Paralysis or dragging of rear legs

Caused by Constipation or Intestinal Impaction

I am not a veterinarian, but here is what I know. Usually, paralysis of the hindlegs is caused by intestinal impaction, which can be diagnosed by taking an X-ray of the turtle. Treatment ranges from laxatives to possibly surgery. It is possible that a small amount of stool can still be passed.

Impaction can be caused by rocks, accumulated and hardened fecal matter, or other objects.

Tumors and bladder stones can also prevent the passing of feces once they get large.

Another cause can be that, if the turtle is a female, she is egg-bound. Again, X-rays are used for a diagnosis. Sometimes it is possible to crush or aspire the eggs inside the body, and this will allow them to be passed. I have never observed this procedure, so don't exactly know how it is done.

Caused by Diet too Low in Protein

Contributed by Mike Corbo

Hello. I learned of your web site from the book "THE GUIDE TO OWNING TURTLES, BY JOHN COBORN". On your site I read your information regarding hind leg paralysis, and noticed that you might not have known about another cause of this affliction. Below is a copy of an e-mail I received from the creator of the web site. Please feel free to include in your health tips about the possible lack of dietary protein as another cause of turtle hind leg paralysis. After increasing the protein in my turtles diet, his legs slowly began to become usable once again. Thank you for a great web site.

Mike Corbo

The condition you describe is a textbook wood turtle condition. First off, I need to state I am not a veterinarian...for liability purposes. You are always advised to consult a vet. That being said, this condition can be reversed rather quickly... Basically, this results from an improper diet.

Without going into all the details as to how I arrive at these conclusions, I can tell you the solution works. Basically, your turtle is an omnivore...but in reality it is only supplementing what it cannot get in animal protein with vegetable matter. People make the mistake of feeding them a primarily vegetarian diet which leads to this condition. So, here is what you do:

  1. The first thing to do is to purchase a kitten food, like Iams kitten as a staple. It's cheap and every bit as good as specialized turtle food. If you can afford high protein turtle food, more power to you...feed that, but same diff. This is to be fed 1 day per week. From now on, you must be 100% certain what is fed is eaten...i.e. watch him eat. Otherwise the other turtle might eat the protein, and how would you know? Once it has eaten that add a half hard-boiled egg with EGGSHELL still on. This is 100% natural calcium like they'd get it from grouse eggs etc in the wild. Smash the shell with a it's still in one piece but all cracked up.
  2. The second feed day is nightcrawler earthworms...en masse...were talking an entire dozen, more if he'll take more.
  3. The third feed day is fresh liver, I used chicken liver. Frozen, but not cooked. Everybody gets all worried about salmonella. Relax, wash your hands...time to worry about turtle, not you. Liver is a completely nutritios meal high in Vitamin A.
  4. Fourth day is always after a fast day. Start with only vegetables. Sprig of brocolli, romaine lettuce...basically things a spoiled captive turtle will ignore if fed on same day as other item. They are like spoiled kids...why eat spinch if get chocolate cake if they hold out. Once at least some vegs have been eaten, then supplement with half a banana, or strawberries, grapes, or cantaloupe...see list on my website under biology then diet.

Normally, I advise three feed days for healthy adults. Four is better for sick ones. This diet pounds animal protein, calcium, and vitamin A. We still don't know the cause...but this diet works. I started a herp keeper position long ago and this was what I was hired into...3 females with the signs and healthy male. Basically, big bossy adult male was eating ALL the protein...and keepers working there before I arrived just assumed they'd split it equally among themselves. Wood turtles have a linear social dominance published by Kaufmann.

So, here's the proposed schedule:

  1. Monday - Iams kitten food (because I know Iams kitten works).
  2. Wednesday - Lots 'o earthworms (1-2 dz)
  3. Friday - fresh chiclken liver from's really cheap
  4. Sunday - Veggie day, followed later in day by fruit only if veggies were consumed.

As you have probably surmised, wood turtles always behave like they are starving to death! Now, once the turtle has regained use of limbs 100%, this diet should still be loosely followed... You can however, supplement days 2 or three with dead mice, crickets, minnows, etc. Notice again focus on animal protein.

Now, that being said...I don't have a "pat answer" diet...if you join and do a search on boggy creek subforum, you'll come across this thread from last September:

Basically, it is an adjustment in feeding Philosophy that is needed...whatis fed which days doesn't matter too much. If it is really fussy though...3 day diet with TWO fast days before the veggies will work.

If you contact prpipes in the above thread, you'll find out his female was cured in a month or were those when I started as a keeper. Really, that is all that matters. If you can afford it, getting this turtle a vitamin A and calcium shot from a vet wouldn't hurt and will accelerate the recovery.

Any questions after above and reading forum threads...ask away. Keep me posted, I'll likely add a page about this on my be good to have confirmation of recovery of leg use. Oh yes, NO hamburger...there was this guy with like thirty woods praising a hamburger diet...only I find out later half his collection was afflicted with limb paralysis...and most died of it. Still, he was convinced it was not his hamburger diet. Ugh!

Anyway, the above has worked 100% so far