Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, Guinean pigs, the more colorful parrots, fowls, song birds are what come into people’s mind when they consider the word “pet”. Dated back decades ago in the early 80’s, Hong Kong has been the Asian central trading port for many exotic pet species, some that were once legal have now been listed as protected wildlife only to be kept by license registered hobbyists.

It would be beyond the scope of this article to discuss and criticize on the morals and values of keeping exotic animals as pets. We will briefly provide veterinary information related to a small variety of exotic pet regarding diseases commonly encountered in our practices.

Aquatic turtles, especially the Red-eared slider, could be one of the most popular choice for pets in Hong Kong. Red-eared slider, Trachemy scripta elegans, is a fresh water chelonian (turtle). Many other painted terrapin species share similar morphological features and husbandry requirements.

The Chinese saying “Turtles live for hundreds of years” is not entirely wrong, but usually restricted to the longer living land tortoises. Red eared sliders can live up to 40 years in the wild, but just less 20 years in captivity due to various husbandry related reasons, and in most cases improper husbandry or imbalanced diet.

Basic husbandry for most fresh water terrapin should include a few more items than water and a bathtub:

  1. Amphibian environment, which means water and land components where terrapin is free to choose where and when it want to go,
  2. Temperature gradient established by heat source in the form of heating lamp or under water thermostat, and shelters for retreat from excessive heat and light,
  3. UV lighting in the form of direct natural sunlight or from UV (spectrum B) light from reptile/amphibian stores, and
  4. A Wide variety of food items, consisted of yellow veggies, leafy greens, fruits, variety of live prey items (shrimps, goldfish, frogs, crickets, worms, tadpoles…etc). Supplementation with calcium and vitamin D should be provided according to the growth requirement of the terrapin, e.g. juvenile red eared slider need twice weekly supplement versus not require in non-breeding adults

Feeding tips:

A very big common misconception is that terrapins are strictly carnivorous (meat eaters). To some extent it’s true when they are youngsters, but as they grow they slowly become omnivorous (meat and plant eaters) and eventually herbivorous (plant eaters) with occasional treat of animal items. In the wild adult sliders are mostly herbivorous but in captivity they can be trained to take any number of things from blood worms, fruits, to commercially produced pellets.

But remember one thing, we humans are omnivorous, the length of our digestive system allows us to eat just about anything edible without major problems. Terrapins were made by mother nature to be herbivorous, their digestive system is much simpler than ours, so don’t assume that they can eat the same things you do as it will only shorten your pet’s life.

Sliders are not so receptive when a new food item is introduced, but you should keep trying as long as the item in question is beneficial for your pet.

Sliders will only eat if they can see and only when they are in the water. Optimal temperature for red eared slider should be maintained between 24 to 29 °C. Hong Kong is too warm to induce natural hibernation; therefore terrapin may simply eat less but usually will not hibernate during colder time of the year.

Red-Eared slider is possibly one of the most common pets for many kids in Hong Kong.  It may seems tiny and cute when it is young. It is important to remember, however, the Red-ear sliders can live up to 20 years or longer, and can grow up to 10-13 inches in length.

Before bringing home these cute baby turtles, it is important to understand the commitments required in keeping them healthy and happy for the next 20 years to come.  After all, a healthy Red-eared sliders can accompany its owner through different stages in life.