By Stacey Venzel
Reptiles, like mammals, feel pain, but perhaps in a less noticeable way. The presence of certain receptors and chemicals in the turtle brain offer physiological evidence that they recognize pain.
Monitoring the physical activity and responses of an injured turtle can alert you as to the turtle’s degree of pain. Thankfully, medications exist to help alleviate a turtle’s discomfort.
Pain can be detected visually in a turtle by the observance of behavioral changes that differ from normal patterns. These include lack of appetite, modified posture, lethargy, favoring or retracting affected areas such as limbs, changes in skin color, aggression or holding the head away from the body. Additionally, turtles can show signs of pain by avoiding situations, such as reptiles that distanced themselves in a laboratory experiment from burning heat.
Veterinarians are trained in knowing what types of drugs are best used to make a turtle patient feel better. The good news is, all sorts of drugs exist for reptiles, from liquid to pill form, injectable and oral. A study on a group of red-eared sliders that underwent surgery observed that those turtles receiving pain medication went back to their normal routine faster than those without drugs.
Stephen Divers, Doug Mader, Current Therapy in Reptile Medicine & Surgery, (St. Louis, Elsevier Saunders, 2014), 219-222.