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How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dying?

You can tell that a turtle is ill and may be dying if it falls out of its usual habits or shows symptoms of an underlying condition. Most of the common issues affecting turtles fall under respiratory illnesses, parasitic infections, and diet deficiencies. Also, dehydration is a challenge that affects most turtles. This is a condition that mainly affects aquatic turtles and may sometimes be fatal. Symptoms of dehydration are highlighted below. Turtles are known to hide their symptoms only for the condition to be exposed at a critical stage. It is, therefore, essential to learning how to tell if a turtle is dying. It is dire to observe the diet, common habits, and everyday routines. This will help read your turtle if it falls out of its norm.

How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dying?

Know the signs of a dying Turtle

Low Appetite

When a turtle has an internal infection or an obstruction of their gastrointestinal tract, it manifests as low appetite, refusing to hibernate, and weight loss. However, it is important to note that females display the same symptoms, while some of their eggs cannot pass normally from her body.


A healthy turtle moves around its tank in response to food, interaction with its owners, and in response to their usual habitat. Lethargic tendencies coupled with other symptoms like having trouble swimming is a cause for alarm.

Breathing Problems

Sneezing, wheezing, and gasping are symptoms of a breathing condition brought about by common respiratory issues. These can be mild or severe, mainly caused by pneumonia. They will often seem to be moving their neck forward to try and get in as much air as possible


A discharge may be seen coming from their mouths. This is an illness known as “bubbling” and is a common sign of a respiratory disorder. In addition, the discharge may also come out of their ears, eyes, nose, or all. Specifically, the discharge from the eyes and ears may be thick, puss-like, and may be accompanied by swollen eyelids or ears. This a vitamin A deficiency.

Skin conditions

You can tell there is a problem if swelling on any part of the body is observed, visible tumors, open wounds, lesions, holes on the shell, and red irritations. Contact your veterinarian right away if any of these are manifesting on your turtle.

Struggles Swimming

Turtles are natural swimmers. Trouble floating, tilting, or disorientation are all causes for alarm as they are indications of a serious illness.

Stool observation

Symptoms such as diarrhea, blood in the stool, and constipation are signs that something is amiss. In some cases, there may be no feces at all. These may indicate that there may be parasitic infestations, Organ damage, or destruction of the digestive tract. In severe cases, the turtle may require surgery to correct the obstruction and keep the turtle from dying.


Most turtles battle dehydration at one point in their lives. Terrestrial turtles dehydrate over an extended period of time while Aquatic turtles mainly face this problem during shipping or transport. It is of utmost importance that a turtle has access to clean and fresh water. To increase water content consumed, it is advisable to spray fresh vegetables with water before feeding them to your turtle. 

Environmental factors such as temperature and humidity are also key factors that contribute to a turtle’s hydration levels. The use of moisture-retaining substrates, like cypress, mulch will help keep the cage humid.

In addition, constantly soak your terrestrial turtle in 1 or 2 inches of water for about an hour several times a week. Signs that your turtle may be dehydrated include:

  •         Poor Body Weight – Turtles should feel heavy when lifted. Monitor its weight regularly.
  •         Poor Muscle Tone – test this by gently pulling the leg of your turtle, it should withdraw quickly into its shell. Lack of this or sluggishness is an indicator of dehydration.
  •         Listlessness – This is resting for abnormally long periods without moving, foraging, or hunting for food. Mist the turtle’s enclosure. If it does not move or drink water, soak it in water immediately. If it still does not respond, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  •         Wrinkled skin – A turtle’s skin, though rough in some species, lies smoothly against the muscle. Pinch the skin of your turtle. If it does not move back into place or does so very slowly, it is likely dehydrated. 

Know the signs of a dying Turtle

Dying or Brumation?

It is important to note that a turtle may also indicate some of these symptoms during brumation. Brumation is a state where reptiles are sluggish during winter or extended periods of low temperatures. This could go on for months. During this time, the metabolism of a turtle is significantly lowered and could even appear like it is dead. Consult your veterinarian to know when exactly your turtle is likely to go into Brumation.

Know the Signs of a Dying Turtle

Equipped with these symptoms of a dying turtle, it will be easy to tell if your turtle is in its last stages and determine what needs to be done. They are sensitive creatures and noticing the problem right away may be the difference between life and death. In addition to what has been discussed above, turtles produce a certain vitamin under sunlight that is necessary for their good health. A lamp may also produce the same effect. Failure to produce this vitamin over time, your turtle will die.

Do turtles float when they die?

Also, avoid taking your turtle in and out of its tank. This will severely affect its immune system and lead to its death. Like all living creatures, a dead turtle will decompose and gases will form in its dead body. This will cause buoyancy once a dead turtle is immersed in water, causing it to float.

A non-moving turtle is not necessarily an indicator that it is dead. However, every now and then you should notice a change in the position of the turtle in its cage. If it does not move at all and is coupled with other symptoms like loss of appetite, it may be a symptom of an underlying issue. Have a checkup done right away. Ensure that your veterinarian is well aware of turtle anatomy and its care. 

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