Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 5 Turtles

Obese turtle
Benedicte Desrus, Alamy
An overweight turtle may become too fat for his shell home and get locked out.

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity. So far we’ve covered parrots, hedgehogs, rabbits and rats.

What’s No. 5 on my list of obesity-prone pets? Turtles!

When turtles want to hide, they pull their heads and limbs into their shells and look effectively like paperweights. Yet overweight turtles may get locked out of their shell homes. This is because their legs and necks have so much fat on them that they get stuck outside.

Tubby Isn’t Terrific

If you’re not sure whether you’ve even seen a fat turtle, it’s likely you haven’t. When you see one, you won’t forget it. It looks like a typical turtle but with an upper shell (the carapace) and a lower shell (the plastron) that look like they are a few sizes too small. Fat bulges out from their armpits and in front of their back legs. Sometimes their necks are so fat that they can’t pull their heads back into their shells. Excessively obese turtles may not even be able to bear weight on their legs on land and sit beached, like paperweights, until they are back in the water and buoyant. Even in water, their mobility is limited. Turtles typically become fat living in small tanks with little room to swim and by consuming excessive amounts of high-starch pellets that float at the top of their tanks until they have eaten them all.

Turtle owners can help prevent obesity by giving their pets lots of both vertical and horizontal space in which to swim and dive and by offering them limited quantities of high-quality pellets with some vegetables. Turtles have a high requirement for vitamin A in their diets, so feeding them shredded vitamin A-enriched foods, such as carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes, is a great way to encourage weight loss while providing good nutrition. Turtles also can be prompted to exercise by feeding them live fish, such as goldfish and guppies, which they have to catch to consume. They will enjoy the hunt and relish the food reward. Just remember to consult with your veterinarian first before starting any diet or exercise program with your turtle to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.

Just like people, pets love food, and just as in people, too much food can lead to obesity and associated health issues, even for exotic pets. Our animal friends should enjoy their meals as we do, but we need to feed them as we should feed ourselves: everything in moderation. If we live by this rule, our exotic pets should enjoy a happier and healthier New Year!

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