9 Signs That Tell If Your Turtle Is Dying

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

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You may have provided the care you think your turtle requires. But someday, you may find your turtle lethargic. It may neglect its food and sleep for long hours in the basking area. Turtle owners often panic and wonder if it is a sign that the turtle is dying. 

Turtles have a long life, but eventually, they die of old age. They can also die young when their habitat environment is unsuitable. As a turtle owner, you should know the signs that tell if your turtle is dying. You may be able to save them by taking quick action.

So, let us learn more about the symptoms of a dying turtle and how you can prevent it.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Dying Turtle?

A sick or dying turtle will show some subtle symptoms of illness, which an owner might miss if they do not pay close attention. You have a high chance of saving your turtle if you take immediate steps against these symptoms. 

Here are 9 symptoms your distressed turtle might show:

1. Lack of Appetite 

One of the most common symptoms of a sick turtle is a lack of appetiteSuddenly, your turtle may eat less than before or gradually stop eating. As a result, your turtle will lose weight. Lack of appetite is a symptom of an underlying disease. 

Lack of appetite can be a sign of gastrointestinal infection or obstruction. Check your turtle’s feces condition to be sure. Black poop is a sign of internal bleeding. You may also find traces of blood. If you do not find any blood in the feces, look for other symptoms of illness in the turtle. 

Female turtles may show disinterest in food when they carry eggs. If a pregnant turtle cannot lay eggs in time, it can suffer from dystocia. It has to be treated fast. Otherwise, the condition can be fatal. 

2. Becoming Lethargic 

Turtles are slow reptiles, but this does not mean they are inactive. A healthy turtle will explore their surroundings, eat regularly, bask under the light, and interact with its owner. So, if you find your healthy turtle becoming lethargic, it should be a matter of concern. 

But remember, during winter, turtles can go into hibernation. Even if you regulate the temperature, some turtles may sleep more during winter. Lethargy is also common in pregnant turtles. But female turtles below 4 years should not be lethargic. 

However, turtles becoming inactive and refusing to eat beyond hibernation time are not good signs. If your turtle is barely moving and eating, it can be a symptom of illness. So, take it to the vet fast. 

3.Excessive Basking

Is your turtle basking more than usual? Is it neglecting its food? Then there is a high chance your turtle is sick. Turtles that develop an illness try to fight it off by increasing their body temperature. Severely sick turtles become inactive and sleep for long hours in the basking area. 

However, excessive basking does not always mean your turtle is ill. Some turtles may suddenly increase their basking time if their water temperature is low. Turtles of different species have different basking times. Some bask longer than others. 

If your turtle suddenly basks longer than it used to, check for other signs of illness. Turtles with respiratory diseases often bask to feel warm. Check the water’s temperature to ensure it is not too cold for your little friend.

See also  How to Treat Respiratory Infection in Turtles at Home?

4. Breathing Problems

Minor respiratory problems are common among pet turtles. But it would be best if you treated your turtle’s sickness as soon as possible. If respiratory diseases are untreated for a long time, they can be life-threatening to turtles. 

In severe cases of respiratory illness, a turtle will sneeze and cough. Fluids come out to form an infected turtle’s mouth and nose. You may even hear continuous whistling sounds coming from them. The turtle may keep its mouth open and try to breathe in the air. Untreated cold turn into pneumonia. In such cases, fluid fill in the lungs. As a result, the sick turtle cannot swim properly.

Treating pneumonia at home is not always possible. So, take help from an expert vet. In the meantime, check the temperature of the water and basking area of the turtle enclosure. Low temperature is primarily responsible for respiratory problems in turtles. 

5. Bubbling or Pus-like Discharge

Another symptom of a dying turtle is bubbling or discharge coming from a turtle’s mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. In severe cases of respiratory disease, foam or bubbles will form on a turtle’s mouth and nose when it tries to breathe out air. You may not see it while the turtle is swimming, but it is visible when it is basking. 

Pus-like discharge from a turtle’s ear and eyes is a sign of vitamin A deficiency. The eyes and ears of the turtle can be swollen too. You may have to feed enough vitamin A-rich food to your turtle, yet the pus comes out of its ear and eyes. Then your turtle probably has a bacterial infection or is badly injured. 

