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How to Pet a Turtle

In this Article:Article SummaryPetting a TurtleHandling TurtlesCommunity Q&A

Turtles are arguably the cutest of all of the reptiles. Because of this, they are often desirable pets. However, turtles don’t really enjoy being handled and petted the same way other domestic animals do.[1][2] This makes petting them a little trickier. For those of you who own a pet turtle/tortoise, this is how to pet one without injuring the turtle.

Part 1
Petting a Turtle

  1. 1
    Approach from the front. If the turtle cannot see you and suddenly your hand appears, it may get frightened and bite you. Always approach a turtle from the front so that it can see you.
  2. 2
    Place turtles on a low, flat surface. Turtles will be the most receptive to human interaction when they feel safe and secure, so place them on the floor (preferably tile rather than carpet) when petting them.
  3. 3
    Pet the top of the head. Gently run your finger on the middle-top of the turtle's head, carefully avoiding the nose/eyes.[3]
    • If the turtle repeatedly throws its head up in the air with its mouth open, it is trying to let you know that it does not like you touching its head.
  4. 4
    Pet the chins and cheeks. Use your finger to gently rub the turtle under the chin and along the cheeks. [4]
  5. 5
    Massage the neck. Once a turtle trusts you, you may be able to massage its neck with causing it to withdraw into its shell.[5]
  6. 6
    Pet your turtle’s shell. Turtles can feel touch through their shells. As such, stroke your turtle's shell in slow circles or run your fingers in straight lines along the length of its shell.[6]
    • As an alternative to petting a turtle’s shell with your fingers, you can also gently rub a toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush along the top of its shell.
  7. 7
    Enjoy some turtle lap time. As an alternative to petting the turtle, you can enjoy bonding with it by allowing it crawl on you or sit in your lap. Just make sure it doesn’t fall off.[7]
    • Turtles will urinate when you pick them up, so use caution when putting them on your body.
  8. 8
    Be persistent. Your turtle will not be receptive to being pet all the time, but the more you handle it, the more accustomed it will grow to human interaction.[8]
    • Turtles associate their human keepers with food, so try rewarding your turtle with a treat when it allows you to pet it.[9]

Part 2
Handling Turtles

  1. 1
    Know the risks. Turtles are not commonly thought of as dangerous animals capable of inflicting harm on human beings. However, a few breeds of turtles, particularly snapping turtles, are capable of inflicting a painful and potentially damaging bite. Also, turtles carry a number of diseases that can be harmful to humans. Turtle skin often has salmonella bacteria on it, which can make humans very sick.[10]
    • Salmonella can't be washed or rinsed off the turtle.
    • Never leave a child to handle a turtle unattended.
      Veterinarian Pippa Elliott MRCVS explains: "Turtle bites are very painful and best avoided. If you are unsure how friendly the turtle is, pick them up at the back of the shell, where they can't reach should they decide to bite."
  2. 2
    Be patient. Just because you acquired a pet turtle does not make that turtle a domesticated animal. Unlike some cats and dogs, who will naturally seek affection from humans, turtles tend to view humans with hesitancy and fear. Because of this, you need to be patient with your turtle. It may take a very long time before the turtle learns to recognize and trust you as its caregiver.[11]
  3. 3
    Handle with care. Turtles seem inherently rugged and tough because of their shells. However, the exposed legs and head can be easily damaged if the turtle is mishandled. Some tips for handling turtles with caution are:
    • Try to avoid picking up or handling the turtle unless necessary. When you do need to pick a smaller turtle up, place your open palm under its plastron (or bottom shell/ belly) and make sure its legs can touch your hand. In the wild, turtles don’t spend much, if any, of their time off of the ground. Having your hand underneath the turtle should make it more comfortable.[12]
    • Always lift turtles up from the back and not the front. Turtles are unpredictable and lifting the turtle from the front will give it an opportunity to bite you. Turtles may urinate when being picked up, which is yet another reason why you should wear gloves when handling them.[13]
    • Don’t place turtles on the edges of high surfaces. They are not always aware of their environment and may walk right off the edge, injuring themselves.[14]
    • As a general rule, it is not wise to touch a turtle’s legs or claws.
    • Remember, turtle shells are not invincible. Some turtles have soft shells that can be easily scratched or damaged, leading to fungal infections. Even hard shelled turtles can sustain damage to or break their shells- so be careful.[15]
  4. 4
    Consider the temperature. Turtles are more energetic, aware and receptive when they are warm. Cold turtles are much more likely to shy away from external stimuli because they are not entirely sure what is going on around them. The best time to pet or handle a turtle is after it has been sunning itself or lying under a heat lamp.
    • Turtles need real sunlight, not just heat lamps or artificial sunlight. A lack of sunlight can lead to metabolic bone disease, which essentially disintegrates a turtle’s bones.[16]
  5. 5
    Understand turtle communication. Turtles are not the most communicative animals around. However, there are a few physical signs that your turtle is not in the mood for human contact. They include:
    • Hissing
    • Sitting motionless with the mouth open
    • Withdrawing into the shell
    • Snapping or biting gestures
  6. 6
    Practice proper hygiene. Always wash your hands after handling a turtle, as there are diseases on their skin that are harmful to people. Most experts suggest handling turtles with gloves, although this would defeat the purpose of petting a turtle. Also, remember that turtles spend most of their time in dirt and dirty water, so it may be wise to rinse the turtle off before handling it.

