Why Turtles Pee When Being Picked Up

Why does your turtle pee every time you pick it up? What’s going on down below that causes this spontaneous urination. The answer may surprise you.

Turtles urinate when they feel scared or threatened. The volume and rapid release of liquid serve as a natural defense mechanism used to startle the threat. Terrapins feel most at risk when manhandled by humans or approached by animal predators.

This article looks at what makes turtles pee on pet owners and how happiness and bonding stop this behavior. There’s also a checklist of things you can do to monitor your pet’s newfound contentment at the end of the page.

Bad Handling Makes Your Turtle Pee

You love your new pet, but the slow-moving reptile doesn’t know you’re not a threat. With a bit of know-how, you can change the relationship and end those wet episodes.

Turtles stress easily, especially young ones and those not used to being handled.

Frightened turtle peeing in Kentucky.

If you pick terrapins up too quickly from the tank or grab them from the front, they go into stress mode and start to pee. Urinating—and even defecating and hissing—is a turtle’s natural response to perceived threats.

Thus, proper handling and frequent interaction are the way to go.

How to Pick Your Turtle up the Right way

First, let your turtle know you’re there to avoid startling it. The proper way to pick your turtle up is gently from its midsection, using both hands. Get a firm grip on both sides of its shell with your fingers and thumbs.

And prepare for a little aggressive kicking as you lift the creature up. It’s good practice to handle your pet close to the ground. That way, you reduce stress levels and protect the turtle from a high fall should it escape your grip.

Remember this: Always wash your hands before and after handling your turtle. Even healthy, clean-looking turtles may have salmonella germs on their shell surface and outer skin.

How NOT to Pick Your Pet Turtle Up?

Your turtle will always pee when you pick it up until your form the correct handling habits. Its hard shell or carapace is living tissue, and that makes it sensitive.

Avoid picking small or young turtles up with one hand over the top of the dorsal section. Also, never approach your turtle from the front or pick it up by its tail or legs.

Other Factors That Make Your Turtle Pee When Being Picked Up

Even with the correct handling habits, your turtle will still pee when you pick it up if it’s in a persistent state of unease. Here are four common mistakes novice owners make that can stress pet turtles.

#1 Don’t hold back on the enclosure: Consider 10 gallons of tank space for every inch of your turtle as a general guide. It seems a lot, but your turtle is a highly active reptile that needs lots of space. Also, if it’s a baby, know what size it will eventually grow to.

You can use the table below as a basic guide based on adult males. Females turtles grow even bigger, so make sure you know the sex before choosing your tank.

Aquatic Turtle Species & Max SizeTank Size
Painted turtle 3–6″ (M), 4–10″ (F)60+ gallon
Northern map turtle 3.5–6.3″ (M); 7–10.8″ (F) 63+ gallon
Aquatic box turtle 5–7″ (M/F) 70-gallon
Yellow-bellied slider turtle 5–9″ (M), 8–13″ (F) 90+ gallon

#2 Keep the tank clean: These amazing creatures are incredibly dirty through a never-ending cycle of eating and excretion. So, it’s vital to keep the turtle’s environment clean, with a particular focus on water quality and temperature. Talk to your pet supplier if you need guidance on filtration and caring for the tank environment.

Turtle Tip: Remove about half the tank’s water once a week and replace it with clean water. And perform a thorough tank clean and complete water change every 1–2 months.

#3 Don’t overfeed your turtle: Your turtle will eat whenever you feed it, whether hungry or not. You might think it’s kind, but an overweight turtle is not happy. Moreover, obese turtles are also at risk of fatty liver disease (lipidosis).

#4 Don’t let your turtle loose with other house pets: Any domestic animal can go into full instinct mode given the circumstances. An overexcited house pet will stress your turtle and even see it as a delicious snack. So, if you do want to introduce them, it must be under your careful supervision.

Turtle Tip: If your turtle hides away for long periods after being near other pets, it’s stressed.

Remember, aquatic turtles pee when picked up because they’re stressed and anxious. So, make them feel as safe and as comfortable as possible.

How Petting Prevents Peeing

As your turtle gets comfortable around you, the less chance there is of it peeing when handled. Making friends with your terrapin takes time and patience.

You will find that it enjoys gentle petting once it gets used to you. The way to start bonding is with a little gentle petting on the head and neck as it eats from your other hand.

Pet your turtle on the ground, as this is where it feels most secure and comfortable.

Turtle Tip: If the turtle stops eating, moves its head, snaps, or hisses, then it’s resisting your pet. That means it’s time to STOP and try again later. A little petting done often will eventually see your turtle become receptive to interaction with you.

This video demonstrates the safest way to pet your turtle.

Better Bonds Less Pee

The more time you and your turtle spend together, the sooner you’ll bond. And once it’s relaxed in your company, it won’t feel the need to pee when you pick it up.

Turtles can become quite attached to affectionate owners. It takes a while to bond, but it will recognize your face, voice, and scent in time. You know this has happened when the turtle swims to the surface to greet you as you approach its tank.

How Happy Is Your Turtle?

A turtle that pees when you pick it up is not necessarily an unhappy pet. It’s just upset at that moment because it’s not used to it, or your approach is wrong.

The more you bond and care for your turtle, the happier it becomes. You know you’ve connected when it doesn’t pee as you pick it up. That tells you it’s now comfortable interacting. It’s also wise to spot other pointers that can tell you how your pet is doing.

Use this simple turtle checklist to monitor your cherished pet’s level of happiness.

Your Happy Turtle Checklist

  • Eyes are clear with no signs of discharge
  • Greets and interacts with you when you approach its tank
  • Plays with toys, digs, engages in splashing behavior
  • Eats enthusiastically
  • Begs for treats
  • Basks under the UV light
  • Defecates Regularly

Remember, it’s not difficult to keep a healthy, happy turtle. All you need is knowledge, patience, commitment, and regular interaction to form that bond. And when that starts, the peeing stops.

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