How To Treat A Sick Turtle At Home?

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

Pet turtles can suffer from various diseases depending on their living conditions. Fortunately, not all diseases are life-threatening. So, you do not have to take your turtle to a vet every time it gets sick. If you are a concerned owner, you are probably wondering how to treat a sick turtle at home? 

In this article, I will tell you how you can treat your turtle at home. As turtles can get affected by different diseases, the treatment for each condition also varies. To treat a sick turtle early, you need to know the signs that tell your turtle is sick.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Sick Turtle? 

Turtles are masters of hiding their diseases. Many inexperienced turtle owners fail to spot a sickness in their turtles at an early stage. By the time they realize their pet is sick, the disease may already become severe. 

So, you must know the symptoms of sick turtles to treat them as soon as possible. Here are some common symptoms of a sick turtle: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargic and lack of response
  • Sores, cuts, or abrasions on the shell and body
  • Swimming sideways or lopsided swimming
  • Open-mouthed breathing, sneezing, wheezing
  • Shakiness, twitches, or tremors
  • Swollen eyes or closed eyes
  • Discharge of mucus on nose, mouth, and eyes
  • Foaming or bubbling around the mouth
  • Swollen Ears
  • Cracks on the shell 
  • Unusual feces (Diarrhea, constipation, black, green, and white feces) 

A sick turtle may have one or multiple symptoms mentioned above. If you see any of these symptoms in your pet turtle, you must take immediate action before it gets serious. 

How to Treat A Sick Turtle At Home? 

The first step in treating a sick turtle is identifying what type of disease your turtle has. A turtle can suffer from various diseases. Most of these diseases are caused by environmental factors and an unbalanced diet. 

Some diseases or injuries can be deadly for a turtle. So, owners often take their turtles to a vet. But it is not always necessary. You can treat your turtle effectively at home and save hundreds of dollars at the vet. 

Here is a list of diseases common among pet turtles and how you can treat them at home: 

How to Treat Respiratory Infection in Turtles at Home

1. Respiratory Infections 

Respiratory infection is one of the most common infections among pet turtles. A turtle can have an upper respiratory infection or pneumonia that obstructs the lungs. 

How To Treat Respiratory Infection 

Respiratory infections are contagious. Therefore, you must separate the infected turtle from the tank if you have multiple turtles. If you have just one turtle, it is still a good idea to put your infected turtle in a hospital tank or container to clean and disinfect the main tank. 

  • Depending on the size and species of your turtle, fill in the hospital tank with two to three inches of water. 
  • Keep the water temperature between 82 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a heating pad under the container/tank to keep the water temperature at the desired range. 
  • Then place a UVB light over the tank. 
  • Put your turtle in the tank when the temperature reaches the desired mark. 
  • Check the tank’s temperature every few hours to ensure it does not get below 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, change the water twice a day to remove the accumulated mucus from the turtle. 

Keeping the turtle at a warm temperature helps it to fight respiratory infections. Within a few days, your turtle should be healthy again. Make sure to feed your turtle a balanced diet and keep the tank clean. 

You can read more about respiratory diseases in turtles and how to treat them at home here: How to Treat Respiratory Infection in Turtles at Home?

When to Visit a Vet?

If you do not see any improvement in your turtle’s health after home treatment, take it to the vet. The vet will provide antibiotics to treat the turtle. Then follow the vet’s advice. 

2. Superficial Wounds (Sores, cuts, or abrasions)

Superficial wounds like cuts, bruises, and scratches are common in turtles. It happens when turtles live in outdoor inhabitants or among a group of competitive turtles. Your turtle may bump on sharp rocks or decorative items and hurt itself. 

How to Treat Superficial Wounds at Home

  • First, gently remove your turtle from the tank and examine the wound. 
  • Clean the wound with a disinfectant like chlorhexidine gluconate. Use a Q-Tip or gauze to clean the wound gently. Remove any debris stuck on the wound with tweezers.
  • After cleaning the wound, cover it with gauze, vet wrap, or a band-aid. 
  • Put your injured turtle in a hospital tank for a few days until the wounds completely heal. 
  • Do not forget to maintain the proper temperature in the tank. Also, clean the water regularly to avoid infection. 

When to Visit a Vet?

