First Aid for Bites, Dogs, Raccoons, and Other External Injuries

In many ways, first aid for turtles is the same as for any other animal. For a minor injury, where the shell is not cracked, bleeding is light, wound is easy to clean, and if you have experience, you may be able to deal with it yourself; but if there is a lot of bleeding, the shell is cracked, there may be internal bleeding, too, and that can be fatal if left unattended. Dirt and animal saliva carries organism that can cause the would to become infected, and if the infection spreads, it can become systemic septicemia, which is often fatal. In other words, unless the injury is trivial, please, if you possibly can, consult with a veterinarian.

First aid that you can give before going to the vet.

  • Established that the turtle is alive and conscious. If the turtle is tucked into its shell, then he is usually both. If he is limp, he may be unconscious or dead. While I don't know of any way to perform CPR on a turtle, supplying an unconscious or weak turtle with oxygen can help.
  • You want to stop bleeding, if heavy. You can use gauze. Gently, especially if the shell is cracked. You don't want to press any pieces deeper into the body of the turtle.
  • You want to clean the wound. Nothing fancy is required. Tap water to rinse of dirt, saliva, works fine.
  • You want to prevent infection. Infection as as likely to kill your turtle than the injury itself. Keep the turtle on clean towels or paper towels. Later, only soak in fresh, clean water every time.
  • You must keep your turtle in a clean, quiet, stress-free environment.
  • You want to patiently wait for your turtle to heal. This can take weeks or months.

Here are the details:

  • Keep the turtle in a somewhat cool place, preferably covered with a clean towel, so they can get over the shock of the trauma, and the coolness helps stop any more bleeding. Do this for the first 48 hours following the trauma. They are not actually sick, so they can do all right in the cool temps for awhile. A nice peaceful place, away from any more stimulation, is what is best right now. (Note, that this is different from the weeks of healing, where you want to keep the temperature warm, so the turtle's immune system is fully active.)
  • Of course, keep the turtle in a clean place, particularly away from flies who are attracted to the open wound, and the trouble they can cause. Until bleeding stops, keep out of the water, on clean towels or paper towels. (But beware of dehydration. You must soak several times a day to give the turtle a chance to drink, eat, and defecate.)
  • Clean the wound area gently with clean water. No need for ointments or medicines, as that may inhibit healing or make the turtle sick. (You can also use Betadine, if that's what you have, but it causes discoloration, which makes it harder to see the injury.)
  • Severed limbs will hopefully just heal over with no complications, while a limb which was severely injured but not removed will also heal as best it can. The part which cannot survive will actually shrivel up and fall away. Just let the process occur while keeping the area clean.
  • If there is an infection, oozing, or puss, contact a veterinarian. Do the same, if you discover maggots at the site of injury, unless you have experience treating these complications.

"It's truly miraculous how tough these guys are. They seem to be in no discomfort, just hanging about resting, and wanting to be left alone! So we will respect their wishes. Just as you suggested mostly, good common sense treatment."(Rich Bergins) (Contributors: Felice Rood and Rich Bergins)