My Aquatic Turtle is Sick: What to do?
Your turtle is acting strange. Bubbles keep foaming around his nose. His eyes are at a squint all the time. He’s lethargic; he just stays in that one spot. Maybe the opposite, he’s swimming erratically in the water. He’s not eating.
There are different symptoms of a sick turtle, some of which can be solved by adjusting his habitat. If the water is too cold, that could be the reason he is not eating; he’s preparing himself for hibernation. If his eyes are at a squint, the water needs to be cleaned or perhaps he is currently living in tap water and the toxic chlorine is irritating his eyes. Perhaps he’s not moving much because he is overfed or he’s swimming around insanely because he desperately needs to get out of the water. The foaming around his nose is the only symptom that can not be so easily treated. In fact, all of these symptoms can be indicators that your turtle has a bacterial infection and simply cleaning the water will not solve the problem.
One day, my turtle (a baby soft shell) started swimming erratically in his aquarium. I thought he was going to stop soon, but minutes went by and I could hear the splashes like someone was swatting their hand into the water. When I picked him up, he became limp, his head rearing and his eyes glancing all around like he was disoriented. I was devastated.
I don’t know how my turtle got sick. I fretted knowing he was probably going to die by the look of it, but that assumption did not stop me from trying to save him. I went on internet, but I could not find anything that I had described. There was one site that said a turtle that swims with an unbalance means one of his lungs is filled with fluid, a bacterial infection.
I believe this is what my turtle had. He refused to eat. Every time I placed him in his aquarium, he would ignore the land and shallow area, and swim frantically in deep water. Every time I took him out, he was lethargic. He started yawning a lot (another indicator of lung infection) and bubbles would appear around his nose.
When you suspect your turtle or any other exotic pet is sick, time is essential. An owner has to act fast or it will already be too late to do anything. Sometimes it is already too late before the symptoms surface.
This is what I did to save my turtle and I recommend it to anyone who thinks their aquatic turtle has an internal infection.
Small, empty aquarium or a large container
A UVB bulb (something you should already have)
Heating pad or any controlled source of heat
A calcium sulfa block (for turtles)
A thermometer of some kind
If you do not have all of these items, go out and buy them immediately.
What to do?
First, take the small empty aquarium or large container (a bucket perhaps) and fill it with two or three inches of water. Depending on what type of turtle and the size of the animal, accommodate for what height the water level you think is appropriate.
Second, place the container on top of the heating pad (again, accommodate if you have a different source of heat; the heat should come from outside of the container, not from the inside).
Third, give one drop of Dechlorinating formula into the shallow water (or however much you think is needed--look at the back for intructions).
Then place the sulfa block into the water.
Check the temperature with the thermometer. Keep the water no higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit and no less than 82 degrees.
Then place the UVB bulb overhead.
Once the temperature is at the desirable level, place the turtle in the container.
Regularly check the temperature (every few hours if possible). Twice a day change the water completely (once in the morning and once at night). Again, temperature should be between 82 and 86 degrees, so try to keep it at 84.
My turtle would go crazy every time he saw me walk by, so in addition to all I have said, I also draped towels over all the walls of the aquarium so he could not see me and panic.
The shallow water kept him from swimming frantically, but it also raised the temperature due to the heating pad. Think about it. When we’re sick, we wrap ourselves in blankets because sickness lowers our temperature. This goes the same for animals; they need warmth when they are sick.
Also sunlight in addition to heat provides Vitamin D3, an essential vitamin for one’s health.
If your turtle is not eating, a turtle sulfa block still provides him important vitamins and minerals without consumption.
By changing the water twice a day, any bacteria that is seeping from his nose and mouth will be washed away. Remember, this is shallow water and it needs to be washed out and cleaned regularly (during this, I suggest placing the turtle in a large bowl; changing the water should only take a few minutes).
I also suggest washing the aquarium or bucket with steaming hot water to kill any germs that are within. Using soap is very risky, especially if in a hurry. Just remember when using steaming hot water to clean an aquarium, do this quickly. You do not want to melt the glue that holds the aquarium glass together (always wash cold water afterward). Refill the water with average temperature and be sure to add dechlorinated water and sufla block (remember, too much dechorinating formula can hurt the turtle too). Make sure to check the temperature before ever putting your turtle in it; you do not want the temperature too high.
If the container is big enough, provide one shading area. You want to add a feeling of security for the turtle, so place a cave or sand in the container in case he wants to bury himself or get out of the sunlight. The key to a healthy turtle is providing him options. If he’s a soft shell turtle, provide him an area where he can dry his shell if he wishes too.
For four days, I treated my turtle this way. Twice a day I would throw in a pellet, but he refused to eat. I kept the UVB light on him all day until it was time for bed. In the morning I would turn it back on. Every time I woke up, I changed the water. Every time I went to bed, I did the same thing. And whenever it crossed my mind, I checked the temperature (the kind that sticks on the glass meant for aquariums).
After the fourth day, I threw in a pellet and he ate it. Despite he was coming out of it and was acting normal, I kept him in there for an additional two days before placing him back into his original aquarium. There was no erratic behavior on his part. To say the least, I was thrilled.
I must have done everything just right, though every sickness and every turtle is different. You might try this and your turtle dies anyway, either because you noticed the signs too late or it was much more than an infection. Sometimes you can do everything right and still death is inevitable.
If the outcome is the worst-case scenario, at least you gave your turtle a fighting chance.
Again, the keys to helping a sick water turtle is heat, vitamins, and cleanliness (dechlorinated water).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.