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

How to tell if your turtle is dead

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.

Need To Talk With A Turtle Vet Right Now?

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?

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.
  • Here on my Recommendations Page, I’ve talked about all the turtle products that I love and stand by! So, if you are looking for the best products for your turtle, have a look at my Recommendations page.

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.

My Top 3 Turtle Products To Make Your Life Easier (And Your Turtles Happier)

1. Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

Turtles are quite messy creatures. And you need a powerful weapon to cope up with the mess. Fluval FX6 is a giant beast equipped with multi-stage filtration system. Fluval FX6 is my #1 recommendation to keep your turtle tank cleaner & healthier.

2. Penn Plax Turtle Topper

If you are keeping a turtle, you’ll need a basking place. The good thing about Penn Plax Turtle Topper is, it won’t use any space inside the tank, so your turtle can enjoy the full swimming space. The design and functionality make this basking dock my top recommendation!

3. Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit

This one kit will solve all your lighting needs for the turtle. You’ll get everything you’ll need including Polished aluminum dome, dual ceramic sockets and two lights: ReptiSun UVB Light (for UVB) & Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp (for Heat). Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit will slash half of your burden!  

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

Recent Posts