10 Common Snapping Turtle Diseases & Their Treatment

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are available in lakes and ponds throughout the USA. Yet, many people do not prefer to own them as pets. Their large size and special care can be challenging for many people. Moreover, snapping turtles in captivity can develop many diseases. 

In this article, I will talk about the most common snapping turtle diseases and how to treat them. If you own a snapping turtle, you better know about various diseases of snapping turtles so that you can take better care of your turtle.

What Are the Most Common Snapping Turtle Diseases?

Pet snapping turtles often get sick when their living conditions are poor. The temperature of the water can also affect a snapping turtle’s health. Identifying the diseases and treating them at an early stage is crucial for a snapping turtle’s health. 

Here are common snapping turtle diseases and their treatments: 

1. Bacterial Infections 

Snapping turtles are aquatic turtles. They spend most of their life in the water. So they are prone to waterborne bacterial infections. When a snapping turtle swims and drinks dirty water, it gets bacterial infections. 

Bacterial infections can cause many problems. One of them is a severe eye infection. Common symptoms of eye infections are swollen red eyes, shut eyes, or discharge from the eyes. Snapping turtles can also have skin infections because of waterborne infections. Due to eye infections, your snapping turtle may not see its food and eat. Thus, it can get weak due to a lack of food. 

Treatment 

If youfind your snapping turtle infected, you must immediately remove it from the tank. Put the turtle in a separate water bowl or tank.Then change the water in the tank and run the filter. If you have multiple turtles in a tank, keep the infected turtle separate until it gets better. 

Take your infected snapping turtle to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will examine the turtle to diagnose the type of infection your turtle has. Typically, eye infections are treated with eye drops. You may have to apply eye drops to your snapping turtle’s eyes two times a day. When the infection is gone, return the snapping turtle to its tank. 

Snapping turtles can also get eye infections due to vitamin A deficiency. In that case, add more vitamin A rich food to your snapping turtle’s daily diet. Adding Vitamin-A supplements also helps. 

2. Respiratory Infection 

Snapping turtles can get pneumonia when their water temperature gets too low. Unhygienic living conditions and malnutrition can also cause pneumonia. It is a lower respiratory tract disease. 

 The symptoms of respiratory infection are: 

  • Open mouth breathing 
  • Nasal discharge 
  • Gasping
  • Sneezing and coughing 
  • Swollen eyes

Snapping turtles that have respiratory diseases can become lethargic and avoid food. As a result, they get weaker day by day. In the case of acute pneumonia, a snapping turtle can suddenly die. Snapping turtles are not very expressive when it comes to health problems. So, they may suffer for a long time before showing the symptoms. 

Treatment

You must take your snapping turtle to a vet for acute or chronic respiratory infection. The vet washes with sterile saline to clean the turtle’s airways. Mild cases of respiratory infections can be treated at home. 

  • Remove the sick turtle from the tank if you have multiple snapping turtles. Respiratory infections are highly infectious. Other turtles can also get infected by a sick turtle. 
  • Change the tank water with fresh water. Then apply some API Turtle fix in the water. It will work against infectious bacteria. 
  • Put your snapping turtle at a warm temperature to strengthen its immunity system. Rise the water temperature above the optimal temperature (83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • Increase the temperature of the basking lights as well. Normally, the light should be off at night. But you can keep the heating lights on to keep the sick turtle warm. 
  • Make sure your turtle gets a balanced diet. Include foods rich in Vitamin A or add some vitamin supplements. Sick turtles often eat less or stop eating. Then you have to force-feed the turtle. 

3. Metabolic Bone Diseases 

Metabolic bone disease and Hypovitaminosis D are common among many pet snapping turtles. These diseases develop because of malnutrition, lack of Vitamin D, and low exposure to UV light. 

Snapping turtles are aquatic turtles. So, many inexperienced owners think these turtles don’t need much sunlight exposure. Many people don’t know the proper diet for snapping turtles. As a result, pet snapping turtles have a high chance of developing metabolic bone disease. 

A turtle suffering from metabolic bone disease and Hypovitaminosis D does not grow as much as it should. It can have a deformed shell. The shell becomes soft and vulnerable. Hackleback shells or pyramid shells are also a result of Hypovitaminosis D.  

Treatment

Mild cases of metabolic bone diseases are treatable. You must ensure that your snapping turtle gets 45 to 60 minutes of sunlight/UV lights daily. Feed them foods rich in Vitamin D and calcium. Sprinkle vitamin and mineral supplement powder on their food to improve your turtle’s condition. 

In severe cases of metabolic bone diseases, the condition may not be reversible at home. It would be best if you visited a vet for proper treatment. 

