselves up and return to the water to cool themselves down. Some species will spend most of their time on land, and need just a smaller soaking corner.
If you have any questions about specifics of water management, please make an appointment and speak to one of our vets.
Most species of terrapins must be provided with a land or dry area for them to climb onto. In the wild the terrapin would normally bask in sunlight on the riverbank or on a log or rock to warm up, therefore in your home you will need to provide a dry area with a heat source that your terrapin can easily climb out onto in order to ‘bask’ out of the water.
Some species need a bigger land area to walk around and explore.
Is essential that terrapins have the opportunity to dry their shells as if permanently wet they may develop shell problems.
Terrapins like all reptiles are ‘cold blooded’. This means they do not generate their own body heat and must be provided with external sources of heat in order for them to regulate their own body temperature.
As stated above your terrapin will climb out of the water to warm itself up. To allow your terrapin to effectively regulate its body temperature you need to provide what is called a ‘temperature gradient’. This means that part of the enclosure should be warmer than the rest, so your terrapin can move to the area where the temperature is correct for its needs at that time of day.
To create the temperature gradient we normally recommend positioning a light bulb or a special ‘heat’ light over the dry area. The light or heater should have a power rating of >50 watts. This measure of power in watts determines how much electricity is used by the light, and how much energy is finally converted into heat. The higher the power rating the hotter your light or heater will be.
In our Retail Pet Shop we sell lights and heaters of 50, 60, 75, 100 and 125 watts to meet the needs of your pet terrapin and its tank, and thermometers so you can make sure you have got it right.
The exact temperature requirement for your terrapin will depend on the species it is but in general we recommend a water temperature of about 26-28 C with a land basking hot spot of 32 C.
Remember that if your terrapin lives in a tank in your apartment do not place its tank close to the air conditioning in order to prevent the water or air becoming chilled.
Do not place it too close to the window or it may become overheated.
As well as possibly providing a light to provide heat you will also need to provide ultraviolet (UV) light for your terrapin
Most animals, humans included, need some ultraviolet (UV) light on their skin. This is used by the body to produce and activate some vitamins. For many animals their skin is very sensitive to UV light, and over exposure can cause problems such as burning or even skin cancer. However reptiles such as your terrapin have adapted to bask in strong sunlight for long periods of time, and as such are very resistant to UV light. So for their vitamin activation needs, they need much more UV light.
We cannot see in the UV range, but as with all light there are different wavelengths and different ‘colours’. The UV spectrum is divided into 3 areas. UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA is the closest to visible light in wavelength and properties. UVC is furthest from our visible range and closer in wavelength and properties to harmful radiation such as X-rays. UVC is dangerous to living animals, and can cause cell damage.
The range required by the skin for activation of vitamins is UVB. This is important as many lights which claim to produce UV light, may only generate UVA.
A proper UVB light is an important addition to the housing setup for your turtle. There are many different types of UVB light which may state different UVB outputs. In out Pet Retail Stop we stock UVB fluorescent tubes as well as compact bulbs which emit UVB of different strengths.
The UVB light must be positioned within 30 cm of your terrapin for it to absorb the UVB We recommend you change the UVB lights every 6 months to ensure that your turtle is receiving adequate UVB.
If you have any questions about the equipment you have, or the equipment you need for your pet, please book to see one of our vets. During the consultation please bring along any lights you have already purchased for the vet determine if they are suitable or not. If you have a UVB light please bring it along as we have a UVB meter which we can use to check the UVB output to make sure it is adequate.
As you can read from above keeping a terrapin is not ‘easy’. Frequently owners find that they have to spend just as much money providing the correct environment for their pet as they do on purchasing it.
In Hong Kong terrapin owners have traditionally kept their terrapin on the bathroom floor or in a plastic bucket, we hope from the information above that owners can understand how this would not be classed as a suitable environment, and why when terrapins are kept in this incorrect way they always develop health problems, sooner or later.
We do not recommend routine de-sexing for terrapins, but we do often have to recommend it when there has been a serious problem diagnosed with your terrapin’s ovaries or uterus or eggs.
Terrapins can develop a medical problem known as ‘ovarian stasis’. In this condition the ovary develops large follicles which are the yolks of eggs, but do not then develop these into eggs or pass them. With this condition this yolk material can sit in the body cavity for many years, and often leaks and causes inflammation of the body cavity (peritonitis) which can make your terrapin very sick. This condition usually develops because of inadequacies in the environment and care, so the normal laying is not triggered. This is thought to be due to problems with such factors as temperature, day light length, vitamins and minerals and the absence of a mate.
