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There are pros and cons to raising a tortoise from a tiny hatchling.
The main pro is that you get to learn. Unfortunately, this is also the main con.
I made a lot of mistakes in raising Malti, who was only just over a month or so old when she came home with me.
As a result of these mistakes, she now has some issues with her shell and some ongoing respiratory sensitivities that are pretty much irreversible going forward.
Do I regret this? I can’t even find the words. Could I have done better then, knowing only what I did then? I doubt it.
But with what I know now, I can share with absolute certainty that the one non-negotiable KEY in preventing as many preventable problems as possible is to make SURE you have excellent exotic veterinary care already lined up for your new tortoise or turtle.
Here, notice I don’t just say “veterinary care.” If you are parenting a dog or cat, excellent veterinary care will do just fine.
But if you are parenting a parrot, a turtle or a tortoise, you MUST have excellent EXOTIC veterinary care.
You might be wondering – quite legitimately – what the difference is.
The main difference, according to my flock’s current incredible team of exotic veterinarians, is the amount of training in exotic animal medicine that vets get while in medical school.
The truth is, the typical veterinary student gets very little beyond a textbook overview of the various exotic pet species and the bare-bones basics of their individual medical needs.
If a veterinarian wants to specialize in, or even just know more about, exotic veterinary care, that vet will need to seek out additional education and training on an individual basis.
This is why most veterinarians advertise “veterinary care” and have pictures of pet cats and dogs on all their literature. Exotic vets, on the other hand, have pictures of lizards, parrots, turtles, snakes and mice along with pictures of dogs and cats.
But even beyond this, for turtle and tortoise veterinary care in particular, what you are really looking for is an exotic veterinary specialist who is STEEPED in herpetology – the study of reptiles and amphibians.
I found out the hardest possible way that it isn’t even enough to find a vet practice that advertises that they care for exotic species. You have to make SURE they mean it (by which, if your exotic animal gets better, not worse, after following their advice, you can feel reasonably sure they know what they are doing).
I got some truly terrible advice from one such veterinary practice that said they specialized in exotic reptiles but didn’t mean it, and that advice in combination with my authentic first-time tortoise mama ignorance almost killed my baby tortoise.
The result of this ignorance was that Malti was pronounced “in critical condition” when I rushed her into the vet ER clinic at our current (and permanent) exotic veterinarian’s office.
The next morning, after just one night under their care, her condition was updated to “stable.”
Two days later, after staying with them for additional care and observation, she was thriving.
What had changed? Only every bit of care advice that the previous “exotic” veterinary practice had given me. And this saved her life.
Please. Don’t forget. Before you bring home an exotic animal of any kind, be sure you have a local and qualified exotic veterinarian – ideally a herpetologist for a reptile or amphibian pet – already lined up.
That person should do your new pet’s initial exam AND their advice should be very consistent with what you read in medical journals and websites written by qualified exotic animal care researchers and experts.
Most importantly, your animal should get better, not worse, as a result of your exotic veterinarian’s care and guidance. If your animal’s health worsens, do not walk, RUN to see a new exotic veterinarian!!
Moving forward with anything less than an expert exotic veterinarian on board could be fatal to your new pet and leave you with a permanently broken heart.
Please don’t let what nearly happened to Malti and me happen to you and your beloved exotic companion.