Tortoise Respiratory Infection: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

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

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Do you know a majority of adult tortoises carry physical signs of respiratory illness? But unfortunately, these go unnoticed as we know little about respiratory infections. Therefore the pets die early, suffering from this critical disease. 

Tortoise respiratory infection cause and treatment,

Infectious attackMedication
Hypovitaminosis AHealthy enclosure and environment
Post brumationBalanced diet
Low temperatureWarm soaks
Filthy environmentSuitable temperature range

More details on respiratory sickness are discussed below.

What Causes Respiratory Infection In Tortoises?

The primary reason for respiratory illness is an infectious attack on the respiratory tract. However, messed up surroundings and poor care management also lead to this disease in tortoises.

5 Common Causes Of Tortoise Respiratory Infection

1. Microbe Attack 

Are you familiar with tortoise mouth rot? The disease occurs as the harmful bacteria in the cavity outgrow and causes inflammation. This is the same with a respiratory infection.

Tortoises have mycoplasma bacteria in their nasal chamber, which stays inactive under usual conditions. But if the pet’s immunity system takes a hit, the harmful bacteria will cause inflammation. Eventually, the bacteria will attack the respiratory tract of the pets. 

2. Hypovitaminosis A

Insufficient vitamin A in the diet often gives birth to respiratory illness. The lack of this vitamin messes up the immunity system of pets. Therefore, the tortoise becomes prone to infectious diseases like respiratory illness or mouth rot.

3. Unhealthy Bedding 

We always look for thick, natural bedding for tortoises that can retain moisture and allow the pets to burrow. Often these substrates, especially the hays, become the breeding ground of fungal spores. 

Tortoises inhaling these spores are at risk of respiratory illness. You will notice the symptoms of an inflamed respiratory tract, for example, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, etc.

4. Improper Temperature

A drop in the temperature has adverse effects on the tortoises. For example, slowed metabolism, low immunity, reduced appetite, etc. Besides, the low temperature also favors bacterial growth in the enclosure. Therefore, pets can easily fall victim to respiratory disease.

5. Post-Brumation Effect 

Tortoises coming out of brumation suffer from a series of diseases. For example, the pets keep their eyes closed or can not open their mouths. Suffering from respiratory illness is also common in those pets.

Tortoises do not eat during the brumation period. Hence, their immunity system takes a blow, leading to these deadly diseases.

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What Are The Types Of Respiratory Infections? 

3 types of infectious microbe can attack the tortoise respiratory tract, causing this illness. Such as,

  1. Viral 
  2. Fungal  
  3. Bacterial 

These microbes can single-handedly infect the respiratory tract or attack as a group. Again, the infectious attack can be on the upper or lower tract. 

The upper tract respiratory infection is mild and includes runny nose syndrome. On the contrary, lower tract infections can become life-threatening.


Respiratory infection is indeed life-threatening. The disease is more distressing as many tortoises show no symptoms at the early stage. So, when you do pick up the signs, it is too late.

But as vets suggest, there will always be a change in the tortoise’s behavior, no matter how insignificant. You can take that advantage and take the pet to a thorough check-up. 

Nevertheless, here are the common visible respiratory infection in tortoises, 

  1. Runny nose
  2. Thick yellow nasal discharge 
  3. Bubbles are coming out of the nose 
  4. Noisy breathing 
  5. Eye discharge
  6. Eye swelling or shut eyes
  7. Fatigue 
  8. Less appetite 
  9. Labored breathing 
  10. Open mouth breathing 
  11. Stress
  12. Frequent basking 

In respiratory infection, tortoises exhibit runny nose and eye swelling symptoms in the beginning. The pets stop moving, refuse food, and become weak at the last stage. 

Sometimes the infection spreads to the lungs from the respiratory tract, causing pneumonia. This disease is more common in turtles


You can not offer the sick tortoise any treatment without a proper diagnosis. Sure, you can recognize the disease just by looking at the tortoise’s daily routine and change in behavior. But a proper lab test is mandatory to determine the microbe responsible for this disease and suitable meds. 