4. Shell Rot

Shell rot is one of the worst things that can happen to a snapping turtle. It is an infection that causes lesions on a snapping turtle’s shell. A bacterial or fungal infection can cause shell rot. Many people get confused between shell rot and natural scute peeling. 

During natural shell peeling, the scutes appear like fish scales and peel off as a whole. Under the peeled scutes, you can see new, healthy-looking scutes. Shell rot is an unnatural peeling process of the shell. It is a result of an infection. The scutes peel off unevenly, and new scutes are not formed under them. Yellow or dark red pose accumulates under the rotten shell.  

Snapping turtles can get into fights with other turtles, predators, and their prey. They can also get cuts and bruises from colliding with their surroundings. 

When snapping turtles swim in dirty water with open wounds, the wounds get infected by bacteria, resulting in shell rot. Chemical imbalance in the water can be another reason for shell rot. Untreated shell rots can spread from the shell to the bones of snapping turtles and create life-threatening complications for the turtle. 

Treatment

Transfer the infected snapping turtle from the tank to a separate tank. Use a soft brush to clean the dirt and debris from the shell gently. Then remove the damaged and peeled scutes of the shell. 

It is not easy to remove the damaged scutes from snapping turtles. They can get aggressive and bite you. So, always take help from another person while treating a snapping turtle. While someone holds the turtle, you can treat the shell rot. 

Clean the wound and keep the turtle out of the water for a while. Wait till the wound area gets completely dry. Place the turtle under a UV light or heat lamp to dry the wound. 

Then apply an antibiotic cream like the silver sulfadiazine cream on the turtle’s wound. Apply the cream once a day for a week to see improvements. In the meantime, you should not let your snapping turtle stay in the water for hours. 

Putting the infected turtle in the water can worsen the shell rot. However, water is crucial for snapping turtles. You can let your snapping turtle soak in clean, shallow water for about an hour every day during the treatment.  

To keep the turtle hydrated, you must provide fresh drinking water. Also, wrap around the turtle with a damp towel for some time. But make sure the infected area does not stay wet for too long. Mild cases of shell rot can take about a week to heal. 

If the infection persists, you must take the snapper to a vet. Home treatment is not enough to heal severe shell rots in snapping turtles. The vet may have to administer antibiotic injections to treat the shell rot. 

5. Fungal Infection 

Fungal infection is another common disease among aquatic pet turtles. A dirty environment, chemically imbalanced water, or insufficient basking can cause fungal infection on the skin of a snapping turtle. 

A snapping turtle affected by fungal infection will have white blotches on the skin. It may also look like the turtle is shedding its skin. 

Treatment

Fungal infections can be treated at home. Remove the snapping turtle from the tank and put it in another tank or container. Dry the turtle first to start the treatment.

Put some towels at the bottom of the tank. It will help soak the water from the turtle. You can also set up a heating lamp or UV light at one corner of the tank to dry the turtle faster. 

When the turtle dries, prepare a diluted solution of Betadine. Depending on your snapping turtle’s size, you can use Q-Tips or cotton balls to apply diluted Betadine on the infected areas. Let the solution set on the turtle for a few seconds. After that, apply an anti-fungal cream on the infected areas. 

Snapping turtles can get defensive. They can bite at you pretty hard. So, it is better to take the help of another person to hold the turtle or apply for medicine.  

Then again, let the turtle dry for at least 2 hours. While the turtle dries, clean the entire enclosure/tank. Change the water because fungal infection is caused by dirty or chemically imbalanced water. 

Repeat the process of applying the medicine for the next seven days. If your snapper’s health does not improve, take your turtle to a vet. 

6. Ear Abscesses 

Abscesses are very common in pet snapping turtles. It can occur in any part of a turtle’s body, especially on the opening of the ears. Vitamin A deficiency often causes ear abscesses or aura abscesses. It can also result from poor water quality and the wrong temperature. 

You may see swelling, tumors, or lumps on one or both ear openings of the snapping turtle. It can be very painful for the turtles. White fluid comes out of the abscesses. The fluid often has a cheese-like consistency. 

Treatment

No matter how experienced you think you are, don’t attempt to treat abscesses at home. Removing and treating abscesses should be done by a certified veterinarian.  

The vet has to perform surgery on the turtle to remove the abscesses. Then he uses a medical solution to clean the opened wound and kill the bacteria. Apply antibiotic ointment as the vet instructs. The vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics and inject antibiotics depending on the severity of the abscesses. 

7. External Parasites

Snapping turtles kept in outdoor enclosures can get infected with parasites like a tick. These parasites stick to a turtle’s skin and cause discomfort. If the outdoor enclosure is dirty and infested with parasites and insects, it takes little time for the turtles to get infected by parasites. 

