Box Turtle Health Issues: Scratches and Cuts


Dog bites can be serious, don't try to treat one at home.

You can treat simple box turtle cuts and scratches at home, but see a vet for more serious issues, like a dog bite.

Minor accidents happen. They happen to us and to our pets. And sometimes they result in cuts or scratches.

These kinds of injuries are usually minor as long as they are treated quickly and not allowed to get infected. It’s the kind of injury you can easily treat at home (most of the time).

Cleaning Box Turtle Cuts and Scratches

At the very least, all cuts need to be washed out. This includes not just cuts on the skin, but any on the shell. Washing helps remove bacteria that could cause an infection. It also gets rid of any dirt or other debris in the wound.

Before washing, check the wound under a magnifying glass to see if there’s any debris in there. Pick out any big pieces with a pair of tweezers. Re-check after washing to make sure you’ve flushed away all smaller pieces.

Use a weak disinfectant solution to wash with. Safe choices include Betadine (povidone-iodine) in a 1:10 dilution or chlorhexadine gluconate, diluted according to the directions if necessary.

Clean carefully daily until it is healing well.

If it doesn’t seem to be healing, talk to your vet.

Cover Deep Wounds

You can leave minor scrapes uncovered, but deeper wounds need more protection. If a Band-Aid will cover it (and stick!), that’s probably the simplest solution. Otherwise, cover it with a piece of gauze and secure it with first-aid tape.

If you’re wrapping the bandage/tape around a limb, make sure you don’t make it too tight. It needs to be secure, but too tight could cut off circulation and slow down healing.

If you don’t see improvement within a few days, bring your turtle to the vet.

If your boxie normally lives outdoors, bring him inside and put him in a tank alone (quarantine tank) until the wound heals. Leaving him outside risks having flies laying eggs in the wound.

If you’re leaving your indoor turtle in her normal habitat and you don’t usually cover it, you’ll need to put some sort of screened cover over it, also to keep out flies.

Using Antibiotic Ointment on Turtles

Again, minor scrapes probably don’t need it as long as you keep them clean, but keep an eye on them. If they start to look infected, spread a thin layer of triple antibiotic ointment over them.

Signs of infection include:

  • Redness spreading from the wound
  • Pus
  • Swelling around the wound
  • A bad smell

If the infection hasn’t improved within a couple of days or looks like it’s getting worse, bring your pet to a vet.

Cuts/Injuries to Bring Right to the Vet

If the cut is deep enough to expose bone or is a deep puncture in the shell, it’s best to bring your turtle straight to a vet. These wounds are not minor and your pet may need more treatment than a bandage and antiseptic wash.

Animal bites are a good example of an injury that can be very serious and should be evaluated by a vet.

Why Treat Box Turtle Cuts and Scratches?

Now, you might be wondering why you need to treat your pet at all. After all, wild turtles don’t exactly wash and smear antibiotics on their wounds, even serious ones. They just go about their business and survive just fine.

Except they don’t always survive.

And they do wash … when they find water to soak in. And they bask in the sun, raising their body temperature. When they’re sick, they may bask longer to raise their temperatures higher, which helps fight an infection (kind of like us getting a fever).

So really, they do wash and treat their wounds, in their own way. But when we keep them as pets, they need our help to do that.

Sure, they can still soak and bask, assuming that we’ve given them a water bowl and UV lamp, but it’s not the same. Bacteria and mold are everywhere. And the warm, moist environment of your pet’s habitat is the kind of place many germs grow best.

Even if you keep the habitat clean, there are lots of germs in there. There’s just no way to avoid them. A healthy turtle can handle it. But a turtle with open wounds is at risk of infection.

So it’s up to you to try to prevent that.

Being Ready for Your Turtle’s Little Accidents

You might want to consider making a little first aid kit for your turtle, so you know you’re ready if you need it.

You could also add turtle-friendly items to your own first aid kit, but tools like tweezers and nail clippers should not be shared with your pet. So the best idea is a separate kit for him.

Box turtle eating strawberryBut remember, if you have any questions about the severity of your box turtle’s injuries or how well it’s healing, bring him to a vet. Sometimes that’s the only way to know for sure.


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