6. Swimming Sideways 

A dying turtle may swim sideways or seem disoriented while swimming in the water. It is a symptom of a severely ill turtle. The turtle may have severe respiratory problems, and fluid has filled its lungs. Hence, the turtle cannot keep its balance while swimming. 

Besides, a turtle may swim sideways when it has a bloated stomach. It may have a problem defecating, which causes stomach problems. Infection and parasites can affect a turtle’s brain and make it disoriented. As a result, a sick turtle cannot swim properly. 

Instead of treating a disoriented turtle by yourself, consult with a doctor to determine why your turtle has a swimming problem. 

7. Unusual Feces 

Another way to determine your turtle’s health condition is by examining its feces. That’s right. Your turtle’s poop can tell a lot about its health. Diarrhea, bloody feces, black feces, or parasites in feces are symptoms of a severely sick turtle. 

Diarrhea is a symptom of other underlying diseases. It getting sufficient fiber from food can cause your turtle to get diarrhea. Parasitic infection can also cause diarrhea. Bloody or black feces means your turtle has an internal infection, injury, or bladder stone. 

Not defecating timely is a sign of serious illness too. Your turtle may have severe constipation, or it might have swallowed an object that blocks its digestive tracks. These problems can be so dangerous that you may not have the time to save a turtle. A vet might have to perform surgery to remove the foreign object from the turtle. 

8. Skin Problems

A healthy turtle is not supposed to have skin problems. Even if they do, they heal fast. But skin problems that persist and get worse are bad news for turtles. 

A turtle might get injured. Instead of healing, the wound might get infected and spread. Pus-like discharge may come out of the infections. A dying turtle cannot recover from such an injury. 

Besides infection and injury, a turtle might also suffer from tumors. You may notice small bumps rising on a turtle’s skin in any part of the body. If you see any skim problems in your turtle, contact an expert vet as soon as possible. 

See also  How To Revive A Dead Turtle? [CPR Process]

9. Shell Infections and Deformation

A dying turtle gradually eats less and less every day. Hence, it does not get the nutrients to maintain its health. Eventually, its shell will get weak and prone to infections. You can see the unnatural discoloration of a dying turtle’s shell. 

A turtle can get hurt or bitten, which can damage the shell. The wound can be affected by bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Thus, a turtle can suffer from shell rot. Shell rot among turtles is considered to be one of the worst health problems in turtles. 

How To Save A Dying Turtle?

Your turtle will die at an old age. It can also die because of sickness and severe injury. You cannot do anything to save a turtle that is dying because of age except for giving it some comfort. But can you save turtles that are dying because of injury or illness?

The answer depends on how ill or injured your turtle is. If you cannot tell how bad your turtle’s condition is or what is causing the suffering, take the help of a veterinarian who is an expert at treating turtles. 

When you know what is causing the suffering, you can start treating your turtle at home. Here is what you can do: 

Identify The Problem

The first step in saving a dying turtle is to identify the problem. Observe the sick turtle’s behavior. Is it completely neglecting eating food? What is the condition of the feces? Does it swim abnormally? Does it have any physical injury? Finding the answer to these questions will help you narrow down the health problem of your turtle.

Increase the Temperature of Your Turtles Enclosure

If you have multiple turtles in one tank, separate the dying turtle from the rest. You better transfer it to another tank or a large plastic container. Then increase the water temperature to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You can also put your turtle in a dry container and place some damp towels. Then turn on a heating lamp for the turtle. Increasing the temperature helps to boost the turtle’s immune system so that your turtle can fight the disease. 

Provide Necessary Treatment

If you are sure about the type of illness or injury your turtle has, you can try nursing it back to health. Offer it a balanced diet every day even if it does not show much interest. Administer antibiotics and other medications prescribed by the vet.

How to Keep A Turtle Healthy? 

