how to tell if my red eared slider is sick

A sick red-eared slider may exhibit a wide range of symptoms. In today’s article, I will explain what you should keep an eye out for, and review some of the most common illnesses among red-eared sliders.

How to tell if your red-eared slider is sick?

The most common signs that a red-eared slider is sick are loss of appetite, lethargy, swollen eyes, discharge on the face, breathing problems, and any other big changes in behavior.

Loss of appetite

turtle looking at pellets

If you’re turtle becomes disinterested with their food and stops eating, it could be a sign that they are getting sick. You should only start to worry if your turtle goes more than a week without eating, as their diet can fluctuate from day to day.

If your red-eared slider isn’t eating, you should try to feed them a different type of food to see if it stimulates their appetite. For example, you should try different types of pellets and vegetables. If they still don’t eat, you should try a treat such as freeze dried shrimp or crickets.

While turtles can actually go multiple weeks or months without eating, it can be the sign of a range of diseases including respiratory infections, eye infections, vitamin deficiency, or parasitic infections.


lethargic turtle

When a turtle becomes lethargic, it means they exhibit lack of movement and energy. This could mean that they don’t move as much as before, or in extreme cases your turtle might barely move at all. If your turtle becomes lethargic for and extended period of time (for a couple days), you should take them to a doctor immediately, as they are most likely sick.

Unfortunately lethargy can cause the rest of your turtle’s body to eventually shut down, so it’s important that you take them to a vet as soon as possible.

Swollen eyes

turtle with swollen eyes

Unfortunately swollen eyes is very common among pet turtles, especially with red-eared sliders. If your turtles eyes are swollen and your turtle isn’t exhibiting any other symptoms of an illness, they might be fine. Just ensure that their enclosure is clean and that you have the proper temperature for their water and basking platform.

If your turtle is lethargic because of a respiratory infection, you should watch my video below:

If your turtle’s eyes are completely shut or your turtle is showing other signs of illness such as not eating or lethargy, then your turtle might have a serious illness that will likely require a visit to the vet.

Discharge on their face

turtle with discharge on face

If your red-eared slider is suffering from a respiratory illness, it can cause snot and excess mucus to come out of their eyes, nose, or mouth. When you see discharge on their face, you should try to brush it away to make it easier for them to see and breathe.

If the discharge lasts for over a week and starts to dry and get crusty on their face, you should bring your turtle to the vet for treatment. Discharge is a symptom of a wide range of turtle diseases.

Breathing problems

It is very common for red-eared sliders to develop breathing problems when they are sick. This can come in a lot of different forms. For example, they might have labored breathing and try extending their neck when they breathe to get more oxygen.

Below is a video of a turtle with breathing problems.

They might also start opening their mouth very wide when they breathe, and sometimes they might even make a slicking sound when they try to breathe. If your turtle is displaying one of these symptoms, you should take them to the vet immediately because they might die soon.

Other changes in behavior

Some other signs that your turtle may be sick include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weird swimming patterns
  • Growths on their skin
  • Basking all the time or not at all

Now if you suspect that your turtle is sick, you should know what you can do to help your red-eared slider.

How to treat a sick red-eared slider

If you suspect your red-eared slider is sick, the first thing you should do is ensure that their tank is clean. I would suggest doing at least a 25% or 50% water change to help clean up the water. You might also want to clean the filters to make sure they are still working efficiently.

You should also ensure that your turtle tank is the right temperature. Your water should be between 75-85 degrees fahrenheight, and the basking platform should be between 90 and 100 degrees fahrenheight.

If you have multiple turtles in your tank, you might want to separate the sick turtle to prevent the spread of disease. However, you should make sure that their new setup is still adequate for all of their environment needs.

If your turtle is still eating, you should feed them a variety of pellets and vegetables make sure they get all the vitamins they need.

When to take your red-eared slider to the vet?

This answer will vary greatly on the severity of their symptoms and your accessibility to a vet. Ideally, if your turtle exhibits one of the symptoms listed above for multiple days or weeks and doesn’t improve, you should take them to the vet.

There are some illnesses, such as respiratory infections, that can only be treated by antibiotics prescribed by a vet.

If there is no way you can take your turtle to a vet, you should just do all that you can to ensure that their environment is clean and that they are living in optimal conditions.

There are also some precautions you should take to prevent illness in the future. Aside from keeping their environment clean, you should also make sure to thoroughly clean anything that you put into the tank to make sure it doesn’t have any harmful bacteria, parasite, or fungus that could harm your turtle.

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