Monday, July 14, 2014

Can Pet Turtles Get Sick?

Ever wondered if your pet turtle can get sick? And is there anything you can do for them if they do get sick? The answer is yes, pet turtles can definitely get injured or become sick and it's actually a good idea for them to have regular veterinary exams. Examining a turtle isn't always easy, because they are very strong and can be stubborn. I was thinking about all the interesting turtle cases I've assisted with as a veterinary technician at an exotic pet hospital and thought I'd share some here.

Eastern Box Turtle. Photo via Matt Reinbold.

How do veterinarians examine pet turtles?

Let me just say that it's definitely not easy all of the time. There are several key things a vet will want to check during your turtle's examination. 
  • Eyes - can help determine hydration status of your turtle.
  • Nostrils - bubbles from the nose or noisy breathing can be a symptom of an upper respiratory infection
  • Ears - bulges near the ears can be a sign of an ear infection.
  • Shell - a soft or small shell can be a sign of poor nutrition and/or lighting. 
  • Mouth - the mucous membranes on the inside of a turtle's mouth can help determine a turtle's hydration status. 
Getting a turtle to stick his head out of his shell can be tough. It can take a lot of patience and some very strong hands.

Common Reasons Why Pet Turtles Go to the Vet

I thought I'd list some of the most common pet turtle injuries and illnesses I've personally seen with turtles and tortoises. Most of the time, turtles go to see the vet because they experience some sort of trauma. Many illnesses in pet turtles are actually due to poor husbandry and/or nutrition.
  • Upper respiratory infections or "colds" - Turtles can get a cold, just like us humans. Blowing bubbles through the nose or noisy breathing sounds are signs, as mentioned above. Treatment usually involves antibiotics, many times given by injection. Note that healing in reptiles is usually very slow. 
  • Bite wounds - Sometimes, our furry dog and cat friends might think a pet turtle is a fun chew toy and bite them. It happens a lot. Many times, this is fatal. Sometimes, surgical intervention to repair the injuries can be performed along with antibiotics to help fight infection. 
  • Ear infections - Yes - turtles do have ears and they can get infected! Treatment may include removal of infection debris from the ears along with antibiotics. 
  • Anorexia - For whatever reason, some turtles may decide to stop eating. Feeding tubes can be placed in these cases until the turtle is ready to eat on his own again. Note that it can take a long time, however. I once knew a turtle who had a feeding tube for over a year. 
  • Eggbinding - Female turtles can lay eggs even without a male turtle present. On occasion, the eggs may become stuck and need a little help coming out. Diagnosis might include x-rays. 
Red Eared Slider. Photo via Irita Kirsbluma.

Pet turtles and tortoises can live for a very long time. Some as long as 100 years if well cared for. The oldest turtle I ever met was a box turtle that was about 30 years old. For good advice on turtle care and husbandry for many species of turtles, click here

If you have a pet turtle, tell us about them! Have they ever experienced an injury or illness? 

18 comments:

  1. I have never had a pet turtle and really don't have any desire to have one. But that is interesting on how they can get all the same diseases. Good info.

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    1. I never have either. I think they would make a nice pet, but I'm not ready for one. They are a lot of work!

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  2. They do deserve good care too and I can only imagine trying to take a temperature!

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    1. Those turtles must be lucky because we never did take their temperatures :)

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  3. Very interesting post and one much needed. They are a living breathing animal too, so deserve to have a good life.

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  4. I have always loved turtles, although never owned one. This is great info!!!!
    A 30 pounder?! Woah!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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    1. Oh well some weighed much more than that. Like the sulcatas. But I did meet a 30 YEAR old one before.

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  5. Ma says she has never had a turtle but she always wanted one when she was young. Grandma wouldn't let her have one though since she figured they were tough to care for. We have lots of turtles here in our neighborhood lake though! We enjoy seeing them in their natural habitat.
    Oz

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    1. I enjoy them in their natural habitat too. We did see a few wild turtles, because they got hurt by cars or something and someone brought them to us. I've move a few out of the road or back to the water before.

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  6. No turtles, no reptiles at our house! Mom has heard that turtles can get sick and can carry diseases sometimes. We like to stick with furry pets.

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  7. Everything was making sense to me until I got to the ear infections. I never really even thought about ears and turtles. I love learning - thanks Ann.

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  8. Did you see that video going around on Facebook of the turtle playing ball with the dog? I never would have thought of turtles as having "personalities" but that video made me think differently!
    This is great info for people who have turtles or are thinking of getting one.

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  9. Lol can you imagine trying to get a turtle out of its shell! I never saw any turtles in practice but that would've been hilarious watching the drs trying to get 'em out. I totally see myself coaxing them out with a piece of lettuce!

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    1. You usually have to get them to bite onto a tool and then gradually pull their head out. Once it's out enough, the tech has to grab their neck just behind their skull. This seriously takes 3 people and maybe 20 minutes sometimes lol.

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  10. I saw today that my aunt's turtle had foaming from the nose, I can now make sure he gets the proper care. I love animals and he has been in this family to long to go or get Ill now. Thx

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    1. Aw - poor guy! I hope that he gets to feeling better soon.

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  11. hi my turtleis not eating properly
    and i also saw bubble comming outfrom his nose when he was out of water.
    i m very worried. plz tell me what to do ????

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    1. The bubbling could be a sign of upper respiratory infection in which case he would need antibiotics from the veterinarian.

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Thank you for your comments!

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