Pet Turtle Diseases - You Need to Know This main picture

Turtles are considered hardy animals because they can live in dirty conditions. However, they still get ill. Avoid these pet turtle diseases at all costs!

While this list is not comprehensive by any means, these are the 6 most common pet turtle diseases that keep cropping up.

Swollen Eye Lids 

Symptoms

  • Eyelids are 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 its eyes.

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

The severity of swollen eyelids 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.

Swollen eyelids are usually easy to spot.

How to Avoid Swollen Eye Lids

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.

However, the quality of your 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 eyelids.

If this is the case, remove the turtle from the water, fix the water problem. Then give your turtle 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 eyelid.

Swollen eyelids 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 are 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, oftentimes these spread throughout the eye.
  • Fluid from the mouth and nose, as well as eyes.

As opposed to some swollen eyelids, a bacterial eye infection, on the other hand, is a step up on a 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 eyelids, there are a few key differences to be keenly aware of.

How to Distinguish Eye Infections and Swollen Eye Lids

Don’t confuse swollen eyelids with a more serious bacterial eye infection.

The biggest giveaway is the appearance of small white dots on the turtle’s cornea. These 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!  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 sterilized. 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, oftentimes topical eye antibiotics are enough.

Because water turtles such as red eared sliders spend the majority of their lives in water however, an injected 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 eyelids or a bacterial infection that you really need to watch out for.

It’s called…

Hypovitaminosis A

Hypovitaminosis A Symptoms

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

Hypovitaminosis A, otherwise known as a vitamin A deficiency, can oftentimes 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 eyelids 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.

Why Hypovitaminosis A Develops in Turtles

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. Usually, because people believe 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) need a majority-plant or vegetable-based diet as they become adults.

This will depend on the species, but generally, they should have a diet made up of the following vegetables:

  • Dandelion leaves
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Dark green lettuce
  • Small quantities of vegetables such as cucumber, zucchini, and squash.

Fortunately, hypovitaminosis A is easy to correct, by giving the turtle oral or injectable vitamin A as well as fixing their diet. It’s just often really 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 color.

Related to hypovitaminosis A are abscesses. These 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.

Why Abscesses Develop

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

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

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

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

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

Common Causes of Respiratory Diseases

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. This can happen if your turtle is in a tank that is too cold. Tropical species are especially prone to this.

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 underwater.

How to Treat a Respiratory Disease

If you notice any of these symptoms, your first order of business is to put it under the basking light. Then 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.

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 afterward, 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 are set to the right setting, depending on your species. Avoid cold temperatures.
  • 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 mouths.
  • Fluid coming from the turtle’s mouth and/or nose.
  • 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, it is 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.

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

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

Why Shell Rot Develops

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 discolored. 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 povidone-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.

How to Avoid Most Pet Turtle Diseases

  1. Make sure your turtle is not being fed too much protein, especially turtle pellets.
  2. Watch the water temperature, tank temperature, and humidity so that it is not too high or too low, but at the correct setting.
  3. Check to make sure everything that is in its habitat is sterilized and free from any type of outside, foreign contamination.
  4. Do spot checks to see if 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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