Is a Box Turtle a Good Pet for My Child?

 

Box turtles can be fascinating pets, but not necessarily for young kids.

Box turtles can be fascinating pets, but not always for small children
Cropped version of photo by Virginia State Parks @ Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0

A lot of kids like reptiles and amphibians like snakes, frogs and turtles. Now, some of that might be because of the cute, talking cartoon versions they see. But others are really fascinated by the real ones. If your child is one of these, he or she might be asking to get one as a pet.

So is a box turtle a good pet for kids?

Well, it depends on the child, but for most kids the answer is probably not. Box turtles are not as easy to keep as you might think. At least not if you want to take care of them the right way.

Box Turtles are Scaly, Not Soft and Furry

They’re also not exactly cuddly. Most kids like to pick up and hug their pets. Box turtles aren’t too fond of this kind of treatment. Your pet turtle will most likely just close up into its shell if your child moves too fast to pick it up. That will get boring fast. And if it doesn’t close up, a box turtle will often flail its legs if you don’t support its underside. Long nails could scratch your child.

Also, while they are generally gentle animals, they do bite if scared or stressed. Then you’ll have an upset turtle and an upset child.

Reptiles Can Carry Diseases

A box turtle could also make your child sick. Wild ones can carry salmonella. This is the bacteria that causes food poisoning.

And since some pet stores actually sell box turtles taken from the wild, buying one doesn’t guarantee it will be salmonella-free. The only way to be sure is to buy from a reputable seller who sells only captive-bred box turtles and can show you that your turtle has tested negative for salmonella.

A Box Turtle is a Long-term Commitment

If you still think you’d like to get a pet box turtle for your child, there’s one final thing to think about. These animals can live for decades. Consider whether you believe your child is ready for that kind of commitment … and whether you’re read for it if your child gets bored.

You can’t just let it go, either. In many states it’s illegal to release captive box turtles in the wild. They may carry germs that the wild population has no immunity to. That could kill a lot of already-endangered turtles.

Even if it’s not illegal, it’s not very nice to the animal. Captive box turtles don’t necessarily survive well in the wild (kind of like wild box turtles don’t do well in captivity).

If you’re still determined to get one, make sure you learn:

  • The best way to take care of it
  • How to set up a natural habitat for it
  • The best way to keep it healthy

Do this before actually buying your pet. And involve your child in the learning and planning. If he or she gets bored at this stage, it might be a good idea to consider a different pet.Box turtle eating strawberry Or at least put off getting a turtle for a little while.

Finally, always supervise your child when handling the turtle. That’s an important safety measure for both your child and the turtle.

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