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Special Problems of Pet Turtles

General Information

Turtles have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care issues.


Cystic Calculi

Commonly called bladder stones, these occur when minerals from the diet form crystals, which then form stones. Usually these are composed of uric acid, which usually results from a diet that contains too much protein (such as a diet high in dog food or cat food).



Often, you will detect blood in your turtle's droppings. An examination and radiographs (X-rays) allow your veterinarian to correctly diagnose the problem. Surgical removal of the stones is needed, as is fluid therapy to prevent kidney damage. Your veterinarian will discuss dietary correction in an attempt to prevent future stones from forming.




Turtles are infamous for carrying Salmonella bacteria. This bacterium can cause severe gastrointestinal disease or septicemia (blood poisoning). Many animals and people carry the bacteria without showing any clinical signs (remember Typhoid Mary?), yet shed the bacteria in their feces which can infect others.


During the mid-1970s, it was discovered that many young children contracted the disease from their pet turtles. Many of these children didn't exercise proper hygiene (such as washing their hands after handling the turtles and even placing the turtles in their mouths). Legislation was passed making it illegal to sell turtles with a shell length smaller than 4 inches (apparently turtles larger than this can't easily be placed in a child's mouth!)


Prevention, through proper hygiene, is the best way to control the disease. Since most turtles that carry Salmonella are not ill, they usually require no treatment (treatment often fails to kill the bacterium anyway).



If given the opportunity, most turtles will attempt to hibernate. While controversial, many veterinarians feel that it is not necessary for the turtle's health that it does hibernate, but some owners wish to provide suitable conditions for hibernating. If so, you should thoroughly discuss this with your veterinarian. Hibernation is very stressful, and sub-clinical illnesses can manifest themselves during hibernation.


Only turtles that are in good health should be allowed to hibernate, so a thorough examination and appropriate laboratory tests are essential prior to hibernation!


A common problem in turtles is "pseudohibernation". True hibernation requires a constant temperature between 50o-60 o F (10 o -16 o C). Persistent temperatures above 60 o F (16 o C) are not cool enough for true hibernation. These animals appear as if they are hibernating, but in reality the turtle increases its metabolism and slowly starves.

 This client information sheet is based on material written by Rick Axelson, DVM & Shawn Messonnier, DVM

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. January 17, 2014

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