A Guide to Pet Turtle Diseases main

Turtles are often considered to be quite "hardy" animals, meaning they are not prone to falling victim to illness easily, even without a proper understand of their basic requirements.  But, that doesn't mean are invincible. This guide will give you an overview of the 6 most common pet turtle diseases. 

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Swollen Eye Lids 

Swollen Eye Lids Symptoms 

  • Eyelids puffier than normal 
  • Edges of the turtle's eye appear red 
  • Turtle looks like it is often crying
  •  Blocked nose
  •    In severe cases the eyelids are so swollen that the turtle is unable to open his or her eyes

One of the most common turtle conditions are swollen eye lids. 

The severity of swollen eye lids can range from a slight reddening of the orbital and conjunctiva (around their eyes) glands and a few tears to eyes that are completely swollen shut. 

Usually, this condition is caused by a vitamin A deficiency, which is the result of a poor diet, often due to pet owners becoming way too over-reliant on feeding them turtle pellets. 

red eared slider swollen eye

Swollen eye lids are usually easy to spot. 

This can usually be avoided by simply feeding your turtles a range of foods, and limiting pellets and other protein sources to less than 50% of their food. 

A vitamin A deficiency isn't the only thing that can cause swollen eye lids however...

The quality of the tank water can also lead to this condition. 

Too much chlorine, or a clogged filter that isn't doing its job can also cause swollen eye lids. 

If this is the case, remove the turtle from the water, fix the water problem and give him or her half a day or so to heal up. 

But, that isn't quite everything...

This condition can also be caused by your turtle injuring him or herself, or poking him or herself in the eye. You'll know that this was the likely culprit if your turtle has 1 (instead of both) swollen eye lid. 

Swollen eye lids are a common, but typically easy condition to eliminate in turtles. The next one is a little more troublesome...

Bacterial Eye Infections

Bacterial Eye Infection Symptoms 

  • Eyelids puffier than normal 
  • Edges of the turtle's eye appear red 
  • Turtle looks like it is often crying
  • Turtle often scratches or rubs its eyes 
  • Small white spots on the turtle's corneas, often times these spread throughout the eye
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    Fluid from the mouth and nose, as well as eyes 

As opposed to some swollen eye lids, a bacterial eye infection on the other hand is a step up on the serious scale.

The big concern with this type of condition is that it can quickly spread to the turtle's nose and mouth, and eventually lead to often fatal respiratory diseases. 

Although the symptoms of a bacterial eye infection look extremely similar to a simple pair of swollen eye lids, there are a few key differences to be keenly aware of. 

pet turtle diseases main

Don't confuse swollen eye lids with a more serious bacterial eye infection. 

The biggest giveaway is the appearance of small white dots on the turtle's cornea, which can then spread throughout the eye, and even lead to the development of ulcers. 

If there is any kind of liquid pouring out from the nose and mouth, watch out, because it's likely this isn't just a swollen eyelid problem, but a bacterial eye infection. 

Bacterial eye infections occur for a multitude of reasons, but often they develop because of unfiltered or dirty water, or from the turtle catching it from something that hasn't been sterilised, or something contaminated in his or her habitat. 

To get rid of a bacterial eye infection, you'll almost certainly need to see a vet. If it's a terrestrial turtle, often times topical eye antibiotics are enough. 

Because water turtles such as red eared sliders spend the majority of their lives in water however, an injectable antibiotic is needed as the medicine would wash away as soon as the turtle enters the water. 

But wait, there's one more common condition that looks an awful lot like swollen eye lids or a bacterial infection, that you really need to watch out for. 

It's called...

Hypovitaminosis A

Hypovitaminosis A Symptoms 

  • Eyelids puffier than normal 
  • Edges of the turtle's eye appear red 
  • Secondary infections such as respiratory diseases or abscesses
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    Lack of appetite

Hypovitaminosis A, otherwise known as a vitamin A deficiency, can often times be confused with swollen eyelids or a more serious bacterial eye infection. 

The most obvious (and usually the first) symptom of this condition are swollen eye lids. 

But whereas swollen eye lids and bacterial eye infections have causes ranging from being poked in the eye to the animal touching a contaminated object in the tank, the cause of hypovitaminosis A is almost always the fault of the owner; a lack of vitamin A in their diet. 

lethargy, pet turtle diseases

Hypovitaminosis A is easy to prevent, but not often easy to spot. 

This happens when pet owners became way too over-reliant on turtle pellets, believing that this is the only thing they need to feed them. 

Turtle pellets, while nutritious and a great source of protein, cannot be the only source of food for any pet turtle.

Most pet turtles (and especially water turtles like sliders and painteds) need a majority-plant or vegetable based diet as they grow into adults.

This will depend on the species, but generally, fresh greens and plants such as dandelion leaves, red leaf lettuce, dark green lettuce (not iceberg) and small quantities of vegetables such as cucumber, zucchini and squash are great sources of vitamins for most pet turtle types. 

Unfortunately, hypovitaminosis A is easy to correct, by giving the turtle oral or injectable vitamin A (as well as fixing their diet) but difficult to diagnose, as this will usually involve a visit to the vet for tests and blood-work. 

Ensuring that your pet turtle's dietary needs are being met is far and away the easiest way to prevent this condition from happening. 

However, that isn't everything that can occur from a vitamin A deficiency...