I am attaching 5 lab tests vets often prescribe to cross-check the respiratory sickness in tortoises, 

  1. NGS (Next-Gen Sequenceing)
  2. Radiography 
  3. Endoscopy 
  4. CT scan 
  5. Blood test


Once your tortoise is diagnosed with respiratory illness, you need to rush to the treatment. The vets usually prescribe medicines according to the severity of the disease. 4 common antibiotics to cure respiratory sickness are, 

  1. Ampicillin 
  2. Ciprofloxacin 
  3. Enrofloxacin 
  4. Oxytetracycline 

However, you can not administer these medications to your tortoise without the vet’s permission.  

Again, the inflamed nostril or congested nasal pipe interrupts the tortoise’s breathing. Prescribed nasal drops can clear the mucus, ending the breathing issue in the pets. 

Sometimes the tortoises are so weak that they can not eat. In such cases, vets adopt fluid therapy to inject nutrients into the pets’ bodies. Admit the tortoises to the hospital and keep them under expert observation if the situation demands them. 

Prevention And Home-Care

Respiratory illnesses, particularly prevalent in spring and fall, pose significant risks to tortoises.

As expert Patty Mesich emphasizes, the key to managing these diseases lies in proactive care. Until you can get to a trusted exotic vet, it’s best to slightly increase the temperature inside the tortoise’s enclosure,’ advises Mesich.

A combination of proper UVB lighting, humidity control, and diet is crucial. Understanding and adhering to a tortoise’s specific needs can prevent common ailments like respiratory infections and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).

Prevention measurements for respiratory sickness are nothing flashy or expensive. Instead, ensuring the care sheet of the pets is enough to offer them a healthy lifestyle. 

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I have discussed the points to follow to prevent respiratory illness in tortoises below. You can adopt these same steps as a home treatment for sick tortoises.

1. Maintain The Hygiene 

A filthy enclosure is the breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Thus, focus on cleaning the enclosure on a regular basis.

Remove the food scraps and poops from the substrate every day. Again, replace the damp substrate with a fresh one every month if needed. You need to perform a thorough enclosure clean-up at least once a week. 

Finally, the water bowl and the food diseases of the tortoises should be clean too. Wash the pans at least once a week.

2. Follow The Temperature Guide

Tortoises prefer a warm temperature during the day. It helps them stay active and keep a healthy appetite. On the contrary, at night, a low temperature allows the tortoises to sleep without interruption.

It means the temperature in the tortoise enclosure is not constant. The range changes with spots, for example, the basking dock retains the highest heat. Generally, the basking temperature for tortoises is 90 – 100 degrees.

Again, the temperature changes with time. For example, a preferable temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. But at night, a temperature below this point is recommended.

Yet, there is a benchmark of temperature that you should never cross. For example, a temperature below 60 degrees triggers brumation in the tortoises. 

In short, maintain the temperature guide for the tortoises to avoid temperature-induced respiratory infection.

3. Ensure A Balanced Diet 

Only a nutritious diet can build a strong immunity in tortoises. A perfect meal for these creatures includes 70 – 80% high-fibrous foods, for example, greens, weeds, grasses, vegetables, etc. 

Favorite greens of tortoises are, 

  • Aloe vera
  • Zucchini 
  • Carrot 
  • Escarole 
  • Chicory 
  • Chickweed 
  • Clover
  • Water hyacinth 
  • Gazania 
  • Malva 
  • Cactus pad
  • Hibiscus 
  • Rye grass
  • Bermuda grass
  • Cat grass
  • Alfalfa grass, etc. 

Tortoises also munch on hays. For example, orchard hay, sowthistle, timothy hay, etc., are favorites of these creatures. 