If the wound is already infected and produces a pus-like substance, take your turtle to the vet fast. Regular dressing of wounds at home may not cure your turtle. 

3. Lack of Appetite

Turtles can lack an appetite for various reasons. Although lack of appetite is a sign of underlying diseases, sometimes there are simple reasons behind it. Turtles stop eating when the temperature in the tank gets cold. It is their instinct to go into hibernation when the temperature gets low. 

How to Treat Lack of Appetite in Turtles

Check the temperature of the tank. Adjusting the water and basking area temperature can increase your turtle’s appetite. Your turtle may also have a particular preference. So, try offering different foods like fresh vegetables and fruits. 

When to Visit the Vet

You may be unable to feed a severely ill turtle with simple adjustments. Consult a vet if you cannot determine what is preventing your turtle from eating. 

4. Diarrhea

Your turtle’s feces can tell a lot about its health. It should be firm and dark in color. When a turtle has diarrhea, the feces become liquid. Hence, your turtle will become dehydrated and weak. 

How to Treat Diarrhea?

Turtles often get diarrhea for a poor diet plan. So, avoid feeding watery and citrus fruit to your sick turtle. Add more vegetables as they contain lots of fiber. Turtles that have diarrhea because of an unbalanced diet should be alright after a diet change. Also, regularly clean the tank. Living in unhygienic conditions can cause diarrhea. 

When to Visit the Vet?

If your turtle defecates greenish or white liquidly feces even after a diet change, it is time to take it to the vet. Your turtle may have an internal parasite infection, and the vet will give proper medication to treat it.  

5. Constipation

Have you noticed your turtle not pooping for a while now? Baby turtles should poop daily, while adults should do it at least 2 to 3 days a week. If your turtle is not defecating for a week, then your turtle has constipation. 

How to Treat Constipated Turtles?

Treating a constipated turtle at home is easy. First, you have to provide a balanced diet to your turtle. If the problem continues, let your turtle soak in warm water. It will comfort your turtle’s troubled tummy and encourage it to poop. 

When to Visit the Vet?

If your turtle cannot poop even after the home treatment, you better take it to the vet. Constant constipation causes gut impaction, which means the intestine of your turtle is blocked. Impaction happens when your turtle eats a small part of substrates or decorations. A vet may even perform surgery to remove a foreign object from the turtle’s stomach.  

6. Dehydration 

If your turtle has sunken eyes, dry skin, and weight loss, it is suffering from dehydration. It may not have been drinking adequate water or lost water because of diarrhea.

To keep your turtle hydrated, give them fresh drinking water every day. Aquatic turtles will drink the same water in which they swim. So, make sure the water is clean for drinking. For land turtles, provide a clean bowl of water. Change the water every day.  

When to Visit the Vet?

Sometimes, a dehydrated turtle becomes lethargic and refuses to eat and drink. If your turtle has severe dehydration, take it to the veterinarian.  

turtle eye diseases

7. Eye Problem 

Any eye problem is quite painful for turtles. You may find your turtle’s eyes sunken, swollen, crusty, or full of pus. As the turtle cannot see clearly, it will not eat properly. Therefore, treating eye problems is crucial for your turtle’s health. 

Turtles can have eye problems for various reasons. For example, low humidity levels and the unhygienic condition of the tank can lead to an eye problems. Respiratory diseases can also cause the eyes to be swollen. Sometimes a tiny piece of debris can get into the turtle’s eyes and cause infection. 

Lack of vitamin A causes eye problems in turtles. Due to a lack of vitamin A, the eyes cannot function properly. It has low secretion and pus build-up under the eyelids. Excessive build-up of pus can accumulate crust in the eyes of your turtle. 

How to Treat Eye Problems in Turtles?

To treat the eye problem of your turtle, put it in the hospital tank. You can help your turtle by soaking it in warm shallow water. If the eyes are shut and crust forms around the eyes, you can gently spray some water on the eyes. Then use a Q-Tip to remove the crust. 

You should look into your turtle’s daily diet. You can add more food containing vitamin A. But sometimes, excessive vitamin A can also cause eye and skin problems. It is known as hypervitaminosis. So, make sure your turtle does not have excessive vitamin A. 

