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How to Treat Respiratory Infection in Turtles at Home?

how to treat respiratory infection in turtles at home

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

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I researched a lot about respiratory infection in turtles and decided to put all my knowledge on it in a single article. So, after reading this article, you’ll know everything there is to know about respiratory infection in turtles including how to treat it, symptoms, diagnosis, pathology, and prevention.

To treat a respiratory infection in turtles at home, first ensure a warm environment. Then, slightly increase the tank’s temperature and maintain clean water. Offer a balanced diet. Also, consult a vet to see if antibiotics are needed. Do not use over-the-counter medications without a vet’s guidance.

So, let’s get started.

key takeaways

  • Turtle should be kept in a warm, humid environment to help its respiratory system and speed up recovery from respiratory infection.
  • Antibiotics prescribed by a vet after examination are important to treat turtle’s respiratory infection.
  • Soaking turtle in shallow warm water added with salt can help its breathing and clear nasal discharge.
  • A vet should examine persistent cough or nasal discharge in turtle that does not improve with home care.
  • Good hygiene like washing hands before and after handling turtle can help prevent spread of infection.
  • Proper lighting, heating and UVB exposure helps turtle’s respiratory system stay strong and fight infection according to the article.
  • Isolating sick turtle and disinfecting its enclosure between uses can keep other turtles from being exposed to infection.
  • Appetite loss in turtle may indicate serious infection requiring veterinary treatment beyond home care.

What is Respiratory Infection?

Respiratory infections are very common in pet turtle species especially if they are exposed to cold environment.

Like us, turtles also have lungs for breathing. So, if exposed to cold weather, they can catch cold and respiratory infection (RI).

The respiratory infection is commonly caused by fungi, bacteria or virus. The diagnosis and treatment will differ according to the germ that is causing this infection.

That’s why it is important to ask the help of a herp vet (A vet who is specialized on reptiles) when your turtle is suffering from a respiratory infection.

Respiratory infections can be very dangerous and if left untreated for a long time, your turtle can die. If you see symptoms of respiratory infection in your turtle, immediately go to the vet or an animal hospital. Try to look for a vet or hospital that has specialized vets on reptiles.

If there is no hospital or vet near to you, then call one and ask for help. Chances are that they will give you some advice for immediate care.

The symptoms of respiratory infection in turtles are very distinctive. So, it is easy to diagnose them. It is not possible to treat it by an average Joe turtle keeper. You need to go to a herp vet. He will prescribe a systematic antibiotic. The prevention is easy and just requires a few cautionary steps.


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Respiratory infections are common in turtles and tortoises, just as they are in humans and other animals. Signs of respiratory infection in turtles may include nasal discharge, redness or swelling around the mouth or eyes, increased breathing effort or rate, and uneven breathing [PetMD].

Symptoms of turtle respiratory infection:

Here are the symptoms of turtle respiratory infections. If you observe any of these symptoms on your turtle, take it immediately to the vet.

Turtle’s Respiratory Infection SymptomDescription
LethargyThe turtle will be tired and move less.
Breathing DifficultyDifficulty in breathing and reluctance to swim in water.
Runny Nose and Mucus SecretionExcessive mucus secretion from the nose.
Puffy or Swollen EyesEyes appearing puffy or swollen.
Frequent Mouth OpeningKeeping the mouth open often.
Respiratory Distress SymptomsSneezing, gasping, coughing, wheezing, or sneezing.
Loss of Appetite and Weight LossTurtle loses interest in eating and starts to lose weight.
Ignoring PresenceIgnoring the presence of people in the room, which is unusual if combined with other symptoms.
Sleeping in Basking Area (Adult Turtles)Adult turtles sleeping in the basking area, which is not normal behavior.
Lopsided SwimmingInability to swim properly, swimming lopsidedly.
Potential Pneumonia (Severe Symptom)If lopsided swimming occurs with other symptoms, it may indicate pneumonia, with one lung possibly filled with fluid, severely affecting the turtle’s balance.
  • The turtle will be tired. It won’t move much.
  • The turtle will face difficulty to breathe. It will be reluctant to swim in the water.
  • There will be a runny nose. Mucus will secret from the nose excessively.
  • There can by puffy or swollen eyes
  • Keeping the mouth open often
  • You’ll often see the turtle is sneezing, gasping, coughing, wheezing, or sneezing
  • The turtle will lose interest in eating and lose weight
  • It will start to ignore your presence in the room. Generally, it can also mean that the turtle is not scared of you. But if this symptom occurs with a combination of other symptoms, then it is bad.
  • Adult turtles will start sleeping on the basking area. Normally, adult turtles never sleep in the basking area, so if they do, something is wrong with their health.
  • In worse cases, the turtle won’t be able to swim properly. It will swim lopsidedly.

