How To Tell If Your Turtle Is Dead? [5 Sure Ways]

How to tell if your turtle is dead

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

We love our turtles. But no matter how devastating it is, sometimes we may have to find our turtles dead. Every animal in this world has to die at one point. That is the harsh reality of life. It can be often tricky to know if your turtle is really dead. Many people often mistake a brumating turtle to be dead. In this article, I’ll share some clues to let you know how to tell if your turtle is dead.

It is really difficult to identify a dead turtle from an extremely lethargic or brumating turtle. if you are not familiar with brumating, it is the hibernation process for cold-blooded animals like turtles.

Sometimes, the extremely cold temperature can make your turtle highly inactive and unresponsive. You can often mistake your turtle to be dead that time. Also, sickness can also result in lethargic and unresponsive behavior from turtles.

If you find your turtle unresponsive suddenly, always take her to the vet before declaring she is dead. If the turtle is sick, the vet can save its life.

A brumating vs dead turtle:

Brumating is the process of hibernation for cold-blooded animals, like turtles. if the temperature of the environment falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, turtles tend to go to brumation. It is a very low-active state of turtles and they hardly eat anything at this time. Normally turtle passes the whole winter by brumating in wild.

In captivity, a turtle can go to brumation if the owner fails to provide proper care and temperature for the turtle. if you find your turtle brumating, then don’t disturb it at all.

Normally, turtles dig holes in the substrate and bury themselves during the whole brumation period. They pass the whole winter snoozing. I always advise leaving a brumating turtle as it is unless it starts to spread any odor.

If you must need to break the brumation, take your turtle to a warmer place where it can increase the body heat gradually over a course of 24 hours. If the turtle is alive, you’ll see signs of life as it starts to warm up.

How to know if your turtle is dead?

Here are some of the things you can check out to see if your turtle is really dead or not:

  • Stimulate it: the easiest way to determine if a turtle is alive is by stimulating it. Most turtles will show response if you poke or prod it. If you disturb the turtle, it will move, close the shells and even make a hissing sound. Turtle also show a very quick response to their tails and legs. If you gently touch the tail or pull up the legs, they’ll response rapidly by hiding the tail inside the shell and wiggling the legs to get them free.
  • Pressure to the cloacal region: if you put a gentle pressure between the turtle’s tail and the cloaca, the turtle will quickly try to escape from you. Some turtles even extend their head to this type of pressure in the cloacal region. If the turtle shows no signs of movement still, turn it back on its shell. Most living turtles move drastically to right themselves from this situation.
  • Bad smell: like all dead animals, dead turtles start to decompose in a very short time and spread a bad odor. It occurs as the microorganisms feed on the tissues of the dead turtle which releases foul gases. For many cases, a bad odor can be the first sign to a dead turtle. A dead turtle will start to odor in about a day if the temperature is cooler.
  • Does the turtle float: this is not a 100% conclusive and accurate method. The foul gases that spread bad odor also result in increased buoyancy of the turtle. so, if you place a dead turtle in a shallow water tank, chances are it will float on the water. However, this is not a definitive method to declare a turtle dead because, even if the turtle is dead, there may not be enough gases to make it float. Also, a living turtle can float in the water if it decides. So, while it is not a conclusive method, it can aid to determine if a turtle is really dead or not.
  • Visual signs: I know turtles can breathe very slowly and hold their breath much longer than humans. However, they still need to breathe. As a turtle breathes, the lungs show a subtle movement in the region between the front legs and the neck. You also observe this movement between the rear legs and the tail. if you don’t see any movement, place a feather in front of the turtle’s nostrils and observe if the feather shows any movement. Observe for at least 10 minutes before coming to any decision.

If you suddenly discover your turtle is showing no movements or suspect it is sick, take it to a reptile vet immediately. The vet can determine its physical condition as well as tell if the turtle is dead or not. Fortunately, if the turtle is still alive, the vet can prescribe medicines to make the turtle better.

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How Do Turtles Die?

Well, of course, your turtle will die after a certain period because of aging. But sometimes, the pet may die prematurely due to an unexpected event or accident. So, what are the possible causes that can lead to such miserable death of turtles? Here are some,

1. Disease & Improper Treatment:

The biggest reason why your turtle’s life ends at an early note is the lack of treatment. See, turtles are strong and adapt to hard environments. But they are not immune to diseases.

