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First Aid for Bites and Other Turtle Injuries

* Established that the turtle is alive and conscious. If the turtle is tucked into its shell, then he is usually both. If he is limp, he may be unconscious or dead. While I don't know of any way to perform CPR on a turtle, supplying an unconscious or weak turtle with oxygen can help.

* You want to stop bleeding, if heavy.
* You want to clean the wound.
* You want to prevent infection.
* You want to patiently wait for your turtle to heal.

Here are the details:

1) Keep the turtle in a somewhat cool place, preferably covered with a clean towel, so they can get over the shock of the trauma, and the coolness helps stop any more bleeding. Do this for the first 48 hours following the trauma. They are not actually sick, so they can do all right in the cool temps for awhile. A nice peaceful place, away from any more stimulation, is what is best right now.

2) Of course, keep the turtle in a clean place, particularly away from flies who are attracted to the open wound, and the trouble they can cause.

3) Clean the wound area gently with hydrogen peroxide and clean water. No need for ointments or medicines, as that may inhibit healing or make the turtle sick. (You can also use Betadine, if that's what you have.)

4) Severed limbs will hopefully just heal over with no complications, while a limb which was severely injured but not removed will also heal as best it can. The part which cannot survive will actually shrivel up and fall away.  Just let the process occur while keeping the area clean.

5) If there is an infection, oozing, or puss, contact a veterinarian. Do the same if you discover maggots at the site of injury unless you have experience treating these complications.


First Aid for Drowned Turtle

Both water turtles and box turtles can drown. Even a drowned turtle that looks quite dead might just be waiting for you to help it get its breath back. Remember that turtles can be without oxygen for a long time, especially in cool water, before the damage is irreversible.

First and foremost: NEVER TURN THE TURTLE/TORTOISE ON ITS BACK.  Turning it on his back might remove the little airspace still left in the lungs.

1. Grasp the turtle's head behind the ears (base of skull) and extend the neck completely.

2. Turn it head-down/tail up and open its mouth. Usually, some water will flow of drip out at this point. Wait until the dripping stops.

3. Place the turtle (belly down) on a flat surface with it's neck extended. Stand in front of the turtle.

4. Straighten his front legs and pull them straight toward you as far as they will go.

5. Keeping the legs straight, push them in as far as they will go. Do not let the legs bend at the elbows.

6. Continue pulling and pushing until water stops coming out.

Now it's time to take your turtle to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will insert a tube and start providing the turtle with pure oxygen. He may give a respiratory stimulant and a drug to a drug that will help the turtle excrete the water accumulate in its tissue. After this, the turtle will probably regain consciousness and start moving.  Since some turtles develop pneumonia after drowning, the veterinarian will most likely recommend a course of antibiotics.

A note on mouth-to-mouth (or straw to mouth) breathing. I've seen it described in one place. I don't know whether it works, and I don't know whether the risk of blowing in too hard and damaging the lungs is worth it. The above instructions are proven to work in many cases.

A note on baby turtles: The smaller the turtle, the harder it is to help the animal, simply because of its small size.


First Aid for Skin Problems

* Make sure your turtle is not simply shedding.

* For water turtles, keeping the turtle dry overnight (in a nice, warm or heated box) is pretty much mandatory to help with any skin problem.

* If your turtle seems to suffer from "extra dry skin", do not use any lotions, creams, or pet store turtle skin cremes. The dry skin is often caused by some  skin disease, or by dietary problems, or a combination of the two. If there are no leasons, review your turtle's diet and make sure it doesn't get too few or too many vitamins. If there are sores and leasons, see below.

* For water turtles:

1) Change the water and add 1 teaspoon of salt per gallon of water.

2) Test the pH of the water (aquarium test kit); stores will often test water for you.  pH that is too high/low can lead to skin problems.  Test for ammonia, too.

3) You may need to treat the water with sulfa used for fish diseases. Only do this if there is no other way for you to thoroughly clean the tank.  Follow the instructions for use with fish tanks. House the turtle in clean, temporary quarters while this is going on.

* For all turtles:

1) Thoroughly clean the enclosure. For box turtle, throw out the substrate and replace. For water turtles, do a complete water change. If you are not using substrate (which I recommend), wipe the tank with bleach solution.

2) You can try applying an antibacterial creme, especially if the skin problem is limited to a couple of spots. If that doesn't help within a few days, or if the problem gets worse, go to 3).  Silvadene creme works well and it's not oil-based. However, this has to be prescribed by a veterinarian; it's not available over the counter.

3) See a veterinarian. Determining WHAT is causing the problem helps! And the veterinarian will prescribe appropriate medication. Skin problems can have many causes, and the treatment will depend on the cause.  Also, a skin problem might just be the surface symptom of a larger problem.

4) DO NOT use any pet shop turtle skin creams. Don't use them on healthy turtles (they are unnecessary), and don't use them on skin problems (they are useless in the best case).