If ovarian stasis is identified your vet will recommend surgical removal of these abnormal ovaries.
It is normal for female terrapins to pass at least 1 clutch of eggs and sometimes two each year. If your terrapin lays eggs at abnormal times, lays unusual numbers of eggs, or stops laying eggs it is possible your terrapin may have ovarian stasis or may have eggs stuck in their uterus. Often the only sign shown when your terrapin has these problems is a lack of appetite!
To diagnose these problems our veterinarians will need to perform blood tests to see if there are problems in any of the other body organs, perform x-rays (to see if there are any eggs with shells in the uterus) and perform an ultrasound examination to identify any large follicles on the ovaries.
If de-sexing surgery is needed to correct your terrapin’s problem our vet will perform the surgery assisted with an endoscope. An endoscope is a very small camera and light source which helps our vets perform surgery through small holes.
In these de-sexing cases our vet will make an incision into the terrapins’s body cavity through the skin in front of her hind leg and then use the endoscope to examine her body cavity, ovaries and uterus. Depending on her exact problem our vet will then remove the ovaries and follicles or operate on her uterus.
During the surgery our vets will also normally insert a feeding tube into your terrapin to ensure she can be provided with the correct nutrition to aid her recovery.
Most terrapins do recover quite quickly after this surgery and within a few weeks are back to normal.
If you are worried please schedule a consultation with your vet.
There are no vaccines available for terrapins and as these pets are normally housed in small stable groups with little contact with other animals there is normally no need for routine preventative medical treatments.
De-worming be required especially if your terrapin was ‘wild caught’ and not ‘captive bred’. Wild caught terrapins can carry many types of parasites however de-worming programs are normally tailored specifically for individual animals or groups.Our vets are very happy to discuss with you what they would recommend during a consultation.
If your pet terrapin was wild caught, purchased from a food market or found ‘stray’ it may be carrying a more varied and more significant parasite burden. The signs of parasite load are variable and include poor weight gain, soft feces and in severe cases can cause generalized fluid buildup (oedema) or even intestinal blockage.
If you or your vet suspects a high parasite burden a more aggressive de-worming program may be needed, as well as medical treatment, environmental cleaning and possibly changes in management.
There are some species of reptiles from cooler regions of the world that in winter will slow down, stop eating and sleep for long periods. This is known as hibernation.
Few terrapins are adapted for this, and a period of cold weather is not expected or necessary and may not be tolerated by these species. For example Red-Eared Sliders do not normally hibernate. As it becomes cold they do slow down, or go into torpor, and many owners misinterpret this as hibernation. Strong and healthy animals may be able to withstand this long cold spell but the less healthy will not, sooner, or later.
For this reason it is important as a pet owner that you know the species of your pet turtle and understand its physiologic needs. If your turtle does appear to ‘hibernate’ and not eat for a long period it may be because it has a medical problem.
Hibernation is not truly necessary, other than for breeding, even for the tortoises that do.
If you are unsure if your pet should or could hibernate please speak to our vets during a consultation.
At Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotics Hospital we understand the bond pet owners feel to their terrapins, but if you are going to cuddle them there are a few precautions you must take!
It is important to remember that some animals may carry diseases which could make you significantly ill. In the case of reptiles it is the bacteria Salmonella which has the potential to cause serious problems.
The Salmonella bacterium is a normal inhabitant of the gut of reptiles and does not cause disease in its host. It can however cause serious disease, including severe gastro-enteritis in other animals including humans.
To reduce the risk of disease we recommend basic hygiene precautions are taken:
Always wash your hands after handling your terrapin or its tank.
Use an antibacterial soap preparation (and / or alcohol gel preparation).
Do not kiss your pet terrapin (no matter how gorgeous they may be).
When washing the cage use an appropriate disinfectant solution – 10% bleach can be used – but please rinse very well.
Wear gloves when handling faeces.
Supervise any children. They may not follow such precautions, and may be at higher risk of disease.
We do not advise a terrapin as a pet for children under the age of 5 years old.
Older children must be supervised during any handling and basic hygiene practiced afterwards.
Please keep your terrapin away from any food preparation areas. For example do not keep your terrapin in the kitchen or allow it to walk around on any surfaces in the kitchen