This Is Turtle-y An Emergency! Part 1

There’s no denying, turtles are incredibly adorable, but can have strange behavioral habits. So how do you know if your turtle is just being his best turtle self or if he’s sick?

We’ll help! It may sound strange but veterinarians treat more pets than just cats and dogs. Since 2016, the United States has seen a steady increase in ownership of exotic pets, which classifies most reptiles, smaller mammals, and rodents. Even in urban areas like Los Angeles, reptiles can be the ideal pet if you care for them properly. However, today, let’s talk about when you should and shouldn’t be worried about your red eared slider — the most common breed of pet turtle.

They’re not like cats or dogs and it can be harder to know when something is wrong. Usually if it’s something serious, they’ll do several of these “weird” habits at one time. It’s important to note that a fair amount of turtle diseases are common but also fatal. Luckily, treatment is usually easy and involves changing their habitat and letting their body heal itself.

So, how do you know if your turtle is sick or just playing? Watch him for awhile and take note. Then, reference the table below to know if you should take your turtle to the vet or not.

How Can We Help? When Is This Normal?

When Should You Bring Him In?

Why is my turtle swimming sideways? That’s silly! If he’s swimming up against the glass of his tank, he may just be exploring or saying hi. If you notice that he can’t swim horizontal (flat), is breathing through his mouth, is making a strange whistling sound, or isn’t eating well then it is most likely a respiratory infection. 

Why is he rubbing his eyes? Turtles get itchy just like us! If his eyes look clear and bright then he’s okay. It may just be early morning, he’s feeling sleepy, or his face is itchy. However, if his eyes are swollen or cloudy, then he probably has an infection or a vitamin deficiency.

Why are his scutes (the proper term for turtle scales) falling off? Should I pull them off? All turtles have 13 scutes on their shells. Their shells have nerve endings and are made up of keratin. Their shell is like our fingernails, and it replaces itself over time to keep the turtle healthy. Because Red Eared Sliders normally spend so much time in the water it’s healthy for them to shed their scutes as they’re growing and periodically as adults to prevent infection and shell rot. As tempting as it may be, do NOT pull off the scutes, you will hurt or scar them. Don’t worry the scutes will fall off normally over time.

Why does his flick his nails around? If you have a male turtle, that’s how they challenge other males and how they flirt with lady turtles! No need to bring in your turtle, this is turtle-y normal behavior.


Visit MASH In Your Pet’s Time of Need

It is natural to question the severity of your animal’s illness. Though it is important to wait and see if the situation is severe, some symptoms are clear signs of a life-threatening issue. If your pet is exhibiting any of these symptoms, bring them to your nearest animal hospital. In Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Animal Specialty Hospital is here to assist your pet in their care. Contact us today if your pet is in need of immediate care.