Have you noticed anything weird about your turtle? Do you think your turtle may be suffering from an illness? Read on to find out how to tell if your turtle may be dying.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • 6 Signs Your Turtle Is Dying
  • 4 Common Turtle Illnesses
  • How Can You Help A Dying Turtle?
Red Eared Slider Turtle


The primary indications of a dying turtle are increased basking, lack of appetite, foaming at the mouth/nose, lethargy, coughing/sneezing, and lopsided swimming.

Six Signs That Your Turtle Is Dying

  1. Increased Basking
  2. Lack of Appetite
  3. Foaming at the mouth or nose
  4. Lethargy
  5. Coughing, sneezing, or whistling sounds
  6. Lopsided swimming or difficulty with balance

Physical Symptoms

Turtles are cold-blooded animals, so changes in their physical appearance can be a sign of illness. If your turtle is not eating or has lost its appetite, this could indicate an underlying health issue. Other physical symptoms to look out for include labored breathing, discoloration of the shell or skin, swollen eyes and/or limbs, and any unusual lumps or bumps on the body.

Behavioral Changes

Sick turtles may become lethargic and inactive. They may also hide more often than usual or avoid contact with humans. A decrease in activity level can signal that something is wrong with your pet’s health. Additionally, notice any changes in swimming behavior, such as difficulty maintaining balance while floating or sinking to the bottom of the tank. These could also be signs of illness.

Suppose you notice any unusual sounds coming from your turtle, such as wheezing noises when they breathe. In that case, this could indicate respiratory problems like pneumonia and should be addressed immediately by a veterinarian specializing in reptiles. Additionally, pay attention to any foul odors coming from your pet’s habitat; these may suggest bacterial infections that require treatment immediately.

Four Common Turtle Diseases

  1. Respiratory Infection
  2. Shell rot
  3. Metabolic bone disease
  4. Ear abscess

Respiratory Infection

Respiratory infections are one of the most common diseases that can affect turtles. These infections occur when bacteria or viruses enter a turtle’s respiratory system, leading to inflammation and difficulty breathing. Symptoms include mucus around the eyes and nose, lethargy, loss of appetite, and coughing or wheezing. If left untreated, these infections can be fatal for turtles.

Shell rot and soft-shell disease

Shell rot is an infection caused by bacteria that attack a turtle’s shell from the inside out. It causes discoloration on the shell and softening of the scutes (the individual plates that make up a turtle’s shell). In severe cases, it can cause holes in the shell, which may lead to further complications such as bacterial or fungal infection if not treated quickly.

Other causes of illness


Turtles are prone to parasites such as flukes and worms, which can cause serious health issues if not treated. Symptoms of these conditions may include weight loss, lack of energy, swollen eyes or skin lesions.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are also common in turtles; they typically appear on the skin but can spread to other organs like lungs or kidneys, depending on where they take hold in your pet’s body. Signs of a fungal infection include white patches on the skin accompanied by itchiness and irritation in affected areas.


A proper tank cleaning schedule is vital to maintain water quality, and removing excess food after mealtimes are good practices.

How To Help A Dying Turtle

Medications & Supplements

Medications and supplements can help manage a sick turtle’s symptoms. Antibiotics, antifungals, anti-parasitics, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and other medications may be prescribed by your veterinarian, depending on the diagnosis. It is essential to follow all instructions carefully when administering any medicine or supplement, as incorrect dosages can have severe consequences for your pet’s health.

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes are often necessary to ensure that a sick turtle receives adequate nutrition during its recovery period. This may include adding more proteins or fiber to their diet and providing additional vitamins and minerals through dietary supplements.

Additionally, it is vital to ensure that the food you provide is fresh and free from bacteria or parasites, which could further complicate an already delicate situation.

Additional Tips

Proper care during treatment periods is essential to ensure that your pet can recover fully.

  • Maintain clean water and enclosure
  • Maintain proper temperature and humidity levels
  • Monitor food intake
  • Avoid stressors like handling or loud noises
  • Remove uneaten food after feeding
  • Regular vet visits

These steps will help with their physical healing and improve their overall well-being while recovering from illness or injury.


Increase temperatures and ensure your turtle stays warm is one of the best ways to help fight of disease and illness. Raise the water temperature to 85 ˚F or use a heat lamp in a separate enclosure to isolate them. This will help encourage their immune system to take action.