This last symptom is very dangerous, especially if it occurs in conjunction with other symptoms. If you observe this symptom in your turtle, chances are that it is suffering from Pneumonia and one of the lungs is already filled with fluid.

The one filled lung will throw off the balance of the turtle. If your turtle has got pneumonia, then chances are high that it will die without immediate treatment by a vet.

How to treat respiratory infection in turtles at home?

 You can’t properly treat respiratory infection in turtles at home, simply because you don’t have the expertise of a vet. That’s why it is always recommended to ask the help of a vet or see a vet if your turtle is showing symptoms of respiratory infections.

However, there are some steps that you can take that will act as a “First Aid Treatment”. These steps will only slow down the progress of the disease, but they won’t cure it completely. There is no alternative to visiting the vet for curing the respiratory infection in turtles.

Here’s a table summarizing the “First Aid” steps for treating respiratory infection in turtles at home:

StepDescription
Separate Sick TurtlesIf you have multiple turtles, immediately isolate the sick one in a separate hospital tank. Monitor other turtles for symptoms.
Warm Water TemperatureKeep the tank water warm, ideally between 83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Regularly test and maintain optimal water parameters.
Increase Basking Area TemperatureIncrease the basking area’s temperature to 93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for most common aquatic turtle species. This helps strengthen their immune system and makes mucus more flexible, easing congestion and breathing.
Clean Mouth and NoseWipe away any saliva or mucus from the turtle’s nose and mouth with a clean, damp cloth.
Nutritious Diet and SupplementsProvide a diet rich in vitamins and consider additional vitamin supplements as recommended by a vet. Ensure the tank water is clean.
Force Feeding (if Necessary)If the turtle stops eating, force feeding might be required. Consult a vet for guidance on this process.
Use of Infrared LightUtilize an infrared light in the basking area to increase the turtle’s internal temperature, aiding in fighting off bacteria. Ensure the area has cooler spots and does not exceed 93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a reptile thermometer for accurate temperature readings.
Keep Infrared Light on at NightFor sick turtles, keep the infrared light on even at night, as they might prefer sleeping in the basking area due to difficulty breathing in water.
Adjust Light PositionIf the turtle chooses a different basking spot, place the infrared light there to achieve the desired temperature range.
API Turtle FixAPI Turtle Fix, a type of tea tree oil, can help ease breathing but does not have antibacterial properties. It’s akin to using petroleum jelly for a child’s cold.
Dry DockingIn severe cases, consider ‘dry docking’ the turtle in a separate tank without water, with a heat lamp and UVB lamp. Briefly place the turtle in water for half an hour twice a day.
NoteThese steps can improve the turtle’s condition but do not cure respiratory infections. A visit to a vet is necessary for proper treatment.

Let’s have a close look at these “First Aid” treatments:

1. Separation and Observation:

  • Contagion Alert: Respiratory infections are highly contagious.
  • Action Required: Separate the sick turtle from healthy ones.
  • New Environment: Place the sick turtle in a hospital tank.
  • Monitor Health: Observe other turtles for symptoms.

