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Water Turtle Diseases/Injuries

Injuries: Most injuries to water turtles result from aggressive encounters with other turtles or household pets. Many water turtles are territorial, and fighting between them (especially between individuals of the same species) often results in serious wounds. Water turtles of widely varying sizes should not be housed together. Housing similarly sized turtles together helps reduce the number of injuries from fighting. Injuries may also occur during mating, Males may become overly aggressive during copulation and inflict bite wounds on the female. The male's rapid and sometimes premature withdrawal of an engorged penis also may injure the female's reproductive tract Household pets, especially dogs, sometimes inflict serious wounds to the shells or soft tissues of water turtles. An injured turtle should be examined by an experienced veterinarian as soon as possible. Prompt attention to the wounds and early antibiotic therapy are vital to the favorable outcome of these cases. Usually, these injured turtles must be kept out of water or allowed only limited access to the water so that wound healing is not delayed. Veterinarians often employ epoxy resins or acrylic glues to repair shell injuries.

Foreign Body Ingestion: Water turtles may eat a variety of foreign objects, such as fish hooks, gravel and aquarium parts. Only rarely does the turtle owner see the turtle swallowing the foreign body. Usually these turtles are presented to a veterinarian because of poor appetite, weight loss or emaciation. Radiography (x-rays) is usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes the foreign body does not show up on the radiograph and a barium study is necessary to make the diagnosis. Most often, surgery must be employed to remove the foreign body.

Drowning: Hobbyists frequently house small or juvenile water turtles within enclosures containing water that is too deep or within enclosures that are in some other way hazardous. All water turtles should be provided with a resting and basking area. Otherwise, exhaustion and drowning may result. Juvenile water turtles often become trapped under plants and rocks or behind filters, and drown. All such environmental hazards must be removed or corrected. Emergency measures may save some drowning victims because a turtle's heart will continue to beat for many hours after the animal appears to have died. Treatment for drowning involves holding the turtle with its head toward the ground and its back legs elevated, and moving its legs to force water from its lungs. Mouth-to-nose artificial respiration may also be used. If the turtle can be successfully revived, antibiotics and appropriate supportive care are necessary until the turtle has recovered.

"Beak" Overgrowth: Turtles and tortoises, like birds, have "beaks." These horny coverings of both the upper and lower jaws tend to grow continuously for life. In the wild, the upper and lower beaks wear down as fast as they grow. In captivity, however, they overgrow, and periodically must be trimmed by an experienced veterinarian or veterinary technician.