Hence, any discrepancy and mismanagement in the care sheet make the turtles sick. For example, the lack of heat lamps causes cold and infectious diseases. Likewise, lacking UV light leads to weak skeleton development and metabolic bone disease.

Well, it is okay if your turtle falls sick. Even with the top-notch care sheet and all preventive measurements, you can not ensure 100% immunity.

But if you notice the pets suffering, take immediate action to reverse the sickness. A delay in the treatment takes a huge toll on the turtle’s lifespan. In fact, severe shell rot and pneumonia are examples of two deadly turtle diseases.

2. Imbalance In The Meal:

While most turtles are omnivorous, their favorite foods are animal proteins. But with growing age, some species switch to being fully herbivorous.

An ideal meal for a turtle should include green leafy vegetables, insects, worms, fruits, and supplements. Though the item percentage varies with species, the menu is more or less the same.

Messing with the item portion leads to malnutrition in turtles, making the pets vulnerable to diseases. Remember, falling sick frequently reduces the lifespan of the creatures.

Again, improper meals are not the only discrepancy in the diet system. Overfeeding the turtle can also be responsible for the obesity or malnutrition of the pets.

3. The House Is A Mess:

Turtle’s habitat needs to be spacious compared to the pet’s size. Also, it should be 75% of water and 25% land. The ratio can go up or down depending on the species. Besides, the pen must include a basking dock, proper lights, rocks, and a filtration system.

The turtle is likely to fall sick if any of the above-mentioned factors are missing or mismanaged. For example, a small enclosure stresses out the turtle. The pet can stop eating because of such mental trauma and die.

4. Drowing:

Turtles do die by drowning. Though drowning cases are low in captive turtles, the death percentage is high for the wild ones. A report says that around 4600 sea turtles die drowning each year, entrapped in fishnets.

Well, though captive turtles have lower chances of drowning, you can not be too careless. Make sure that the enclosure holds no such prop that can strangle the pets.

Also, the water level should not be too much than the turtle can handle. A rule of thumb indicates that a water depth 1.5 times the pet’s length is healthy.

5. Others:

There are many more reasons why turtles can die. For example, predator attacks, turtle fights, a mistake in the brumation process, etc. Then again, a turtle may die prematurely naturally.

How do turtles look when they die?

The turtle starts to get stiff after about 3 to 12 hours of death. However, the stiffness goes usually after a couple of days and the body loosens up. also, the eyes start to sink in. Also, a liquid may dribble out from the mouth and nose of the turtle. Soon after the death of the turtle, it will start to decompose. So, you can also smell a bad odor around it.

How To Dispose Of A Dead Turtle? What To Do With A Dead Turtle?

None of us like to see our pets die. However, these unfortunate things happen. If a pet turtle dies, we need to properly dispose of it for the sake of our surroundings and the environment. Here are some basic guidelines to dispose of a dead turtle:

  • Don’t touch the dead turtle barehanded. It can create a serious health issue for you. Use a pair of disposable gloves. Try to handle the dead turtle as little as possible. If you’ve found a dead turtle in the wild, don’t try to handle it on your own. Give a call to the local health department or police department.
  • Burial can be a healthy way to dispose of a small or medium turtle. you’ll need to put the dead turtle inside a plastic bag and put the bag in a box. Now, you’ll need to bury the box inside a deep hole. However, you do need to check with the local regulations for burial. Some states have specific requirements on how deep to dig a hole for burying an animal. When digging the hole, look out for power lines or any other utility chords. Also, avoid places that are close to a water body or prone to flooding.
  • Check out if you have any local dead animal removal service. If there is, you can request them to dispose of the dead turtle. you can also contact the local sanitation department for disposal.
  • If you want to make the last arrangements of your turtle with little more care and don’t want him to end up in a dumpster, then you can contact the local vet. The local vet can have great resources for pet cremation services. Even he can take care of the final arrangements for you.

How to euthanize a turtle at home?