Abscesses

Abscess Symptoms 

  • Fluid-filled swelling next to the turtle's ears or eyes 
  • Fluid discharge usually hard and white in colour 

Related to hypovitaminosis A are abscesses, which can appear anywhere on or inside a turtle's body, but often develop near the ears or eyes. 

These pus-filled swellings are not easy to treat, so prevention is key here. 

Just like hypovitaminosis A, abscesses are usually the result of a vitamin A deficiency in the turtle's diet. 

turtle abscess

Abscesses often occur on turtles, and sometimes require vet care. 

However, abscesses can also be the result of poor water quality, filtration problems or by having the wrong temperature or humidity for the species. 

The good news is that, if caught early, you can sometimes stop these in their track by simply changing their diet or making sure the water quality is up to standard. 

The bad news is that, if not caught or stopped early, a trip to the vet is 100% necessary, as antibiotic treatments are useless and you will not be able to remove it yourself. 

Abscesses are treated by the vet by administering an anesthesia to the lump, then making an incision, letting the fluid drain out and making sure everything is clean. 

Abscesses may look disgusting, but on the bright side they are generally not that serious, and do not usually lead to death. 

Our next common pet turtle disease on the other hand is extremely dangerous...

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory Disease Symptoms 

  • Bubbles coming from their mouth 
  • Fluid coming from the turtle's mouth and/or nose
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    Very little desire to eat and move
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    Stretching their neck out to breathe
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    Wheezing
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    Unable to swim properly and/or poor buoyancy

Unlike the above conditions, a respiratory disease can spell the end of your turtle's life if not treated quickly and correctly. 

Most of the time, a respiratory condition is caused by bacteria that the turtle has contracted through something contaminated in the tank. 

Another common cause is an incorrect water temperature, or tank humidity setting, which can happen if your turtle is in a tank that is too cold (tropical species are especially prone to this). 

cannot swim

A turtle that has lost its buoyancy is probably suffering from some type of respiratory disease. 

The tell-tale sign of a respiratory infection or disease is any kind of wheezing, difficulty breathing, inability to swim properly or if the turtle has buoyancy problems, such as if it cannot submerge itself and swim under water. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, your first order of business is to put it under the basking light, watch it for the next few hours and make sure that the temperature setting is correct. 

If caught in the early stages, sometimes a turtle can heat itself up and "cook the infection" out, sortofspeak. 

However, if after a half a day or so, the turtle's condition has not improved, your only recourse is now to see a vet. 

Your vet will probably need to conduct an X-ray test as well as some blood work to determine the reason for the infection, but after wards, prescribing antibiotics for treatment is the next step. 

If the turtle's condition still has not improved, further intensive care may be required. 

The best thing you can do to prevent any type of respiratory disease in your turtle is to: 

  •    Make sure the water temperature, tank temperature and humidity is set to the right setting, depending on your species (absolutely don't let it get too cold) 
  •  Take care to ensure that your turtle does not have a vitamin A deficiency, through a proper nutritious, diverse diet 

If the thought of a sudden respiratory illness scares you, this next one should make you jump out of your pants! 

Ulcerative Shell Disease

Ulcerative Shell Disease Symptoms 

  • Bubbles coming from their mouth 
  • Fluid coming from the turtle's mouth and/or nose
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    Very little desire to eat and move

Ulcerative shell disease is also known as SCUD or its more common moniker, shell rot. 

If there is anything you want to avoid, its this. 

The outer shells of turtles are made of a substance called keratin. These keratin shells, which often fall off as the shell grows or as new scutes replace old, serve to protect the connected bones and organs of the turtle underneath the main shell. 

fungus

An accessible basking spot and the right temperature are 2 ways to prevent shell rot. 

If anything happens to this outside protective layer, the turtle would now be at risk of serious injury, bacterial infection or disease. 

Shell rot usually happens from one of 2 ways: 

  • Through a bite, infection or injury 
  • Through living in an environment where the turtle is unable to dry out its shell 

You will notice whether or not it is the latter if some of the turtles' scutes appear rough, soft and discoloured. Often times the turtle itself will not even notice this. 

Luckily, treating this mild form of shell rot is not too difficult, as all that is needed is to place the turtle in a dry location, note which scutes are infected with fungus, lightly scrub its shell, apply a betadine or providone-iodine solutions and let it sit outside of the water for a few hours. 

Repeat this process daily until the shell rot is totally gone. 

However, if it's a more serious form of shell rot, such as clear, visible, deep damage to the scutes and/or any type of open wounds or sores, it is strongly advised that you take the turtle to the vet. 

In cases such as these, the turtle will probably need a bit of intensive care, as well as the steady hands of a vet to ensure that it isn't hurt or further infected from any fungus or bacteria. 

If you ever have any type of problem with your pet turtle, it is likely to be one of these 6 types of pet turtle diseases or conditions. 

As always, prevention is the key here: 

  • 1
    Make sure your turtle is not being fed too much protein, especially turtle pellets 
  • 2
    Make sure the water temperature, tank temperature and humidity are not too high or too low, but at the correct setting 
  • 3
    Make sure everything that is in its habitat is sterilised and free from any type of outside, foreign contamination 
  • 4
    Make sure there isn't anything in its habitat that can injure or kill the turtle, such as unstable stones or any kind of sharp edges 

For more information on everything that is necessary to maintain a healthy, thriving turtle, check out this article here.

As the great Benjamin Franklin once quipped, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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