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Worried About My Aunt's Box Turtle...

Discussion in 'Turtles' started by giveuptheghost, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    Ok, so, I don't know how many years ago it was that my grandpa found this turtle and gave it to my cousin. I don't know if it was someone's escape/released pet or a wild-caught turtle, but he gave it to my cousin and since he left home, his mother has been the primary caretaker. I'm house-sitting for them while they are out of town for spring break and have some questions about the turtle.

    I should preface this by making it clear that I know almost nothing about turtles.

    He's in a 30 long or so, with some sort of dirt/bark substrate that I'm 80% sure is from their yard, rather than store bought. He has a heat rock and a water dish, as well as a light which I think gives off UV, but I'm not 100% sure, nor do I know how old it is, so it might not be giving it off anymore.

    Now I know he's in dire need of a beak and nail trim-- I'm pretty sure he's never had one and he has the underbite from **** at the moment. I think something might be wrong with his eyes too. They seem swollen shut. He was burrowed and I dug him out to attempt to feed him, though I think he's hibernating, but then I saw the underbite and wasn't sure he could eat all that well. And I wasn't sure if his eyes were just shut because he'd been burrowed and it was just taking him some time to open them, on account of the dirt and such. They still seem a bit more bulbous than most pictures I've found online of box turtles though.

    I think I'm going to take him to my reptile shop on Monday and get his beak and toes trimmed, but I don't think they can do anything about the eyes. That's a vet issue, I assume. And that's where the problem comes in. I don't think I can afford to get him treated and I don't think they'll be willing to do it because they've had him for years and he's been fine as far as they're concerned, so they'll probably just not bother. I've been trying to get them to give him to the reptile shop but they want him to stay in the family, even though he's down in the garage and, more or less, completely ignored.

    I don't have my camera, but I'll see if I can get a decent picture of him with my cell phone and maybe I can get some advice then. At least, you can hopefully tell from the pictures if something's wrong with his eyes... I think it is, but I'm hoping I'm wrong.

    Pics coming soon, hopefully.
  2. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    Well, when I went back to take pics he his eyes were finally open. They still seem more bulbous than most turtles I've seen, but maybe that's normal for the species or whatever?

    He's fed a diet of greens, meal worms, and earth worms.

    Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how to get pics from my cell phone to here.
  3. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    Well, first of all, the enclosure is completely inadequate. That is no where near enough room for a box turtle. Adults box turtles should be kept outside, and in enclosures that are roughly 4 feet by 4 feet, giving them about 16 square feet of space.

    Housing them outside is preferred because while they are desert dwellers, they actually require a variety of humid micro-habitats and spend the majority of their time in humid burrows. They also require clean water into which they can submerge to be available at all times. Further, they have specific UVB requirements.

    The eyes should NEVER be bulbous. This could be a sign of a vitamin A deficiency.

    Also, the diet must be more varied than this and I think that dusting with calcium and multi-vitamin supplements is essential.

    The turtle sounds dehydrated and sick, and like he needs to see a qualified vet as soon as possible. There are some things you can do for him now. You can start soaking him in some lukewarm water that covers his feet and vent (so about an inch deep, and about 75 degrees F). You can also feed him some carrots or other fruits/veggies rich in vitamin A, and while you're at the reptile store, pick up some Herptivite (Rep-Cal Supplements) and powder the veggies you feed as well as his insects. While at the store, you may also want to consider trying these eye drops: Repti Turtle Eye Drops. The eye drops won't fix the problem but may make him more comfortable in the interim. You can also feed him off of a flat rock to help encourage beak trimming, and taking him on a walk to expose him to some sunshine would also be a good idea. Just remember that they can run really fast.

    I suspect that he may also be overweight given his high calorie diet and lack of exercise.

    This is so unfortunate because box turtles are incredibly inquisitive and have amazing personalities, that enclosure and lack of stimulation would basically be like a prison. You are correct in observing that he is definitely not okay.
  4. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    I wasn't able to get to the reptile shop yesterday, but I'll talk with my aunt about this whole thing since I should be seeing her in the next few days. If I had the room, I'd take him just so he'd get better care, even though I don't really have a particular interest in box turtles.

    Setting up an outdoor habitat seems tricky. It can get pretty cold here in winter. What would be the best way to house him indoors? And how big a tank would be acceptable? I assume taking him out regularly to roam would be required if he's living in a smaller tank, but there's no way I could have a 16 square foot enclosure in my room. Not to mention, when I move out of my parents' house, it'll likely be to an apartment, and if I was taking this turtle on, he'd need to come with me... so an outdoor enclosure would be temporary either way.

    So... what would be the ideal indoor setup for this guy? Temps, humidity, substrate, tank size, portion of the tank that should be water, etc.

    Also, it would need to be a lidded enclosure because I have a cat who would, no doubt, feel the need to torment the turtle if he has access to it. And I don't want to banish my kitty from my room.

