An Important Part of Turtle Care is Learning to Pet One Properly

Caring for a pet turtle is a very different experience from most other pets. One key difference is that turtles can be very reluctant to bond with a human owner.

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The key to bonding with a turtle is to be persistent while also being considerate of the turtle's feelings.

While petting the turtle can allow for some bonding, if done improperly, it can harm both the owner's relationship with the turtle or even hurt the turtle itself. How and when the turtle is petted and what procedures should be taken before and after handling a pet turtle are extremely important.

Learning to watch for behavioral cues can be the difference between a pleasant or a miserable experience for the turtle when being petted. Not only does the owner need to be aware of the turtle's body language, but they also need to pay attention to the turtle's temperature when deciding what time to pet it.

Picking the right time to pet a turtle is crucial to building a stronger bond. The best time to pet a turtle is after it has been sunbathing for a little bit. Typically a warmer turtle (within limits) is a more social turtle.

Owning a pet turtle can be a rewarding experience, but it requires the owner to pay close attention to the little details.

How to Pet a Turtle: The Right Way

A critical part of petting a turtle is maintaining proper hygiene. Turtle skin tends to be covered in salmonella and other diseases and the owner must wash their hands after petting a turtle. If special care is not taken after petting a turtle, the person who handled the turtle could end up getting sick.

If the owner tries to pet the turtle on top of its head from behind (when the turtle is unaware it is about to be touched), the turtle may become frightened. This type of petting can cause the turtle to retreat into its shell and hide. Just like with dogs (where you let the dog sniff your hand before petting its head,) you need to make sure that your turtle is aware of your hand (and knows that it is not a threat) before you try to pet it. The best way for the owner to make the turtle aware of them is to reach for the turtle from the front.

When petting a turtle, it is crucial to be very gentle. The head, chin, and (when there is trust) on the neck are good spots to pet a turtle. The turtle's shell is also an excellent petting spot as the turtle can feel your touch through its shell. However, it is recommended that the owner pets the turtle's shell from head to tail rather than from side to side. Paying attention to the little details when petting a turtle will allow the turtle to bond with its caretaker more quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may have a variety of questions about turtles. Hopefully these common questions can answer them., 

Q: How should a person pick up a turtle?

A: Pick up the turtle using both hands from the bottom of the turtle's stomach with the thumbs of their hands firmly on the turtle's shell. Do not pick up the turtle with just its shell.

Q: Is it a bad sign if the turtle urinates when it is picked up?

A: No. This is typical behavior for turtles.

Q: What is a good way to explain to small children the importance of making the turtle aware of a person's hand before trying to pet it?

A: One way to explain to small children about handling and petting a turtle is to tell them to imagine that they were the size of a turtle. Ask them to imagine that a giant hand came out of nowhere and tried to reach for their head. Then tell them that is how the turtle feels.

Q: How will the turtle tell the owner it does not like the way it is being petted?

A: If the turtle is trying to move away from the owner's hand or resist the petting and makes snapping motions with its mouth, the turtle is not happy being petted in that way.

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