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Do Pet Turtles Bite? - What To Do If You Are Bitten.

October 28, 2020
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Aren't turtles adorable? Those sweet beady eyes and that 'butter wouldn't melt' appearance - it is no wonder that they are one of the most well-love exotic pets in the world.

But pet owners may be concerned that their beloved turtle could bite - is there any truth to this notion?

In the wild, turtles will bite as a way of protecting themselves and this behaviour is naturally ingrained. This means that when kept in captivity, your pet turtle may bite if he feels threatened. If your turtle does bite you, you should not try to force him off as this could injure him and remember, he is only behaving in this way because he is scared.

In this post, we will be looking at why your pet turtle may have had the sudden urge to nip you and what you can do about it if he does.

Why Do Pet Turtles Bite?

On the whole, turtles are gentle animals who live a relaxed life. If you keep one as a pet, you will likely find it extremely therapeutic to watch him swim around his tank and bask under the heat lamp.

However, much like any other animal, the turtle will bite if he feels scared or threatened. In this wild this is one of the most effective ways that a turtle has to protect itself.

Many people believe that the only line of defence that a turtle has is its shell and whilst this does provide him with effective protection, a quick nip or a full-on bite can serve as a warning that he won't be taking any nonsense.

Turtles have a vast number of predators in the wild, so they need something to warn them off. But when kept as pets, the threat of being eaten by a skunk or a fox is suddenly removed, but that doesn't mean that his guard won't be up.

Reasons For Biting

In the main, pet turtles won't bite. They will only behave in this way if they are hurt - one of the most common mistakes that pet owners make is handling their turtle in the incorrect way. This can cause him to snap.

Most people won't intentionally hurt their pet turtle, but they will certainly know about it if they do.

What's more, there are some instances where turtle parents have felt a nip because their pet has mistaken their fingers for food when it is feeding time. Whilst this isn't an intentional bite, it can be painful.

Finally, a turtle may lash out and become aggressive if he is stressed. It may come as a surprise to learn that animals can feel stress but things like moving home can have a massive impact on them.

If your turtle is new to your home, or his living conditions have dramatically changed in recent weeks, this could cause him to feel alarmed and he might react more viciously than usual.

Breeds Of Turtles

There are more than 350 different breeds of turtle and many of these can be kept as a pet. However, in the same way that some dog breeds are more volatile than others, turtles' natures will vary depending on the species.

The snapping turtle lets us know from the get-go that it is likely to bite. They are named after their greeting behaviours; when they are confronted with a larger animal, they will lunge forward and snap. This is a defensive reaction and unless they are continually provoked, they will usually back off.

The most common turtle breeds that are kept domestically are:

  • Western painted turtle
  • Red eared slider
  • Map turtle
  • Eastern box turtle
  • Wood turtle

The wood turtle's first defence will be to retreat into his shell whereas other species may bite if they are provoked. It is worth reading up on the different breeds before deciding on which turtle is right for you.

What To Do If Your Pet Turtle Bites You

In an ideal world, all pets would have such a strong bond with their owners that they would never bite them. But in reality, we must remember that these are animals and it is in their nature to defend themselves this way - regardless of where the supposed threat is coming from.

Sometimes a turtle will give more than just a little nip; they may latch onto you and refuse to let go. Larger turtles can cause some serious damage when they bite but it is important not to panic. This is for the turtles safety just as much as your own.

If you turtle has latched on to your skin, do not try to prize him off. Not only could this potentially make the wound worse but there is also a chance that it will scare your pet even more and cause him a degree of pain.

To properly get him off you should put him under water and this will cause him to let go of you. You should immediately back away and allow your pet to calm down.

If you submerged in in water in his tank, you can leave him but if he is elsewhere, you will need to remove him. The best way to do this is by taking hold of him gently at the back of his shell.

Sadly, in some cases, people have killed the turtle while it has been latched on but this is completely unnecessary and won't help matters. When a turtle dies, it is unable to unlock its jaw so getting it off will prove far harder.

Of course, this is also an extremely inhumane way to address the situation, after all, the animal is only reacting to his fearful emotions.

Treating A Turtle Bite Wound

Once you have successfully removed the turtle and put him safely back in his tank, you will need to tend to your wound.

Turtles can carry certain diseases such as salmonella which could make you very ill. For this reason, you should see your doctor who may prescribe a course of anti-biotics. They will also be able to properly clean and dress the wound.

Medical attention should be sought as soon as possible and if they wound is particularly severe, you may wish to attend an emergency facility.

In the case that the skin was not broken, you can clean the wound yourself using warm water and a germ-killing soap.

Conclusion: Do Turtles Bite?

Turtles make excellent pets but it is important to keep in mind that one of their natural defence mechanisms when threatened is to bite.

Turtles will bite when they are scared, if they mistake you for food or if they are stressed.

A pet turtle will not usually behave this way for no reason but if you do find yourself the victim of a turtle bite, you must react appropriately by putting the turtle into water and getting the right treatment for your wound.

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