Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. November 9, 2016
Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises

We have always been closely linked to the animal kingdom. With most of the human population currently living in urban areas, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the world of pets is massively diversifying in order to suit our new lifestyles.

This is a good thing: Even if cats and dogs are the pets par excellence, they can't always adapt to the characteristics of each person. Therefore, there are more and more people who are choosing less conventional pets such as ferrets, pot-bellied pigs, snakes, tortoises and turtles.

If you're thinking of getting a turtle or a tortoise, or if you already share your home with one of them, this AnimalWised article will be of interest to you: We will talk about the most common diseases of turtles and tortoises.

You may also be interested in: Common Diseases of German Shepherds
  1. Recognizing the signs of disease in a turtle or tortoise
  2. Respiratory infections
  3. Diarrhea and constipation
  4. Eye problems
  5. Pyramiding in tortoises
  6. Leg injuries and how to treat them

Recognizing the signs of disease in a turtle or tortoise

Just like with humans and many animals, there are different signs that suggest that a turtle or tortoise's body is unhealthy; as an owner, you should always look out for any of them. Signs of disease in turtles and tortoises include:

  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in behavior
  • Spots or abnormalities on the shell
  • Diarrhea
Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Recognizing the signs of disease in a turtle or tortoise

Respiratory infections

Sudden changes in temperature, which can be caused by incorrect water temperature or drafts of cold air, are the main reason behind turtles or tortoises contracting a respiratory infection. Just like us, these reptilesare susceptible to the cold.

A turtle or tortoise suffering from a respiratory infection can manifest:

  • Breathing with an open mouth
  • Mucus and nasal secretions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness and lethargy

It is a priority to increase the water temperature to boost their immune system. If you don't see any improvement in a few days, go immediately to the vet to stop the cold from triggering pneumonia.

Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Respiratory infections

Diarrhea and constipation

Both diarrhea and constipation are intestinal transit disorders caused by a poor diet.

Diarrhea is usually caused by overfeeding, an excess of fruit and vegetables or by consuming something that is in a bad condition. In order to prevent and diarrhea, it is important to keep the aquarium water clean and take care of your turtle's hygiene. You should also reduce the water content in its diet until you see that intestinal transit has returned to normal.

If constipation is the problem, it means that the diet is lacking in fiber. However, this problem can also arise when the aquarium is too small. To treat constipation, you can treat your turtle or tortoise to a warm water bath that covers the lower shell, in addition to making the appropriate dietary adjustments.

Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Diarrhea and constipation

Eye problems

Turtles and tortoises are very susceptible to eye infections. These are very easily spotted, a common symptom being closed and swollen eyes in addition to a lack of appetite.

These eye infections in reptiles are usually caused by a vitamin A deficiency or by dirty water. The first treatment should be a saline eyewash twice a day.

If there is no improvement, you must go to the vet so that they can decide if an antibiotic treatment and/or a nutritional supplement based on vitamin A are necessary.

Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Eye problems

Pyramiding in tortoises

Pyramiding is a disorder that affects tortoises. It is easily spotted in the shell, which thickens and rises. In the most severe cases, it can become a serious problem for tortoises.

This condition is directly related to a poor diet, although a lack of moisture and exposure to the sun as well as endocrine diseases can also cause pyramiding. Even though pyramiding has no treatment, early veterinary assessment will be very important in order to reduce the condition and improve the tortoise's quality of life.

Here you can learn more about pyramiding in tortoises and why does it happen.

Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Pyramiding in tortoises

Leg injuries and how to treat them

Finally, we should mention that the most common injuries in turtles and tortoises are those in their legs. While they are not a disease or a condition, they are very likely to happen at some point and they should be treated as soon as possible. If they are not, more serious complications can occur. Turtles or tortoises can be hurt from falls, scratches or bites if they live with other herbivorous reptiles.

If all the turtle or tortoise has is a scratch, all you need to do is clean the area with neutral soap and water before later disinfecting it with an iodine solution dissolved in water. But if the wound is deep, it is imperative to go to the vet as early as possible.

Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises - Leg injuries and how to treat them

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.

Write a comment
Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?
Tortoise has swollen tops to his legs. What can I do?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Joanne,

They will need a proper diagnosis from a qualified vet, preferably one with experience in exotic animals. They will then treat the underlying cause, perhaps prescribing anti-inflammatories.
Sharon Deysel
Advice to treat and get rid of ticks on a large tortoise
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Sharon,

Ticks need to be removed very carefully. Although tortoises and cats are different creatures, tick removal works in very much the same way. Here s an article which should be of use to you:
1 of 7
Common Diseases of Turtles and Tortoises