Chelonian Handling and Restraint

Key Points

  • Chelonians possess several defense mechanisms, including the protective shell and a strong, sharp beak. Aquatic turtles tend to be more aggressive, and will often attempt to bite the handler.
  • Chelonians can be challenging to restrain, because they are often extremely strong and very uncooperative. Nevertheless, it is possible to injure your patient, so only apply gentle, steady traction.
  • Often the most difficult part of the chelonian exam is gaining control of the head. Multiple techniques have been described, however patience is often a critical tool.
  • It can be physically impossible to gain control of large tortoises and chemical restraint may be necessary for many diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.
  • To minimize the risk of zoonotic exposure, wear disposable gloves whenever possible and always wash hands thoroughly after handling a chelonian.

Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures cannot be administered until you and your staff can safely handle and restrain the turtle or tortoise patient. Many chelonian patients presented to the veterinary hospital are ill and therefore their temperament and strength level can be reduced. Normal, healthy chelonians tend to be bright, alert and very strong, making them extremely challenging to restrain. Gaining control of the head can be particularly difficult, however multiple techniques have been described . . .

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Bays TB. Handling and restraint and venipuncture of exotic animals. Proc Annu Conf 65th Convention Canadian Vet Med Assoc; 2013.

Bradley TA. Basic reptile handling and restraint. Proc Annu Western Veterinary Conference 2002.

Cannon M, Johnson R. Handling and nursing reptiles (What’s normal & what’s not). Proc NSW Division Regional Conference 2014.

Divers SJ. Clinical approach to tortoises and turtles. Proc ExoticsCon Main Conference 2015:543-544.

Eatwell K. The reptile consultation. Proc Annu British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2013.

Nugent-Deal J. Reptile physical exam, capture, restraint and venipuncture Techniques. Proc Annu Conf Amer Board of Veterinary Practitioners 2011.


Further reading

Ballard B, Cheek R (eds). Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician, 3rd ed. Ames, IA: Wiley Blackwell; 2017.

Bassert JM, Thomas J. McCurnin’s Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians. St. Louis: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2017.

Centers for Disease Control. Take care with pet reptiles and amphibians. Centers for Disease Control Web site. April 3, 2017. Available at Accessed September 28, 2017.

Johnson R. Serious reptile practice – How to tame a tiger snake, and more. Proc Annu Conf Australian Veterinary Association 2013

Mader D. Reptile handling and husbandry. Proc Annu Western Veterinary Conference 2009

Mitchell MA. Managing the reptile patient in the veterinary hospital: Establishing a standards of care model for nontraditional species. J Exotic Pet Med. 19(1):56-72, 2010.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Chelonian handling and restraint. Sep 28, 2017. LafeberVet Web site. Available at