How to Tell If My Turtle is Dying

Turtles are good at hiding pain or illness, and sometimes they do not show symptoms of a disease before the disease gets serious. However, if you’re a careful turtle owner, you should always look out for any unusual symptom your pet exhibits.

A sluggish or turtle that doesn’t eat may not always mean that it’s dying. Turtles can exhibit these symptoms naturally due to their environment or age. An inexperienced turtle owner can panic seeing a turtle in that condition, but a dying turtle may show other symptoms.

How to Tell If My Turtle is Dying?

The main way to tell if a turtle is dying if if they refuse to eat, swims sideways, has discharge from the mouth, has unhealthy skin, becomes sluggish, shows trouble breathing, abnormal feces, and shell rot.

1.     Your Turtle Refuses to Eat

Loss of appetite can be one sign of a dying turtle. If your turtle completely refuses to eat, it may be facing a digestion issue that is not apparent. With digestion issues, the feces of the animal will also change, so keep an eye on how the feces of your pet look. Your turtle might also refuse to eat if they are stressed or are suffering from illness.

In female turtles, the loss of appetite can occur in a condition when they aren’t able to lay eggs in a normal way. The condition is known as dystocia and can prove to be fatal. Additionally, a turtle might stop eating when they become pregnant.

To help encourage your turtle to eat, you should try providing them with different types of food. I’ve had the most luck with freeze dried shrimp and insects.

2.     Respiratory Problems

If your turtle shows signs of wheezing, sneezing or a nasal discharge, they may mean that your turtle is suffering from pneumonia. Pneumonia in turtles can prove to be fatal, so get to a vet as soon as possible if you see any of these signs. A turtle with pneumonia or any other respiratory illness might also make weird sounds when they breathe. Below is a video of a turtle with a respiratory infection.

The best way to treat a respiratory infection in turtles is to ensure their water and basking spot are the right temperature.

Below are the two best medications that I recommend to help treat your turtle’s conditiTon.

3.     The Turtle is Swimming Sideways

If your turtle is swimming sideways, it is a sign of bloating in the turtle. You need to take quick action to reduce stomach problems and make dietary changes to ensure your turtle doesn’t die of a serious stomach illness. A turtle will also swim sideways when their arms and legs become weak from a turtle disease.

4.     Discharge

A dying turtle may also start to have discharge coming from their nose or mouth. This is referred to as “bubbling,” and it is a symptom of a respiratory ailment. Furthermore, the discharge may occur from their eyes. The discharge from the eyes and ears can be thick and pussy, and it can be accompanied by enlarged eyelids or ears. This is due to a lack of vitamin A. To help avoid this, you should ensure that you have a proper turtle heater and feed your turtle a balanced diet.

5.     Skin Conditions

Your turtle may face skin conditions such as an open wound or an abscess. These conditions need immediate attention or they can cause your turtle to die. Sometimes, you may also notice a swollen area on your turtle’s skin. This may be a sign of a tumor and it needs immediate veterinary consultation. The usual spots of an abscess are behind the ears of the reptile and the mucus may appear as hard cottage cheese instead of the runny, slimy material other animals have.

6.     Abnormal Sluggishness

When a turtle is hibernating, it may not respond to any external stimulus. However, a healthy turtle will swim towards food, and swim freely in the tank or find a way to the basking platform. If your turtle is not showing these normal activities, there’s something amiss and you need to give immediate attention to your pet.

You should also note that pet turtles rarely hibernate.

7.     Fecal Abnormalities

A sudden change in your turtle’s excrement could indicate that they require immediate medical attention. Diarrhea, bloody stool, and/or the presence of parasites are all indicators to watch for. If not treated promptly, a parasite infection can cause significant organ damage and failure.

Sometimes, if your turtle doesn’t pass stool at all, or passes bloody stool, there may be an obstruction in its GI tract. That needs immediate surgery or else it will cause your turtle to die. This can be caused when your turtle eats rocks. You can learn more in my article on how to stop my turtle from eating rocks.

8.     Shell Infections

Shell infections are usually caused by a bite or a trauma caused to the shell. It can also happen when you don’t feed your turtle a balanced diet, or they do not have a proper basking platform. These open wounds on the shell are thus attacked by parasites, bacteria or fungi that may infect the turtle’s body to the internal layers. If not taken proper care of, these infections can cause a turtle to die.


Turtles are a delicate species to keep as a pet. Every turtle owner should take measures to keep their health intact. From giving them a suitable environment to regulating body temperature to food that doesn’t upset their bowel, a responsible turtle owner must be keen.

If you see any of the above stated symptoms in your pet turtle, take them to a vet who knows how to treat a turtle immediately.