Many people in Hong Kong don't want a little meowing kitten or barking puppy. Some have opted to take care of a turtle which is relatively easy to look after. 'They are very calm animals, and reptiles in general are amazing because they have adapted since the dinosaur age,' says veterinarian Nicole Wyre at Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital. 'They have survived while other species have become extinct.' On deciding whether to get a turtle or a tortoise, Wyre says the difference depends on whether you are talking to an American or British speaker. According to American English, she says, there are three main categories in the Testudine order, more commonly referred to as the Chelonia superorder. One category of tortoises live exclusively on land; the second are basking turtles that spend their lives in fresh water, but also bask on dry land; and the third are sea turtles that spend their lives in salt water, but lay their eggs on land. The confusion starts with a Diamondback terrapin, which lives in brackish water. In British English, they are called terrapins, or ones that live in fresh water. To set up basking turtles, the most common species in Hong Kong is the red-eared slider, they need to live on land and have access to a large pool of water. 'Your turtle will not survive very long without access to fresh, clean water,' Wyre explains. 'These animals need large tanks ... They need deep water, so they can swim, not to just cover their shell, and they need a basking area that is equipped with ultraviolet light and heat lights. These are essential as you need to recreate the sun in your house.' She adds without both sets of lights, your basking turtle will not grow. Other necessary features include a hiding place, two thermometers, one in the water and one in the basking area, and a water filter that is out of the tank. 'As your turtle grows, you will need to get larger and larger tanks, so they can swim and bask properly,' Wyre says. And if you have a female basking turtle, owners need to set up a special area for her to dig and lay her eggs when the time comes. The natural habitat for a tortoise, sulcatas and leopard tortoises are the most common in Hong Kong, is the desert, so these owners will need to recreate the African desert in their apartment, Wyre says. This means you need constant heat lights since it's not warm enough in Hong Kong, but the tank requires a 'temperature gradient', so your tortoise can decide if it wants to bask in the 'sun' or stay in the cooler area. To set up the tortoise tank, make sure you have the hot 'African sun' ultraviolet lights; a water dish large enough for it to soak in; a hiding spot; two thermometers, on the 'hot' side of the cage and one on the 'cool' side of the tank; and a hygrometer to measure humidity, as too much humidity can be bad for tortoises. A crucial consideration before getting a turtle or tortoise is their potential size. 'It is very important to think about how big these animals will get before you bring one into your home,' Wyre says. 'Sulcatas will grow to 30-50 kilograms and you need to basically have an entire bedroom set up for them. They require lots of space.' Wyre says don't think about getting a sea turtle since they should not be kept in captivity. At the bottom of the tank, called the substrate, Wyre advises to leave it with the glass bottom for basking turtles. She says, 'do not put pebbles, sand or stones at the bottom as they will eat these and they can get stuck in their intestinal tract requiring surgery'. Alternatively for tortoises, the veterinarian suggests placing hay on top of newspaper. 'Again, no sand, pebbles or stones as they are notorious for eating everything,' she says. The basic set-up equipment will cost about HK$1,000. But monthly food costs depends on where you shop. Basking turtles require whole frozen or live fish and fresh greens, such as choi sum and bak choi. Tortoises are vegetarian and require high-fibre diets with hay and fresh grass. Tortoises and basking turtles need fresh vegetables that are high in vitamin A, ones that are red, orange or yellow in colour, such as pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, carrot, mango and papaya. Tortoises are also picky eaters. 'They are naughty like kids and tend to not eat what they should,' she says. 'I would chop up bits of greens, vegetables and hay into a salad, so when they bite they are also getting hay.' A possible problem that can develop from eating too much greens and fruit is that the tortoise will grow too quickly, and a condition called pyramiding will occur. Wyre says: 'Instead of a round smooth shell, it will look like a pyramid. Their backbone and ribs that sit underneath their shell will be deformed as well and there are lots of spinal issues.' Turtles need an annual check-up, but they don't require any vaccines. Wyre says almost all illnesses in turtles and tortoises are from inadequate husbandry, such as not being kept warm enough, not sufficient water depth, too much humidity, inadequate fibre intake in tortoises, inadequate calcium in all species, inadequate vitamin A in turtles, too much protein in turtles and intestinal parasites from being kept in enclosures that are too small. She says: 'It can be very difficult to determine if they are sick because they are good at 'hiding' signs of illness. That is why annual health checks are so important. In general, if they are not eating, acting lethargic, having trouble breathing, vomiting, not passing faeces, not passing urine, or have swollen eyes and swollen ears, they need to be seen immediately.' If left untreated, the problems can be fatal. While your turtle doesn't need to be taken out for a daily walk, it's best for all turtles and tortoises to bath in direct sunlight. 'As much as we try to recreate the sun for these species, direct sunlight is much better than any lights we can buy,' Wyre says. 'Direct sunlight means not through a window, this is not direct sunlight ... If each turtle/tortoise can get outside as much as possible that is ideal, but even getting them into the direct sun for 15 minutes a day is good.' Above all else, when taking care of your turtle remember that temperature is the most important factor. 'Unlike us, reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperature,' Wyre says. 'If they are not kept warm enough, their immune system does not work, they cannot digest their food, their hearts do not beat effectively and eventually they will die.'