5 Sick Turtle Symptoms: How To Tell and Common Sicknesses

As a turtle owner, it’s your responsibility to provide the perfect environment for your turtle and care for it. If you maintain the turtle’s environment, it will likely be happy and healthy, but it can still get sick. It’s important that you know how to tell if a turtle is sick so that you can act quickly.

Changes in a turtle’s eyes, nose, skin, shell, and behaviors are signs of illness. Intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal parasite abscesses, vitamin A deficiency, and respiratory infections are the most common illnesses in turtles.

To learn more about each one of these illnesses and what you should do if your turtle suffers from one of them, keep reading. This article gives you a quick overview of the most common illnesses turtles face.

How To Tell If A Turtle Is Sick

One of the most difficult parts of treating a sick turtle is recognizing that the turtle sick in the first place. Unlike dogs and cats, turtles do not tell you when they are sick. Instead, you will have to look for signs that the turtle is sick.

There are different things to consider when determining if a turtle is sick. You should look at the eyes, nose, skin, shell, and behavior of the turtle. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these areas to understand what you should be looking for in a turtle.


Eyes are often impacted whenever the turtle experiences illness. Especially in turtles, the eyelids are often swollen and red whenever an infection is present. If your turtle seems to be having eye irritation or troubles, that may be a sign that your turtle is sick.


Much like people, your turtle’s nose can run or have discharge when sick. If you notice any type of bubbling or liquid coming from your turtle’s nose, it may be suffering from respiratory problems or pneumonia.


Sometimes, your turtle’s skin will be affected if it has a particular illness. Look for any signs of abnormalities in color or texture.


Of course, you want to pay attention to your turtle shell. The shell is one of the most recognizable parts of the turtle, and it tells you a lot about the turtle’s health. You want to look for a turtle shell that is symmetrical, clean, and healthy.

If the shell appears to be rotting or has abnormal coloration, there is likely something wrong. Although it’s normal for turtles to shed, unnecessary shedding and peeling are signs that the turtle is undergoing some sort of illness.


Sick turtles typically have odd or changing behaviors. They might not be as active, or they might not eat. If your turtle’s behaviors are suddenly changing, that is a sign that something is likely wrong.

Types of Illnesses

There are certain illnesses that are common in turtles. Here’s a look at 5 common illnesses and what to do if your turtle is suffering from each one.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are very common in turtles. Tapeworms and nematodes are the most common parasites. Intestinal parasites occur whenever your turtle ingests parasite eggs or ingests the parasite directly. Symptoms of intestinal parasites in turtles include dehydration, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and the passing of undigested foods.

Intestinal parasites are diagnosed whenever a veterinarian inspects the turtle’s stool. The veterinarian will be able to determine which parasite is present and prescribe treatment to get rid of the parasites.

What To Do

If you suspect that your turtle is suffering from intestinal parasites, it’s imperative to see a vet right away. The vet will diagnose intestinal parasites and prescribe treatment. Medication is typically required, but the medication type depends on which parasites are present.

Gastrointestinal Parasites

Gastrointestinal parasites are also common in turtles. They have the same symptoms as intestinal parasites and require the same examination for diagnosis.

What To Do

In order to treat gastrointestinal parasites, take your turtle to the vet. The vet will test your trading for gastrointestinal parasites and treat them accordingly.


Abscesses are some of the most common illnesses in turtles. Simply put, an abscess is a hard lump that forms under the skin. In many ways, abscesses look like tumors, but they are not cancerous and contain dry pus. Abscesses are frequently found on nasal passageways, ears, jaws, legs, and the liver.

External abscesses are pretty easy to spot. You should be able to see them with your own eyes. Internal abscesses are more difficult to spot. Symptoms of an internal abscess include swollen facial areas, behavioral changes, and lethargy.

What To Do

If you think that your turtle is suffering from an external or internal abscess, contact your vet. Your vet will examine the area to confirm if the area is an abscess. The treatment will depend on the location and extent of the abscess. In some locations, the abscess will need to be surgically removed.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is incredibly common in turtles. As you probably figure, vitamin A deficiency occurs whenever the turtle does not have enough access to vitamin A in the diet.

Vitamin A deficiency has a number of symptoms, but swollen eyelids are the most common and obvious symptom. Some other symptoms include respiratory infection, a refusal to eat, lethargy, skin infections, and mouth rot.

What To Do

If your turtle has any of the symptoms above, it’s important to see a vet to rule out any serious illnesses. If vitamin A deficiency is to blame, you will be able to treat the deficiency with a vitamin A supplement and a healthy diet.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are incredibly common in turtles. Signs of respiratory infections include excess mucus in the mouth, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, wheezing, lethargy, and gasping.

What To Do

If you think your turtle is experiencing a respiratory infection, see a vet right away. The vet will treat the infection, but the infection can be fatal if treatment is not sought immediately.

How To Prevent Illnesses

To prevent illnesses in turtles, make sure to provide your turtle with a healthy diet and a healthy environment. Providing a well-balanced diet and maintaining the cage are the most important steps for preventing illness in turtles.

Final Thoughts  

Just like any other animal, turtles can be sick. Pay attention to your turtle’s eyes, nose, skin, shell, and behaviors to determine if it is ill.

Some of the most common illnesses turtles face include parasites, abscesses, vitamin A deficiency, and respiratory infections.

How the illness is treated depends on the case. Take your turtle to the vet immediately to determine what is wrong with your turtle and get the appropriate treatment.


Chris is a reptile enthusiast, breeder, and blogger from the Milwaukee, WI area. After breeding hundreds of bearded dragons to supply local pet stores and owning many other types of reptiles, he is now focused on sharing knowledge to help owners properly care for their little reptiles friends.

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