Though tortoises are big fans of fruits, these are not good for their health. The high sugar content in the foods will cause malnutrition, stomach ache, and diarrhea in the pets. However, you can use berries, grapes, apples, kiwis, etc., as treats for these creatures. 

In summary, tortoises require a high-fiber diet. The pets eat little or no protein at all. If your species is an omnivore, you can offer small portions of worms and insects to fulfill the protein quota. 

Even with a balanced diet, you can not satisfy the full nutritional requirements of tortoises. Hence, supplements come as a life savior for pets. 

Yet, if you struggle to plan a whole meal chart for your pet, follow my previous write-up on the tortoise feeding guide.

4. Warm Baths Help

Soaking the tortoises in warm water thrice a week is considered healthy. These warm baths become more necessary when your tortoise suffers from a respiratory infection. 

The warm water primarily helps clean the pet, hydrate it, and promote healthy digestion. In addition to that, the soaking will drain the accumulated mucus from the nasal tract, allowing the tortoise to breathe. 

See also  Tortoise Mouth Rot: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

Learn the right way to soak your tortoise from this article

5. Do Something To The Runny Nose

The dripping nostril definitely stresses the tortoises. A nose drop helps the pets discharge the excess mucus from the nasal cavity. You can wipe off the nasal discharge with a soft damp cloth. It will comfort the tortoises and allow them to breathe effortlessly.

6. Take Care Of The Environment 

Besides maintaining hygiene, you need to make some arrangements to better the enclosure surrounding. For example, maintain a 40%++ moisture level inside the enclosure. 

Moreover, install a heating lamp to radiate the necessary temperature for the pet. A UV bulb is also mandatory to influence vitamin D3 production and overall health.

Is Respiratory Infection Serious In Tortoises? 

Respiratory illness can definitely take a severe turn if it goes untreated. The disease becomes life-threatening because of the anatomy of the tortoises. 

These creatures lack the diaphragm separating the chest and abdomen. As a result, the mucus formed in the tract can not get out and start accumulating in the lungs. The pile of mucus soon interrupts the smooth lung functioning. 

Again, the tortoise respiratory tract also excludes cilia, which are responsible for removing mucus from the air passage. Therefore, tortoises have trouble breathing properly. 

As said, the untreated respiratory infection soon spreads to the lungs from the upper tract. Hence, the pets fall victim to pneumonia. If you ignore the disease, the tortoise will have damaged lungs and live with a reduced lifespan.

Can A Tortoise Live With Respiratory Infection?

A tortoise often struggles to survive respiratory infection as the disease gets more serious day by day. The illness makes the tortoise refuse food, weakening the pet’s immunity. As a result, the tortoise becomes vulnerable to other diseases. 

If the infection spreads to the lungs, the pet will fall victim to pneumonia. In such cases, you can not reverse the lung damage anyhow. Hence, the tortoise will live on a discounted lifespan. 

In short, a tortoise with respiratory illness will live as long as you ensure proper medical treatment. But the pet will die suffering when you ignore the medical emergency. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Recover Respiratory Infection? 

If you start the treatment at an early stage, the tortoises will recover from this disease within a few weeks. In severe conditions, the pets may take months to heal. 

Is Respiratory Infection Contagious? 

Unfortunately, respiratory sickness is highly contagious. It means the sick tortoise will transfer its disease to the healthy one. Hence, you need to keep the ill tortoise separated in a fully equipped enclosure.

Which Tortoises Are At The Risk Of Respiratory Infection? 

Almost all tortoises can fall victim to respiratory illness. But the researchers found the following species more vulnerable to this disease, 

  • Gopher tortoise
  • Hermann’s tortoise
  • Leopard tortoise
  • Spur thighed tortoise 

Before You Go 

Tortoises are less prone to shell diseases than turtles. Yet, you need to keep an open eye for any symptoms of shell diseases. The shell conditions can take worse turns when they go untreated. 

5 Tortoise Shell Problems With Complete Recovery Guide

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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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