2. Water Temperature and Quality:

  • Ideal Temperature: Keep water warm, between 83-85°F.
  • Water Quality: Check parameters with an API freshwater master test kit.
  • Balance: Adjust any off-balance parameters.
  • Water Maintenance: Regular water changes are beneficial.

3. Basking Area Temperature:

  • Increased Temperature: Raise to 93-95°F for common aquatic turtles.
  • Health Benefit: Boosts the turtle’s immune system and aids mucus flexibility, easing congestion and breathing.

4. Cleanliness:

  • Mouth and Nose Care: Wipe away any mucus or saliva with a clean, damp cloth.
cute red eared slider
Owner: Vivi Hernandez

5. Diet and Nutrition:

  • Vitamin-Rich Foods: Ensure a proper diet.
  • Supplements: Consider additional vitamin supplements as recommended by vets.
  • Water Clarity: Keep turtle tank water crystal clear.

6. Feeding Assistance:

  • Force Feeding: May be necessary if the turtle stops eating. Consult a vet for guidance.

7. Lighting in the Basking Area:

  • Infrared Light: Recommended for internal temperature increase and bacterial fight.
  • Temperature Range: Ensure the basking area’s hottest part stays within 93-95°F.
  • Cooler Spots: Provide areas to cool down.
  • Monitoring: Use a reptile thermometer for accurate readings.

8. Nighttime Care:

  • Infrared Light: Keep it on at night for sick turtles, who may prefer sleeping in the basking area.

9. Basking Preferences:

  • Adaptability: If the turtle chooses a different basking spot, adjust the infrared light accordingly.
  • Temperature Goal: Aim for 93-95°F at the chosen basking spot.

10. Breathing Assistance:

  • API Turtle Fix: Can ease breathing, similar to tea tree oil. Comparable to using petroleum jelly for a child’s cold.

11. Dry Docking in Severe Cases:

  • Method: Place the turtle in a separate tank without water.
  • Lighting: Include a heat lamp and UVB lamp.
  • Limited Water Exposure: Only put the turtle in water for half an hour, twice a day.

If your turtle is at the early stage of respiratory infection, then chances are that by following these steps the condition of your turtle will improve a lot.

However, will these steps cure the respiratory infection? No. You need to go to a vet for that. There is no way to bypass that.

Please keep in mind that, the above tips will only work as “First Aid” and slow down the progress of the disease. They won’t cure the respiratory infection.

You must need to go to a HERP vet or an animal hospital (that specializes in reptiles) for proper treatment of your turtle.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are often recommended for treating respiratory infections in turtles. Some options veterinarians commonly prescribe include enrofloxacin, amikacin, ceftazidime, and piperacillin [Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice]. For mild cases, enrofloxacin administered at 5 mg/kg once daily by injection has been shown to successfully treat respiratory disease in sea turtles [PMC].

Diagnosis and Pathology of Turtle Respiratory Infection:

Only a professional vet can successfully diagnose the respiratory infection of a turtle.

If your turtle shows any symptom of respiratory infection, take it to the vet immediately. The vet will collect a sample of mucus using a swab and diagnose it.

This way, the vet will also find out what germ is causing the infection.

Bacteria are the most common cause for respiratory infection in turtles. Normally the bacteria are found in the trachea, lungs as well as inside the nose. The most common bacteria species that cause this infection are Aeromonas and Pseudomonas. Also, in rare cases fungi seems to be the culprit.

The vet will successfully identify the pathogen (or a group of pathogen) with the “sample swab” and take necessary steps for treatment.

baby turtle close up
Owner: Stephenie Ciprian

Why Turtle Respiratory Infection Occurs?

Here are some of the common reasons for turtle respiratory infection:

  • Cold air
  • Chilling environment
  • Unhealthy living environment
  • Dirty tank water
  • Lack of vitamin A in diet
  • Malnutrition etc.

How a vet treats turtle respiratory infection?

