Dry-docking Turtles

Yarmouth Veterinary Center

75 Willow Street
Yarmouth , ME 04096




There are illnesses and injuries involving the skin and shell that require maintaining aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles out of water until substantial healing has occurred; this is known as dry docking.

We try to avoid dry docking aquatic species. If it is necessary, then it is essential to provide a high humidity environment, and they will need to be placed in water for feeding.

Semi-aquatic species, including red-eared sliders, tolerate dry docking better. Some will still only eat in water, and will have to be placed in water to feed. 

The dry docking period varies with the pet's condition; it may be as short as days or as long as months. Close monitoring with recheck exams is necessary to determine when dry docking can end, and to avoid complications. Shell problems require longer periods of dry docking than skin-only problems.

Water intake during dry docking is drastically reduced. Providing shallow water in shallow bowls might stimulate water intake, but problems of the plastron (lower shell) might preclude this approach. Some pets require fluid injections and/or syringe feeding to maintain hydration. We aim for a total of 15 to 25 ml per kg of weight, about 2 to 3 teaspoons per pound per day. 

Turtles usually readily pass droppings during dry docking. It is important to clean the environment often to prevent fecal contamination of the shell or skin . Accessories in the enviroment, such as stones for basking, should be easy to clean and should be arranged so that the turtle is not at risk for falling. 

A plastic or rubber tote box makes a good dry dock. Newspaper can be used on the bottom; it should be removed and replaced regularly. Appropriate temperature for the species should be maintained and a basking area should be provided.

Dry docking is an important treatment, but it is a secondary one; it should not be used without a diagnosis and primary medical care.