    Also, although I know to wash my hands in between handling different animals and such, are there any illnesses that a turtle can pass on to a snake?
  5. justor

    justor Elite Member

    A table type setup would be preferable to a tank. Imagine a bookshelf laying on its back with all the shelving removed. It just needs to have walls tall enough to accommodate the depth of the substrate and still be tall enough so that the turtle cannot climb over the edge. If you don't have enough room for a 4' x4' table you could make two 4' x2' tables which you can position with one above the other and then have them connect with a ramp.

    I give my tortoise a cuttlebone to gnaw on. The kind you get for birds. This helps keep his beak in check and also gives him an extra source of calcium.
  6. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    I could probably manage a set up like that on the floor, under the table my snake cage is on. But again, the reason I'm worried about the open habitat is my cat. I don't have a herp room. He'll have to go in my room and I don't want to ban my cat from the room (nor do I really think it's fair to do so). I guess if I put a screen of some sort over it that could do it? But I'd still worry about my cat jumping on it and caving it in.
  7. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    Actually, I could probably get her set up on the back deck. There is a covered portion, so she'd be protected from the elements. And then, if need be, we could always move her indoors in the winter. But there are outlets and stuff, so we could set up lamps and whatnot as needed. *ponders*
  8. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    Just to be clear, you're positive you have a box turtle and not a western painted turtle right?

    Can you put up some photos of the turtle?

    Edit: I ask because Western painted turtles are native in Oregon and if you have one, you could keep it outdoors year-round.

    Box turtles need to hibernate seasonally and hibernating a turtle indoors is tricky.
  9. schlegelbagel

    schlegelbagel Frog Lover Premium Member

    You could get a dog cage (used) and add a middle level with some wood and a ramp. Easy to attach UVB lights to. You would only need substrate on the bottom section.
  10. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    A smaller enclosure can be used but they are challenging to construct. I have some sources at home I can post later. :)

    This could be possible but if this is a turtle like mine, it would be at risk for falls. I'm imagining an enclosure with ramps leading up to another level without (or with short) barriers on the ramps or levels. Not only does my turtle have a hard time with ramps, but he's a climber and is always trying to stand taller. This means he tips over onto his back regularly. He's a very curious turtle.
  11. Merlin

    Merlin Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    Where did you get that idea? Box turtles are native to large areas of the US and largely in woodlands and grasslands.
    I used to see them all over the place and I can guarantee you I was never in the desert.
  12. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    I made the likely erroneous assumption that he has Terrapene ornata, which (along with the subspecies) definitely live in the desert, though they occupy other habitats as well (like the woodlands and grasslands you've mentioned). :) I'm using "desert" to refer to a variety of hot, dry habitats. In NM and AZ, box turtles are found in the foot hills around major mountain chains (desert in every sense of the word), in river valleys, in desert-scrubland, and a variety of other habitats. In mentioning this, I was attempting to stress the importance of humid hides and other elements of the habitat that can't be overlooked when keeping them.

    Not every species of box turtle is primarily a desert dweller. :) I shouldn't have made such a general statement!
  13. SonnysDragonS

    SonnysDragonS Elite Member

    I find box turtles all the time around my house in the Appalachian mountains...
  14. justor

    justor Elite Member

    My housemate's mom has been keeping three box turtles in a decent sized outdoor pen for years on her ranch here in Tucson. They have a water tub, a shady area and a pretty impressive burrow system that they made themselves. I'm not sure what subspecies they are but they seem to be doing quite well in what can only be described as a desert. They have produced several clutches of viable eggs all of which were naturally incubated.
  15. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

  16. Sheltowee

    Sheltowee Active Member

  17. giveuptheghost

    giveuptheghost Well-Known Member

    From what I can tell online, he's an 'Ornate Box Turtle'.
  18. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    hmmm Are you still having difficulty posting photos?
  19. AjaMichelle

    AjaMichelle Elite Member

    Pretty good resource :)
    However, a few things are incorrect. Box turtles cannot be reliably sexed based on eye color alone; however, this character along with several others (behavior, tail length and shape, plastron shape, etc.) can be used to make an educated guess. Then, box turtles, and reptiles in general, should NEVER be fed dog or cat food. Not only are dog/cat foods formulated with ingredients that can be toxic to reptiles (certain preservatives, etc.) but the protein and fat levels are intended for dogs and cats. :)
  20. Sheltowee

    Sheltowee Active Member

    Reliably? In 40 years of observing box turtles (thousands of turtles) and from consulting with other experts at universities involved in studies who concur, I have only twice found females with what might be called red eyes (but not bright red like the typical adult male) and never have seen a sexually mature male with other then red or bright orange eyes - I'd say that was pretty reliable but there can always be an exception to a rule. Besides the 1st statement in the link is "One difference between a male and female is generally the male has red eyes" That doesn't sound like a statement anyone can argue with and the other traits you mention are all mentioned in the article under sexing - did you even read it?

    And in the whole link there is only one blurb that says "...even (a little) low fat canned dog food" and cat food isn't even mentioned. Did you conveniently ignore the statement "High quality, pesticide-free vegetable and animal sources of food should be provided" or just decide you didn't have to read the whole thing to make a critique?

    A steady diet of dog or cat food will create problems and that probably should be mentioned and is good to point out but just a little bit of high quality low fat dog food occasionally is a good source of protein and will not hurt a healthy turtle.

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