Treatment

Ticks can be removed from snapping turtles at home. Apply some methylated alcohol on the affected areas to loosen the grip of the parasites. Then use a tweezer to remove them from the skin of the turtle. Again, this is a two-person job. As one should hold the turtle, the other should pluck the ticks off the turtle. 

Don’t pull off the parasites without applying methylated alcohol. Using just the tweezers can be painful for the turtle. Besides, some parts of the parasite can remain on the skin, which can cause infection.  

8. Internal Parasites

Internal parasites are the greatest enemies of snapping turtles. A dirty environment is mainly responsible for it. Besides, parasites can also get inside the turtle through the food they eat. Snapping turtles are mostly carnivores. So, they are often fed raw fish and meat. Moreover, parasites can get to your turtle through dirty, unwashed food. 

Some common parasites affecting snapping turtles are tapeworms, nematodes, flukes, and flagellates. Turtles carrying internal parasites show these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Parasites in stools 
  • Weight loss  
  • Dehydration 

Treatment

You can treat internal parasites in snapping turtles at home. But first, you must find out what type of parasite has infected the turtle. For that, take the turtle to the vet. 

Typically, vets prescribe fenbendazole for nematode infection. For tapeworms and flukes, the vet will give praziquantel. For treating flagellates, your turtle will need metronidazole. The doses for these medicines are given according to the size, weight, and age of the snapping turtles. Overdoses of these medicines can harm the turtle’s health.  

Don’t give your turtle any antiparasitic medications. They might be effective for other animals, but they can be toxic for snapping turtles. Hence, you should consult a vet before treating internal parasites in snapping turtles.  

9. Paralyzed Limbs 

Turtles can become paralyzed for many reasons. Snapping turtles that have metabolic bone diseases can become paralyzed. The abnormal growth of the shell and bones can put pressure on a turtle’s spinal cord, causing its legs to be paralyzed. 

Nerve damage and viral infections can also paralyze snapping turtles. Turtles can get parlayed because of arthritis and even after serious accidents. Mild cases of paralysis can be treated, and your turtle can become healthy again. 

Treatment

It is difficult to determine exactly why a snapping turtle can get paralyzed. You must take it to the vet to determine the cause of the paralysis. After getting treatment from the vet, you can take care of the turtle at home. 

Make sure the turtle gets enough UV light every day. To improve its condition and prevent metabolic bone disease, feed the turtle calcium-rich food or sprinkle some bone meals with its food. 

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10. Salmonella

Any turtle can have Salmonella, a type of infectious bacteria. Pet snapping turtles are no exception. The bacteria can cause Salmonellosis, which is dangerous for humans and animals. Interestingly, the disease does not affect the turtles. The turtles are just the carrier of the bacteria. 

Owners of snapping turtles can get affected by Salmonellosis if they are not careful. Salmonella can be present on a turtle’s body, and when someone touches the turtle, the bacteria can transfer to them. 

The symptoms of Salmonellosis are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Fever

Salmonellosis can be dangerous for children and people with weak immunity systems. It can also affect animals. So, your pet dog or cat can get affected as well. 

Treatment

Salmonellosis is mostly treatable at home. With some medication and rest, a person should be fine in a week. But children may have to be hospitalized as they have a weak immune systems. You should visit a doctor if you have any symptoms of Salmonellosis. 

It is better to have minimal contact with a snapping turtle. You should hold turtles only when you have to. After touching a turtle, wash your hands properly with an antiseptic soap.

How to Keep Your Snapping Turtle Healthy? 

You may remember the old saying, “Prevention is better than cure.” As an owner of a snapping turtle, it is your responsibility to take good care of your pet. You need to focus on keeping your snapping turtle healthy to minimize its chances of getting sick. 

Here are some tips on keeping your pet snapping turtle healthy:

  • Since waterborne bacteria cause most diseases, you must keep the water of the turtle tank or pond clean. Install a proper filtering system and remove food waste from the water daily. 
  • Check the PH levels of the water every week. The PH levels of the water for snapping turtles should be kept at 6.5 to 7
  • Maintain the optimal temperatures for water and basking area for the snapping turtles. While the water temperature should be 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the basking temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Feed your snapping turtle a balanced diet. You should feed 60% protein-based and 40% plant-based food to adult snapping turtles. Baby snapping turtles need more protein for energy and growth. 
  • Add some vitamin and mineral supplements to the diet plan to prevent diseases. 
  • Check your turtle regularly for health issues. Then take your snapping turtle for monthly checkups to the vet. 

Conclusion 

Hopefully, you have learned enough about common snapping turtle diseases and their treatment. Snapping turtles need special care to stay healthy in captivity. The turtles can get sick too often if basic requirements are not maintained. 

Therefore, you must pay attention to maintaining the basic sanitation and temperature of the snapping turtle tank. Also, make sure your snapping turtle’s dietary requirements are fulfilled. 

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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