If you have a sick, injured or new turtle, it may be best that you dry-dock or isolate it for a period of time. Here is how to safely quarantine a turtle.
To quarantine simply means that you put something in a period of isolation, usually to both recover from a contagious disease or infection, as well as to prevent it from being spread to others.
Quarantining is often a quite effective tool in speeding up a turtle’s recovery period, and in certain cases, can be the difference between life or death.
Under the following circumstances, you may need to quarantine your turtle:
- When it has injuries.
- If it is sick and may be at risk of infecting your other turtles.
- When it is wild-caught or recently purchased.
How do you safely quarantine a turtle?
You will most likely either need to quarantine your pet turtle in a dry-dock if it’s injured or sick or quarantine it in a separate, smaller tank with water if you have recently acquired it. Essentially, this involves putting your turtle in a separate aquarium or box and raising the temperature a bit.
Important Notice: Please note that I am not a qualified veterinarian nor a herpetologist. This is simply my opinion, which is based on years of experience with turtles, as well as personal knowledge. If you have an emergency, consider contacting a qualified professional here.
How To Quarantine A Sick Or Injured Turtle
You will need to isolate a sick or injured turtle under these circumstances:
- It has visible, potentially serious cuts, scratches, bites or burns.
- You see it listing, which means it swims sideways or is unable to submerge into the water. This is a sign of a respiratory infection.
- You see it coughing or sneezing (and yes, turtles can do both!). Both of these are signs of a respiratory infection, congestion or illness.
- Your turtle appears listless and does not leave its basking area. This is also a sign of illness.
- You see signs of a fungal infection.
In my opinion, I think you are better off quarantining a sick or injured turtle regardless of how many you have.
If you have more than one turtle living together, you will absolutely need to quarantine it in order to prevent spreading infections to the other turtles.
Furthermore, I would still recommend quarantining a turtle even if it lives alone, because:
- Your turtle may have become sick or infected due to something inside its habitat.
- Quarantining, in general, can help speed up the recovery process.
What Materials You Will Need
In order to do this, you will need a few materials. Those being:
- A 20-30 gallon glass tank, tub or box. You don’t want to use a bigger tank or tub than this because you will need to keep it warm and humid. You also don’t want to go much smaller than this because your turtle will still need some space to move about.
- Your UV-light.
- A thermometer and hygrometer if possible.
- A towel or shredded newspaper to use as a substrate if you have a box turtle. This will need to be changed daily.
That’s it! Some people recommend putting a hide inside the tank, further away from the UV-light, but I don’t think this is necessary. The purpose of the hide is to allow your turtle some privacy. However, since you should keep your quarantine in a quiet area, I think this isn’t required.
You might have noticed that I didn’t mention anything about water.
This is known as dry-docking. You will want to dry-dock your turtle when it is either sick or injured as water will either make the illness or injury worse or slow down the recovery process.
To properly hydrate your turtle, as well as minimize the injury or illness worsening, I would recommend that you allow your turtle to soak in a few inches of warm water for an hour or two each day. This goes for both box as well as aquatic turtles.
How To Set Up A Dry-Dock Quarantine
Setting up a dry-dock quarantine is easy and straight-forward.
- Use a water-salt solution mix and wipe down the tank or tub you wish to use. The purpose of the salt is to kill any existing germs which could harm your turtle. Natural sea salt works well for this.
- If you have a box turtle or an aquatic turtle with an injury, consider using shredded newspaper as a substrate. Box turtles need a substrate to burrow into, even when they are sick or injured.
- Set-up your UV-light and point it towards one end of your tub or tank. Don’t put it in the middle. You want a very slight temperature gradient in your tank or tub.
- Measure your tank or tub’s temperature and humidity. With most illnesses and injuries it’s a good idea to raise the temperature about 5 degrees. Your basking temperature should be in the high 80s to low 90s for most species. Try to keep the humidity above 60%. Frequent misting helps.
A few extra points:
- The entire point of dry-docking is to keep your turtle’s temperature dry and its body and shell dry. This is especially important for external, visible wounds and respiratory disease.
- To keep your turtle hydrated, place it in a small bowl of warm water, a few inches deep, for 1-2 hours daily.
- Consider putting a cover on your quarantine. This does 2 things; it keeps insects away from your turtle’s injuries and it can help keep the temperature and humidity high.
- It is commonly recommended to keep your turtle dry-docked for 1-3 months, depending upon the severity of its illness or injury. A minimum of one month is often a good idea.
Depending upon your turtle’s specific illness or injury, daily medication treatment may also be necessary. This will often be:
- Pimafix – For fungal infections.
- Betadine or povidone iodine – For shell rot / scratches / bites / cuts.
- Baytril (enroflaxin) – For respiratory infections (please do not try to administer this yourself!).
And that’s it!
How To Quarantine A New Turtle
I have to say from the start that some people may think this is not necessary. And I agree.
You don’t need to quarantine a new turtle if it’s your first turtle and you just bought a bunch of new equipment and material for its habitat.
On the other hand, if you are adding a new turtle to an aquarium with turtles that have already been there for a while, then I would recommend quarantining it first.
This applies to both box turtles, tortoises, and aquatic species.
What Materials You Will Need
Like a dry-dock for a sick or injured pet turtle, you will need similar, but slightly different, items.
- A 20-30 gallon tank or tub.
- A UV-light.
- A small filter for aquatic turtles, such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles.
- Pimafix. This is an antifungal medication.
- Melafix. This is an antibacterial medication.
- Sea salt.
- A basking area. This can be a large stone or a custom log of some type.
Essentially, the purpose of this quarantine is for:
- A chance to de-stress in their new environment.
- The opportunity to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria, fungi or parasites from wherever they were obtained.
How To Set Up A Quarantine For A New Turtle
Setting this up is a bit more complicated than setting up a dry-dock, and will also depend upon whether you have a box turtle or tortoise, or an aquatic species.
The steps are as follows:
- Clean out the tank or tub using a water and sea-salt mix. This will hopefully kill off any nasty bugs or bacteria that have attached themselves to the enclosure.
- If you have an aquatic species, use distilled or dechlorinated water and fill your tank around 75% up. If you have a box turtle or tortoise, sphagnum moss works great as a temporary substrate. You’ll also need a water dish or shallow bowl for drinking and eating.
- Hook up your filter. You won’t be needing a canister filter for your small tank or tub. A power filter will suffice, as will just about any old fish filter you may have laying around.
- Add in your antibacterial and antifungal medication into the water. If you have a box turtle or tortoise, I would recommend putting both medications into a separate, smaller bowl filled with a few inches of water. You can put your box turtle or tortoise in here to soak for a few hours.
- Wait a few hours for the filter to circulate the water completely, as well as the medication to dissolve.
- Put in your turtle!
A few extra points about isolating a new turtle:
- Unlike quarantining a sick or injured turtle, I don’t think you will need to keep it isolated for 1-3 months. I would recommend keeping it isolated for at least a week or so, and then add it to your existing tank when it exhibits normal behavior.
- If you are isolating a box turtle, you won’t need to change the substrate daily.
- Immediately quarantine sick and injured turtles. Raise the temperature about 5 degrees higher, as well as the humidity a bit. Continually check for improvement. Consider medication. Isolate for 1-3 months.
- Quarantine new turtles for at least a few weeks, in order to de-stress and decontaminate them. Check for signs of ill health or injury.
- You don’t need to quarantine a turtle if it’s new and it’s your only one.