How to set up a dry-docking station at home

Dry-docking your turtle is the first step in many at-home medical treatments. Turtles are notoriously dirty and since they do all their business in the water, it’s easy for bacteria to penetrate any wound your turtle experiences.

The time needed to dry-dock your turtle will depend on the nature of the injury. The longest I’ve had to dry-dock a turtle is a month and a half and that was due to the severity of the injury. I speak about his individual case later in this post.

To get started, you should have a valid reason to dry-dock your turtle. Whether you receive instructions from your vet or you decide to start dry-docking your turtle, this is only done for health reasons. There is no reason to dry-dock a healthy turtle.

Why you might dry-dock your turtle:
  • Lower Respiratory Infection
  • Injury
  • Swollen eyes
  • Septicemia
  • Lethargy
  • Fungus or shell rot
  • At the guidance of your vet
Items to create your dry-dock space:
  • Rubbermaid tote or cardboard box with high sides
  • Large towel
  • Heat Lamp
  • Hydration bin
  • (optional) Digital thermometer
  • (optional) Plastic Dollarstore stool for turtle to hide under
Create your dry-docking station
  1. Choose a low-traffic space in your home close to an outlet
  2. Place your towel in the bottom of the bin – this will get urinated on so be ready
  3. Place the heat lamp over the top,
  4. Place the stool inside your bin to make sure your turtle has somewhere to hide from the light if they want
  5. Hydrate your turtle for at least 1-2 hours a day
    1. Hatchlings get one hour in the morning and one in the evening

How we dry-dock with a large female turtle:
A large red-eared slider turtle underneath her dry-docking station with flowers in front

We follow the basic rules of dry-docking but Turkey is a force of nature. She will not accept being left in a bin in a low-traffic area. She is dry-docked the same way we let her free-roam.

She has a heat lamp set up under a wooden tv-tray with towels underneath. She is allowed to walk wherever she wants within reason (main doorways are blocked off). Floors are cleaned daily.

She goes into a low tote for her soaks in the tub. She will panic if we put her in any opaque bin with high sides and that can be dangerous for her.

How we dry-docked Clark, our injured foster turtle:

Clark is a young cooter who suffered injuries at the claws of some rowdy silders. It’s not unusual for sliders to bully other species of turtles, which is one of the reasons why they’re so invasive.

Clark was experiencing injuries around his tail and needed to be dry-docked. We repurposed our large guinea pig cage as a dry-dock station and it worked wonders.

It was easy to clean and access, lights were no problem to install, and he was able to spend time with us without compromising his healing. He’s fully healed now and is the sweetest boy I’ve ever had the honour to care for.

Clark is available for adoption through LittleRESQ.

Turtles are opinionated creatures and while there are minimum standards of care for these majestic creatures, it’s important to customize the care to your specific turtle. Keep life interesting for everyone but ensure all the basics are met.

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