Keep Your Box Turtle Healthy


Box turtle care isn't that complicated, as long as you know what's normal for your pet.

Eastern Box Turtle
Photo credit DM @ Flickr


Box turtles are pretty hardy creatures. If you start with a healthy turtle and treat him right, he can live for many years without any serious illness. Of course, just like with any pet, even if you do everything right, your turtle could still get sick or injured.

Reptile Veterinarians

Not all vets handle reptiles, and not all that do are necessarily qualified to do so. Find out which vets in your area treat reptiles and investigate their qualifications and reputations.

If possible, choose one that belongs to the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV). The ARAV website lists vets by state (and international). The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society also lists reptile vets in each state and several international countries.

Many of the listed vets were apparently recommended by NYTTS members. Some vets appear on both lists, but many do not. So if you can’t find a nearby vet on one list, try the other. If you still can’t find one, check review sites or forums for comments about nearby vets that claim to handle reptiles.

Some experts recommend getting your turtle annual checkups, just like any other pet.

Normal vs. Abnormal Box Turtle Behaviors

One of the best ways to figure out if there is something wrong with your box turtle is to know what’s normal for your turtle. So pay attention to his eating habits and activity levels. If these change, either increasing or decreasing, pay closer attention and try to figure out the problem. Sometimes it’s as simple as increasing the humidity in her habitat.

If you can’t figure out what’s wrong or your attempts at a cure haven’t worked within about a week, see your reptile vet.

Infections and Parasites in Box Turtles

Box turtles can fall prey to infections, especially if their immune systems are weak or their enclosures are not kept clean. Possible infections include:

  • Middle ear infections (bacterial)
  • Upper respiratory infections (bacterial or viral)
  • Shell rot (bacterial or fungal)

External parasites can also attack box turtles. Some are more irritating than dangerous, but others, like fireants, can kill box turtles. Check your outdoor box turtles regularly for ticks, mites, chiggers and leeches. Remove them carefully if you find any.

Learn more about treating a mite infestation here.

Blowflies and botflies lay eggs on box turtles. The maggots can eat a lot of flesh if not stopped quickly.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies in Box Turtles

Box turtles that don’t get the right nutrients can be more susceptible to infections because their immune systems may not be as healthy as they should be.

Another common condition caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies is metabolic bone disease, which causes abnormal shell growth.

Prevent Box Turtle Health Issues

Of course, the best thing to do is to provide the right living conditions for your turtle. That means keeping the humidity and temperature within the right ranges. It means feeding the right diet and giving supplements if necessary.

If you keep your turtles outside, you will also need to check them for parasites.

Indoor turtles especially are likely to have overgrown beaks and toenails. You’ll need to trim them regularly. Another option is to give them a rough surface to walk on and feed them on a rock or paver. This will help them keep their own nails and beaks at a manageable length.

It’s also a good idea to regularly weigh your turtle and inspect his body. That way you can more easily notice any changes in his shell, skin, eyes or mouth.

Box turtle eating strawberry

Much like your own health, it’s usually easiest to prevent problems in the first place rather than treating them after they happen. And when something does happen, it’s easier to treat it early than later.


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