What To Do With A Dead Turtle?

Burying a dead turtle is the best way to deal with a deceased turtle. Some pet services provide crematory options as well.

Do not place them in creeks, rivers, or water systems, including storm drains. This could cause other wildlife to become sick. Burying them and allowing them to decompose properly is the best course of action.


What are the signs of a turtle dying?

Signs of a turtle dying can include lethargy, loss of appetite, difficulty swimming or floating in the water, discoloration or darkening of the shell and skin, lack of movement or activity, shallow breathing, or no breathing at all. If you notice any changes in your turtle’s behavior that last more than 24 hours, it is essential to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

Do turtles die easily?

No, turtles do not die easily. With proper care and attention, they can live for decades. Turtles need a clean habitat with the right temperature, humidity levels, and access to food and water. They also require regular health checkups from a qualified veterinarian to ensure their well-being. If these needs are met, turtles can live long, healthy lives in captivity.

Is my turtle dying or hibernating?

Signs that your turtle is hibernating include: decreased appetite, slowed movement and respiration, and being less active overall. However, suppose you notice any other symptoms, such as discoloration of the shell or skin, difficulty breathing or swimming, loss of appetite for extended periods, or unusual behavior. In that case, it’s best to immediately take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian, as these could indicate illness rather than hibernation.

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto is a marine biologist, freelance animal writer, and reptile lover. She is passionate about empowering reptile owners with the information they need to give the best care possible for their reptiles. She is currently taking up her Ph.D. in Marine Science and providing her knowledge to the ReptileKnowHow community.

10 thoughts on “How To Tell If Your Turtle Is Dying”

  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I love my daughter’s turtle, Mr Turt and he will be going to a vet asap. I’ve learned more from your article than anyone else’s and sincerely appreciate you.

  2. My spiny softshell turtle I think is dying he can’t swim right he falls on his back now I noticed a tiny hole in the webbing of his foot he’s not eating I just lost my job and my father all in the same week so I’m having difficulties please help

    • I would take the turtle to a vet. It sounds like it may have an internal infection. If your water is properly filtered and heated (82 degrees Fahrenheit) it should minimize the risk of an infection, but won’t completely eliminate it. It’s hard to tell and I can only speculate. A vet will tell you for certain what the issue is.

  3. I might need antibiotics for my diamondback terrapin female she hasn’t eaten in a week almost 2 her breathing is like a tiny whistle I keep the water warm there is no vet near by closest one is over chesapeake Bay Bridge so if I need antibiotics and Noone can help what do I do I don’t to lose my turtle. Any suggestions are helpful.

    • Hi Sarah, only a licensed vet can give your terrapin antibiotics. If it is less than 3″ it is too small to give antibiotic injections to anyway, so the best you can do is increase temperatures. Until you can get the little one in, increase temps to 85F, but the terrapin WILL need antibiotics to get better or it will die.

  4. Hi,
    My painter turtle which I have had for about a year, has been resting a lot in the same spot in my tank, next to the filter. I don’t watch the tank 24/7 but I was so scared the other day he was dead. Finally he moved when I touched him. This morning my other turtle who is almost 3 was on top of him, which they do a lot. They are in water most of the time except for when they bask, he hasn’t been basking at all. I also have a UV light that stays on all the time. I noticed last year both of the turtles didn’t eat a lot during winter, could this be the reason? I live in New England and it started getting cold. I usually turn off the heating lamp at night, I won’t after reading this. What else can I do to increase the temp of the tank? Does this seem normal? Thank you so much for your help!

    • Hi Vanessa,

      It seems the turtle is trying to go into hibernation. My best suggestion is to turn off the UVB and heat light at night, then turn them both on in the morning (If the sun is up, the lights should be on. At dusk, I turn mine off).

      Next, I would keep a water heater in with them to keep the water temps at around 82F. I had a spotted turtle that began doing the same thing, but it was because I didn’t have a heater in the water! Once I raised temps, it began eating and being active again.


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Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto is a marine biologist, freelance animal writer, and reptile lover. She is passionate about empowering reptile owners with the information they need to give the best care possible for their reptiles. She is currently taking up her Ph.D. in Marine Science and providing her knowledge to the ReptileKnowHow community.

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