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.
So, let’s get started.
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.
If you need a turtle vet emergency, check out our Emergency Turtle Vet Directory where you can easily contact with turtle vet from your state.
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.
- 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.
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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.
Let’s have a close look at these “First Aid” treatments:
- Respiratory infections are very contagious. So, if there is more than one turtle in the tank, you’ll need to immediately separate the sick one from the healthy ones. Put the sick one in a different hospital turtle tank. Observe the healthy ones closely for a few days to check if they are also suffering from this.
- Keep the water temperature warm preferably 83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, ensure that all of the water parameters are okay. You can check the water parameters with API freshwater master test kit. if any of the parameters are off balance, take necessary steps to balance it out. Regular water changes help a lot to balance out the water parameters.
- It is better to increase the temperature of the basking area. For most common aquatic turtle species, 93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit temperature will do fine. Also, increase the tank water temperature up to 83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This range works safely for most common water turtle species. Increasing the temperature helps a lot by strengthening the immune system of the turtle. it also makes the mucus within the respiratory system more flexible. It helps to reduce the congestion and helps to make breathing easier.
- It is important to keep the mouth and nose of the turtle clean. If there is saliva or mucus secreting from the nose and mouth, wipe it away with a clean damp cloth.
- Ensure that your turtle is having a proper diet with lots of vitamin-rich foods. Sometimes vets recommend giving additional vitamin supplements to the turtle. Also, make sure that the turtle tank water is crystal clear.
- If your turtle stops eating, then you may need to force feed it. Force feeding a turtle is not easy. You need to ask the vet for tips on how to do this.
- Normally, we use two types of lights on a basking area: UVB light and heat lamp. But when your turtle is suffering from respiratory infection, it is better to use an infrared light The infrared light will help by increasing the internal temperature of the turtle. It will help to fight off the bacteria. However, make sure that the hottest part of the basking area doesn’t exceed the 93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit temperature range. Also, there should be cooler spots on the basking area for the turtle to move in case it gets too hot. It is better to use a reptile thermometer for properly reading the temperature of the basking area and the tank water.
- Normally we don’t keep the lights on at night. But when your turtle is sick, it is better to keep the infrared light on. Sick turtles often sleep on the basking area as it is difficult for them to breathe in the water.
- Sometimes, turtles do not tend to bask in the basking area you gave them. They chose a different spot, such as on top of a floating pant. If such is the case with your turtle, then place the infrared light on the spot that your turtle chose for basking. Try to achieve the 93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit temperature range on that spot.
- When a turtle is suffering from the respiratory infection, it will have trouble breathing. To ease the breathing, sometimes API Turtle Fix helps a lot. It doesn’t have any antibacterial property, it is only a type of tea tree oil. Think about rubbing petroleum jelly on a child’s chest when he is suffering from cold. The API turtle fix is like the jelly.
- In the worst condition, your turtle won’t be able to swim in the water properly. In such cases, it is sometimes better to “dry dock” the turtle. Dry Dock simply means putting your turtle in a separate tank without any water. Put a heat lamp and UVB lamp on the tank. Put the turtle in the water for half an hour only two times 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.
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.
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 are some tips to prevent turtle respiratory infection:
- Make sure the turtle habitat is not exposed to cooler air or weather for a long time. Cold temperature makes your turtle lethargic and prone to diseases like the respiratory infection. Check a reliable care sheet of your turtle species and make sure the temperature is within the safe range.
- You should always wash your hand before and after handling turtles or any turtle related items. It will keep both you and your turtle safe from each other.
- Make sure that the turtle is living in a healthy environment. Ensure it has everything it needs to lead a happy life i.e. good filter, clean swimming water, basking area, UVB light, heat lamp, proper diet etc.
- It is better to not use any kind of draft in your turtle habitat. Generally, these drafts carry a lot of germs that can cause various health issues in turtles. if you must, then make sure to boil the draft for a good amount of time before placing it in the tank.
- If you use vacuum cleaner to clean the room where you placed the turtle tank, then make sure the vacuum cleaner has HEPA filter. The filter will help to keep tiny dust specks out of the air. Also, refrain yourself from using any carpet cleaning powder as some of them can be quite toxic to animals.
- Make sure you are providing a well-balanced diet to your turtles. Only store bought commercial pellets won’t cut it. You’ll also need to provide vegetables, leafy greens, protein, minerals and most importantly vitamins. Vitamin A is particularly very important for turtles. Lack of vitamin A can cause many issues such as respiratory infection, turtle swollen eyes
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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.