The vet will follow a systematic approach to treat the respiratory infection. The first thing the vet will do is check if it is really the respiratory infection that is making your turtle sick. He will perform various observations such as watching the turtle swim, observing it on the basking area, taking weight of the turtle, using a stethoscope to check the lungs etc.

Lastly, the vet will take a sample of the mucus from the turtle’s nose or mouth using a swab and use it to identify the pathogen that is causing the infection. Some vets may also perform X-ray to check if your turtle is suffering from pneumonia or any other illness.

The treatment procedure will vary from vet to vet, what is making the turtle sick, which pathogen is responsible etc. Most vets will go through a systematic antibiotic procedure to treat the respiratory infection.

The vet may also prescribe some medications such as drops, medicines or injections. Of course, a responsible vet will show you how to apply the medicine or injection. If the situation is too bad, the vet may admit your turtle in his office for a few days for close observation.

How to prevent turtle respiratory infection?


Here’s a table summarizing the tips to prevent turtle respiratory infection:

Prevention MeasureDescription
Control Habitat TemperatureAvoid exposing the turtle habitat to cool air or weather for extended periods. Keep the temperature within the safe range for your turtle species.
Hand HygieneWash hands before and after handling turtles or anything in their environment to prevent the spread of germs.
Maintain a Healthy EnvironmentEnsure the habitat includes a good filter, clean swimming water, a basking area, UVB light, and a heat lamp.
Avoid Using DraftAvoid using drafts in the habitat as they can carry germs. If necessary, boil the draft thoroughly before adding it to the tank.
Use HEPA Filter Vacuum CleanersIf using a vacuum cleaner in the room with the turtle tank, ensure it has a HEPA filter to minimize dust in the air. Avoid carpet cleaning powders around the tank.
Provide a Balanced DietOffer a well-rounded diet including vegetables, leafy greens, protein, minerals, and vitamins. Vitamin A is crucial to prevent respiratory issues and swollen eyes.

1. Temperature Management:

  • Avoid Cool Exposure: Protect habitat from cooler air or weather.
  • Risk of Lethargy and Disease: Cold temperatures can lead to lethargy and increase susceptibility to diseases like respiratory infections.
  • Species-Specific Care Sheet: Consult reliable care sheets for temperature requirements.

2. Hygiene Practices:

  • Hand Washing: Always wash hands before and after handling turtles or related items to prevent cross-contamination.

3. Healthy Environment:

  • Essentials for Well-being: Ensure a habitat with a good filter, clean swimming water, basking area, UVB light, heat lamp, and proper diet.

4. Avoiding Drafts:

  • Draft-Free Habitat: Avoid drafts, which can carry germs.
  • Boiling Drafts: If using drafts, boil them thoroughly before adding to the tank.
baby turtle close up
Owner: Cecille Hara-Recanel Cayetuna

5. Cleaning Precautions:

  • Vacuum Cleaner Specifications: Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce airborne dust.
  • Avoid Harmful Cleaning Agents: Refrain from using carpet cleaning powders, which can be toxic.

6. Balanced Diet:

  • Dietary Diversity: Combine commercial pellets with vegetables, leafy greens, protein, minerals, and vitamins.
  • Vitamin A Importance: Essential for preventing respiratory infections and issues like swollen eyes.

Additional Recommendations:

  • Monitor Temperature Regularly: Use accurate thermometers to ensure the habitat stays within the safe temperature range for your turtle species.
  • Provide Variety in Diet: Introduce a mix of fresh and processed foods to meet nutritional needs.
  • Regular Habitat Maintenance: Clean and maintain the habitat regularly to prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria or toxins.
  • Consult a Veterinarian: Seek professional advice for specific care requirements and health checks.
  • Observe Turtle Behavior: Watch for any changes in behavior or appearance, which can be early signs of health issues.

