If you have a cat or dog, you know you should bring him to the vet for regular checkups and shots. Some states/communities even require at least rabies vaccinations by law.
But what about a box turtle? Does he need vaccinations? Other routine health care?
No, box turtles don’t need routine vaccinations. And many do just fine without other routine care. So many boxie parents don’t bring these animals to a vet unless something seems wrong.
But there are good reasons for bringing your box turtle in to a vet for regular visits. Just because he seems fine to you doesn’t mean he couldn’t be doing better.
New Pet Wellness Check
It’s always a good idea to make sure any new pet is healthy. Even if you pick an animal that looks healthy, it could have hidden problems. And an experienced reptile vet may see subtle signs that you wouldn’t know to look for.
At this first visit your vet will likely do at least these checks:
- General appearance
- Inspection of shell
- Signs of malnutrition or other illness
- Test for parasites (using a fecal sample)
This information also gives you a baseline to compare to if he seems sick later.
It’s a good idea to get this check within the first two days of getting your new pet.
Learn More About Your Box Turtle
You can find lots of books and websites with information about box turtle lighting, heating and nutrition needs … including right here on Box Turtle World! And while this general information is very useful, only a vet can tell you if your specific animal is responding well to the care you’re giving her.
Just because she’s not sick doesn’t mean she’s as healthy as she could be. Your vet can give you specific recommendations, based on how your turtle looks, for things you can do to improve your pet’s health.
Also, since box turtles’ behavior is often tied to the seasons, your vet can tell you if any changes in behavior are normal or a sign that something’s wrong.
Box Turtles Do Benefit From Routine Care
Just because your boxie doesn’t need shots, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need other regular care. Box turtles in captivity tend to get overgrown beaks and nails. They often don’t walk on or feed off of rough surfaces that can file down beak and nails.
It’s very important that you keep these things under control. An overgrown beak, especially, is dangerous for your pet. Eventually it can prevent him from being able to eat.
So you have to trim them. You can do this at home, but it’s a good idea to have a vet show you how the first time. Just like dogs and cats, you want to be sure you don’t cut the quick in the nails. And you want to avoid cracking the beak.
Or you can have your vet do it regularly. This is often a much easier option, because trimming nails and beaks that have been closed up in a shell can be really hard! 😉
Also, because turtles can get intestinal parasites, it’s a good idea to have them checked annually. This is especially important if they live or go outside (which they should, if at all possible!).
Catch Problems Early
As wild animals, box turtles are good at hiding illnesses. In the wild, sick animals make easier prey, so they try hard not to look sick. And yes, even captive-bred box turtles are “wild” in many ways, including how they rely on their instincts (although their instincts may not be as good as wild-born animals).
So you may not notice signs of illness until they’re really obvious. But an experienced reptile vet may be able to notice more subtle signs. Then you can treat any problems early, when treatment if often easier.
Establish a Relationship With a Reptile Vet
Even if you don’t bring your boxie in annually, having a vet who knows you and your pet can be invaluable.
- You won’t have to waste time finding a vet in an emergency
- A vet who know you may be more willing to help when you emergency happens after hours
- Some exotic pet vets offer boarding for clients when they go on vacation
Although many states and communities regulate the kind and/or number of box turtles you can own (if any), we’re not aware of any that require regular vet visits. It’s a good idea to double check your local laws to be sure.
Finding a Veterinarian for Your Box Turtle
Of course, before you can bring your pet to the vet, you need to find one that works with box turtles. And it probably won’t be the same one who takes such good care of your dog or cat.
Most vets don’t handle exotic pets, including reptiles, amphibians or even birds.
You may have to call around to the vets in your area to see which ones work with turtles. If you have a vet for another pet, start there. You might get lucky and they do turtles, too. Or they might be able to recommend someone who does.
You could also start with these resources, to see if any of the listed vets are near you.
- Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
- The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society (lists vets in all states, not just New York)
- Turtle Rescue of Long Island (also lists vets in most states)
- Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection Veterinarian Listing
These lists are not comprehensive. Some vets show up on all of them, but most are only on one or two lists. And none of these sites promise to list all vets that handle reptiles. So if there are none listed near you, you may still have to call around to find one.
For more information on how to choose a vet, check out this short article
Finding a Herp Veterinarian on Herp Care Collection.