Reptile Booklet


Beautiful Ornate Hatchling

Beautiful Ornate Hatchling

Reptiles are fascinating creatures which I enjoy caring for. Unfortunately, many of the patients I see in practice suffer from chronic malnutrition due to both a poor diet and an inadequate environment. I’ve started this web page so that I could have a readily accessible forum in which to post information that I hope will improve the care of these wonderful animals. Also included, will be links to web sites that I often refer clients to and which have extensive libraries on reptile care.

What you need to know about your pet’s requirements:


How and what to feed, Proper Environmental Temperature, Humidity Level

Most of the medical problems in these guys stem from a lack of knowledge on the owners part about the specific needs of the pet. The most important thing you can do to provide your reptile with a long and healthy life is to READ. I can guarantee you that the more you know about your particular pet the better that pet’s life will be. There are many types of reptiles available and they all come from different environments and have different requirements for nutrition and environment. So, I encourage you to read as much material as you can get your hands for your particular type of reptile. Not everyone agrees on “exactly” how an individual reptile should be fed and cared for, but there are many accepted basics that you need to know. I believe that as long as you know the basics about your pet’s wild lifestyle and strive to mimic that as closely as possible; you’ll be providing better care than 99% of the population.

Turtles/Tortoises: Chelonians



1. Tortoises:
Are largely herbivore which means that their primary diet should be composed of vegetable matter.
Have an upper and lower shell that does not close and no webbing between their toes.
The most common problem we see in pet tortoises is the over feeding of protein (dog food) to these guys. Again, you need to research the specific needs for your individual pet, but generally speaking tortoises should have about 80-85% of their diet comprised of leafy greens, mixed veggies and hay. In warm climates the best way to care for most adult tortoises is to allow them to graze outside and supplement some assorted leafy greens and veggies. Tortoises can also be fed fruits, but this should be a small part of their diet and given more as treats than the staple of their diet. Malnutrition in these animals can also be compounded by coprophagy (the eating of their feces) and a captive environment. These two issues lead to increased parasite burden in our captive tortoises. A regular part of their yearly exam should include fecal examination for parasite ova (eggs). I recommend that you always bring a fresh fecal sample with you when visiting the vet. There isn’t anything we love better!

Most importantly, prior to buying a tortoise, please research the needs of the animal you are planning on adopting. To provide adequate care you need to understand their nutritional and environmental needs in addition to their longevity and eventual size.

Some types of tortoise can become very large, such as this Sulcata. These large pets can be destructive diggers and require a very roomy outdoor enclosure.

Aquatic Turtles
Are largely carnivores – meat eaters.
Have webbing between their toes
One of the more common problems we see in turtles is upper respiratory infection associated with vitamin A deficiency and poor hygiene. Signs include bubbles from the eyes and nostrils, itchy eyes with rubbing of eyes by front legs, swollen eyes (conjunctiva), open mouth breathing and gasping. Unfortunately, in captivity many turtles are kept in dirty environments with water that has been fouled by their food source and feces. It is best to feed turtles in a water source separate from their swimming pool. When artificially confining turtles to captive environments cage hygiene must be an important part of the pet’s upkeep. Food sources for turtles include formulated diets fortified with vitamins ¬†and minerals, live food such as small fish, and veggies high in vitamin A for the youngsters.

1) Food:veggies, proteins, fruits
2) Environment: Clean swimming pool with filtration system. An area to dry dock is necessary. Full spectrum lighting – provided by sunlight not filtered through glass, or a fluorescent full spectrum lamp. The lamp should state that it provides both UVA & UVB light. Warmth should be ensured if kept outdoors. Indoors, environmental temperatures often will suffice but I like to include an incandescent bulb for “basking in the sun.”

Box Turtles
MALETURTLEAre omnivores – eating both plants and animal products.
Are land animals
Have a lower shell (plastron) with a “hinge” to allow them to close their shell.
These guys should be fed a mixture of protein based food and veggies. Cat food should never be fed. Some suggestions for protein sources include small fish, insects, and formulated parrot diets. Assorted vegetables and fruits should also be offered to the pet box turtle. A common problem with box turtles is that if allowed they will consume only their favorite food and often ingest too much protein. A few ways around this include feeding only veggies
when they are the hungriest and mixing food thoroughly to attempt to reduce their ability to pick out individual components. Box turtles should be supplemented with a calcium product and a multivitamin when young. Hygiene is also important
with these turtles and can especially be a problem because they will frequently defecate in their water source leading to increased bacteria and parasite loads. Box turtles require a high environmental humidity level and should have access to a very shallow pool of clean water at all times. The water must be cleaned daily because turtles will typically defecate while soaking.

Box turtles should be fed a mixture of vegetables and protein. They are often deficient in vitamin A so a vegetable rich source should be fed daily such as squash, sweet potatoes and peppers. I’ve provided a link below
for a formulated turtle diet (turtle brittle) that can comprise a portion of their diet (the protein). A variety of greens should also be fed daily and a limited portion of fruits and berries. All food should be finely diced when served.

Preservative and chemical free soil or mulch rich in coconut bark and sphagnum moss will allow the turtle to burrow and will also help to maintain high humidity levels.
Water: A shallow pool of water should be kept in the enclosure and should be cleaned daily. Turtles will drown in deep water so the pool should only be about 1in deep and should have easy access for entering and exiting. Again, it is very important to keep the pool water clean to avoid bacterial build up and infections.

Shelter: If kept outdoors natural plant shelter is best and is needed to allow cooling, but if the turtle is kept indoors artificial plants can be placed around the enclosure and will provide the same feeling of shelter and security for the turtle.

Lighting: Sunlight is always the best, but if kept indoors the enclosure should have a full spectrum (UVA and UVB) light within 18in. of the floor and a basking light to allow for additional warmth.

Temperature: Average indoor temperatures are usually appropriate, but again a basking light should be provided to allow for additional heating up to about 85F.

Supplementation: Food should be sprinkled with a phosphorus free calcium supplement.


Common Disease Problems:
The most common problems we see in turtles are always related to an inadequate diet and environment. The best way to keep your pet healthy is to practice preventative medicine which is really just providing a good diet and environment. A problem we commonly see in turtles is respiratory infection related to vitamin A deficiency and too dry an environment. These turtles will have swollen eyes, bubbles form their nostrils and eyes and may sound congested. Many will be unable to open their eyes and may also have stopped eating

Turtle/Tortoise Generalizations:
Nutritional needs will vary with species
Will benefit from regular sunlight
Often suffer from malnutrition, parasites and bacterial infections
If allowing your turtle or tortoise to graze in your yard be aware of potential predators including the family dog. We frequently see injured turtles that the family dog thought would be a great chew toy.

2 thoughts on “Reptile Booklet

  1. Mary Dylan

    I have a female red-eared slider approximately 5 years old and I can not find any literature on why she is consuming her own feces. She was not fed regularly by a previous owner and I have seen her thrive and grow in size since I have gotten her on a regular and comparatively generous feeding schedule. I assume it is a nutrition problem although she is on a commercial 35%Protein growth formula. I have a powerful filtration system, heat and her tank is clean although I have plans to put her in a bigger tank. Am I not feeding her enough?

    1. admin Post author

      Turtles and tortoises are naturally coporphagic (eat their feces) as a way of establishing normal and varied gut flora (bacteria). As long as she appears otherwise healthy, has a clean tank and good diet this would not concern me. It really is not related to any malnutrition or lack of food – sounds like she has a good home.

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