Medicine & Antibiotics for Turtle Respiratory Infection:

Some of the most used antibiotics for treating respiratory infection as well as pneumonia in turtles are Ciprofloxacin, Enrofloxacin, Ampicillin, Oxytetracycline etc. But don’t go on your own and apply these medicines to your turtle without the approval of a vet. Only an authorized vet should prescribe these antibiotics.

Is a turtle respiratory infection contagious?

Yes, it is!

If you find one of your turtles is showing symptoms of respiratory infection, you should immediately separate it from the rest of the turtles. Put the sick one in a separate hospital tank and ask the vet for help immediately.

So, this is my detailed guide on how to treat respiratory infection in turtles at home. Respiratory infections can be quiet dangerous and there is nothing you can do on your own to treat it, except getting the help of a HERP vet. Also, do not forget to take necessary preventive steps as prevention is always better than cure.

How Long Can A Turtle Live With A Respiratory Infection?

Respiratory infections diagnosed at an early age can be cured. In fact, your turtles with severe conditions may bounce back with intensive care, fluid therapy, and medications.

But yes, delayed treatment does affect the lifespan of the turtles.

The duration a turtle can survive with a respiratory infection varies and depends on several factors, such as the severity of the infection, the turtle’s overall health, the species, and how quickly treatment is provided. If left untreated, a respiratory infection can be fatal in a relatively short time, ranging from days to a few weeks.

For example, respiratory infection can spread to the lungs from the respiratory tract. It will lead to lung damage or pneumonia. Hence, the pet has to adjust to the frequent breathing difficulty and other side effects like lethargy or runny nose syndrome.

However, you can not say for sure how long the sick turtle will live. It depends on the individual and the care the owner provides.

Owner: Kimberly Ann

Natural Antibiotics For Turtles: Do They Exist?

Antibiotics used for healing turtles often lead to severe side effects. No wonder why owners look for natural alternatives to antibiotics.

Of course, there are not many alternatives available. Yet, I am attaching the only few I have found so far.

1. Herbal Blend:

A research facility in Malaysia has recently found success in healing its sick turtles with herbs. The researchers used aloe vera and turmeric in the treatment process. Besides, they fed the turtles a blended meal with banana, papaya, and brown sugar.

Moreover, I met owners who apply coconut oils on infectious spots or swollen areas. Coconut oil has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties. Yet, I recommend running it through your vet beforehand.

2. Phage Therapy:

It is one of the oldest and most effective curing methods for turtles. In fact, scientists nowadays also utilize phage therapy when antibiotics fail to serve.

The steps of phage therapy might sound complicated and boring. Also, you can not conduct the process at home and must take the pet to a phage library.

The researchers there will do lab tests to determine the pathogenic bacteria or virus causing health issues in turtles first. Later they will develop a bacteria-specific virus to eliminate the problematic microorganism.

In sea turtles, phage therapy is used to heal infectious diseases.

3. Turtle Fix:

Different solutions or so-called “Turtle Fixes” are available in the market to treat pets. As per the label, the solution is all-natural, safe, and effective for turtles.

4. Prevention:

Natural antibiotics or curing processes are not always available for pet turtles. Therefore, prevention and influencing the healing days by controlling the environment are always preferable. Make sure the enclosure receives adequate heat and UV days, as well as maintain pen hygiene.

N.B. Natural remedies for humans may not work on turtles. Do not apply quirky natural herbs to your pets without consulting the vet.

Get a chart for all antibiotics for turtles from this link.

Turtle Wheezing: What Is Wrong With My Turtle?

It is hard to say why your turtle is wheezing. Well, it can be a usual silly thing or something severe.

Of course, going to a vet will end all the speculations. But for the primary inspection, here is what to look for.

  1. Observe the heat lamp and UV bulb settings.
  2. Consider the water composition and habitat hygiene.
  3. Recheck the filtration system.
  4. Notice the appetite and weight fluctuation of the pets.
  5. Look for any other weird behavioral changes in the turtles.

