With their dark-green shells, green legs with yellow stripes and green heads with a red stripe behind the eye, red-eared sliders are popular pets for kids whose parents may not want to commit to a dog or cat, and for people interested in reptiles.
Problem is, not everyone who gets them realizes that they need a large aquatic environment to thrive. They can also spread salmonella, especially to children, who aren’t always careful about washing their hands after handling the shelled reptiles. Here’s what you need to know about getting and living with one.
▪ Turtles are interesting pets and can have different personalities, but as companions, they are more like fish than dogs. Be sure you or your child have a true interest in them before acquiring one. To learn about them, talk to a veterinarian who is familiar with reptiles or to a turtle rescue organization.
▪ Tiny turtles are illegal. The sale of turtles with a carapace – the top of the shell – smaller than four inches was banned in 1975 because the turtles shed salmonella bacteria. That’s a problem when you think about the likelihood of young kids becoming infected after touching the turtles and then putting their fingers – or even the turtles themselves – into their mouths. You may see tiny turtles for sale at pet stores, flea markets, swap meets or even online, but always choose one that is legal size or larger.
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▪ Wait to get a turtle until your child is at least 5 years old. Young children are more susceptible to infection.
▪ Turtles need an adequate water habitat. A real or artificial pond is best. You can start them out in a large indoor aquarium, but they need more space as they grow older and bigger. “They need a place to get out of the water so they can get some sun and completely dry off if they want to, and they need deep enough water so they can swim around,” says Scott H. Weldy, DVM, an exotic animal veterinarian at Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest. The pond or aquarium must have good filtration so waste products don’t build up and make the turtle sick.
▪ Females lay eggs with or without the presence of a male. They need to be able to get out of the water and go to an area with dirt or sand where they can dig a hole, lay the eggs and bury them to keep them safe from predators. Unless they live indoors, turtles hibernate in winter. They burrow into the bottom of the pond and wait for spring.
▪ Turtles eat a variety of foods. Water hyacinths and elodia are common water plants for ornamental ponds, and turtles are fond of them. They are carnivores, so they also eat worms, fish and crawfish. Avoid keeping your turtle in the same pond with your $300 koi, or you may find that his fins have been nipped or even that he has been eaten if he’s on the small side.
Lulu the Labradoodle has an unusual but important job. She works at Ballard-Durand Funeral Home in White Plains, N.Y., bringing comfort to mourners. Wearing a vest that identifies her as a therapy dog, she’s available for petting or as a comforting presence to people who have lost a loved one. The funeral home already had an aviary. After seeing the sense of calm the presence of a dog brought to frustrated airport travelers, owner Matthew Fiorillo decided a dog might bring peace at a funeral home as well. He credits Lulu with an “uncanny knack” for spotting people who need her, The Associated Press reports.
▪ Can you check out a cat at your office? You can if you work at Dona Ana County Government Center in Las Cruces, N.M. In cahoots with the Animal Service Center of Mesilla Valley, the county office set up a cat habitat. Adoptable cats lounge in the Kitty Kondo, as it’s called, and employees can borrow them for an hour or so to hang out at their desks. The socialization benefits the cats, and so far more than 100 have been adopted. No word on whether fines are levied if cats are returned late.
▪ In case you’ve been wondering, Friday was Take Your Dog to Work Day. Participants raised awareness about health benefits of pets; held fundraisers and donated proceeds to shelters or rescue groups; had dog and owner lookalike contests; hosted canine adopt-a-thons and brought in some shelter dogs to meet people; posted adoptable pets on companies’ websites or social media sites; brought in one or more pet professionals to speak at workplaces; and offered lunch for employees, with bone-shaped biscuits for their canine co-workers.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.