Community Q&A

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  • Question
    Can a turtle's skin really harm me with salmonella?
    Pippa Elliott, MRCVS
    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Dr. Elliott is wikiHow's in-house Veterinarian expert who specializes in Companion Animal Medicine in England. She registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1987.
    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Expert Answer
    Yes. Turtles and other reptiles are common carries of the salmonella bug. This means they can be infected but not ill, but a person who handles the turtle and doesn't wash their hands can become sick. It's important to observe scrupulous hygiene when you own a turtle, wash your hands after handling, and regularly disinfect the area around the tank, door handles, and any surfaces you might touch whilst handling the reptile.
  • Question
    Is it safe for my 10 year old child to pet a turtle?
    Pippa Elliott, MRCVS
    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Dr. Elliott is wikiHow's in-house Veterinarian expert who specializes in Companion Animal Medicine in England. She registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1987.
    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Expert Answer
    The FDA advise that turtles are common carriers of salmonella. Infection with the latter can be serious, especially in children, the elderly or those with a weak immune system. It is essential that any child is supervised with a turtle and be vigilant for the child putting a finger in their mouth, or even touching their hair (as the salmonella could be transferred to hair which the child then sucks.) If you want to be totally safe then a 10-year old should not pet a turtle, but at the very least ensure they wash their hands afterwards and don't put anything in their mouth.
  • Question
    Can a turtle recognize you?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    While turtles won't recognize a person as quickly as a dog will, over time, turtles actually will learn to recognize their owners, either by sight or sound. In some cases, turtles may even come when called!
  • Question
    What does a turtle like to do?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    Turtles like having plenty of space in their enclosure to move around, getting a variety of different foods or treats and chasing live prey like crickets or small fish. Turtles may also enjoy having different toys or objects in their enclosure to explore and interact with. For even more ways to keep your turtle entertained, take a look at How to Keep Your Turtle Happy.
  • Question
    Do turtles have feelings?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    Some people think reptiles, like turtles, can show some basic feelings, the most clear being fear and aggression, but also things like curiosity or pleasure from human contact. Many turtles seem to enjoy getting their shell, head or chin stroked and may push towards your hand as you pet them. Doing things like enriching your turtle's environment with new things or taking them outside (being very careful to keep them contained) can give you a chance to see some more interesting behaviors and let you decide for yourself what kinds of things your pet can feel.
  • Question
    Do turtles get lonely?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    Not really, since turtles aren't social animals they are happy to be left alone for long periods. While you can sometimes put two or more turtles in a tank, provided there is enough space, some species are too aggressive and even this can be a bad idea. Look up your particular species first if you want to keep two or more turtles.
  • Question
    Do I need to hold the turtle everyday so he learns to trust me?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, the more time that you spend with him, the better.
  • Question
    When I pet my turtle, he tries to bite me. What do I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Turtles associate their human keepers with food, so try rewarding your turtle with a treat when it allows you to pet it.
  • Question
    My turtle always hides and poops on me when I hold it. Is there any way to prevent this behavior?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Try to spend more time with your turtle. If your turtle grows a love for you, he or she should perfect this behavior. Therefore, try finding ways to get in close with your turtle without picking it up.
  • Question
    How can I tell if a turtle is male or female?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you look the bottom of the shell, males will have an indent in their shell. If you look at the bottom of a female shell, it'll be completely flat, unlike the males which have an indent.
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    Warnings

    • Never attempt to handle or pet wild turtles.
    • Unless you are a trained expert, never try to pet a snapping turtle. Snapping turtles have an incredibly powerful bite and can be quite aggressive.
    • Turtles are not always the type of pet that likes to be handled. Some turtles will spend their entire lives around human care takers and still not be receptive to human affection.

    Sources and Citations

    1. http://www.petplace.com/article/reptiles/general/enjoying-your-reptile/how-to-handle-turtles-and-tortoises
    2. http://www.tortoise.com/id29.html
    3. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19591014&id=3w0kAAAAIBAJ&sjid=zyUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5048,3642737&hl=en

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    Article SummaryX

    Before you pet a turtle, place it on a hard floor so it will feel secure and approach it from the front so it can see you coming. Then, try running your finger along the top-middle of the turtle’s head while avoiding its eyes and nose. If it throws its head up with its mouth open, it means it doesn't like what you're doing and you should try something else. For example, run your fingers along the length of its shell since turtles can feel through their shells.

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    Article Info

    Categories: Turtles and Tortoises

    In other languages:

    Español: acariciar a una tortuga, Italiano: Accarezzare una Tartaruga, Português: Fazer Carinho em uma Tartaruga, Русский: правильно гладить черепаху, Deutsch: Eine Schildkröte streicheln, Tiếng Việt: Âu yếm Rùa, Français: caresser une tortue, Bahasa Indonesia: Membelai Kura Kura, Nederlands: Een schildpad aaien, ไทย: สัมผัสตัวเต่า, Čeština: Jak se mazlit se želvou, العربية: تربية سلحفاة

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