There is a saying that prevention is better than cure. So, you must take good care of your turtle to avoid serious health problems in the future. Here is how you can take care of your pet turtle:

  • It is crucial to regulate the tank temperature to keep your turtle healthy. For your healthy turtle, keep the water temperature between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the basking area temperature should be between 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Feeding a balanced diet is another way to cure and prevent illness. Do thorough research on your turtle’s diet and feed them accordingly. You should feed age-appropriate food to your turtle. Many baby turtles are often carnivores, but as they grow older, add vegetables and fruits to the diet plan. 
  • Make sure your turtle gets sufficient calcium, vitamin A, fiber, and other nutrients essential for maintaining good metabolism. Turtles need to eat fiber-rich food to keep their stomach healthy. Calcium prevents shell rot, and Vitamin A is necessary to prevent skin diseases. 
  • Set up a proper lighting system in the tank. Your turtle will need both UVA and UVB lights to stay healthy. Without the UVB light, your turtle cannot process the calcium. Lack of UVB light causes metabolic bone disease and shell rot. 
  • You can add commercial food supplements to your turtle’s daily diet to fulfill the want for essential nutrients. You can get the supplements from a pet store or get them online. Try Fluker’s Buffet Blend Aquatic Formula Turtle Food. It will provide essential protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals for your turtle.
  • Turtles get dehydrated if they do not drink enough fresh water regularly. Dehydration can be dangerous for turtles of any age. Also, use a powerful filter to keep the tank water clean. Your turtle will suffer from bacterial and parasitic infection if it lives in an unhygienic condition.
See also  Feeding Newborn Turtles: DOs & DON'Ts For New Owners
Turtle Basking

Why Do Turtles Die Suddenly?

Turtles die for various reasons. Sometimes the symptoms are apparent, and you can take prompt action to save your turtle. But sometimes, a turtle can suddenly die without showing signs of sickness. Here are some common reasons for the sudden death of a turtle: 


One of the most common causes of the sudden death of a turtle is draining. Yes, turtles are excellent swimmers, but they cannot breathe in water like fish. Sometimes a turtle can get stuck under a fake plant or decoration, which prevents it from getting to the surface to get oxygen. Thus, it drowns. 

So, keep a minimal number of decorations in the tank. They are not on the way of your turtle when they swim back to the surface for oxygen.

Respiratory disease:

Respiratory problem is another reason your turtle can suddenly die. Respiratory diseases take time to become severe, but sometimes owners miss the symptoms. Your turtle might suffer silently and die one day. 

Unbalanced Diet:

When a pet turtle does not get the essential nutrients regularly, they become weak. Lack of calcium causes metabolic bone disease. So, your turtle can die suddenly from a bone or shell injury. Therefore, you must feed your turtle a balanced diet to keep it healthy.


Your turtle can also die because of overfeeding. Owners often feed their turtles whenever their turtles beg for food. Feeding a turtle multiple times every day can cause many health issues. Shell pyramiding is one problem. Your turtle’s artery can also get blocked by fat. It causes heart disease, leading to a turtle’s sudden death.

Inadequate Environment: 

The wrong setup of the turtle tank is another reason for the sudden death of a turtle. Many turtle owners keep their turtles in a small tanks and shallow water. This kind of condition is stressful for turtles. Low or high temperatures in the water and basking area also cause stress. It is not uncommon to find an overly stressful turtle dead in the tank

What Are the Signs of A Dead Turtle?

Is your turtle entirely still? Does it look lifeless? Then your turtle is most probably dead. Here is how you can check if your turtle is dead or not:

  • No response to stimulation 
  • Cold to touch
  • A foul smell coming from the body. 
  • Floating lifeless in the water  
  • Sunken eyes
  • Shell and skin seem to be rot
  • Flies and maggots on the body

If you want to know details about the signs of a dead turtle and how to dispose of a dead turtle, read my article “How to Tell If Your Turtle is Dead.” 


Turtles are not like other pets. They need to live in a controlled environment to live a long life. So, you must pay close attention to their diet and living conditions. Failing to provide the right environment can lead to serious illness. 

When you suspect your turtle is ill, take immediate action. One day you may find your turtle a bit under the weather, but the next day it might be on its deathbed.  

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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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