A Gourmet Meal (If You’re A Turtle)

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - July 01, 2009
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My mother says I was a quick learner. I could walk by 9 months and I spoke in short sentences by my first birthday.

What I did not learn till later in life was how to listen. I mean, I possessed the ability to hear, but listening and applying what I heard took years of practice. In fact, if you ask my wife, I still have a long way to go. As a veterinarian, listening to a client’s account of their pet’s ailments is essential to arriving at a diagnosis. At other times, listening to the animal itself is just as important. Sure, we don’t speak their language but they still have much to say.

What do I mean? You’ll see. The following is a true account. I have not changed the names to protect the innocent (as I usually do) because this story is about my own animals.


Veterinarians spend long hours at work seeing patients, treating hospitalized animals, and returning phone messages that have accumulated throughout the day. One evening, after coming home late from work, my wife informed me that our dogs Diesel and Hunter disposed of a rat. Since this was the 20th rat they’d killed along with more than three dozen mongooses and a handful of birds, I no longer was shocked. You see, Diesel and Hunter are Jindos, and as a breed, they are very adept hunters. In fact, at the tender age of 3 months, these innocent litter-mates killed two mongooses (or are they mongeese? ... I can never remember). Each death still pulls at my heart, as I am trained to help these furry creatures. Unfortunately we live by a stream, and the resident wildlife wander into our yard and, on occasion, do not wander out. As it was late in the evening, I assured my wife that I would pick up the carcass in the morning.

The next morning was gorgeous and since it was my day off, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. After delaying as long as I could, I set out to dispose of the rat’s remains. What happened next totally took me by surprise. I hope the suspense is bringing you to the edge of your seat. If not, scoot forward and humor me.

Searching through my yard I finally found the rotting body under our longan tree. Surrounding the huge river rat were our three box turtles, Donatello, Michael Angelo and Leonardo. They were gnawing on the remains and too busy to notice my expression of wonderment. Our turtle troupe normally eats the insects that inhabit our yard and I supplement their diet with dried shrimp, tofu, fruits and vegetables. Little did I know that they also dined on dead animals. Cowabunga, dude!

Well, that’s nature for you. I quietly left them to their meal and two days later picked up the remnants of their feast. Since that day, I also witnessed them ravaging the remains of mongooses and birds.

Note to self, “Do not fall asleep in the backyard ... may awaken to turtles nibbling on toes.”

Strange, but my dogs didn’t seem fazed at all by the spectacle. In fact, it almost seems as though Diesel and Hunter were watching the turtles as they ate. Did they know that they were feeding their hard-shelled yard-mates? They probably didn’t have a clue, or did they?

Dietary recommendations are a daily event at the veterinary hospital. Clients often need guidance in their search for the perfect diet that provides optimal nutrients for their pet. Knowing what I know, do I tell owners to feed their box turtles dead carcasses? No, but I do tell them this story. After all, if you live on the wild side, nature teaches you new things all the time if you’d just pay attention and listen.

Pet tips:

When getting a new pet, check with your veterinarian for dietary recommendations.

Vomiting, anorexia or diarrhea may indicate that your pet does not tolerate something in its diet.

Keep a pet health diary to help you figure out what that food item might be.

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