How to Tell if Your Aquatic Turtle is Sick


It can often be difficult to identify illnesses and disease in turtles. Unlike mammals, reptiles do not show outward expressions of pain or discomfort, and cannot alert their owners to the fact that they are sick. Luckily, signs of illness in turtles do exist. Paying proper attention to your aquatic turtle, as well as knowing what signs of disease to look for, can mean the difference between life and death for many turtles.

Be aware of what a healthy aquatic turtle looks like, so that you have a basis for comparison. Healthy aquatic turtles have bright eyes, intact and proportional shells, a glossy finish and scales free of bumps or tears.

Observe the actions of your aquatic turtle. Turtles that appear to be sneezing often, coughing, gasping or wheezing when they take a breath may have a respiratory infection. Note any changes in behavior. Lethargy, more time spent basking, lopsided swimming or the favoring of one or more limbs are often signs of illness.

Check they eyes, nose, mouth and ears of your aquatic turtle regularly. If the eyes are dull, cloudy or swollen, or if there is a discharge around the eyes, this can be a sign of several different diseases. Likewise, a swollen or runny nose, swollen lumps near the ears, or redness and excessive salivation and discharge around the mouth are all symptoms of illness in aquatic turtles.

Monitor the condition of the aquatic turtle's skin. Redness, rashes, lesions and bleeding are all symptoms of turtle illness. Feel the skin to see if there are any swollen areas or lumps.

Observe the aquatic turtle's cloaca, located at the base of the tail. If the cloaca is swollen or there is a foul-smelling discharge, this may be a sign of a bacterial infection.

Observe any changes in the turtle's shell. These changes may be in the shell's size, shape, color or condition. There are numerous illnesses which can affect the shell, and any changes should be taken seriously. Pay particular attention to shells that appear to be more conical than normal, as well as any damage to individual scutes.

Monitor the eating habits and fecal matter of your pet turtle. Loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea or undigested food that remains in the stool are all signs of illness.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never attempt to treat or diagnose an unknown illness yourself. If in doubt, take your turtle to see a veterinarian who specializes in reptile care.

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