terrapin tankRed-eared sliders (or terrapins), Trachemys scripta are commonly kept in New Zealand. They reach a large size and can be hard to keep with the result that they are often released (although this is illegal).


They require water as well as a “landing area” for basking. The water as well as the vivarium should be heated, an environmental temperature of 20-28ºC being desirable. In New Zealand they can be kept outside in a pond as long as supplementary heat is provided.

It is very hard to maintain water quality and regular cleaning is essential. To facilitate this, the terrapin should be fed in a separate bowl or tank.

Feeding consists of a basic “terrapin pellet” supplemented with small fish and prawns. The supplementary food should be mixed with a Vitamin A/Vitamin D/calcium supplement.

Terrapins can be kept awake all year or allowed to hibernate. Hibernation should be carried out in a controlled manner. They should not be allowed to bury and hibernate in the garden.

What are some of the common diseases of pet terrapins?

Common conditions of pet terrapins include Vitamin A deficiency, respiratory diseases, abscesses, shell infections, and parasites.

What are the signs of these diseases?

Lack of Vitamin A produces signs seen with changes in the epidermis (outer layer of skin and mucus membranes), including lack of appetite, lethargy, swelling of the eyes and eyelids (often with a pus-type discharge), swelling of the ear (actually an ear abscess), and respiratory infections. Deficiency results from an imbalanced diet (especially as frozen food may lose vitamin content). Correction is essential and often a Vitamin A food supplement will be used.

Most respiratory infections are caused by bacteria, and in terrapins are often secondary to Vitamin A deficiency. Terrapins with respiratory infections may have excess mucus in their oral cavities, nasal discharges, lethargy and loss of appetite, and possibly open-mouth breathing and wheezing.

"Most respiratory infections are caused by bacteria, and in terrapins are often secondary to Vitamin A deficiency."

Abscesses, commonly seen in pet terrapins, appear as hard tumour-like swellings anywhere on the pet's body. Abscesses in terrapins are often related to Vitamin A deficiency.

Shell problems are often encountered in terrapins. These can be infections caused by bacteria or fungi and often result from poor environmental hygiene. The peeling off of external layers of shell is often a normal part of the shedding process.

Parasites, such as roundworms, are common in pet terrapins. They often cause no clinical signs and are detected on an annual faecal examination. They may, however, cause diarrhoea or weight loss.

How can I tell if my terrapin is sick?

Signs of disease in terrapins may be specific for a certain disease, such as nasal discharge in the case of a respiratory infection, or non-specific, such as a terrapin with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

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