How Can I Tell if my Turtle is Sick?

Gulf Coast Turtle & Tortoise Society

The following is a list of the main signs that a turtle is sick. It is not all-inclusive and should not be used as a checklist to determine if a turtle is healthy. If your turtle demonstrates any of the symptoms listed below, check with a qualified reptile veterinarian as soon as possible. Home treatment is not advised and time may be a critical factor in controlling disease before it has time to escalate. These signs of illness are not listed by severity or frequency of occurrence.

  • change in behavior or feeding habits noticeable for over 2 weeks (females may go off feed during egg-laying season)

  • whitish or grayish areas on water turtles, either on shell or skin

  • soft shell

  • shell that is not smooth with a slight sheen but is dry, flaky, or appears "sanded"

  • dry, flaky or translucent skin

  • discolored spots on shell or skin (look for non-symmetrical spots either darker or lighter than the surrounding area that may "give" when you push on them)

  • red spots or tinge in shell or skin

  • nasal discharge (may not be evident unless you tap on the nose to cause the turtle to withdraw its head)

  • swellings or lumps on skin, especially swelling over the ear

  • foaming or discharge from mouth edges

  • wet, runny, or sticky eyes

  • listing to one side in water (can be checked with box turtles as well as water turtles)

  • inability to submerge in water turtles

  • frequent awakening during hibernation

  • prolonged exposure in open, sunny areas without moving or sitting out in the open at night in box turtles

  • basking after dark in water turtles

  • prolonged soaking in water or box turtles

  • "cottage cheese" material in mouth

  • pale mouth (except in ornate box turtles)

  • any foul odor

  • loose stools

  • failure to pass feces

  • prolapse (any tissue emerging from cloacal vent)

  • excessive scratching or many small bumps on skin (mites)

  • obesity- tissues puffing out around legs (obesity can lead to illness and a shortened life span)

  • swollen back legs or straining and kicking back and forth for over 2 weeks without laying eggs in females

    If you live in the Houston area and need a vet, please see our Recommended Vets.

    If you do not live in the Houston area, you may be able to find a knowledgeable turtle vet at this link (click here). Most of the vets at this link are not known to the GCTTS and are not necessarily recommended by us.

    Copyright (c) 2004 Gulf Coast Turtle and Tortoise Society
    Permission is granted to copy for non-profit use with proper credit given. For any other use you must obtain permission.

    Gulf Coast Turtle and Tortoise Society
    1227 Whitestone Lane
    Houston, TX 77073
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