These reader questions were answered by experts attending the North American Veterinary Conference with more than 8,000 veterinary professionals from around the world, form Jan. 16-20 in Orlando, Fla.
Q: I really want a pet turtle for my birthday. But we looked online and saw baby turtles give you meningitis, and more diseases. I hope I spelled it right. LOL. Are turtles safe pets? Can you give me some resources? What breed should I get? — C. Z., Croix, MN
A: The good news is that you spelled meningitis correctly. The bad news is that you have the wrong disease, it’s salmonella that turtles (and other reptiles) can transmit to people.
Dr. Stephen Barten, one of the most respected reptile veterinarians in America explains that in the mid-1970s, the U.S. government banned the sales of little red-eared slider turtles (under four-inches) because there was so much salmonella, about 350,000 individuals diagnosed annually, and mostly children. When the sliders were banned salmonella cases related to reptiles dropped to about 75,000 a year.
Today, Craigslist and assorted online outlets are peppered with ads for sliders. Some are given away (not sold, and therefore legal); the money is made off all the supplies that go with the turtles. Others are older, and therefore large enough to legally be sold.
The only plastic “turtle homes” sometimes sold with sliders aren’t adequate. Barten explains that sliders need to be in a filtered aquarium, but also need a place to hang out of the water.
Barten says that thorough handwashing after handling red-eared sliders (or any reptile) is exceedingly important. The Centers for Disease control recommends against turtles for children younger than five years old.
Having said this, Barten adds “While there’s some risk to even responsible children owning a reptile, there’s also risk — likely more far more risk — to playing sports. This is where parental supervision matters.”
You asked about turtle breeds, though you mean species. An excellent choice, according to Barten, may be a box turtle. This species, unlike red eared sliders, isn’t quite as dependent on water. Another idea may be a land-loving pet tortoise.
Here are some of those resources:
“Animal Planet: Red-Eared Sliders,” by Katrina Smith (TFH Publications, Neptune, NJ; 2010; $10.95).
“General Care and Maintenance of Popular Tortoises,” by Phillipe de Vosjoli (Advanced Vivarium Systems, Santee, CA; 1996; $11)
“The Complete IDIOT’s Guide to Turtles & Tortoises), by Liz Palika (alpha books, New York, NY; 1996; $16.95).
“Turtles & Tortoises for Dummies, by Liz Palika (Hungry Minds, New York, NY, 2001; $21.99).
Q: We’ve had Roxy in the house and recently adopted Rupert. I think I’ve done all the right things. Since day one, Rupert has had his own room. We’ve done meet and greet sessions daily, just for a few minutes. We’ve also tried to put the cats in a carrier — one in and one out at a time. Rupert still comes toward her, and in a split second, if I didn’t interrupt there would be an ugly cat fight. Roxy never starts it, but doesn’t like to be chased by Rupert. I’m about to give Roxy Xanax. Do you have any ideas? — L. H., Westminster, CO
A: “While you’ve done all the right things, you may have gone in too many directions at once,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg of Thornhill, Ontario. “Your timing when you bring the cats together is imperative. And when you bring them together, are you distracting them with a very special treat or a toy?”
Landsbeg says he unconvinced that Xanax will help in this particular instance. “Based on your description, Roxy isn’t being aggressive but instead just can’t tolerate being chased,” he says.
Separate the cats again. Rupert, should be the cat in the sanctuary room (with a litter box, scratching post, toys, bedding, food and water dish. Use tools, such as Feliway Multicat (a copy of a pheromone, which will lower anxiety, and also helps cats to get along) and L-thiamine (a green tea extract that has calming affects).
Rotate toys and bedding, over time place some of Rupert’s things with Roxy and Roxy’s belongings where Rupert is — the idea is to exchange scents.
And when finally, the cats are brought together, give them a reason to like one another, which also provides distraction — a very high valued treat, like tuna juice or sardine oil. And, for starters, they’re together for only seconds at a time.
You may seek assistance from a certified cat behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist who can offer intricacies of making this work out. Having said that, some cats are just never going to be best pals. The best we can realistically hope for is them to tolerate one another.
Q: Our 9-year-old little dog, Sadie, has develop a growth on her eyelid. It’s starting to grow. I will take her to the veterinarian when I can afford to. Until then, I’m worried — is it dangerous? I just found skin tags on various parts of her body, as well. I am scared to death. Can you help? — S. S., Cyberspace
A: Dr. Heather Loenser, veterinary advisor, American Animal Hospital Association says she has good eyes but can’t see into your house. “Without actually seeing, and like taking a biopsy, it’s truly impossible to know. I will say if a mass is noticeably getting larger, that may be a cause for concern. And potentially, the longer you wait, the more expensive, and possibly the poorer the prognosis.”