Keep your turtle in the hospital tank until it gets better. Change the water twice a day. Your turtle should be better within a few days. 

When to Visit the Vet

Sometimes excessive pus might build up in a turtle’s eyes, making it impossible for the turtles to open their eyes. A vet can treat severe eye infections by using a softening agent to remove the crust around the eyes. The vet may use an injection to remove the pus and then provide antibiotics. 

Know more about the turtle eye problems here!

8. Metabolic Bone Disease 

Metabolic Bone Disease is a serious health problem for turtles. Turtles with metabolic bone disease will have irregular shell growth. Their shell will grow at a slower rate compared to the size of their body. The shell can be soft, depressed, or inward-looking. Not only the shell but the jaw and bone structure of your turtle can also have abnormal shapes.

How to Treat Metabolic Bone Disease

Improper diet, especially lack of calcium, is the main reason for metabolic bone disease. Again, you may have been providing calcium to your turtle. Yet it can have bone diseases if there is insufficient sunlight or UV rays. Turtles need UVB light to synthesize calcium in their body.

So, to treat metabolic bone diseases, add more calcium to your turtle’s diet plan. In addition, set up a proper lighting system, so your turtle gets the UVB light to process the calcium in the body to strengthen its shell and bone. 

When to Visit a Vet

It will take time to treat a turtle’s shell and bone structure deformation. If you do not see a satisfactory result after weeks of home treatment, you better take the turtle to the vet. 

shell rot

9. Shell Rot 

Shell rot is also known as Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD). It occurs when a wound on the shell of the turtle gets infected with bacteria or fungus. You will see flaky scutes on the shell, which may peel off unevenly. 

How to Treat Shell Rot

Treating shell rot at home requires patience. If you find a turtle with shell rot, remove it from the tank immediately and place it in the hospital tank. It is crucial to treat shell rot at an early stage.  

Here is what you can do: 

  • First, clean any dirt, debris, algae, and dead cells from your turtle’s shell.
  • Then use an antiseptic solution such as Betadine or healing cream like sulfadiazine iodine on the affected shell area. 
  • Let the medicine dry on the shell. 

While your turtle is going through the treatment, avoid putting it in the water. If necessary, let the turtle swim for a while but dry it afterward. The turtle needs to bask under the UVB light for hours to treat the rot. To keep the turtle hydrated, you can offer a bowl of water for drinking or fresh fruits. 

It is better to prevent the problem from ever happening to your turtle. You should keep the turtle tank clean using a powerful filter and provide adequate UVB light to prevent infection. 

When to Visit a Vet?

Home treatment is effective for early shell rot. But if the infection spreads on the shell, you must take your turtle to the vet. In a severe case of shell rot, the multiple scutes of a turtle’s shell get infected. The wound may discharge fluids and smell bad. Some parts of the shell may need to be removed, which only an expert vet should do. 

How To Feed A Sick Turtle?

Although it is easy to encourage mildly sick turtles to eat, it is not the same for severely ill turtles. You must be patient and try not to be too forceful with your turtle. 

A turtle with a severe eye problem cannot see its food. To help them, you need to bring food to them. Use a syringe to feed your sick turtle. You can crush some pellets, mix them with water, and put them in the syringe. You can prepare a mixed food broth as well.  

It will take two people to feed a sick turtle. While one holds the turtle, the other has to feed it. A sick turtle may not want to open its mouth. You can tickle the side of its mouth. Then, the turtle will open its mouth to bite. Then use the opportunity to feed it with the syringe. 

If your turtle is mildly ill, you do not need to hand feed it. Turtles prefer eating their food in the water. As I have mentioned earlier, some turtles will not eat when the water temperature is low. So, make sure the water temperature is between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Readjusting the temperature to your turtle’s likeness can inspire it to eat. 

Then check if your turtle is getting enough light. UBA light is as essential as UVB light for a turtle. So, provide your turtle with UVA light to boost its metabolism. Your turtle should be under the light for at least 10 to 12 hours daily. 


By now, you should have a good idea about how to treat a sick turtle at home. Many common turtle diseases are curable at home. So, instead of waiting to take your turtle to the vet for treatment, you can start treating it at home. 

But if your turtle is severely ill or injured and you do not have the means to treat it at home, you must take your pet to an expert vet. 

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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