Turtle Health Problems

Turtle Health Problems

Unless you are an experienced chelonian owner, you might not know be aware that your turtle is suffering from a health problem. The main reason for missing the early signs and symptoms of an illness or disease in your pet turtle or tortoise is because they do a good job of masking them. Turtles in the wild must do this to avoid standing out to predators who prey on the weak and the sick. It’s this same defense mechanism that makes it difficult to see your pet might not be feeling well. When you finally do notice something is wrong, the disease or illness it’s infected with has probably been affecting your turtle for some time.
Caution Turtle Crossing

Prevent Illness

While you might be viewing this section of our site because your turtle is already showing signs of a problem, we fee it’s worth mentioning that the best way to avoid health issues is to provide excellent husbandry (turtle care).

This means you need to do you best to provide the most optimal conditions for the species of turtle you have including:

Related Content: Turtle Hibernation

Baby Spotted Water Turtle

First Signs of a Problem

Even if you do provide great care, your pets still might get sick or injured so knowing the initial symptoms of an unhealthy turtle is an important part of being a good owner. Once you observe these common signs, you can then take action and treat them yourself or seek treatment from your veterinarian. We will explain the roll and necessity of having a vet below but first, here are the most common signs of a health problem:

Signs and Symptoms
  • Abnormal behaviors that are not typical of your pet
  • Excessive pacing or soaking
  • Anorexia, weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea and or green feces or urates
  • Discharge from nares or mouth
  • Puffy or partially close eyes

First Aid Kit

Not all injuries require a trip the vet. Superficial cuts and scrapes happen often to turtles that live outdoors or that live in groups. As a good owner, you should have a first aid kit on standby for treating any minor injuries. With this kit you can clean and dress any wounds to help avoid infection. Here is a list of tems that you might want to include:

  • Adhesive tape
  • band-aids
  • water proof bandages
  • adhesive-coated polyurethane film dressing
  • antiseptic solution
  • clean towels and paper towels
  • gauze pads and cotton balls
  • magnifying glass
  • nail clippers
  • tweezers
  • latex gloves
  • sharp scissors
  • spray bottle with distilled water to flush wounds
  • styptic powder or corn starch to stop bleeding
  • antibiotic ointment
  • vetwrap

Hospital Tank

A hospital tank is necessary anytime you have a turtle that has an infection or injury and you don’t want it to be around any other turtles or left outdoors. A basic setup includes a 20 to 40 gallon tank or one that adequately houses your pet. It needs to be large enough but also small enough so you can control the variables. These include the lighting, heat and humidity.If you use a glass turtle tank, cover the sides with paper so your turtle doesn’t get stressed or tries to walk through the glass.
Use a thick clean towel as a substrate and some shredded newspaper as a hiding spot for box turtles and tortoises. If your turtle. If you have a box turtle or tropical tortoise that doesn’t have an open wound injury, you can use a layer of sphagnumn and a hide box. Aquatic turtles should have a tank filled with water with no substrate and an area where they can get completely out of the water to bask and stay dry. In addition to the tank size and substrate, keep the temps up using a heat lamp, the humidity to their likings and adequate UVB lighting.

Veterinarian Care

Trip to Vet

No matter if you have a sick turtle or not, you need a vet. Furthermore, why wait until you need one, find one when you first bring home your turtle. In fact, we strongly recommend that take a new turtle into the vets office right away. They will be able to tell you if there are any problems affecting your new pet by inspecting it and running a few blood or feces tests. These tests can help spot parasite infestations or other types of infections.

Even if your turtle gets a clean bill of health, you should probably quarantine it for a few weeks or more in order to make sure it is healthy. Some Asian species should be quarantined for for up to a year; especially the ones that we captured in the wild and transported long distances. We don’t recommend buying these types for that reason.

You should take your turtles in for a checkup at least once a year. The best time to do this is in late summer to early fall right before you might chose to hibernate them over the winter. Only healthy turtles should be put into hibernation and having a vet give your pets a clean bill of health is good sign they can handle it. Sick, young or under weight turtles should be housed inside over the winters.

In addition to finding out if they are healthy, these checkups will give your veterinarian a chance to compile a history for future visits. The vet will likely ask you about your husbandry and want to know what type of living conditions you are providing them.

Finding a Vet

The best vet to go to belongs to the Association of Reptiles and Amphibians (ARAV) and has experience with treating chelonians. Not all vets work on turtles or tortoises so it might take some research to find one. You can try to call your local zoo or animal shelters to find where they might seek treatment for a ill turtle. Or, try contacting your state wildlife department for a recommendation. Other alternatives include joining a club or herp society.

Reviewed By: Tim Winter

Tim Winter has a strong affection for pets and wildlife. His years of experience caring for various types of pets has led him to share his knowledge with others on the best practices in pet care. Tim holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications.

8 thoughts on “Turtle Health Problems”

  1. we have an almost 3 year old box? turtle. Over the past few days she seems to be hanging out in her pond most of the time, Her right front and rear legs appear to be swollen. She has been eating and drinking as usual. What should we look for?

  2. I noticed that my Russian tortoise was not coming out to bask or eat, she seemed scared, I realized that a cactus Ren was digging for bugs in her enclosure, I brought her into a hospital set up in the house,she comes out to bask and is eating every couple of days, she been inside for a few weeks, but I’m still not sure what’s going on.

  3. Please tell me what to do for my red ear slider turtle..he cracked his bottom lip/jaw.. it hurts him when I touch it. The crack is 1/2 of his bottom lip/jaw. I need to fix him cause I don’t have money for a vet. Thank You

  4. I need advice..its urgent…
    A week ago my turtle dnt have appetite…
    And his now not moving..i dnt know how to describe properly..his opening his mouth like he cant breath…

  5. I had two red ear sliders that froze in their aquarium a couple years ago. I thought they were dead until it thawed and they were alive! A friend of mine now has them and he said one has still not eaten since he has had them. Why would this be??

    • Turtles do hibernate. It’s actually called brumation. When temps are cold, turtles don’t eat much if at all. If it has been a long time though, the turtle needs to go to the vet.


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