Turtles can be fascinating for people looking for a pet other than a cute cuddly cat or canine.
While owning a cold-blooded creature may not require as much hands-on time as a furry animal, turtles require owners to pay careful attention to their living conditions and diet.
Veterinarian Gillian Hung, at Happy Pets Veterinary Centre in Tai Hang, identifies some common problems to ensure your turtle lives a long and healthy life.
In Hong Kong, the most common turtles are red-eared sliders and Chinese striped-neck turtles. These breeds are semi-aquatic and can vary in size. Some hatchlings are only four to five centimetres long, but as they get older they can grow larger than the size of your hand.
''In the right conditions and given the correct diet, they can easily live to 30 years old,'' Hung says. ''They aren't difficult to keep if you get the initial set-up right. But if you don't get the right equipment like a UV [ultraviolet] light you can get problems. Some people just put their turtle by the window, but you can't get UV light through glass.''
In setting up the tank, water quality is important. ''How often you chagne the water depends on how big the tank is and how many turtles there are,'' Hung says. ''In general, change the water every two to three days.''
Regulate the water temperature from 25 to 35 degress Celsius. If it's not warm enough, install a heater or place a heat lamp next to the UV light.
Hung recommends semi-aquatic turtles should have living quarters comprising 30 per cent land and 70 per cent water, with a basking area and a covered space.
If you want to keep you tank cleaner for longer, Hung suggests owners feed their turtle outside in a separate tub of water.
''If you put the food directly in the water, it can spoil the water,'' she says. ''Then, usually within 20 minutes, your turtle will poo.''
If turtles are fed outside their tank they can be put back about 30 mintues after feeding time.
With an abundant range of commercial diets onthe markte, Hung says: ''It's not difficult to source a diet, but they should get some variety.''
Owners can throw in some cooked chicken or shrimp, but as a turtle gets older, it becomes less carnivorous and more vegetarian, so more vegetables are recommended.
Food, amounting to the size of the head and neck, should be given daily to hatchlings until they are about a year old. After that, they should be fed every other day.
One of the main health problems is a deficiency in calcium and vitamins D and A.
''Even if you are giving your turtle a good commercial diet, owners can buy supplements in pet shops. It's a powder and you can sprinkle it on the food once a week,'' she says. However, if turtles are kept outside and receive sunlight, then only give calcium supplements.
For signs of a sick turtle, it will most likely stop eating and infections on the shell are ''quite common''. From lack of vitamine A, turtles can develop swollen eyelids.
''This shows an problem with husbandry. Turtles are quite hardy, so they can usually make it throught,'' Hung says. ''But if husbandry has been wrong for a long time, improvement may take a while.''
If you notice bubbles coming out of your pet's nose, or it is swimming lopsided a respiratory disease may be the cause. Hung warns: "If you notice that, you need to take your turtle [to a vet], there could be a problem with the lungs.''
Box turtles, known for their large domed shell, are also popular pets in Hong Kong. While this species is actually a tortoise that mostly lives on land, the depth of the water in the tank shouldn't be deeper than their head, as they cannot swim. When it's feeding time, Hung says the box turtle is similar to the red-eared slider. A commercial diet is sufficient, or a diet should be made up of 50 per cent high protein food, such as crickets and earthworms, along with 50 per cent vegetables, including peas and any leafy greens, from spinach to lettuce.
If you are undecided about what kind of turtle to care for, the vet advises semi-aquatic ones are easier to keep.
''Box turtles can be a bit more picky. You don't have to worry about semi-aquatic environments as much, whilc a box turtle's living conditions need to be just right - their humidity and optimal temperature,'' she says.
All box turtle species are slightly different, so owners need to do their research to find out what their preferred temperature is.
''People think turtles are very easy to keep, but they don't find out about their habitat. They don't get sick that often, but if they do it's mostly related to poor husbandry.''