Originally from North America these land-dwelling turtles are not often the ideal starter turtle for beginners. Box turtles can have different needs depending on which sub-species of box turtle they are, so if you have your heart set on one, make sure you have researched and spoken with your exotics vet so you can be sure you are providing your box turtle with the best possible care. These turtles grow to quite a ripe old age, so if you are on the lookout for a long-term companion, these may be the turtles for you.
These turtles are not hands-on, they don’t enjoy being handled and played with, so households with young children or new pet owners are best to avoid the box turtles. Stress can affect a turtle’s health and can be wholly exacerbated if they are being over handled. If you are thinking about getting a box turtle think carefully about how much you want to handle your pet – if you are happy just to observe them without much handling, then a box turtle may be ideal for you. Like many of us, box turtles can get stressed when their environment changes, they like routine and can get unsettled so it’s worth keeping this in mind when considering a box turtle – they can be quite uncompromising.
Ideally these turtles will be best suited to living outside as they would in the wild, as long as you can keep your turtle safe with bedding, access to fresh water, protection from predators and in a climate that is similar or as-close-to their natural habitat as possible, your turtle should flourish. If you cannot keep your turtle outside and opt to keep them inside, you need to keep an eye on the temperature of their surroundings. You must provide your box turtle with clean, fresh water, a hide and a heat source and basking light to maintain their optimum temperature.
You may know that not all turtles and tortoises hibernate but box turtles do, so if their home, or if they live outside, is allowed to drop in temperature you need to make sure your turtle is healthy enough to hibernate successfully. If you are unsure, you can check with your exotic vet who will be able to let you know and give you some hints and tips on what you can do to get your turtle ready for hibernation.
Turtles are omnivores and will need to eat a varied and stable diet, subspecies of box turtles will need slightly different diets depending on which group they belong with, so you will need to do some research to make sure you are providing your box turtle with all the nutrients and protein they specifically require. Some box turtle subspecies will need protein from animals, whilst others tend more towards getting theirs from vegetation. Insects, low fat meat, fruits and even pinkie mice could all be staples as part of your turtles’ diet, so research and speak with your vet to find out what diet works for your turtle.
Metabolic bone disease is the main health problem that most turtles are prone to getting, sadly this is an extremely painful condition that will lead to weakened bones and can even cause death in severe cases. This can be caused by inadequate UVB lighting, another reason to make sure you research what is best for your turtle – get the temperature of their environment correct form the start. You can always ask your exotic vet.
Another health concern for turtles is respiratory infections – this is most often caused by dry air and insufficient humidity available to the turtle. Box turtle and other turtle specifics are prone to this, keep an eye and ear out, if your turtle is wheezing, lacking in appetite, very lethargic, or you notice mucus from their mouth or nose, get them down to your vet. Vitamin A deficiency can also be causing your turtle respiratory issues and can be the cause of a bad diet, there are food items that your turtle will love, such an iceberg lettuce but it has no nutritional value for your box turtle.
Parasitic infections are also a common problem with turtles, unfortunately this is not a condition that has obvious signs but, it can be diagnosed by your vet when you take your turtle for a routine check-up so it’s always good to ask them to have a look just in case and not miss any check-ups. As well as this, your box turtle can get a condition known as shell rot caused by a bacterial or fungal infection; the shell will appear to have cracks in it or appear dry, if left untreated this can progress and begin to produce a very nasty odour.
Wild box turtle populations are on the decline in the wild and have been protected in many areas of the world, America being one of them, and made illegal to be kept or owned as pets. If you have your heart set on getting a pet box turtle, you will need to find a breeder that breed their turtles in captivity. As with all animals bred in captivity by a breeder, you will be able to see the parents and find out potential health problems and concerns that may arise during their lifetime. Wild box turtle that have been taken into captivity will be extremely stressed due to the change in surroundings and can have severe health issues.
Your exotic vet should be able to give you some names of breeders but if not, there are plenty of forums and places around you can discuss with other box turtle owners the best places near you to get your new box turtle.