Euthanizing an animal is a highly debatable topic, especially if it comes to your pet. If your turtle is too sick or too injured to recover, then you may need to consider if you want him to die in a natural course. Many owners think in such cases, it is better to euthanize the turtle in a humane manner.

When should you think about euthanizing?

Before you even think about euthanizing your pet turtle, you need to ask yourself these two questions:

  1. If you keep the turtle alive, will it extend its pain for no reason?
  2. Do you know exactly how to reduce its suffering?

The answers to these questions are not simple. In fact, there is no way you can definitely tell how much pain a turtle is feeling. There are also records of turtles getting healed from seriously bad situations.

So, before you decide anything, the best option will be to check on with your local vet and ask if euthanizing is a good idea for the turtle. if the answer is positive, then the vet himself should perform the euthanizing.

There are many methods for euthanizing. Unfortunately, none of them are foolproof and should be done by yourself. A little miscalculation can make the euthanizing process extremely painful and inhumane. That’s why always a reptile trained vet should perform it. Here are some of the most practiced methods for euthanizing:


A lethal injection is the most common method for euthanizing an animal. Is it a humane process? Maybe, but the topic is highly debatable. Moreover, an injection may not work perfectly on turtles.

Most lethal injections work by stopping the heart and all breathing. However, turtles can survive hours without oxygen. That means, even after pushing the lethal injection, the turtle can be alive for hours. If that’s the case, surely the turtle will be in pain for the whole time.

However, some lethal injections have anesthetic properties. It means, after pushing the injection, the turtle should start to feel unconscious and euthanize in a more humane manner.

So, theoretically, injecting with a lethal drug can be a humane way to euthanize a turtle. however, we don’t know that for sure and it is still a very debatable subject.


Pithing simply refers to destroying the brain. In this euthanizing method, the brain of the turtle is destroyed by inserting a rod through the head or the mouth. If the process is done right, the brain will die, and without a functioning brain, the turtle won’t go through any painful death.


Though freezing has been a popular method for euthanizing, many turtle experts now think it is not a humane method of euthanizing. This method originated from the fact that, turtles go to hibernation when the temperature is too cold. In this period, the turtles enter into a very low active state.

Many people believed back in the day that in this state turtles are immune to any pain. However, this is a completely fact-less statement.

I only mentioned the freezing method here to aware you guys not to use this euthanizing method ever.


Decapitation can be a quick but messy way to euthanize a turtle. but is it humane? Many people disagree on that.

Many people think that, even after the head is severed from the body, the brain will be able to feel pain for a minute to hours. This statement is not scientifically proven yet. However, there still lies the fact that you need to decapitate the turtle in the proper way. Otherwise, you’ll only cause it more pain.

When you are going to decapitate the turtle, it will try to push its head back into the shell. You’ll have to make a quick cut with a sharp knife. Can you do that? To be honest, I cannot.


This method generally uses a box filled with gas which causes the turtle to be unconscious at first and then die. Often, the gas is carbon monoxide.

Although it seems to be a good euthanizing method for small animals, it is not good for turtles. turtles can live for hours without oxygen. So, with this method, it will take hours for the turtle to be dead, which should be avoided completely.

So, you may wonder, which one is the best to go for? To me, I think lethal injection seems to be the most humane way to euthanize a turtle. however, I’ll never advise taking the decision of euthanizing your turtle on your own. Always seek the help of a reptile oriented vet. If the vet says that there is no chance of the turtle getting well, then you should think about euthanizing.

Why do turtles die suddenly?

A turtle can die for many reasons. Although it is very tough to pinpoint the exact reason why a turtle died suddenly, here are some of the general causes behind a turtle’s death:

  • Overheating seems to be the most common reason for unexpected turtle death. I have seen turtles that are doing fine and the next day dead for this very reason.
  • A turtle can die if the habitat is not properly setup. Turtles need some basic requirements to live. These basic requirements include sufficient place to swim, basking area, clean water, heat lamp, UVB lamp and proper diet. If the owner messes up with any of this things, the turtle can die unexpectedly.

So, this is my detailed article on the death of turtle. I know the subject is very morbid. Even I am sad writing about this topic. But we need to know what we’ll have to do if we ever face such unfortunate situation. I hope the article will help you to deal with your turtle’s death.

