dry dock, docking, forced basking, turtle, terrapin, slider, fungal, bacterial, respiratory, infection, lighting, drying

How to 'dry dock' a turtle

Dry docking is the practice of "forced basking", which can aid the healing process of various turtle health issues. It is a particularly stressful treatment, as aquatic turtles feel most vulnerable when exposed out of the water, so it is important to evaluate the age, size and disposition of the turtle in question before choosing to dry dock.

Dry docking does carry the risk of over-stressing an already ill turtle, or dehydrating the turtle if it is not correctly monitored.

How is it useful?

There are several turtle illnesses that occur related to water an humidity. Shellrot and fungal infections can occur when a turtle is not provided with a basking area to dry off, and respiratory infections can occur then the air in the enclosure is too humid, often caused by keeping a lid on the enclosure without adequate ventilation.

Dry docking keeps the turtle in a dry area long enough to allow its shell, airways and skin to dry off, and aid recovery. It is also noted for increasing wound recovery time, as constant contact with water can prevent wounds healing as quickly.

How is it done?

Place the turtle in a strong box, storage tub or bucket. Use something with opaque sides, to make the turtle feel more secure and less exposed.

The sides of the container also need to be tall enough to prevent the turtle climbing out. I use black plastic buckets. Place a dry towel in the bottom, to absorb water from the turtle and keep humidity down. In plastic containers, this also gives the turtle better grip underfoot, which also helps them feel secure.

dry docking a turtle picture forced basking treatment for respiratory infections shell rot fungal infection

Above the container, place a spotlight such as a desklamp, or a basking light fixture, being careful that it does not melt the container or create a fire hazard. This should provide heat for the turtle to bask under. Adjust the distance of the lamp to the bottom of the container so that you mimic the recommended basking temperatures for whichever species of turtle you are dry docking. The use of UVB light here would also be beneficial for the turtle's general health, but it is not required for the dry docking procedure.

Once an adequate basking temperature has been achieved, the turtle can be dried off and placed in the container. For large turtles such as adult Sliders, I'd recommend dry docking them for no longer than 2 hours a day, and allowing them to take a short swim in fresh water every 30 minutes to rehydrate. For smaller specimens, or more fragile species, only dry dock for up to an hour, and allow them to swim for a few minutes frequently so that they do not become dehydrated.

For fungal infections, shell rot, respiratory infections and open wounds, dry docking can be done daily until the turtle shows significant recovery. In advanced cases you should always consult a qualified professional.

If you have any further questions regarding dry docking or turtle health, please email me:
Paul Edmondson

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