Now, the turtle is fit and healthy if it has a good appetite and the habitat settings are okay.

Sometimes turtles make a wheezing noise from the nose seeing their owners. It is just an expression of excitement.

Again, obese turtles also wheeze after a hard run. Remember, obesity is not a blessing in any situation. Start putting the pets on a strict diet and make them work out to shed some pounds. You can take turtle-safe weight loss ideas from this article.

Well, if the wheezing sound is not coming from the nose, something is definitely wrong with the turtle. The chances are that the pets have a respiratory illness. You will notice significant changes in the turtles’ appetite, weight, and daily activities.

red eared slider basking
Owner: Kimberly Ann

Why Is My Turtle Gasping For Air?

It might strike as a surprise, but turtles can drown. Turtles, when strangled underwater, do their best to release themselves from the trap. In the meantime, the creatures survive on stored oxygen. If the pets can get out, they rush to the surface and grasp the air.

Hence, look hard inside the enclosure to find out any factor causing such an issue for the turtles.

Another possibility is a respiratory infection. Usually, open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, air grasping, bubbles coming out of the nose, mouth, or eyes, etc., are signs of this disease.

Thus, go through all the changes noticed in the turtles and match them with the respiratory illness symptoms. Take immediate action if the pet has signs of this infectious disease.

Amoxicillin For Turtles: The Use & Effectiveness

You will find a wide range of antibacterial medicines for turtles. Amoxicillin is also an antibiotic used to treat infectious diseases in these pets. This medicine and cephalosporins are popular options for healing stomatitis in turtles.

Amoxicillin is more effective in combating anaerobic organisms. This med may also treat a few infectious diseases caused by gram-positive organisms. Vets often recommend clavulanic acid with amoxicillin to increase the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Generally, the professionals suggest the following amoxicillin dosage frequency for the turtle,

  • 5 mg/kg IM and then 2.5 mg/kg IM every 72 hours

The dosage can vary depending on your turtle’s health condition.

You can buy amoxicillin from the nearest pet store. If you buy an oral suspension, store it in an airtight container in a chill place.

How To Give Turtle Antibiotics?

Turtle vial antibiotics are the most difficult to administrate. Your turtle may resist the syringe and get hurt. But here is the trick to giving your turtle antibiotics the safest way,

  1. First, rub alcohol on the meaty spot with a prominent vine for cleaning.
  2. Next, hold the turtle in such a position that the pet can not move so much. Ask for help if needed.
  3. You can choose the butt or any of the limbs to shoot the antibiotics. But do not inject on the same spot every day.
  4. Finally, stretch out the turtle’s arm and quickly administer the antibiotics.

N.B. Never use the same syringe twice. Also, keep the heating lamp on for longer hours, even at night.

Now, what if you need to give the turtle an oral dose? Well, it can be struggling, too, if you are managing the turtle alone. The steps are given below,

  1. Hold the turtle behind its head gently but firmly.
  2. Use your two fingers to open the bottom jaw of the pet. Do not apply any force.
  3. Now slowly depress the syringe.

N.B. Do not empty the syringe in front of the tongue. It will block the pet’s air hole. 

can a turtle die from a respiratory infection?

Yes, a turtle can die from a respiratory infection.

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in turtles and can be serious if not treated promptly. Symptoms may include wheezing, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, and lethargy.

These infections can be caused by various factors, including poor water quality, inadequate temperature control, and bacterial or viral infections. Prompt veterinary care is essential to treat the infection and prevent complications that could lead to death.

can turtles cause respiratory problems in human?

Turtles themselves do not directly cause respiratory problems in humans.

However, they can carry bacteria like Salmonella, which can cause illness in humans if transferred through direct or indirect contact.

While Salmonella typically causes gastrointestinal issues, it can sometimes lead to more severe health problems, including respiratory infections, especially in individuals with weakened immune systems.

It’s important to practice good hygiene when handling turtles or their habitats to prevent the spread of bacteria.

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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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