Do Turtles Die With Their Eyes Open?

Well, honestly, there is no straightforward answer to this question. In most cases, turtles die with a closed eye. But do not get surprised if you spot a dead turtle with half-closed eyes.

Usually, deep, sunken and hollow eyes are the signs that your turtle is dead.

Do Turtles Float When They Die?

As mentioned above, a dead turtle may float on water. It only occurs when the turtle’s body accumulates enough gas after its death. It takes around 16 – 32 hours for the gas to build up and for the turtle to float.

One more thing. Do not take floating as a strong indication of the turtle’s death. Turtles with gastrointestinal issues or respiratory illnesses sometimes float in the water. You can read this attached article to understand this phenomenon clearly.

What Happens If Turtle Dies At Home?

I know it can come as a shock, but death is only natural, especially for aged and sick turtles. Do not be distressed if you notice your lovely pet turtle dead in the tank.

Instead, recheck all possibilities and signs of whether the turtle is actually dead. Then proceed with the disposal ideas.

I have already mentioned the tricks to spot a dead turtle. After confirmation, decide how you want to say goodbye to the pet.

Burial disposal is the most popular. Some people prefer cremating the pet and collecting the ashes.

Also, vet services are available that dispose of the turtle’s bone and meat. In this package, you get to keep the shell of the pet as a memory.

You need to be fast with the disposal decision. Otherwise, the turtle will start decomposing, enticing harmful microorganisms and worms.

On another note, in some cultures, a turtle’s death is interpreted as a misfortune or bad luck for the owner. However, in other cultures, it stands for good luck as the pet’s spirit gets free.

See, I am no expert, but all these seem like misinterpretations, and you should not stress over these sayings.

How Long Can A Turtle Be On Its Back Before It Dies?

There is no exact timeline that pictures an upside-down turtle’s death. But it is guaranteed that the turtle on its back can not survive for too long.

Now, a turtle does not get on its back for fun but by accident. Some reasons are,

  • After mating
  • During a fight
  • Respiratory sickness
  • Unhealthy shells, etc.

A turtle on the back can not move an inch. It will rock back and forth, trying to get on its feet. In the meantime, the creature can not eat or drink, and in fact, the turtle may struggle to breathe.

As we know, a turtle can survive months without food. But when it comes to water, the pet can not go more than a week without it. Well, the survival period may extend if the weather is humid and chilly.

However, some turtles, for example, snapping turtles, can flip themselves from this

uncomfortable position. Thanks to their high, tall domed shell, which allows them to roll closer to the ground. The creatures then use their extended neck to flip on their feet.

On the contrary, survival rates for flat-shelled turtles are less. Likewise, the hatchlings and young turtles also die quickly on their backs.

How Long Does It Take For A Turtle To Decompose?

A dead turtle’s body starts decomposing within 16 – 32 hours. Sometimes the flesh-rotting process starts way early, especially if you live in a hot region. Similarly, the decomposition process is delayed in an icy area.

How long does it exactly take for the body to decompose fully? Well, it can be 3 months, 1 year, 5 years, or even more. It depends on the weather, burial process, and soil quality.

Some people keep the dead turtle shell as a souvenir. For this, you need to bury the pet in biodegradable plastic wrapping. Later, you can dig out the shell, wash it and preserve it with love.

I have added detailed instructions on how to preserve a turtle shell in this article. You can also contact a vet for a similar service.

Do Turtles Fight To The Death?

Well, your pet turtles are not killers. Of course, they can get angry and hostile enough to attack their tank mates. But biting or beating the companions to death is not a turtle thing at all. But yes, the pets may die as a consequence of the fierce fighting.

For example, turtles are big bullies. They will bite, nip, and kick each other. The weak turtles can get injured in this process, leading to infectious diseases and even death.

Likewise, constant fighting might cause stress and anxiety in the pets. As a result, the creatures will stop eating and become vulnerable to deadly diseases due to weak immunity.

To stop these fights,

  1. Avoid housing multiple turtles in the same enclosure.
  2. Even if you do, make sure you know to make the turtles get along.
  3. Separate the turtles immediately if you notice them bullying each other.

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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