3. Water Turtles Health
Signs of good health
* Signs of good health are: clear eyes and skin, smooth shiny shell,
no visible damage. A healthy box turtle is strong and should walk,
run, and climb over obstacles easily. It will pay attention to its
surroundings and is more often than not curious.
Common health problems
* If your animal gets sick and either gets worse fast, or
does not get better after you made the environment perfect,
see a veterinarian who has experience with turtles.
Some are in the yellow pages, or ask your local animal hospital or
Humane Society for a reference to a turtle vet. Your local herp
society may also be able to help.
* If your turtle gets sick, make sure, you are keeping it in clean
water, feed it the right foods, and keep it warm enough. These
are the primary reasons for turtles getting sick. Fix the
environment, or the turtle will not get better, even with
* The most common symptom is a turtle not eating. See next section.
* Swollen eyes
Most often the beginning of any kind of an infection.
Bacterial infections, caused by a combination of stress and physical damage
(rough substrate, dirty substrate in eyes, scratched by other turtles'claws).
Do not just use eye drops. If the infection is strictly in the eye,
Gentocin drops (from your veterinarian) often help.
They ease the symptoms, and the turtle will be happier, but you
need to treat the cause. Many infections have swollen eyes for a
symptom. You can harm your turtle if you automaticall assume
vitamin A deficiency and then pump it full with the vitamin.
WARNING: Vitamin A injections are not recommended. It is very
difficult to decide on the proper dosage, and an overdose will kill
the turtle; it is easy to overdose. Supplemented diet should be
* Wounds in the skin and small rashes. You can treat these by
disinfecting them with Betadine or Nolvosan solution (dilute
with same amount of water) and keeping the turtle warm and dry.
Soak it twice daily for 1/2 hour in warm water, separate from
other turtles, and disinfect after each bath.
If the condition does not improve, see a vet. These things can
take several weeks to clear up. If it does not get worse, be
patient and wait a bit.
* Shell sores, hole in shell, bloody sores on shell.
Immediately remove the turtle from the water and keep it in a dry
environment. Give a 1/2 hour soak twice a day.
Sponge it off with Betadine or Nolvosan several times a day,
especially after the soak. See a veterinarian immediately.
Shell diseases need much tender loving care to heal, and it
takes months or years to clean it up.
Prevent it, by feeding a proper diet and cleaning the water.
You may want to apply a THIN layer of Silvadene cream after
putting the turtle back into its dry box.
Oil based antibiotic creams are good to put on when the turtle
is in the water but should be wiped of afterwards. I primary ingredient
in healing is drying out of the affected area. An oil-based cream will
prevent that from happening.
Keep the turtle plenty warm!
* Sneezing and gaping (occasionally)
Like humans, reptiles occasionally sneeze or yawn. Turtles can get water
in their nose and need to sneeze it out. If the sneezing happens
only every once in a while, and if their is no mucus discharge,
there is nothing to worry about.
* Sneezing (often), coughing, gaping
Almost always a sign of respiratory infection, often pneumonia.
This needs the immediate attention of a turtle veterinarian.
The turtle will need antibiotics, X-rays, and a lot of care. One
cause can be too low a water temperature.
If your turtle is only sniffeling a little, try upping the temperature
and wait a few days. If condition does not improve, see a veterinarian.
Not very common in water turtles. But if you are sure your turtle
is not defecating (remove the filter and see whether anything happens),
he might have an obstructed intestine or some other problem. You may
need and X-Ray to determine the exact cause.
* Skin shedding
A little peeling occasionally is fine. Turtles shed their skin like
other reptiles, but more continuously. Mine usually shed more for a
while, then less or not at all. As long as the shed sking is thin
and tranlucent, and you don't see anything unusual on the skin, and
the shedding is not excessive, don't worry. If the shedding is continuous,
or the skin looks sore or red, or the shedding is very heavy, you may
have to deal with a skin fungus. Have your turtle checked by a veterinarian.
You may also soak the turtle in an idodine solution twice a day for
15 minutes and keep it warm and dry outside the water overnight for a while.
* Shell shedding
Turtles shed occasionally the outermost layer of their scutes. They are
thin, translucent scutes. If the whole scute is shed and the bone becomes
visible, or if shedding is continuous, you may have a fungus problem and
should have your turtle inspected by a veterinarian. As an immediate
measure, remove the turtle from the water except for a 30 minute bath
twice a day; keep it warm and dry; soak twice a day for 15 minutes in
iodine solution or sponge off with Nolvosan.
* Silvery spots under the top layer of shell
The silver spot is most likely air trapped under a scute that might
shed soon. (Not the whole scute to the bone, just one layer, which
turtles shed periodically.) Just keep an eye on it. Sometimes, the
spot turns green from algae that grow on it. You may try, gently,
to see whether to scutej (just a transparent layer) is loose and
If Your Turtle Will Not Eat
* Is the turtle kept warm enough? If turtles get too cool, they
will stop eating.
