How to Safely Pick Up Your Turtle

Posted by Nancy on 4/4/2018 to Turtles, Box Turtles and Tortoises
How to Safely Pick Up Your Turtle

A dog will love you and a cat may tolerate you when you want to cuddle, but most turtles are not comfortable being handled.   They will thrash around, possibly scratching you with their strong legs and long claws. Some will even try to bite.  Most times this reaction, I feel, is because of a sense of fear.  Let’s face it; if a turtle finds its self sailing through the air, it is usually a predator that is creating the problem for them.

That being said, some turtles, but not all, will become familiar with you and will quickly respond to your presence.  At first, because it recognizes that you are the one who feeds him his pelleted turtle food.  Later, many turtles will come to trust you and even learn to anticipate a scratch under the neck.  However, a youngster or inexperienced turtle person may drop the turtle possibly resulting in injury to the turtle. Therefore, I would like to offer these steps to handling your turtle safely.

 First, be prepared for the turtle’s reaction.  The turtle will wave its legs around and possibly snap at you. They may “pee” on you and hiss. They can also withdraw into their shell and stay that way for hours. Knowing this will go a long way to boost your confidence when handling your pet. Try to minimize this stress by using the following suggestions.

How to Hold a Turtle

 Always pick up your turtle with both hands.  Place your fingers under the plastron (bottom shell) and your thumbs on the carapace (top shell).  Please be careful that larger turtles can’t get a foothold on your arms.  This will result in scratches on your arms and the turtle may be able to launch itself out of your grip. 

Avoid picking up small turtles with one hand over the top of the carapace.  This can put stress on the shell and may result in damage and/or injury to your young pet.  If the turtle is small enough slide all of your fingers on one hand under turtle and place your thumb on the carapace.  Then slide the turtle into the palm of your hand and cup your other hand over the top. Remember you are restraining him to prevent a fall which can cause injury or even result in death.  If your turtle continues to struggle revert to the other method mentioned above.

Don’t wave your hands around while holding a turtle.  Move your hands slowly and avoid holding your turtle upside down. This can add stress to this beautiful creature.

How to Handle a large turtleKnow your species. Long-necked turtles, softshells and snapping turtles can reach over their backs and bite fingers and hands if your hands are close to the front legs.  I like to place my hands between the back legs and the tail when lifting a species that may bite.  Some of these species can become very large. It may be best to have someone to help when you have to lift these creatures. Remember to always watch the head to avoid bites.

I would like to add a note for people who are nursing a turtle will a calcium deficiency (ie. soft shell).  Handle your pet as little as possible.  Use a piece of stiff cardboard or if your turtle is large a thin piece of wood to lift it.  Putting stress on a soft shell can result in shell deformities or even internal injuries.

The shell of a turtle is sensitive to touch, can be injured and can break.  It is a living and growing part of the turtle. If you drop your turtle and have concerns about his health, please see an exotic veterinarian immediately.  

Your turtle may or may not like to be handled, but it will soon recognize you.  We have turtles that have learned that my husband feeds turtle pellets and I usually feed the treats.  Our Blanding’s Turtle prefers to be hand fed in the water and will climb out of the water and stare at us if we don’t spoil him. Our Pink-bellied Side-necked Turtles will swim to the corner and beg by scratching the side of their enclosure. Yes, we do emote when it comes to turtles, but what turtle owner doesn’t?

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