* Does the turtle like the food you offer? Try out different foods.
Some turtles can be very finicky eaters, especially in the
beginning. And they have definite likes and dislikes.
Most turtles will eventually take small earthworms
that are wiggling in front of their nose. Start feeding favorite
foods, then slowly introduce other items.
* Is your turtle exposed to too much stress? This is often a cause
in new animals.Stress can be caused by handling, travelling, tank
mates. New turtles will often not eat properly for several weeks.
Be patient and keep trying.
* Is your turtle healthy? Not eating can be a symptom of other
problems. If your turtle has been eating well and suddenly stops,
a health problem is a likely reason. Take a fecal sample to your
veterinarian. (Fecal samples need to be no older than 4 hours, and
you need to store them in water in the refrigerator.)
* Don't panic! A turtle can go without food for weeks, even months,
and when it feels well again, it will eat again.
See a veterinarian, if you thing you are doing everything right, and the
animal does not eat for more than 2 weeks.
A lot of turtles will at some point in time prolapse, (i.e.
turn inside out and outside of their body) their cloaca
or for males their penises.
Occasional prolapses are common and more annoying than dangerous if
dealt with properly. There is little pain involved for the turtle.
It is not known for sure, what causes prolapses. Diet, stress,
parasites and intestinal infections, general disease,
obstructed intestinal tract, and weak cloacal muscles have all
been suggested, but there are no final conclusions.
And, too much sex...(no joke).
So, there are no known preventive measures, either.
If your turtle seems otherwise healthy, an occasional
prolapse is nothing to worry about. If the prolapses
happen frequently and cause too much distress to you
and your turtle, you might consider asking a herp vet
to apply a purse string suture.
If you catch your turtle in the act, watch and keep
dirt away form the exposed parts. If they don't go back in
immediately, make sure, they stay moist (you may even
want to put the animal in a pan with a little luke warm water) and
massage the surrounding area gently and make the turtle move.
For water turtles, keeping the parts moist is less of an issue
than for land turtles, but putting the turtle into clean
water is still recommended.
With water turtles, other turtles might try to bite the
prolapsed body part which can lead to heavy bleeding and
ugly consequences. Land turtles may step on their intestine,
or tear it with their hind feet when trying to remove
the 'thing' extending from their body. The turtle is not aware,
that this is a body part. Observe the turtle, until the
prolapse has gone back inside.
Purse String Suture: The suture basically
keeps the cloaca from opening too wide, and so the intestine
should stay in. The turtle can still pass feces, of course.
If the intestine does dry off, usually, the vet will put
a suture around it and eventually remove the dead part
completely. This is done under anesthesia and can be more
or less complicated, depending on the size of the dead
parts. This operation has a guarded prognosis.
Algae on Your Turtle
If algae grow in your rocks and tank decorations, unless they
disturb your sense of beauty, you can let them grow. An exception
is the long, hairy kind which also makes the water slimy. Those,
you should remove.
Algae grow in healthy water with enough light. They are a sign, that
you are doing something right.
Do not use chemicals to kill algae!!!
If you don't like the algae, brush them off every time you change
the water, change the water more often, use a stronger filter,
and add a little salt to the water (see further up).
In the wild, it is normal for turtle to grow algae on their shells.
It helps them camouflage! In captivity, the algae should be
removed every once in a while, since they can encourage growth
of fungus in a confined environment.
To remove the algae, hold your turtle under warm tap water and
gently brush it with a soft vegetable brush.
Turtles Carrying Disease?
Like other animals and people, turtles carry all sorts of bacteria
on them. The same way that you should not let your dog lick your face,
you should not kiss your turtle. Small children should not be allowed
to put the turtle in their mouth. Always wash your hands after
In rare cases a turtle may carry
salmonella. Often, the disease is acquired, if the turtle is fed raw
chicken. If you are worried about salmonella, you can have your vet
test the turtle and treat it.
There are several excellent articels on turtles an salmonella in
some of the herp magazines and books mentioned below.
When is it Time to See a Veterinarian?
* Every time you are worried.
If I am worried, I go see a veterinarian for both my and the turtle's sake.
* If you are using home treatment, and the turtle is getting worse.
I usually give anything a few days to a week to get better. If things
stay the same, I go see a veterinarian after that time. If things get
better, I don't see a veterinarian. If things get worse in spite of my
attempts at treatment, I see a veterinarian immediately.
* If your turtle is sick or maybe sick, and you don't know what to do.
As with people, it is much cheaper to treat the beginnings of a problem.
The money you think you are saving by putting off a visit to the doctor,
will be more than used later if you have an advanced disease to deal with.
* If you want to put an animal to sleep.